Say Howdy to Houston

As the largest city in Texas, and the fourth largest city in the United States, you might expect just about everything to be larger than life in Houston. The city is spread out and seems to go on forever, at least until the city limits hit the Gulf of Mexico. Its strong economy means that the city attracts people from across the country and around the world. The result is a surprisingly cosmopolitan place, one that welcomes newbies and embraces differences. You can see it in the people, and taste it in the excellent food offerings around town.

Here’s how you can enjoy a weekend filled with the food, culture and attractions of Houston.

Four things you must see and do

1. The Museum of Natural Science: This amazing natural history and science museum includes four floors of exhibits covering a wide timeline of fossils, gems and minerals, African wildlife, Texan fauna, and more. Book a Guided Discovery Tour and ask for Jurassic James, a trained paleontologist with an infectious enthusiasm for any and all prehistoric beasts and fossils. Many of the fossilized remains are posed “in action” at this museum, one of the largest dinosaur halls in the United States. Discover astronomy and space science, the wonders of Ancient Egypt, and learn about the science of energy and geology. And don’t miss visiting the Cockrell Butterfly Center inside the Museum to view hundreds of beautiful butterflies in their natural habitat.

2. Space Center Houston + Johnson Space Center: Houston is home to Mission Control for NASA’s and the International Space Station programs, so a visit to the city’s Space Center is a must. In addition to touching moon rocks, trying on space suits, and learning about the history of NASA, visitors can take a 1.5 tram tour of the nearby Johnson Space Center. This is the working, operational heart of NASA’s space program, including mission control for the current International Space Station missions. The tour includes setting foot into the Control Center building, in which the Mission Control of the Apollo space programs is located. The Control room, famous for solving the Apollo 13 “Houston, we have a problem” mission problems, is now a National Historic Site.

3. Houston Children’s Museum: The whimsical space and activities of the Children’s Museum were developed by consulting kids on what they wanted to see and do. The result? A fantastic place for free play, scientific learning, exercise, and a mini-city called Kidtropolis where kids can work, earn ‘money’ and spend it, all the while learning job and financial literacy skills. The Museum caters to families with kids under 13 years of age, though even teenagers would be tempted by creating robots and making models on 3D printers in the Maker Annex.

4. Houston Zoo: As zoos go, the Houston Zoo is up there with the best of them. It provides lots of space and care for its animals, and accessible ways for families to view and interact with them. Watch young elephants getting a bath, reach up hight to feed giraffes or walk down a winding boardwalk to see a variety of endangered primates, including gorillas, lemurs, mandrills, and howler monkeys. At the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo, younger kids will enjoy spending time petting goats, watching playful sea otters, and checking out the cool finds in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.

Best meals in Houston

Houston’s food scene has got it going on! The mix of cultures has resulted in some delicious and award-winning cuisine that’s accessible to everyone, kids included. Here are some favorites:

BB’s Cafe (Montrose): Family-style Cajun cooking with a Texas twist.Crawfish, gumbo, and NOLA-style po’ boys oh my!

BCK Kitchen: A neighborhood eatery in the Houston Heights neighborhood. Nosh on nostalgic American fare inspired by the owners’ childhood favorites, like Mac and Cheez Its, Spaghetti O’s, and sweet and sour meatballs. Tip: Leave room for dessert!

The Breakfast Klub: Amazing Southern comfort breakfast food in this midtown Houston institution. Share some Katfish and Grits, or Chicken Wings and Waffles, both signature dishes in the Klub. The service is fast and friendly, and the coffee good.

Kata Robata Sushi + Grill: Fresh sushi in the heart of Houston? Yes, Kata Robata can, and does deliver incredibly delicious sushi and Japanese tapas, as well as unique grilled items (it’s in the name).

Goode Co. BBQ: Original and traditional Texas barbeque with food cooked over mesquite wood. Mouth-watering ribs, pulled pork and sides, and huge pecan-pie slices for dessert.

Xochi: Award-wining Oaxacan cuisine and cocktails located downtown at the Marriott Marquis Houston. Try the tluyades, a traditional street food dish of thin tortilla topped with choice of toppings cooked over wood.

Best ice cream

Houston heats up in summer. Where to cool of with a cone or cup of the good stuff.

Amorino: Artisanal gelato shaped into beautiful flowers on a cone. Tastes as delicious as it looks.

Petite Sweets: Ice cream made from locally sourced milk, in tasty flavors like avo-lime and Nutella rocky road.

Fat Cat Creamery: Small batch yumminess with local ingredients. Vegan flavors too.

Magnolia’s Ice Cream and More: Ice cream in wacky flavors, topped with fresh fruit, chamoy (fruit sauce) or crazy confections like gummy worms and candy.

Sunset at Skyspace

For something completely different, head to the campus of Rice University for the 40-minute sunset light sequence at the James Turrell “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace installation. This pyramidal structure accommodates 120 people between two levels. Kids may enjoy the grassy exterior space more, and can see the colour changes just as well. Twilight Epiphany is equipped with an LED light sequence that projects onto the ceiling and through an aperture in the 72-foot roof just before sunrise and at sunset. The composition of light compliments the natural light present at twilight. It’s unique and beautiful.

Disclosure: The writer visited Houston courtesy of CityPass and VisitHouston. As always, the writer’s opinions are honest and her own.

Claudia Laroye is a travel writer and editor based in Vancouver, Canada. An avid and curious traveler, Claudia has written about family, adventure, and luxury experiences for local and national publications since 2010. Claudia is the Contributing Editor of Twist Travel Magazine, and has written for WestJet Magazine, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Travelzoo, Westworld, Family Fun Canada, Travel Mamas and Dreamscapes magazine. She is the founder of family travel site The Travelling Mom. You can find her on Instagram at @thetravellingmom.

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