There is so much to do and see in Houston. I’ve been twice and made quite a dent in all the attractions, but you should see my “Houston Bucket List” because it’s still quite long. I know, it’s crazy, right? I mean, its Houston. You might not think of Houston has some major tourist attraction, especially when you think of Texas. Austin has the music and the nightlife and San Antonio has the Alamo and the River Walk. But don’t count Houston out. As the most populous city in the state of Texas and the fourth in the US, Houston boasts a robust art scene, dining and more. Not to mention that the skyline is one of the most beautiful in my opinion. While planning your trip you might be overwhelmed with what to choose from the long list of attractions and sites. What you do when you visit depends on whether or not you are visiting with kids or family, but a great way to go is to purchase a CityPass. You get access to five of Space City’s Must-See Attractions AND you save a little bit of money along the way. The only problem you’ll have is when it comes to the dreaded “Or” categories where you have to choose between two!
What is CityPass?
CityPass is a booklet of admission tickets to a city’s top locations at a discounted rate! You get all the admission tickets in one place and you don’t have to wait in admission lines, which when its super crowded can save you a lot of time. For most CityPass booklets you have 9 days to use your pass, including the first day you redeem something. CityPass is available in 12 locations including San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California and they just released CityPass in Orlando! CityPass can be purchased at many of the attractions themselves or you can purchase by visiting their website. Adult passes are $62 and child passes are $52. If you were to visit each of the attractions without CityPass you are looking at over $100 for adults! Even if you don’t make it to all the attractions in your visit you may still be saving some money. If you are military check with your local MWR ticket sales location because they may sell CityPass at an even more discounted rate!
CityPass in Houston
In Houston, you can choose between seven attractions, with a total of five attractions that you can see. Space Center Houston, Downtown Aquarium and the Houston Museum of Natural Science are your attractions available to you. Then you have to choose between the Zoo or the Museum of Fine Arts and the Kemah Boardwalk (All Day Ride Pass) or the Children’s Museum of Houston.
Space Center Houston
Visiting Space Center Houston was at the TOP of my list of things to see this time. It is a bit of a drive out of the center of the city, and while it’s well worth it if you’ve never been, it wasn’t something I could fit into my plans last time. Living in Washinton DC I am spoiled when it comes to museums. We have TWO space museums, one of which houses the Space Shuttle Discovery, which we saw land at the airport here. But being able to visit NASA is a whole other level of cool. Not only do you get the opportunity to go inside a space shuttle, as well as the plane that carried it (you don’t get that here), you get to go on Johnson Space Center property and see Mission Control. Expect to spend a good chunk of your day here, especially if you had kids. They have amazing docents that offer talks and presentations throughout the day. The movies are also really awesome and shouldn’t be missed. Parents: do beware of all the rides and simulations that are, of course, stationed right inside the entrance doors. But, as a perfect distraction, the Space Center has put together an amazing children’s area based on the Angry Birds in Space! Its a really neat, hands-on, learning experience for kids.
Active and Retired Military receive a $5 discount
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I visited the Aquarium. Again, having been to Monterey many times as a child and living near the ginormous National Aquarium Baltimore, I realize that I’m spoiled. This attraction is geared towards kids, and it isn’t very big. There are rides and a really cool restaurant on-site. They have a white tiger and a sting-ray feeding and petting area which is really cool. The Houston Aquarium devotes a lot of their exhibit to presenting conservation in a way kids can understand. I was very impressed with their presentation and the actions they take as an Aquarium to contribute to ocean protection and conservation. The Aquarium also provides extensive programs for schools for field trips and offers some of these programs to families that visit throughout the year. Be a marine biologist or zoologist for the day, meet some of the Aquariums animals or have an aquarium sleepover!
If you are visiting Houston without a CityPass and have a military id, the Aquarium offers a $2 discount on all-day passes and a 10% discount in the shop and restaurant.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
Come see a giant moon, dinosaurs and Houston’s own Cabinet of Curiosities at the Museum of Natural Science. One of the coolest exhibits was a room full of animals made from gemstones. I had never seen anything like this and it was incredible. The Museum also showcased the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit with amazing photographs from all over the world. That was honestly probably my favorite part of the museum. The museum also has several special exhibits which require additional tickets (that are not included in your CityPass). One of those is Death By Natural Causes, which showcases wildlife and vegetation that pose a danger to we humans – think crazy snakes and spiders! I was kind of bummed that an exhibit like this requires an extra ticket purchase. One of the main attractions is the giant room of Dinosaurs, which the kids in your party will love! You will also find the Burker Baker Planetarium here, which has a whole host of movies and special presentations. One of the coolest things you can check out is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Listen to one of Pink Floyd’s most well-known albums and be immersed in a light and sound experience. Check out the Burke Baker Planetarium website for a list of their movies and presentations.
There is no offered military discount, however on Thursdays from 6-9 the museum is open to everyone for FREE! All permanent exhibits are open, and you can even purchase tickets for their special exhibits (like the Death by Natural Causes) for a discounted rate!
Aside from the Space Center and the Art Museum, which I knew would be amazing, the Zoo was probably my favorite thing I saw and the attraction I was the most impressed with. The layout of the zoo is really easy to traverse, and a majority of the paths are in the shade, which in Texas summers is a blessing. You can’t escape the humidity, but shade helps. They also have an exhibit that just opened features Texas wildlife, including a Bald Eagle. There are over 15 areas within the zoo to explore, including a great play and adventure area for kids, giraffe feeding, a water/splash pad area and a sea lion exhibit. They have three longhorns as well, which I had never seen before in real life. They are huge! There are plenty of places to grab a snack and sit in the cool air conditioning, bathrooms and places to sit. The addition of the water park and play areas really make it a great place for the whole family and place to keep little ones excited and engaged.
Houston Zoo does not offer a military discount, but during the summer months if you visit after 4pm you can get $4 off your ticket price!
Museum of Fine Arts
When the Museum of Fine Arts announced that they would be hosting a special VanGogh exhibit I pushed my trip planning into high gear. I knew that I was going to be planning another trip anyway, but this really made me all the more excited. VanGogh is one of my favorite artists. If you’ve never seen the VanGogh Doctor Who episode, watch that… it’s all you need to know. You can read more about my visit and see pictures by visiting my post dedicated to the Museum. You Must “VanGogh” to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston
Take a drive out to Kemah Boardwalk, a cute little coastal area not far from the Space Center Houston. Kemah is a collection of restaurants, retail shops, event spaces, and an amusement park. It is on the smaller size, with only a few larger rides. While it can be fun for older kids and adults, I would say that it is geared more towards younger kids. Be prepared for the wooden rollercoaster, which was my favorite ride of the day. It was pretty awesome and reminded me so much of my childhood and visiting Santa Cruz Boardwalk. I did, however, walk away with some bruises! It lives up to the wooden rollercoaster name for sure!
For military you can get $2 off and 10% off Boardwalk retail shops.