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Houston was recently named as one the Top 10 best value places to visit in 2019 and we couldn’t agree more! Houston is one of the most lively, dynamic cities in
Texas the country and has something to do for everyone! If you’re visiting and feeling frugal, we are here to help! Here are 13 free things to do in Houston with kids that are unique this wonderful city!
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Visit the Galleria and the Houston Water Wall Park
I know what you’re thinking. The Galleria is just a shopping mall, right? Wrong! Well, yes, technically it is a world class shopping center with a ton of options for [free] window shopping but it is also home to one of the most kid friendly play areas in Houston. Escape the heat with their elaborate play area constructed as a mini replica of many of Houston’s iconic buildings. The accompanying family area is also super kid friendly with family bathrooms [complete with kid sized toilets and sinks], breastfeeding areas, and more. You can also visit the Disney Store to partake in one of their frequent free events.
Directly across the street from the Galleria, is the Houston Water Wall Park. This 2.77 acre water wonderland pumps 11,000 gallons of water per minute up its 64 foot high u-shaped walls. Up close, it is both awe inspiring and deafeningly beautiful. Take loads of pictures, enjoy a game of Frisbee in the grassy knoll, and then have a picnic with its scenic backdrop.
[If you’re willing to spend a few dollars: the Galleria is also home to a top notch skating rink that rents everything you need for a frolic around the ice for a nominal cost.]
Check Out Hermann Park and Miller Outdoor Theater
No visit to Houston is complete without a stop at the iconic Hermann Park. Located in the Museum District, Hermann Park is the heart of Houston. Kids can take a roll down the beloved Hippie Hill, catch a free show at the Miller Outdoor Theater, play at the (handi-capable!) state of the art playground, feed the ducks, frolic in the splash pad, or help cultivate the family garden all for free!
[If you’re willing to spend a few dollars: the award winning Houston Zoo is also at Hermann Park! There is also an adorable train that will take you and the kiddos all around the park. It even throws in a few “choo-choo’s” for free :)]
Trek the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center
Houston is incredibly urbanized so the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is like a gem hidden in a city of concrete. This 155-acre nature sanctuary includes 5 miles of walking trail and features forest, meadow, and wetland all in one space. Their mission is to conserve and educate and offer tons of programs in line with that mission. It is also incredibly kid friendly with several programs designed specifically for kids. Between their discovery room, night hikes [including ones designated for families], and interactive exhibits, it is a great option when looking for free things to do in Houston with kids.
Even though this is a green oasis, it’s still Houston and it’s hot. So take it from me: dress comfortably, pack water, wear comfortable shoes and spray the kiddos with insect repellant – a lot of it.
[If you’re willing to spend a few dollars: Everything here is free but if you’d like to support this wonderful organization, they do accept donations.]
Learn at The Heritage Society
Kids love the Heritage Society because it isn’t your typical museum. Instead of being housed in a large building, the museum is actually housed in – drumroll, please – houses! Yes, you read that right. The Heritage Society in Houston is actually a collection of historic buildings that have been lovingly restored to resemble their original glory. Everything from the furniture to the artifacts in the homes are from the early 20th century. Admission is absolutely free and makes for a fun [free!] afternoon in downtown Houston. Kids can learn about the cool history of Houston through interactive collections, exhibits, educational programs, and more.
[If you’re willing to spend a few dollars: the Heritage Society offers daily guided tours for less than $20. They’re highly informative and the guides are purposely interactive for the sake of the kiddos!]
Visit the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the Taj Mahal [if not, this Lonely Planet book for kids is a GREAT resource] but the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a world wonder all of its own. This Hindu Manduir is the first of its kind in North America and is absolutely stunning. 34,000 stone pieces were sourced in Turkey and Italy, sculpted in India, and assembled in Houston to create this architectural masterpiece. The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is open to the public every day and is a magnificently free attraction in Houston. However, please be mindful that this is indeed an active place of worship so please be respectful.
[If you’re willing to spend a few dollars: and want to support the Mandir they do accept donations.]
Strike a Pose at Some Houston Street murals
Street art is all the rage in most cities and Houston is no exception! Houston is a large city so there is a lot of ground to cover but the majority of the murals are centrally located in either downtown, Midtown or in the Heights. You’ll have a ton of options including the Sugar & Cloth Wall downtown.
In these days of social media, who wouldn’t want a totally Instagrammable picture of the family in front of a “Greetings from Houston” mural? No one, that’s who. Here is a pretty nifty guide of some of the other options in the Houston area.
