The Great Outdoors

Hiking in Houston with Kids: Jesse H. Jones Nature Park

There are plenty of places in Houston to get outdoors with kids, from urban city parks to more wild, natural spaces inside the loop. If you’ve already conquered most of these and want an entirely new challenge for your family, Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center is a good step up from the city parks but still a reasonable drive from Houston. Before you go, make sure you pack water, snacks, and bug spray!

Located by Houston Intercontinental Airport about 30 mins from downtown, the park is nestled in a neighborhood but evokes more of a state park feel once you get in the gates. There are lots of trails and parking lots, so with kids in tow it’s helpful to have the inside scoop on which area is best. Here is the map, which we could only find on site:

Park at the orange dot, and take the Palmetto Trail up to the blue circled area, which is the Cypress Boardwalk Trail, for a really easy walk and a fun adventure!

When you enter the park, resist the temptation to park in the first lot. Instead, follow the road almost to the exit of the park. In the photo above, it’s the orange dot. That trail was definitely the most accessible and fun for kids. Other trails seem to be more for bikers near the park entrance, but bikers (and pets – take note!) are not allowed on the trails in the area we’ll talk about here.

Right in the parking lot is the entrance to the Palmetto Trail, which you’ll take to get to the blue circled area on the map above. It links up with the coolest trail in the park: the Cypress Boardwalk Trail. This is a meandering, elevated boardwalk through a swamp full of old, beautiful cypress trees. It’s completely shaded here, so even in the heat it’s not too bad. When we went there was no water in the swamp, but it was still really beautiful and interesting.

Part of the Cypress Boardwalk Trail at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center

If you have really little kids, like 1-3 years old, the Cypress Boardwalk Trail is an easy walk and may be plenty. There are plenty of interesting pathways to explore and some built-in benches on the boardwalks to rest and have a snack. There are so many neat things to see, including birds, squirrels, and insects. We even found a bay leaf tree and got to smell and taste a leaf, thanks to the signage!

If you have kids that are a little older, like 3.5 and up, you may want to kick it up a notch and try your hand at finding Spring Creek. There is a place called Spring Creek Beach that is just north of the Cypress Boardwalk Trail area. It’s not far, it just a little more rustic, going through less-traveled trails. But the payoff is great, especially for kids that like to dig in the sand!

We found this great digging area on the way to Spring Creek Beach – there is a trail just beyond this area that takes you to a nice beach and shallow creek area!

From the parking lot, here’s how you get there (weird directions, but it works):

  • Follow the Palmetto Trail to Cypress Boardwalk Trail just like above
  • Watch for the White Oak Trail sign, and follow that trail
  • Watch for the Spring Creek Beach sign and follow it
  • Go across the bridge, play in the sand and have fun for a few minutes, and consult your Google Maps satellite view – you’re so close!
  • There are several trails off this sandy area that take you to the very nearby river and sandy beach area (less than 1/4 mile) – just keep an eye on Google Maps and you’ll find your way.
The beautiful Spring Creek Beach is a great reward after a nice hike!

You will probably be really hungry after this hike – at least we were! The nearby city of Humble has a ton of food options, but most of them on 1960, the closest large road in the area, are fast food. If you want something more unique, try Humble City Cafe or Tin Roof BBQ.

We hope you have fun at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center – we’ll certainly be back to try the other trails, because there’s plenty to explore. We weren’t able to visit the Nature Center at the front of the park due to COVID, but that’s on our list too. If you visit, please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors

Memorial Park’s new Eastern Glades Is the Perfect Picnic and Play Spot for Kids!

Memorial Park is more than two times the size of New York City’s Central Park, but most of us know it by the running loop and not much else. We may see the golf course through the trees or the ball fields across Memorial Parkway, but it’s always seemed a little more for adults than kids. As of this month, that’s completely changed with the opening of the first phase of Memorial Park’s master plan, the Eastern Glades. We highly recommend packing a picnic (make it a donut picnic, because after about 9am it’s way too hot these days) and a frisbee and heading there as soon as you can!

About the Park’s Master Plan

There are so many good things to say about Memorial Park Conservancy’s thoughtful approach to master planning. They used the awful drought in 2011 as an opportunity to rethink the park’s ecology, history, and use, and their master plan is an exceptional result of this process. They are focused on making the park accessible to all Houstonians through different kinds of transit and to different kinds of people by providing places for families to gather and play.

Explore Memorial Park in a whole new way in the Eastern Glades by checking out these boardwalks that run through the forest, right by the lake!

Here are a few amazing additions coming to the park in the next few years:

  • Clay Family Eastern Glades: Just opened! This is what we’re talking about in our post today, and if it’s any indication of the quality and beauty of the rest of the plan, we’re sold.
  • Land Bridge and Prairie: Memorial Park is bisected by the giant that is Memorial Parkway, and this project creates a wide, green bridge to connect the two. Stroll over the bridge and you’ll get to explore a restored Gulf Coast prairie in all its glory.
  • Sports Complex: Opening this year, the sports complex brings all the sports fields in Memorial Park together in one area, freeing up space for things like the prairie restoration.
The new lake in the Eastern Glades is perfect for spotting tadpoles, relaxing nearby, or taking a walk.

