12 Free Things To Do In Houston With Kids

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There are a wide variety of free activities to do in Houston with kids, making the city a great place to visit for budget-conscious parents. From boat tours to world-class art installations and animal encounters, these 12 free attractions are equally fascinating and entertaining for kids and adults alike.

Editor’s Note: Due to current COVID-19 restrictions and protocols, some activities on this list may not operate or may require advance reservations. Please check the respective websites for updates.

Pictured is the M/V Sam Houston which has been offering free Port of Houston tours since its maiden voyage on July 30, 1958.

Courtesy of Port Houston

Sam Houston Boar Tour

the 90 minute boat tour from the Houston Ship Channel is one of the best free things to do in Houston with kids. Visitors can learn about the port and the maritime industry aboard the M/V Sam Houston, which has been the port’s public excursion vessel since 1958. The 95-foot vessel accommodates 100 passengers with air-conditioned seating and standing room on the outside deck. . Advance reservations are required.

A man and three children look at flamingos at the Houston Zoo.

A man and three children look at flamingos at the Houston Zoo.

Sarah G. via Yelp

Free Tuesdays at the Houston Zoo

On the first Tuesday of each month, the The Houston Zoo offers free admission all day. Other attractions such as giraffe feeding and zoo lights are regularly priced. Visitors are also allowed to bring food and drinks outside. Online reservations are required in advance, and slots open the previous Wednesday at 7:00 a.m.

The entrance to Kidtropolis at the Children's Museum Houston.

The entrance to Kidtropolis at the Children’s Museum Houston.

Children’s Museum of Houston via Yelp

Free Family Night at the Children’s Museum Houston

the Houston Children’s Museum is one of the world’s leading children’s museums focused on innovative child-centered learning with 13 bilingual exhibits. Every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., the museum offers free entry to everyone with one requirement – you must bring a child with you. Advance reservations are required and open every Monday.

Mexican free-tailed bats flock to the Texas night sky for a night of bug-eating.

Mexican free-tailed bats flock to the Texas night sky for a night of bug-eating.

milehightraveler/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Bat Watching at Buffalo Bayou Park

Waugh Drive Bridge at Buffalo Bayou Park is home to approximately 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats. As the sun sets on warm evenings, the bats emerge in large groups, which is a stunning sight to behold. The best viewing locations are the viewing platform on the southeast corner of the bayou shore next to the bridge on Allen Parkway, the northeast bayou shore near Memorial Drive, and the railroad sidewalk is on the bridge itself.

Be sure to check the weather before visiting – the best emergences occur around sunset on days with no rain and temperatures above 50 degrees as bats don’t like the cold.

the "Fruitmobile" by Jackie Harries is across from the Art Car Museum.

Jackie Harries’ “Fruitmobile” is in front of the Art Car Museum.

Art Car Museum via Yelp

art car museum

Spaceship-like silver-tipped exterior art car museum at the far end of the Montrose district is impossible to miss. The private contemporary art museum has rotating exhibits, which always include a few outrageously decorated cars with clever names like Swamp Mutha and Batwing. The space opened in February 1998 and is often referred to as the “Garage Mahal”.

A group of children are led on a visit to the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center Thursday, June 21, 2018.

A group of children are led on a visit to the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center Thursday, June 21, 2018.

Craig Moseley/Chronicle

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

Admission to this 155 hectare natural sanctuary at the west end of Memorial Park is always free. There are eight ponds and five miles of nature trails through savannah, native grassland, wetlands, woodlands and riparian habitats. The Nature Center building includes the Discovery Room which features interactive exhibits and hands-on activities. Plan your visit on Thursdays when parking is free. (It’s $5 on other days.)

Jonathan Flores, 10, left, and Eduardo Vargas, 11, right, play at Hidalgo Park sprayground on Friday, June 21, 2013.

Jonathan Flores, 10, left, and Eduardo Vargas, 11, right, play at Hidalgo Park sprayground on Friday, June 21, 2013.

Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle

Dive into the spray

Throughout the city there are 232 playgrounds and 27 spray maintained by the Houston Department of Parks and Recreation. Unlike pools, these spray areas are open year-round, so they can be enjoyed beyond the summer months. Highlights include the frog-themed playground at Herman Brown Park and the water cannons at Burnett Bayland Park. For a complete list of parks and spray areas, visit the ministry’s website. website.

Twilight Epiphany Skyspace, an earth and sky work by master artist James Turrell, sits on the Rice University campus and is activated daily at sunrise and sunset.

Twilight Epiphany Skyspace, an earth and sky work by master artist James Turrell, sits on the Rice University campus and is activated daily at sunrise and sunset.

Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle

Twilight Epiphany Skyspace


One of the best sunset spots in town is the sunset light show at the Twilight Epiphany Skyspace on the Rice University campus (next to the Shepherd School of Music). The pyramid structure has a sequence of LED light that projects daily onto the ceiling of the 72-foot square roof at sunrise and sunset. The space is an art installation by American artist James Turrell and is also acoustically designed to accommodate musical performances. Light sequences begin 40 minutes before sunrise and 10 minutes before sunset every night except Tuesday. The structure can only accommodate 120 people, so arrive early to secure a spot.

The main entrance to the Buffalo Soldiers <a class=National Museum. “/>

The main entrance to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum.

Sebrina C. via Yelp

Buffalo Soldiers National Museum

Every Thursday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum is free to the public. The museum focuses on African American military history with exhibits ranging from Buffalo Solider uniforms to the story of Cathay Williams, a woman who claimed to be a man, enlisted as William Cathy and served for two years before being discovered.

Rothko Chapel

Rothko Chapel

Rothko Chapel via Yelp

Rothko Chapel

A visit to Rothko Chapel is one of the most peaceful things to do in Houston. The non-denominational spiritual space includes 14 murals by renowned American artist Mark Rothko. Outside, a sculpture titled Broken Obelisk sits above a reflecting pool. The Rothko Chapel was built in 1971 and was founded by John and Dominique de Menil, who also established the Menil Collection, a free museum nearby which houses their art collection.

On the first Wednesday of each month, the chapel hosts a series of programs called Twelve Moments showcasing different spiritual and religious traditions. Another bonus is that programs can be streamed on Vimeo. During the summer months, these events are often family oriented. Check them out Event calendar for more details.

A woman looks at a painting exhibited at the Menil Collection.

A woman looks at a painting exhibited at the Menil Collection.

James R. via Yelp

Menil collection

the Menil collection is a great place for children to practice their inner voice. The art museum began with 10,000 works of art from the private collection of John and Dominique de Menil and has grown to over 17,000 pieces. The permanent collection includes the Arts of Africa, Arts of the Ancient World, and Arts of the Americans and Pacific Northwest galleries. Check the website for a calendar of rotating exhibitions. And don’t miss the Cy Twombly Gallery, which is located across the street in a separate building but still part of the museum. Timed entry reservations are required.

A young child plays at Hermann Park Conservancy.

A young child plays at Hermann Park Conservancy.

Stephanie N. via Yelp

Hermann Park Conservancy

the 445 acre green space is one of the city’s premier cultural and recreational centers with a prime location near the Museum District, Rice University and the Texas Medical Center. Feed the ducks at eight-acre Lake McGovern, where kids under 12 are allowed catch-and-release fishing. The park, founded in 1914, also includes a series of free attractions, including the peaceful Japanese Gardens and McGovern’s Centennial Gardens, which include a 30-foot garden mount and sculpture walk. Plan your visit around one of the free performances of the Miller Open Air Theater.



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