Houston Top 10 | Family Travel

4/24/2016

Houston Top 10 | Family Travel

Texas has held a special place in my heart since I was 18 and called it my home for a year. On top of that, Texas was also the backdrop of the beginning of my romance with my husband. With all those special memories and feelings tied to this great state, it was with pleasure that we introduced our kiddos to the place where everything is bigger. Texas is huge and there is much to explore. This trip was our first chance to get to know Houston, and let me tell you, the city did not disappoint. Our travels as a family of four lead us to the best of the inspired city from Tex Mex, to the world's most famous rodeo. Here is my "Houston Top 10" family style! 


1. Pappasito's Cantina - Tex Mex

A trip to Texas is simply not complete without a taste of authentic Tex Mex. Our first order of business when we arrived was to satiate our hunger (and thirst) with a taste of Houston. Our tastebuds led us to Pappasito's Cantina. Part of the Pappas brand, this Houston born restaurant group is famous for it's fresh sourcing, Texas sized portions, and delicious seafood. Pappasito's Cantina featured all three staples packed with that Tex Mex flavor we were seeking. Did I mention the giant margarita full of fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice? At the end of a busy travel day with two kids, this was a must! Cheers! We were pleased to note other Pappa's brands throughout the city like Pappas BBQ (another Texas must), Pappas Burger, Pappadeaux, and Pappas Bros Steakhouse. 

Tip: Dishes are served up generously, don't be afraid to share. 
fresh margarita
Enjoy one of Pappasito's giant Margaritas! 

Tex Mex restaurant Pappasito's in Houston

authentic Tex Mex from Pappasito's


2. Discovery Green

Houston is full of unique green space's, and part of enjoying a city's charm is getting to know their local character. We found plenty of this in the urban setting of Discovery Green park. Situated in downtown Houston, Discovery Green is a colorful patch of playfulness that spans 12 acres. Featuring rotating interactive art installations, the most eye catching masterpiece during our visit was the brightly wrapped spinning tops placed throughout the green. Kids and parents alike hopped from top to top spinning as fast as they could and then jumped on for a ride. In addition to these larger than life eye catchers there is plenty of room to run free, a jungle gym full of fun, and a fountain for cooling off on those hot summer days. 

Tip: This park is huge, make sure to walk around and discover all there is to see. It's easy to just stick to one spot, but fun is all around. 

Discovery Green Park
Discovery Green inspires creativity and play!


Amy West and daughter at Discovery Green in Houston

Kids of all ages enjoy Discovery Green in Houston

Little girl playing at Discovery Green in Houston

3. The Children's Museum of Houston

Houston is full of cultural attractions and happens to boast it's own museum district. Joining the ranks of other great cities across the U.S. , Houston also has City Passes. These little ticket books are the perfect way to discover the city's best highlights for one great price. Included in the Houston City Pass are tickets to the Children's Museum of Houston. Voted America's number one children's museum by Parent Magazine, this giant playground features tons of hands on fun for all ages. From arts and crafts, an entire space dedicated to creating your own invention, and a three story floating playground, your and your family will be inspired while your imagination is challenged to dream bigger. We could have easily spent the entire day here, it was that much fun!

Tip: Plan ahead and know what areas are priority. We found our favorite spots towards the end of the visit and wish we had started on the bottom floor and worked our way up. 


Little girl about to enter the Children's Museum of Houston
Visit the #1 Children's Museum in the U.S. 

Infant playing at The Children's Museum of Houston

Little boy plays in the water at the Children's Museum of Houston
Indoor and Outdoor Exhibits stimulate the senses

4. Downtown Aquarium Houston

Aquariums are magical places that bring the mystery of the deep to eye level. Whether you are visiting as a family, or looking for a terrific date night destination, the Downtown Aquarium Houston is a memorable stop you "must see". This three story structure houses multiple examples of underwater ecosystems, and ends with a dramatic enclosure featuring a White Tiger. Visitors will also enjoy feeding and petting the stingrays in the massive stingray tank. If you are hungry make sure to make reservations for dinner at the Aquarium's restaurant or grab a drink on the second floor at the Dive Lounge. Outside there is even more fun. Purchase a wristband and enjoy the mini amusement park outside! The Downtown Aquarium is also included in the Houston City Pass.