Getting there and Parking

If you want to check out the Eastern Glades, here are a few key things to know about where to go and where to park:

  • Drive to the east side of the park: It would make sense that the Eastern Glades is on the eastern side of the park, but stating the obvious because it would be a long walk from anywhere else. Crestwood is the street you want to look for – you can get to Crestwood from Memorial Parkway or via Washington and driving through the neighborhood towards Memorial Park.
  • There are parking meters: It’s annoying sometimes to see these parking meters pop up in previously free spots, but just like the ones at the Arboretum, they serve an important purpose here. These meters pay for the operating costs of these incredible new park enhancements. 75% of parking in the park is still free and will be for a long time to come, and there is plenty of neighborhood parking close by.
  • Park on or around Crestwood St: We were able to park right on Crestwood at Blossom, which is the entrance to the Eastern Glades, and it was free on the street. We noticed that the neighborhood has a ton of free street parking, so that’s a great option. Let’s cross our fingers that everyone’s respectful when doing this so it doesn’t become a bunch of no parking zones!

Checking Out the Eastern Glades

Before going further, let us reemphasize the need to go early – like 7:30am – because it is beastly hot right now. You’ll have the space mostly to yourself: bonus!

The grass is probably the best feature of the park, and there are a lot of outstanding features. This is non-prickly, soft, AWESOME grass!

Here are the highlights of this incredible, 100-acre area:

  • Picnic lawn: There is a huge, circular lawn as you walk into this area of the park with super soft, bouncy grass that is so awesome you don’t even need a picnic blanket! The grass continues around groves of trees and provides shaded, green pathways for kids to explore.
  • Lake: The water in this lake is spectacularly clear, and there are new plantings right along the edge. We saw tons of tadpoles and baby frogs already getting settled! Walking around the lake is easy on the pathways and boardwalks, and it’s a nice way to get the lay of the land. There are also long, curved, stone benches that provide ample seating and a good climbing spot for kids.
  • Woodland boardwalks: As you walk around the lake, you’ll see some boardwalks leading straight into the woods – definitely check them out! You’ll end up right back at the lake, but it’s a chance to see the forest in all its glory. It’s neat that it’s not just a straight path – there are “ends” that encourage you to stop and enjoy.
  • Covered pavilions and picnic areas: There are no tables yet because of COVID, but there are three brand new pavilion structures with giant, built-in grills that will be fantastic to reserve, along with some private picnic areas. We also noticed some spots that would be perfect for future food trucks and farmer’s markets, so we’re crossing our fingers those will happen soon!
  • Audio Tour: Right now there are temporary signs encouraging you to do the audio tour – do it! You’ll learn some of the history and ecology of the Eastern Glades. We all enjoyed it as a family. It’s not long and it makes you really understand how magical this transformation is.
The covered pavilions have neat chalkboards outside each one! You can see the chimney from the grill on the right hand side.

We hope you will enjoy this area of the park as much as we did. We feel like Memorial Park is now finally a great spot for families, and we’re pretty excited about heading there more than once a month to play and relax.

Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors, Travel

Road Tripping from Houston to Colorado with Kids: It Begins

We’ve always wanted to go on a road trip with our two kids, currently ages 3 and 6, but we figured it might be when they were a little older. A plane trip always just seemed so much easier! But then, COVID struck. After many months in quarantine and being right in the midst of Houston’s dog days of summer, getting out of town had to happen or we’d all lose our minds! So off to Colorado we went. Here’s what we did and how we did it.

Can’t beat the scenery or the weather during a Colorado summer.

The Plan

Here is what we knew about what we wanted to do (and what we had to do given COVID) that shaped how our trip evolved:

  • Stay far away from others and in the outdoors as much as possible
  • Avoid the heat (because we have enough of that right now in Houston!)
  • Take in some breathtaking scenery
  • See multiple places rather than stay in one spot to give the kids a flavor of CO as a whole
  • Eat some good food, even if we can’t eat at restaurants – and eat healthy wherever we can

Our trip shaped up quickly to focus on the eastern side of Colorado, mostly because of drive time. We also knew we wanted to break up the long drive up there (and back) into 2 days, so that narrowed down the choices rather quickly into the following 10-day plan:

Day 1: Houston to Canyon, TX (9+ hours – longest and most painful drive)
Day 2: Canyon, TX to Colorado Springs, CO (7+ hours)
Days 3-4: Enjoy Colorado Springs and surrounding area
Day 5: Drive to Boulder (1.5 hours – easy!)
Days 6-7: Enjoy Boulder and surrounding area
Day 8: Boulder to Pueblo via Golden, CO (around 3 hours – to get a jump on the drive back)
Day 9: Pueblo, CO to Canyon, TX (5+ hours)
Day 10: Canyon to HOME!

Why Canyon, TX and not some other spot? We wanted to do 2 things there: see Palo Duro Canyon State Park and check out the infamous Cadillac Ranch, both of which ended up being AWESOME. More on that later.

Channel your inner street artist at Cadillac Ranch!