Tour the Houston Ship Channel
It is probably a little known fact that Houston has a ship channel. The Port of Houston Ship Channel is actually one of the nation’s busiest seaports and helps transport goods all over the world. It is probably an even lesser known fact that the Port of Houston Authority offers a free 90-minute round trip cruise along the Houston Ship Channel. Kids that love boats will not only have the opportunity to ride one but will also get to see many huge ones up close. The tour is also filled with fun informative facts about the ship channel and how it serves the great state of Texas. And don’t worry – the boats are air conditioned with plenty of seating. Just a note: reservations are required.
Watch the Bats Emerge from Waugh Bridge
The City of Houston calls its bat population one of Houston’s best kept secrets and I agree. The Waugh Bridge Bat Colony is located in downtown Houston and even features a bat observation deck. Unlike a similar Texan bat colony, the Waugh Drive bats can be found year round. In fact, they are believed to be the largest colony of Mexican free-tailed bats that reside in Texas year round. Even if you’re not totally into these awesome winged crusaders, their evening ascent is a sight to see. Plus, it’s free!
Visit All the Museums
Houston has one of the most extensive museum offerings in the country. Art, history, science – we’ve got it covered. What’s even cooler than that? Many of them are free [FREE!]. Yes, you read that right. You and the family can gain free admission to some of the most notable museums in the US. The following museums are free all day, every day:
- The Houston Museum of African American Culture
- Houston Art Car Museum
- Asia Society Texas Center
- Contemporary Arts Museum
- Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
- Houston Center for Photography
- The Jung Center
- Lawndale Art Center
- The Menil Collection
- Moody Center for the Arts
- Rothko Chapel
Although these museums aren’t free every day of the week, they do offer free admission at least once a week:
- Children’s Museum of Houston
- Houston Museum of Natural Science
- Museum of Fine Arts Houston
- The Health Museum
- The Buffalo Soldier’s Museum of Houston
Some are more child friendly than others so please be aware that your mileage may vary!
[If you’re willing to spend a few dollars: all of these museums rely on generous contributions from visitors like you so please consider making a donation.]
Explore Discovery Green
Located in the heart of downtown Houston, Discovery Green is just plain cool. This 12-acre park has everything the kids might desire. There is a playground, a splash pad, a putting green, a shuffle board, a misting tree, a lake for kayaking and so much more. Perhaps the highlight of this park, however, is its extensive [and totally fun] events calendar! Not a week goes by that there isn’t a free concert, exhibit, or festival at Discovery Green. There’s also plenty of space for a picnic amidst the skyscrapers of downtown. In terms of free things to do in Houston with kids, this one is top of the list!
[If you’re willing to spend a few dollars: there is plenty of street parking downtown – especially on the weekend — but there is also a for-fee parking garage conveniently located next to the park. Or even better option would be to take the METRORail! It’s a rail system that links the main segments of Houston together. It is super fast, inexpensive, and fun!]
Discover Your Inner Artist at Smither Park
Smither Park is a one of a kind park located in midtown Houston. Appropriately dubbed a creative urban space, the park is filled with elaborate mosaics made of recycled and repurposed materials. Every piece of art was made by local artists so everything is a piece of Houston. The ingenious venue features an amphitheater, memory wall, meditation area, covered pavilion, swings, and an interactive sculpture. Visit on Saturdays to watch the artists in action. Kiddos that love art [or just fancy the bright colors] will love Smither Park.
[If you’re willing to spend a few dollars: the adjacent Orange Show Monument and Beer Can House are both worth the small price of admission.]
Discover Houston in Buffalo Bayou Park
Buffalo Bayou Park, located in the heart of downtown Houston, is one of the largest green spaces in Houston and is largely reminiscent of New York City’s Central Park. No, there are no horse drawn carriages here but you will find plenty of bike and jogging trails, a dog park, a law enforcement memorial, a volleyball court, a skate park, a play area, and so much more. The best part is that the majority of the activities in this massive park are free. Even the parking is free [just please hide your valuables from sight]! There is no way a post like this could do the park justice so check their website for more details and an event calendar.
[If you’re willing to spend a few dollars: you can rent bikes, kayaks, and canoes to enjoy with the family during your visit! Enjoying Buffalo Bayou Park by bike or boat is a special experience that should not be missed.]
Visit & Feed the Houston Police Department Horses
If you visit Texas without seeing a horse, did you really even go? Stop by the Houston Police Department Mounted Patrol to view their horse herd and let the kids feed the horses. Bring carrots, apples, and peppermint candy by the stable and the kind officers will let you give the herd a treat. There are rules, of course, like no running in the barn but it’s worth it for this uniquely Texan venture.
[If you’re willing to spend a few dollars: the Houston Police Department would never charge your family a fee but they do greatly appreciate donations.]
Have you visited our beautiful hometown? Share your favorite things to do below!