Tip: Although the structure is three stories, the Aquarium is all on the main level. We rushed a little thinking the entire building needed exploring, so slow down and enjoy the water features on the main level. 
Dad and infant enjoy the Downtown Aquarium Houston
Downtown Aquarium Houston is larger than life!



Exterior view of Downtown Aquarium Houston

5. Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
 (and Concert)
Every year Houston is the host to the world's most prestigious rodeo. With over 400 million dollars donated to the youth of Texas, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is as much about entertainment as it is about education and scientific advancement. This was our first time attending a rodeo of this size and it was riveting. The kids were thoroughly fascinated by each sport, and we all enjoyed the festive atmosphere and Western attire. As an added bonus, each night there is also a major concert by today's musical super stars. The night we attended Brad Paisley made his annual appearance, while nights before names like Jason Derulo, The Band Perry, and even Pitbull brought the house down. If you haven't been to the Houston Rodeo, put it on your bucket list now!

Tip: Make sure to come early and enjoy the Livestock Show as well.

The Houston Rodeo
Be apart of the most prestigious rodeo in the world! 

Father and daughter enjoying the Houston Rodeo

Mother and daughter take a selfie at the Houston Rodeo

Brad Paisley entertains at the Houston Rodeo
Brad Paisley brought dow the house

6. Rodeo Carnival
Part of the Houston Livestock show and Rodeo is the Carnival located on the grounds of the sports complex. Conveniently timed around spring break, the Rodeo Carnival is the perfect escape every spring. Possibly the largest carnival I've had the privilege of attending, you can just go ahead and dedicate your entire day or week to thrill seeding on the fair grounds. What's the big deal? Let's just say you'll find great music, tons of games, more rides than you can count, and the best Texas food all in one spot! Do not miss it!

Tip: Admission to the carnival and rides are not included in your admission to the rodeo. Make sure to plan for this extra cost, because you will regret it if you miss it.

Little girl on Merry Go Round at the Carnival at the Houston Rodeo
Timeless fun at the Rodeo Carnival!

Mother and daughter enjoy a ride at the Houston Rodeo Carnival

Amy West at the Houston Rodeo Carnival


More rides than you can count at the Houston Rodeo Carnival

Loaded BBQ Potato from Pappa's BBQ at the Houston Rodeo Carnival
The best of Houston's food scene can be found at the Rodeo Carnival

7. Johnson Space Center 
For a memory that is "Out of this world" ( I couldn't resist), make sure to visit the Johnson Space Center when you are in Houston. Full of interactive fun and larger than life exhibits, the Space Center is easy to mistake as simply a tourist attraction. However, one minute into the grounds tour and you will be reminded that it is a fully functioning Space Center. During our tour we got an upclose look at where the astronauts train for space, and what's on the horizon for the future of space travel and exploration. It's a perfect chance to geek out, and get a first hand understanding of how far we have come in the last century. Kids and grown ups alike will be fascinated by inside looks at replicas of the space center, and shuttles. Who knows, maybe you'll inspire your tiny tots to be the next generation of space travelers!