Things We Learned About Road Tripping in General

There are plenty of blog posts and checklists online about what to bring on a road trip with kids, so we won’t rehash everything you should pack. Here are a few things we tried/learned that really helped us on those long driving days with the kids:

  • Over-pack your snacks: we packed a TON of snacks and stuff for meals because we wanted to minimize contact with other people. You know what? It wasn’t enough! We STILL went to the grocery store multiple times. If you think you packed enough, you probably didn’t, so grab that extra large box of applesauce and those 3 extra packs of granola bars, and more of whatever else you think you have enough of!
  • Have a solid cooler/snack bag strategy: Bring a small cooler and a reusable bag for the front of the car, both packed with drinks/snacks/napkins/etc. This should be everything food-wise you need for the day. Make sure it’s accessible while driving so you don’t have to stop to unpack and reorganize (bathroom breaks will cause you to stop plenty!). Also pack a large cooler and large bag in the back with the rest of your food. Then, restock your small cooler/bag with fresh snacks/drinks each morning so you can grab and go as needed!
  • There’s more to life than iPad: While the iPad was totally a part of our strategy, especially for those 9+ hour driving days, there were some really cool and unexpected things that were super fun beyond screen time. First, podcasts! Download a bunch of them for free – our favorite ones are Story Pirates and Storynory. The kids were fascinated, the stories were cool, and they gave us some peace – huge win for the whole crew! Next up, this random license plate sticker book – we bought several cheap things for the kids to try on the road, but this one was the biggest hit and kept them occupied for the longest. It was a good riff on an old school game. Each long driving day, the kids got to choose one movie to watch on iPad, and the oldest played an iPad game while the 3 year old was passed out napping, so everyone was happy.

Learn more in our next post, when we finally get on the road. We’ll share the stop you can’t miss on the way from Houston to Canyon and tell you the best way (we think) to visit Cadillac Ranch and Palo Duro Canyon State Park with kids!

Read the next post in this series!

Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors

Geocaching: Free outdoor fun with kids in Houston!

A microcache we recently found – it’s a super small geocache often magnetically attached to something in the environment, like a sign or a metal pole.

What’s totally free, gets you outdoors, is fun for the whole family, is almost exactly like a treasure hunt, and can be done in Houston but also all over the world? Geocaching! This “sport” has been around over a dozen years, but don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it. We’ll tell you all you need to know to get started!

What is Geocaching?

When you geocache, you hunt for small containers hidden in the landscape by people that plant them in nooks and crannies just for you to find them. You find these containers using your phone, which takes you to the location, and then you use your treasure hunting skills (and sometimes a few hints) to find the exact place they are hidden. The kind folks that hide the containers do it just for fun – there’s no financial incentive, and the fun is to surprise and delight – and to see how many people can find it!

Geocaches abound all over Houston, so it’s the perfect thing to get your kids outdoors and in pursuit of a super fun goal.

How do I get started?

You’ll need a few key things if you want to have a successful geocaching experience:

  • Close-toed shoes, water, sunscreen, and bug spray: these caches are in the great outdoors, and sometimes they can be pretty hidden. You may find yourself in a forest, a field, in a neighborhood, or near a bayou – so make sure you’re really ready to explore!
  • The Geocaching app: this free app by company Groundspeak is available for iOS and Android. You will want to download the app on any phones that will be involved in the hunt. We made a family account so we can log all our finds on the same app, and we signed in on multiple phones. With a free account, you can access tons of easy and medium level geocaches. A paid, annual account gets you harder caches, but don’t do this until you get really good! There are plenty of free ones to choose from.
  • Your phone: You will need to access the app on your phone so you can choose a cache to find, navigate to it, see information about the cache, and record that you’ve found it, among other things. Don’t worry, you won’t be buried in your phone the whole time – it’s just a tool to help you get to your goal.
  • A pen: It’s fun to sign your name when you find a geocache, and most of them contain a list to do just that!
  • Small trinkets: The larger geocaches may have small toys or trinkets inside, so bring a few of your own so you can either contribute or swap them out. Good geocache etiquette requires that if you take something from a cache, you put something back in!
There is a list inside many geocaches so you can write your name and when you found it. It’s fascinating to see when it was last found. Some caches ask you to put where you’re from, and you’ll see people from all over the world that have found it!

Geocaching Lingo

Once you’ve got everything ready, you’ll need to know some geocaching vocabulary. This is an extremely popular hobby with a dedicated following, and like any specialized craft, there are plenty of new words to learn!

  • Geocache: this is the actual container you will find – “geo” because it’s located using GPS, and “cache” because the container has things inside it. Geocaches can be tiny (size of a kid’s finger) to the size of a shoebox, and anything in between. They are usually made of something very sturdy like metal or plastic, and many are magnetic because they are affixed to metal of some kind. There are also those hidden in the landscape under brush. Sometimes they are painted to camouflage with their surroundings. The goal is for the inside not to get wet, because there’s stuff in there!
  • Muggle: when you search for caches, it’s very important that innocent passersby not see you find it or place it back. These people are called muggles – if they do see you, they might get curious and take the cache or put it back in the wrong spot, which would ruin the fun for everyone. Watch for muggles and wait for them to pass!
  • DNF: In the racing world, this means “did not finish,” but in the geocaching world, it means “did not find.” When you try to locate a geocache but you just can’t find it, log a DNF in the app so others know it wasn’t found. Sometimes caches get moved or lost (remember muggles?), so this alerts others that it might not be there – or may be super hard to find.
  • TFTC (Thanks for the Cache!): You might see this abbreviation when you’re looking through the activity section on a cache – people write TFTC when they find a cache to to thank the person who originally hid it.
  • FTF (First to Find): This is the ultimate achievement in geocaching – being the “first to find” a geocache! They are being placed all the time, so you may very well get a FTF in your adventures.

