As a native Houstonian, it’s sometimes easy to take for granted the one-of-a-kind sights that this city offers. Sure, I can tell a visitor about the shows in the Theater District or why a beer-can-covered house is worth a visit, but when was the last time I checked these places out myself? Too long, which is why I recently set out on a mission to revisit some of Houston’s most sought-after sites, looking at each of them through the eyes of a visitor.
I picked up a Houston CityPASS from the Houston Visitors Center - they can also be purchased at participating attractions or online - before setting out. For those that don’t know about the CityPass program, here’s the basic scoop: Each book is $56 - kids’ are $46 - and include admission to five of Houston’s most popular attractions. You have nine days to use them and they save you nearly half off regular ticket pricing.
Note: Two of the five tickets provide a choice between two attractions. One is an option between the Houston Zoo and the Kemah Boardwalk, while another is a choice to visit The Children’s Museum of Houston or the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
2:30PM: Located just a few blocks from the Visitors Center, the Downtown Aquarium was my first stop. Amusement rides and games flank the building’s south side. (For $5, CityPASS holders can upgrade their ticket for unlimited access to the ferris wheel, carousel and shark voyage train.) Once inside, ask about or look for the Aquarium’s feeding schedule sign. There are opportunities to see staff feed the seahorses, saltwater fish and play with the tigers, too. (Yes, tigers. You never know what you’ll find in Houston.) Expect to spend a couple of hours here, meandering from exhibits like the Louisiana Marsh and the shark-infested Gulf of Mexico tank to the rainforest room and the Sunken Temple exhibit, the latter of which showcases a 20-foot-long Tiger Reticulated python. Parking: $7, in the Aquarium’s lot behind the building.
10AM: Plan on carving out at least three hours when you take the brood to visit the Children's Museum of Houston. Located in the Museum District, the three-story facility unfolds in a labyrinth-like set-up, appealing to everyone from birth to 12 years (and the adults that love them). The youngest kids can crawl, play and touch upstairs in the TotSpot, while the older siblings create and construct gadgets in the lower level Invention Convention workshop. On the main floor, pint-size patrons can take on roles of city leaders, workers and shoppers in the mock community, Kidtropolis, using the debit card they receive upon check in. Some of CMH’s other highlights include Power Play, a 35-foot climbing tower, FlowWorks, a hydroenergy exhibit, and Fiddle Sticks Gifts, the museum’s smartly-stocked giftshop. Parking: For 3 or more hours, $9, in CMH’s adjacent parking garage.
10AM: I’ll be the first to admit that three hours wasn’t nearly enough time at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Spread out in two, multi-level Museum District buildings, the art-filled complex is an awe-inspiring mix of sculpture, artifacts, imagery, video and installation work. Even if you aren’t a big art buff, it’s hard not to appreciate an up-close look at works by Picasso, Matisse and Rembrandt. In case you want to learn more, the MFAH offers audio tours for some of the pieces - look for the Guide by Cell icon next to the artwork. Tip: If learning makes you hungry, too, check out the Café Express on the lower level of the Beck Building. Parking: Free, across the street, in the lot along Bissonnet.
2PM (OPTION 1): Since I’ve been to the Houston Zoo in more recent years, I didn’t spend as much time visiting the reptiles, amphibians and bird exhibits. This time, I was excited to see the zoo’s new Gorilla exhibit and wander through the multi-million-dollar African Forest exhibit. In the latter, guests are taken on an eco-tour through a wooded canopy, past leaf-covered huts, the chimp house, rhinos, kudo and—beyond the gift shop—the giraffes exhibit. If you're hungry, the zoo's Twiga Terrace restaurant is a great place to grab a bite, as it overlooks the rhinos and giraffe exhibits. Parking: Free in the zoo’s lot.
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