Tip: Go first thing in the morning and get the tour out of the way so you don't have to wait in line or reserve a time. 
Amy West and daughter at Johnson Space Center in Houston
Space travel came alive at the Johnson Space Center


A Family tours the grounds of the Johnson Space Center
Tour the grounds of the Johnson Space Center for an up close look at the astronauts training ground

A family tours the grounds of Johnson Space Center in Houston
Tour the grounds of this fully functioning Space Center

Replicas of the international space center

A family tours the astronaut training facility at the Johnson Space Center in Houston

the astronaut training facility in Houston
Witness the astronaut's training ground


8. Houston Zoo

Repeatedly recognized as one of the nations "Top Zoos", the Houston Zoo is a noteworthy stop indeed. It was perfect weather for our spring stroll under the trees and throughout the lush landscape. I was surprised at the massive scale of the Zoo considering it's downtown location which houses over 6,000 animals. Enclosures for each animal were creatively designed with multiple viewing opportunities via fence or glass. Some of our kiddo's favorites included the Giraffes, Apes, Lions, big cats, and of course the Texas Long Horns. The Houston Zoo is also a part of the City Pass program.

Tip: Don't underestimate the size of this zoo, you can easily spend an entire day here. If you plan to do a half day, take a look at the map and set your priorities in advance so you don't miss your favorites. 

Texas Long Horns at the Houston Zoo
It wouldn't be a visit to Texas without an up close look at a Texas Longhorn



Little girl peeking at an enclosure at the Houston Zoo
Get up close and personal to your favorite species

Giraffe at the Houston Zoo

9. JW Marriott Houston Downtown

When it comes to where to stay, we couldn't have had a better location. The JW Marriott stands right in the heart of downtown Houston, and is steps away from the Houston METRORail. The JW Marriott's sophisticated surroundings held an artistic urban appeal, that felt both cool, and elegant at the same time. Our little family especially enjoyed the luxurious bedding, helpful staff, and turn down service each night complete with a special little treat. And did I mention how incredibly quiet the room was? No slamming doors waking you up in the middle of the night, no loud air conditioner, complete peace and quiet! Which was so wonderful considering we had the littles with us whose sleep we hate to be disturbed. 


Tip: I highly suggest upgrading to the concierge level so you can enjoy the lounge amenities. Breakfast each day was superb, not to mention the lounge is an ideal place to escape if you need to get a little work done!
Little girl on vacation at the JW Marriott Houston Downtown
My mini travel writer logging her thoughts on our room.

Room at JW Marriott Downtown Houston



Turn down service treat at the JW Marriott Downtown Houston
Sweet treat from Tout  Suite each night at turndown
Macarons from Tout Suite in Houston
Still dreaming about these Macarons from Tout Suite
10. METRORail  
With the exception of the Johnson Space Center, we were able to completly skip the use of outside transportation. From our ideal location at the JW Marriott, we stepped onto Houston's MetroRail and made it to the Children's Museum, the Rodeo, and the Zoo. Discovery Green, and the Aquarium were both easily within walking distance depending on how active you prefer to be. The Metro runs both North/South, and East/West covering some 23 miles of central Houston. We found it to be a safe, cost effective away to travel with the entire family, not to mention a unique way to see the city. At $1.25 one way, you really couldn't beat the price, and like I mentioned, our hotel was literally steps away. I found it easy to navigate and no problem to take the stroller on and off as well. 

Tip: The Metro tickets can be purchased via automated ticket machines on each platform. The system functions on the honor system so don't be surprised when no one takes your ticket on board. 

The METRORail in Houston
The METRORail was safe, convenient, and cost effective!



I love Texas! Of the cities I've visited I've learned that Austin loves to keep it weird, Dallas (the Big D) embodies "everything is bigger", and Houston? Houston is Inspired! Culture, food, and family permeate this creative city with a great big heart. There are so many reasons to visit, whether you are traveling with your family or looking for a romantic getaway. After our long weekend away we barely skimmed the surface of all the treasures Houston holds. We can't wait to return again. 

Share your favorite Houston discoveries in the comments below. I love hearing your travel commentary!

Until then...

Enjoy the Journey!

xo- Amy West

www.amywesttravel.com 

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Amy West and daughter in downtown Houston
Houston is truly Inspired

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* Although we were guests of Visit Houston, the blog is written in my words alone.

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