How to Geocache with Kids

Pre-planning is key when geocaching with kids. It doesn’t take long, but you will increase your chances of success if you:

  1. Bring plenty of water and snacks: you don’t want to cut your adventure short because the kids are hungry or thirsty, so pack a bag like you’re doing some light hiking.
  2. Keep the explanation simple: Tell them they are going on an outdoor treasure hunt! They won’t get to keep the treasure unless you find a cache with trinkets, but it’s really rewarding and fun to find a geocache regardless.
  3. Find a spot with several geocaches: Sometimes caches are hard to find or not there anymore, so make sure to guarantee success and increase your odds. Great places in Houston include along the major bayous, larger thoroughfares (think Heights Blvd, Heights or Midtown Hike and Bike Trails), parks (Memorial Park and the Arboretum are great spots), and unique neighborhoods (Old Sixth Ward). The rule in placing caches is that it has to be free to enter so it’s accessible to everyone.
  4. Try, try again! Sure, it’s frustrating if you can’t find a cache, but keep hunting and you will be rewarded. On our last outing, we found 2 of the 4 we searched for. I’m pretty sure one was there and we missed it, and the other I think was legitimately missing. We have small kids so searching for a long time isn’t an option. Better to move on and get a quick win by finding a different one! You can always go back and try again another time.

We hope geocaching is as fun for your family is at is for ours. Hopefully we’ll see your name on a geocache around Houston soon!

Arts & Culture, Food

Houston’s Chinatown with Kids: Always An Epic Adventure!

We’ve been trekking to Chinatown (aka Asiatown) for years, but the last several weekends we’ve made it a point to head down to Bellaire near the Beltway to give some extra support to a community that’s been hurting lately. Irrational fear has recently kept people away from Chinatowns in cities all across the country because of the COVID-19 virus. It’s definitely a scary thing, but it’s also scary when local businesses and the families who run them are hurting. We decided to try our best and help out by heading down to Chinatown as much as possible to support them.

If you’re trying to plan your weekend with kids, Chinatown is a place for endless fun (and food!), and double bonus: you get to help people out while you’re having a blast. Here are some of our favorite things to do with our kids.

Snacks abound in Chinatown – the trouble is choosing which ones to take home, because they are all so interesting and delicious!

Go get some groceries!
Yes, you already do this multiple times a week, but it’s different in Chinatown. Among the things you can do in any Chinatown grocery store:

  • Explore the produce: even if your kids have well-traveled palates, you’ll find at least one fruit or vegetable you haven’t seen or tasted before. Make it a point to go find the jackfruit – it’s spiky to touch and gigantic – and marvel at the wide variety of root vegetables. Pick up a few items to try at home too!
  • Marvel at the fish: you can’t get fresher than live fish, and the grocery stores in Chinatown have an incredible selection. You can see fish in giant fish tanks swimming around, watch the crabs and lobsters scuttle around, and if you’re lucky the person behind the fish counter may even cajole a live geoduck or scallop. One grocery store had live frogs! Which one? You’ll have to go explore to find out.
  • Go on an import shopping spree: whether your vice is sweets, salty snacks, tea of all kinds, or something else delicious, you’ll find it in a Chinatown grocery store. Our favorite things to get are these sesame and coconut crackers at H-Mart, every flavor of Hello Panda and Pocky under the sun, Ramune (the marble drink!), and of course every wacky flavor of Lay’s chips you can find (Cucumber? Short rib? Why not!).
  • Ask nicely for a sample: the folks giving samples aren’t as plentiful as HEB, but when have you had sea bass at HEB – and sea bass that your kid gobbles down in a blink, no less. Last time we got to try these lemon wafer cookies that are now an after dinner staple in our house!
  • Shop for kitchen goods and gadgets: Need a real wok? How about some adorable his and her chopsticks? Some beautiful bowls for soup or rice? The perfect bamboo spoon? A bargain basement rice cooker that makes perfect rice? You can find all this and more at the grocery store, and the kids love to check it all out while you shop!
The jackfruit is spiky and giant, and often there’s one cut up next to the whole ones so you can see the inside too!

Grocery stores to check out (they are all on Bellaire Blvd within blocks of each other on the north side of the street – easy to find!):

  • H-Mart: This is actually a Korean grocery store, and it’s got a fantastic selection from all around the world. It’s our favorite for the snack selection, though all of them are good.
  • Jusgo: Here you’ll find all sorts of interesting household wares, and it’s got the best selection of live aquatic animals.
  • Welcome Food Center: A solid produce and snack selection, and don’t miss the roast duck hanging in the prepared foods area.

Run Around!
Kids need a little energy burned before you sit down for a meal? Never fear, there’s a giant park just minutes away! Arthur Storey Park is right on the Beltway. It’s easy to access and fun to run. There is a playground and swing set near the front, and you can walk along the bayou or follow the trails to explore the larger park. We never have taken photos here because we are too busy running around having fun, so you’ll have to see for yourself!

We loved the ramen at Tiger Den so much that we accidentally re-enacted Lady and the Tramp in a race to the bottom of the bowl!

Get Your Grub On
When you’re ready to grab some food, you can go one of two ways – just pick a random option (you probably won’t be disappointed) or go with some of the perennial favorites. There are tons of great articles, including the ones we reference quite often in Eater and Houstonia, so we won’t provide an exhaustive list here. These are some of our favorite with kids:

  • Tiger Den: This place is always packed and there’s a good reason – the ramen just can’t be beat. It’s perfect for kids of all ages! Our kids gobble everything down, including fried octopus balls, tonkotsu ramen (mild and traditional – ask for an extra soft-boiled egg or two!), and meat and seafood skewers of all kinds.
  • Okome Don: Probably the best poke place we’ve been to, Okome Don is a light and fresh choice that allows your kids to get all their veggies in while not even noticing.
  • Fufu Cafe: Known for its soup dumplings, pretty much everything on the menu is inexpensive and awesome. Just remember that even though it’s inexpensive, it’s still a ton of food! If your server looks at you strangely, it’s probably because you ordered enough to feed a small army.
When a normal ice cream cone just won’t do the trick, add some “fairy floss” and a toasty marshmallow at Aqua S!

Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
It would be an absolute travesty to not save room for dessert in probably the best area of town to get any sort of dessert you want! We’ve had more dessert trips to Chinatown than we have fingers and toes, so here are our top picks:

  • Aqua S: Right next to Tiger Den, this incredible soft serve ice cream place won’t leave you feeling weighed down, but you will be impressed by the wild toppings you can choose!
  • Nu Cafe Houston: The perfect food on a hot day is a giant pile of shaved ice covered in fruit and gelatin. I feel like I think about it in my sleep at least once a week, and my kids can’t wait to get there and chow down!
  • 85 degrees C Bakery Cafe: If pastries and cakes are your thing, this is the place to get a gorgeous and delicious selection of desserts. Bring your crew so you can try several!

What are your favorite Chinatown spots? Let us know in the comments!

Day Trips from Houston, Food, Helpful Hints

Houston Day Trip with Kids: Rosenberg, for Nature, Great Food, and Trains!

It’s hard to call a trip to Rosenberg an actual day trip from Houston (it’s basically still Houston all the way past Highway 99 these days), but there’s so much to do there that it’s well worth planning a whole day of family fun!

To start, pack up your snacks and water and head straight to Seabourne Creek Nature Park. Located just off 59, it’s just past the National Guard Armory (look to the left when you’re driving to see a big tank!) and the Rosenberg Civic Center. Maintained by the Texas Master Naturalists, this former plain green field with a detention pond has turned into a natural oasis hosting an abundance of wildlife. These wonderful volunteers have painstakingly recreated three beautiful Texas habitats in a single park: woodlands, prairie, and wetlands.

Part of the wetlands habitat at Seabourne Creek Nature Park

The hiking’s easy at Seabourne Creek – it’s perfect for small kids, because each habitat has one main trail that is about 1/3 mile long. You can easily see all of them in just over an hour. Logistically, the parking is plentiful and the bathrooms are clean and right up front. Just a few of the things to do when you’re there:

  • Take binoculars (or just use your eyes!) and see how many birds you can spot – we found egrets, roseate spoonbills (they look like flamingos with spoons on their bills – cool!), and so many more
  • Enjoy a snack on the picnic tables in the woodland area
  • Run along the boardwalk in the wetlands
  • Count the ducks in the lake
  • Search for butterflies in the butterfly garden
  • Check out the greenhouse where they are growing the native prairie grasses and restoring the habitats

When the kids start saying “pick me up!” or “I’m hungry,” head over to the Ol’ Railroad Cafe in Rosenberg (the old downtown – it’s pretty adorable) for a lunch that satisfies both kids and grown ups. The salads are outstanding, and the burgers are on fresh-baked buns, but pretty much everything is delicious.

The tour is a must-do at the Rosenberg Railroad Museum

Next up, walk just a couple blocks over to the Rosenberg Railroad Museum (closed Mon/Tues). Well worth the entry fee, you start at the small indoor museum, and kids get to do a fun scavenger hunt that ends in them getting to pick a special prize when they complete it. Outdoors is an amazing scale model of Rosenberg 70 years ago with trains chugging through the landscape. If that weren’t enough, there’s a play area where the kids can climb all over a wooden train play set, and you can check out the REAL trains chugging by from a platform to get the perfect view!

Also included is a tour you can take as a family: even if you don’t think your kids can handle tours (we generally don’t do them because we’re pretty rowdy and easily distracted), go for it! They are great with kids and the tour is fascinating to everyone, and it includes a trip through two train cars – a shiny red caboose and a very fancy passenger car.

Put a cherry on top of your day at Another Time Soda Fountain in downtown Rosenberg!

Now that you’re thoroughly exhausted and your kids are almost to the point of losing it, head across the street to Another Time Soda Fountain to wrap up the day and reward everyone for being troopers. You can belly up to the bar on old-time barstools if your kids are old enough or settle in at a table and enjoy the ambiance there. Choose from a great selection of delicious shakes and malts, or introduce your kids to the ever-classic Coke Float.

By this point, there will almost surely be naps in your future on your way home, if they haven’t happened already. Enjoy the quiet time and that drive back to Houston!

Do you have any other favorite Rosenberg haunts? Let us know in the comments!

Day Trips from Houston, Helpful Hints

Houston Day Trip with Kids: Galveston

Often, trips to Galveston follow a pretty similar narrative: either a weekend at a beach house or a day relaxing on the beach…with tons of traffic there and back. These are both excellent choices (traffic excluded), especially with kids, but there are countless options for fun that don’t involve a swimsuit!

Winter is probably the most beautiful and awesome time to be in Galveston with your kids!

Here are some tips for getting the most out of Galveston with your kids:

  • Go when it’s winter. Houston winters are gorgeous, and the crowds in Galveston are way more manageable too.
  • Be an early bird. Your kids get up early, so take advantage of that pre-dawn wake-up and get out the door before 9! Chances are, you’ll miss all the traffic!
  • Bring a picnic. Sure, there are great places to eat, but a lot of them are overly touristy and expensive. If you must chow down in a place with 4 walls, try The Spot. Still touristy, but the food is great and you will want to reuse their kids drink cup for as long as your kids need a lid!
  • Use the car…for sleeping. Galveston is pretty far, so if you have to come back early, do it during nap time. Or, commit to a full day: put them in their PJs before you leave to go home, let them pass out in the car, and put them straight to bed when you get there.
La King’s Confectionery on the Strand is a classic: you can’t leave Galveston without going there!

