Location, attractions make for an easy weekend trip for families
Clocking in at under five hours away by car, Houston can be a great weekend getaway, especially for families.
The large Texas city is full of things to see and do, from sporting events, to museum tours, to a day at the zoo. And 2012 has brought even more attractions to town.
Dynamo Stadium, 1001 Avenida de las Americas, a state-of-the-art open-air facility that seats 22,000, opened May 15, and is designed specifically for soccer matches. It’s the first soccer-specific stadium in Major League Soccer located in a city’s downtown district.
“And with that, there’s now a concentration of these sports venues, so you have the Astros’ ballpark (Minute Maid Park, 501 Crawford St.), literally across the street from Dynamo Stadium, so you can go to a baseball game and hit a soccer game,” A.J. Mistretta, public relations manager for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said by phone May 25. “So, for families that are into sports, it’s really kind of a great, walkable district. Basketball and hockey, although not in season, those games are nearby as well as the Toyota Center (1510 Polk St.), so it’s kind of a sports arena district if you will.”
Mistretta said the Astros (baseball team) is celebrating its 50th anniversary so there are promotional offers for visitors centered around the celebration.
The new Paleontology Hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Drive, opened its doors to visitors June 2.
“30,000 square feet is the actual paleo hall itself, beyond that there’s additional exhibit space, classrooms and so forth, so it basically doubles the size of the Houston Museum of Natural Science,” Mistretta, a native New Orleanian, said.
Inside, visitors will see these prehistoric beasts in “action,” as the skeletons will be displayed in poses of chasing, eating and escaping. Among attractions on exhibit are 30-plus dinosaurs and large mammals, an all-bone T-Rex, touchable specimens including real, fossilized dinosaur skin; a virtual, ancient aquarium; and a 12-foot-wide, reconstructed jaw of a Megalodon, the largest shark that ever lived.
“What we really play up with families is the (Houston) CityPASS, and that is booklets of tickets so you can go to five different attractions across Houston including the zoo (6200 Hermann Park Drive), Space Center Houston (1601 NASA Parkway), Museum of Natural Science and all these things for a much-reduced rate with these pre-purchased booklets,” Mistretta said. “So what would normally be close to $100, (actual cost is $70.96) it becomes $39, so it’s a 45 percent savings for families. So for folks looking to do things on a budget, it really makes sense.”
Passes for children ages 4-11 are $29.
Space Center Houston, 1601 NASA Parkway, has something new parked outside as well.
“We are getting a life-size replica of the Space Shuttle. (It was scheduled to arrive June 2). We lost out on getting one of the original Shuttles that actually flew, but what we’re getting is the prototype. It’s a life-size, fully-dimensional replica of the Space Shuttle.”
A lot of fanfare and celebration were planned for arrival day, he said.
“It will be parked in front of center but won’t be opened to public until fall. So people will be able to see it, take pictures at it, but it won’t be accessible to the public until fall. It’s really going to be cool, so while the other Shuttles are going to be accessible through different museums via the Smithsonian and others, ours will be the only one that you will be able to get into, because the nature of those pieces, those relics, people can’t actually go inside them. They can walk around them. Ours will be fully interactive because it’s just a replica, kids can actually climb inside it and so forth,” Mistretta said.
Not far from the Space Center, the Houston Zoo is doing a lot of interactive activities.
“There are a lot of feeding programs like Feed the Giraffes. There’s a brand-new elephant habitat, it just opened a few months ago,” he said.
Mistretta added that the Children’s Museum of Houston, the Houston Zoo and the Science Museum are all within walking distance in an area appropriately called the museum district, 4 miles from downtown and accessible by METRORail, the city’s light rail line.
“If you can, stay downtown and take the light rail to the museum district,” Mistretta recommended. Family-friendly downtown hotels include Hilton Americas, Embassy Suites, Holiday Inn Express, Inn at the Ballpark and Hyatt Regency.
A quick trip to Houston can also mean:
- Watching 250,000 bats fly from under the Waugh Drive Bridge, over Buffalo Bayou between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive, at dusk. Visitors can watch them from a deck next to the bridge or take a pontoon boat tour for the viewing.
- Driving 20 minutes out of town to Kemah Boardwalk, 215 Kipp Ave., Kemah, a 35-acre development with themed restaurants, stores and amusements.
- Checking out the Houston Theater District, which features professional ballet, opera and drama companies and the Houston Symphony. The Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive, has free concerts throughout the summer.
- Experiencing the Children’s Museum of Houston, 1500 Binz St., where 90,000 square feet of interactive and bilingual exhibits focusing on science and technology await the youngsters.
- Seeing the Downtown Aquarium, 410 Bagby St., lit up for the evening with its 500,000-gallon underwater adventure complex featuring a Ferris wheel, an aquatic carousel, a white tiger exhibit, restaurants and more.
Not primarily a family attraction, the new Asia Society Texas Center, 1370 Southmore Blvd., also opened in April.
“We have one of the largest Asian populations in the country,” Mistretta said. “It’s huge Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese populations. We have one of the largest Chinatowns in the country as well. It’s located 14 miles west of downtown. We are the only permanent installation of the Asia Society outside of New York in the U.S. That just speaks to the power of Houston’s Asian population.”
The Asia Society is an international institution devoted to exporting Asian culture to various locales.
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