Our last family vacation was a road trip from northwest Arkansas to Galveston, Texas for a family reunion. Along the way we spent several days in Houston, which is a fun and very affordable city with lots of family-friendly sights and activities. Here are some highlights from our adventures:
After staying the night in my Dad’s childhood home in Texarkana (I’ve written extensively in the past about our treks up and down Highway 71 between the far northwest and southwest corners of Arkansas, and those posts appeared most recently in the travel section of Only in Arkansas), we started our trip into Texas. We passed through Jefferson, a former thriving riverport on the Big Cypress River that Fred and I had visited for a weekend about a decade and a half ago.
By the time we arrived in south Houston to check in at the Drury Hotel – Houston Hobby (I love this family of properties!), we were feeling pleased with our decision to begin our vacation on Memorial Day just as everyone else was heading back to the daily grind, leaving attractions and restaurants as well as traffic far less frenzied.
Side note on my love of Drury properties:
Drury offers daily hot breakfasts and piping hot coffee as well as popcorn and drinks in the afternoon and their signature 5:30 p.m. “Kickbacks,” meaning three adult beverages apiece for us during each day of our stay (hello, gin & tonic after a hot day in Houston) plus a broad array of kid-friendly eats such as hot dogs, chicken tenders, carrots and celery sticks and macaroni. This served as dinner most nights, cutting down on having to do anything but relax at the pool in the evenings.
I also love that Drury refills shampoo, conditioner and soap dispensers in their showers rather than using those little disposable plastic bottles that are so prolific at most hotels. I do wish all the properties could move away from disposables in the food service area and offer recycling, but they are making some good steps in the right direction and the staff were very accommodating when I brought my own coffee mug or asked that my beverage be refilled in the same cup each time. Speaking of which, the Drury staff are always incredibly polite, friendly and helpful – we heard Mary at the front desk in Houston greet countless guests by name and mention she had been at the property for twelve years, and Sharvette and new trainee Claudia were incredibly pleasant each evening despite the antics of our kiddos. We love Drury properties and look for them whenever possible when we travel.
Anyway, back to Houston: we always feel like we’ve achieved a mini “win” if we can plan a vacation that is simple, well-organized and low on the chaos factor and high on good experiences where we feel like we didn’t gorge ourselves on disappointing meals or throw money around on pointless attractions. Houston was a huge success on that grading scale, and we found a ton of great activities thanks to the Houston CVB website (as a long-time CVB director, I know that the local convention and visitors’ bureau will always have the scoop on the city’s best assets).
Our biggest spend was the Houston Aquarium on our first day (worth every penny) – we were completely impressed with the quality of this aquarium and it is definitely a must-see attraction for the area. We made use of a great resource from the Houston CVB called “Houston for Free,” which led us to the completely amazing Discovery Green park in the middle of downtown with fountains for the kids to splash, a great playground, clean restrooms, plenty of space to run around buffered from nearby traffic and a boardwalk surrounded by art and live oaks where we enjoyed our picnic lunch – without a doubt one of the best assets for families in Houston. We visited three separate times and enjoyed relaxing in the shade while the kids played after lots of walking and sightseeing in downtown Houston.
The next day (we spent a total of four nights in Houston with the Drury property as our home base), we visited the free and fantastic Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, a hidden gem in the middle of the city where you would never believe towering skyscrapers and frenetic traffic are a stone’s throw away. Admittedly, we are huge fans of botanical gardens and nature centers, but we spent several hours at the Arboretum and had a blast. The kids enjoyed the scavenger hunt in the Discovery Room, and then we meandered along the trails and spotted turtles, crawfish in streams from the recent heavy rains, garter snakes, green anoles and salamanders and plenty of centipedes and interesting plants.
After lunch back at the Discovery Green, we headed down to the Houston Port Authority for a free, 90 minute boat tour of the Houston Ship Channel. Reservations are required 24 hours in advance and can be made online, and each passenger is served a beverage and a reminder about recycling and litter (to which I say yay!), which is highlighted by the litter from the streets of Houston lining the channel following recent heavy rains. To set expectations, it’s important to note that this is not a scenic tour, but it was really interesting – we spotted massive freighter ships from Malta, Singapore, Monrovia, Istanbul and Panama and the kids enjoyed seeing the various activities and cranes of the industrial district.
On our third day, we spent a leisurely morning relaxing before heading out for back to back museums beginning with the Houston Art Car Museum, which is free and full of funkiness:
Many museums in Houston offer free admission on Thursdays, so we planned our day around visiting several. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is one of the most heavily-attended in the U.S. and features a planetarium, butterfly house, extensive Egyptian exhibits, gems, minerals and.. oh, the massive Tyrannosaurus Rex!
We wrapped up the day with a visit to the Children’s Museum of Houston, which offers free admission on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. – we grabbed an early dinner at Pappadeux before hitting the museum to ward off the crankies. Honestly, it would have been worth every penny to hit the Children’s Museum on another (less crowded) day, and it certainly deserves its reputation as one of the best children’s museums in the nation.
Three days in Houston was just right, and there were plenty of things we didn’t get to see so we’ll be sure to revisit for another family vacation soon. Put the city on your short list of fun, accessible and affordable must-visit destinations!