We won’t detail everything to do in Galveston – you can find info about Moody Gardens (great place – a day trip in itself!) and the way-too-expensive-and-not-that-great-for-kids Pleasure Pier all over the place – but here are a few gems that we consider tried and true:

  • La King’s Confectionery: It’s the most wonderful candy shop, taffy pulling experience, ice cream shop, and soda fountain you can imagine. This historic and popular Galveston attraction is located on the Strand, a fun place to shop and walk around.
  • The Elissa: Located just off the strand, this ship hails from 1877 and is a part of the Texas Seaport Museum. Explore the decks, check out the captain’s quarters, marvel at the engine room, and actually take the helm! The all-volunteer crew sets sail each March and spends the rest of the year training and making her seaworthy.
  • Galveston Island Brewing: Kids are totally welcome at this super casual spot, and they have root beer!
  • Galveston Railroad Museum: So much more than a static display, a ticket to this museum lets you ride a real train by the cruise ship terminals.
  • Port Bolivar Ferry: The best free thing to do in Galveston, this is your chance to feed the seagulls, try and spot dolphins, and enjoy the sea breeze. Often we just go over and right back again just to enjoy the experience.
  • Galveston Children’s Museum: Located in a basement, it’s a fun place to spend a couple hours. It’s not shiny and new, but the exhibits are all hands on and the kids L-O-V-E it!
  • Galveston Tree Sculptures: After Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston, artists decided to make something out of the destruction. Many trees that were broken were turned into works of art, and you can drive around and find them all!
  • Go treasure hunting on the beach: Take a drive to Galveston’s west end (away from super busy East Beach), way past Moody Gardens, and find a place where you can pull in. The shells are way more plentiful and the beach is much more serene and less crowded!
If you’re lucky and the Elissa’s volunteer crew is getting ready to sail, they may even let you help with the ropes!

What are your favorite things to do in Galveston with kids? Let us know in the comments!

Helpful Hints

Getting Your Kid’s Energy Out: Indoor Edition

We all know the weather in Houston is mighty unpredictable: it could be 80 degrees in January, or there could be a 2-week streak of downpours in September. Or, it’s just plain 105 degrees in August with 95% humidity and there’s no way you’re going outside. In these instances, having a few places in your back pocket where you can take kids to release pent up energy is essential. Here are some favorites that have saved us from going stir crazy!

For the toddler set, options are limited. There are plenty of places that charge a membership fee that fit the bill, but most of those places are full with birthday parties on the weekends and also really pricey. It’s also hard to find places where toddler’s don’t get stepped on by the big kids. A couple of go-to spots for us include:

  • MajestKids in Sugar Land: It may be far for many of you, but the drive is worth it. Especially because you can get a good nap in on the way there or back! Located in a small strip center, this place is perfect for kids 3 and under. There are giant foam blocks, big wooden playsets, a bounce pillow, a foam pit, and there’s even a dedicated infant area. They have healthy snacks at the snack bar too. Though it was a 30+ minute drive for us, we found ourselves going back again and again.
  • Weiss Energy Hall at HMNS: Houston Museum of Natural Science is super fantastic overall and a source of endless fun, but you don’t normally think about it to expel a toddler’s energy. The 4th floor houses Weiss Energy Hall, and despite its elevated purpose (I’m not sure I could ever begin to explain fracking or viscosity to a 2-3 year old), toddlers can have a blast here. Despite it being one of the neatest spaces in the museum, it has never been crowded when we’re there, and there are tons of cool things to push, pull, see, and do. The space is gigantic, and the lights and tech are super cool for parents and kids alike. Bonus: when your kid gets tired, leave through the dinosaur exhibit on the first floor and marvel at the larger-than life skeletons that look like art!
  • Lowe’s or Home Depot: Ok, hear us out. It sounds weird, but there are two big things this option has going for it. First, giant, long aisles to run down. Second, fascinating things to look at and explore! If your kid has extra energy, put something heavy in the cart and let them push it around. Bonus: you can get light bulbs and plan your next home renovation while your kid touches every single carpet sample and opens and closes the washing machines to their heart’s content!
These giant foam blocks at MajestKids are just one of many awesome features for kids under 4!
Lowe’s is a great rainy day locale for running wild through the aisles with a toddler!

For kids that have passed the toddler phase and have boundless energy to burn off, the choices are plentiful all over the city. We have a particularly active elementary school kid, so we’re often challenged with finding the most interesting and varied indoor activities to exhaust him when the weather’s crummy. Here are some unique ones to try:

  • Urban Air on 290: This is a place where kids from toddler age to adult can have a blast, but the sweet spot is elementary school. There are several Urban Air locations, but this one is our favorite because of the combo of a great ninja warrior course, tons of trampolines, a huge playground, and several rock walls – all of which are included in the price of admission. If your kid is older elementary, they can even do a zip line!
  • Texas Rock Gym: There’s nothing like a giant rock wall to tire out a 5 year old! The folks at Texas Rock Gym know how to work with kids – they offer day passes, memberships, and camps. Your child can try the auto-belay and go up the wall on his or her own, but the best way to play is for you to belay and your child to climb. It’s a great bonding experience, and you both get to enjoy it. You can rent a harness for each of you, and if it’s your first time, you’ll get a one-on-one training to show you exactly how it works.
  • Urban Movement: This is a new one for us, but it’s so awesome that it’s now in our regular rotation. Urban Movement is for kids and adults and focuses on the sport of parkour – aka using your body to run, jump, and climb over all sorts of things. This is a class-based program, but that’s sort of necessary so you know what to do. After an hour of instruction, there’s an hour of free play in the gym. Your kid will literally never want to leave!
The ninja warrior course at Urban Air on 290
Texas Rock Gym has a wide variety of routes ranging from beginner to expert.
Urban Movement uses parkour to teach balance, build strength, and build confidence

Lastly, sometimes you can’t go anywhere when the weather’s bad, or you just don’t want to. For those occasions, we recommend a couple of key pieces of equipment that will help you tire out your little one, no matter their age:

  • Plastic cones
  • Masking tape
  • An indoor trampoline (Little Tykes has a great one!)
  • A soft ball you can throw around inside and not break a window or the TV

With these simple tools, you can build countless obstacle courses that will challenge your kids and make being stuck inside a blast. Use your watch to time them, add in challenging things to jump on/over/around, require a few jumping jacks here and there, and they’ll be passed out on the couch in no time.

So, what did we forget? What recommendations do you have for indoor places in Houston to go for kids to get their energy out?

Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors

Discovering Nature in Houston with Kids, Inside the Loop

Most people think of Houston as a giant, sprawling concrete jungle. While those people may be right (ok, fine…), there are plenty of unexpected natural areas to explore with your kids inside the city limits – even inside the loop.

In later posts, we’ll cover some of the incredible natural spaces outside the city, including state parks. For now, let’s stay closer to home and see what our fair city has to offer!

Hike the trails, climb the trees, and find unexpected treasures at the Houston Arboretum!

Many native Houstonians have heard of the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, but more often than not, it seems like most haven’t had the chance to check it out. Kids or no kids, it’s absolutely one of the best places in the city to get in touch with nature. It’s like you just stepped into the piney woods! If you do have a family, you can let your kids to run, climb, explore, and create wonderful memories. A few highlights of the Arboretum include:

  • Plenty of easy hikes filled with fun things to see. The newly-opened Ravine Trail is short, near the entrance, and has some nice elevation changes. The half-mile Inner Loop Trail is perfect for strollers, as it’s flat and wide without being boring. Check out the map on the website for more detailed trail info.
  • A phenomenal nature center. While it’s getting renovated as a part of the Arboretum’s Master Plan and will no doubt get even better, the old one is still a real gem. Go on a scavenger hunt, see fish, bugs, and other critters, and talk to the fantastic staff that are there to help your kids learn.
  • A place to find the unexpected. We got the chance to visit frequently in the morning before taking our oldest to summer camp (which is the best camp in the city if you kid likes the outdoors, by the way!). We found crazy looking flowers, turtles in the pond, a wayward skunk, tons of bugs and birds, and bees and butterflies in a beautiful garden. Taking your time and looking closely at your surroundings is well worth it!

Another wonderful gem in an unexpected spot is the Nature Discovery Center in Bellaire. I always regret that we don’t take photos when we go there, but we are way too busy having fun! It’s free, and there are indoor and outdoor areas to explore:

  • Russ Pitman Park is the outdoor area that allows you to experience different types of native Texas habitats. It’s sort of similar to the Arboretum in some ways (though a lot smaller), but here there is a big sand pit and a ton of natural play opportunities. Bring a change of clothes – it’s way worth getting dirty!
  • Discovery Rooms are inside the Nature Center, which is actually a cool old house, and you can’t miss them. Have fun putting on a play, seeing live animals, talking to the knowledgeable staff, checking out books, and just looking at all the cool treasures!

Both the Arboretum and Nature Discovery Center have frequent events for kids of all ages, so be sure to get on their email list. You can also become a member of both places to show your support and receive some really great benefits.

A less formal but equally awesome nature opportunity is West 11th Street Park in the Timbergrove area. It’s a densely forested patch of nature that offers a slice of wilderness literally in the middle of a neighborhood. There’s no play area, but there are some great trails and chances to spot wildlife and natural beauty!

Buffalo Bayou Park has a great nature play area right in the center of Houston.

Our final recommendation isn’t as natural as the ones above, but it’s a great trend to see happening for kids in Houston: the emergence of nature play areas. These are popping up all over the place. Instead of the typical plastic slide and play structure, several parks are using natural materials to give kids a more authentic nature experience.

If you want to check a couple of these nature play areas out, try Buffalo Bayou Park near the Sabine St Bridge and also Evelyn’s Park. The area at Evelyn’s Park is small, but it’s so much fun to climb up the tree stumps and go down the big hill slide – and of course play in the sand.

How do you and your kids experience nature in Houston? What would you recommend exploring next? Let us know in the comments below!

Food, Helpful Hints

Eating Your Way through Houston’s Food Scene With Kids

Izayaka Wa in Memorial is a kid-friendly place where kids can explore new tastes!

Ever since that GQ article crowning Houston the “new capital of Southern cool,” people around the country are beginning to notice the treasure we already knew was here. One of the benefits of raising kids in Houston is that they get to learn and play alongside people different than they are, hear different languages, and explore new and amazing flavors through all the culinary traditions imaginable. If you’re just beginning to uncover Houston’s incredible food scene, or you want your kids to experience it, we’re here to provide you some recommendations for getting started – even if your kids don’t yet eat everything under the sun.

Here are some tips on adventurous dining with young kids before we dive in:

  • Start ’em early – if eating raw fish is normal when you’re a toddler, it’s no big deal your whole life! I started eating sushi in college, but my kids started when they were two. If your kids are a little older, the time is now to start your adventure!
  • Start with “normal” (for your family) and work up to exotic – we all have our specific ways of cooking, so it may take longer for kids to get used to more unusual flavors. Try and pick foods or cuisines that have familiar elements in the beginning.
  • Pack emergency snacks – You never know when picky’s going to strike! Bring backup snacks to augment the meal just in case if your kid has a particularly narrow view of what they’re going to try or eat
  • It’s a win if you try – even if your meal isn’t successful this time, it’s ok – you got out there! Try again and again, and retreat a little if you need back to something more familiar.
  • Sharing is caring – try to eat family style so everyone can sample different dishes and decide their favorite. In restaurants that serve appetizers and entrees, focus on lots of appetizers rather than one or two large plates to get a feel for the place.

Getting hungry? Here are a few of the key cuisines in Houston that you’ll want to try. This is by no means an exhaustive list – there are so many wonderful types of food here! The goal is to give you some ideas, and for you to find your own treasures and create your own memories. Let’s get started!

Killen’s Barbecue is a drive, but it’s well worth it. The kids can nap on the way back!

Barbecue – Nope, it’s not exotic, but understanding what makes really good barbecue also makes you a true Houstonian. Places like Corkscrew (Spring), Tejas Chocolate and Barbecue (Tomball), Killen’s (Pearland), Truth, or Pinkerton’s are good spots to start. With kids it’s crucial to order ALL the sides (mac n’ cheese, potato salad, beans, coleslaw, etc), and of course get 1/4 to 1/2 lb of every meat you can find! If you decide to take a pilgrimage to Killen’s, Tejas, or Corkscrew, remember – get there early (10am), because you’re going to wait in line, and they go until they sell out. Killen’s and Corkscrew have space for the kids to play – don’t forget the sunscreen and an umbrella if it’s blazing hot that day.

Chinese (not the American kind of Chinese food)Wanna Bao and Pepper Twins inside the loop. Even better – go to Chinatown! While we have our Chinatown favorites, Eater’s got you covered on a selection of really delicious places that are time-tested. Dumplings are a kid fan favorite (bao – soup dumplings – are king at Wanna Bao), and the rice dishes are plentiful. The servers at multiple Pepper Twins locations have been more than accommodating in trying to find a good not-so-spicy option for kids.

These are the dumplings at Pepper Twins – they are on the menu at the Fairview location and one of the best things we’ve ever eaten.

Japanese – There are tons of sushi places all over town these days, but Japanese food doesn’t just mean sushi. Explore other special elements of Japanese cuisine at the original Izayaka Wa in Memorial. It’s a family-friendly place that’s unique and memorable!

Real Mex – The places to get legit Mexican food are endless in Houston. El Rey Meat Market near the wonderful collection of produce vendors formerly known as Canino’s or Brother’s Taco House for solid tacos and a great, authentic experience. You may not know what’s in all those tacos, but that’s part of the fun! Or, play hooky from work, grab your kiddo, and head downtown to Irma’s if you want something fancier. There’s no actual menu, but the lemonade is always a must-drink. If you’re looking for a weekend option, try Hugo’s for brunch. It’s expensive, but it’s beyond worth it. Don’t pass up the chance to eat a grasshopper, either – they’re on the buffet – do it!

South Asian – fast food Indian is a great place to dip your toe in the water if your kids are new to the cuisine. Try Tarka Indian Kitchen to start and get a variety of foods to try, such as samosas, biryani, a mild tikka masala or korma curry, and of course a delicious mango lassi to sip on. Finish off the meal with gulab jaman (deep fried pastry balls in honey syrup) and everyone’s happy. If you’re up for more adventure (do it!), try the revered Himalaya or any number of wonderful restaurants in the Mahatma Ghandi District near 59 and Hillcroft.

Can’t go wrong with the tacos (those TORTILLAS!) at El Rey Meat Market!

Tex Mex – We can’t not mention it. Perhaps the only truly Texas cuisine other than barbecue, any Houstonian can point you to some incredible gems like Ninfa’s on Navigation, El Tiempo, or the always-packed Pappasitos. You’ve probably already hit them all up, and the kids have tried every kind of enchilada. If you haven’t yet, a few great menu items to try with your kids are enchiladas, fajitas, and of course a ginormous bowl of queso. Don’t forget to order yourself a margarita as a reward for making such a good choice.

Vietnamese – This healthy and kid-friendly cuisine is an easy go-to when we’re trying to figure out what on earth to eat. Nam Eatery in the Heights and Huynh in East Downtown (pronounced like “win”) are delicious inside the loop options, but Asiatown (AKA Chinatown) is of course the place to be. What to order? Try pho if your kids like chicken noodle soup. Banh mi (sans jalapeno) on fresh, crispy French bread can’t be beat for the sandwich lovers. Banh cuon at Huynh is a sure bet if your kids like lots of different textures – we like to call them “Vietnamese fajitas.”

We hope you now have a few more ideas for Houston food adventures with your kids. What’s your favorite Houston cuisine, restaurant, or dish to share with your family? Let us know in the comments!