The cost of living crisis makes it imperative for many families in the USA to tighten their belts on spending. Going on a vacation has never been more expensive than it is today.
Houston must be the first city on your list if you want to holiday with the kids without breaking the bank. Everything is bigger in Houston, Texas, making it easier to find lots of free fun activities for adults and kids in H-Town.
These top-notch activities include animal encounters, world-class art exhibitions, and boat tours to serenade your soul.
More importantly, it won’t cost you a dime, except paying the cost of gas and parking. So put on your space hats, grab the family, and prepare for a good time in Bayou City. Here are the best free things to do in Houston with kids.
Sam Houston Boat Tour
The Sam Houston Boat Tour is arguably the best free activity for adults and kids in Houston. It consists of a 90-minute boat trip across the Houston Ship Channel.
For a tour that doesn’t cost a penny, you’d be amazed by the quality and level of hospitality shown to guests. The boat tour takes you through iconic locations, including bridges, the port, and many refineries that throng Magnolia City.
Even though it’s an automated tour, there’s good history and information to entertain history buffs. The largest international port in the USA will bowl over your kids, and they’ll get to appreciate the majestic sizes of the container ships that go to and fro, laden with goods.
The tour also showcases the location of the capture of General Santa Anna. Besides, adults will enjoy the incredible commerce opportunity the Port Authority provides.
Additionally, the boat is comfortable, thanks to the air-conditioned interior for visitors who want to take in the view indoors.
However, this tour requires online booking, and you’d need to reserve your seats in advance because of its popularity. Parking is free, and you can stand on the ship’s deck the entire way.
While free coffee and soda are available, it’d be best to keep the kids well-fed before the tour because there’s no food allowed on board. Still, the Houston Boat Tour is free, educational, and a delightful experience for adults and kids.
The Houston Zoo offers a most exciting way for adults and kids to appreciate the incredible wonder of nature. The zoo is a mini city that maintains over 6000 animals and receives almost two million guests per annum.
Even more remarkable is the free admission offered to guests on the first Tuesday of every month. The zoo has several walkways and shaded areas where you can observe and interact with the animals.
More importantly, the zoo’s design allows visitors to get closer to the animals. There are many air-conditioned buildings where you can cool off while taking in the view.
Your kids will love the train that goes from attraction to attraction, allowing you to enjoy most of its offerings without breaking a sweat.
Remember that other activities like feeding the giraffe and Zoo Lights might cost you a little extra. Still, you can bring in your food, drinks, and snacks.
The only drawback is the parking lot, which is far from the entrance. We’d also recommend you travel a little earlier because the later you get to the zoo, the longer the wait time.
It’s also comforting that the zoo opens at 9a.m, which will give your little ones the chance to enjoy the animals before nap and lunchtime. If there is any drawback, it will be the limited number of bathrooms in the zoo.
Exploring the zoo with little ones will mean someone always wants to use the bathroom! Still, it’s a fantastic experience that will make you crave another visit. Also, remember to book well in advance as spaces open on the Wednesday after the free Tuesday.
The Children’s Museum
The Houston Children’s Museum is a world-famous museum that offers various interactive exhibits in history, culture, art, science, and technology. It’s one of the best free things to do in Houston, thanks to its free admission Thursdays.
However, free access only starts at 5 pm and ends at 8 pm, so you’ll have to plan your visit accordingly. Moreover, the museum stipulates that you come with a kid to guarantee free entry.
Three hours is enough time to enjoy the HEB grocery store, Power Play, and Challenge Course. The museum has many activities and things for kids of all ages to interact with, and adults will love the library and café.
The museum also changes its weekly activities to ensure guests experience something new each week.
Consequently, you might need to visit more than once to enjoy the most of your time. The free time is limited so ensure you see permanent exhibits like Flow Works.
This top-class activity explains the properties of water through vortices, rapids, and currents. Kids will also love Kidtropolis, a mini city run by children, allowing the little ones to hold adult jobs and learn the responsibilities of money.
The only drawback to The Children’s Museum is the mega crowds that throng the 90,000-square-foot venue.
However, the place is less likely to be overcrowded during this free time, allowing you to get the most out of this destination.
Buffalo Bayou Park
Buffalo Bayou Park has an underground cistern that used to be a drinking-water reservoir way back in 1926 when it was established. It covered an entire 87,500 square feet and held up to 15 million gallons of water in its day.
The Bayou Park is free to visit every Thursday afternoon, and you can bring some bikes to ride with the kids on the many available trails in this 2.3-mile-long park.
Many bridges crisscross this iconic bayou, and some popular routes include Carruth Bridges, Jackson Hill, and Rosemont.
Moreover, The Kinder Footpath is only for families and individuals who enjoy running or walking and want to avoid rollerbladers and bikers. It’s significantly closer to the bayou and allows you to connect with the natural environment deeper.
One highlight you should never miss is the emergence of the Mexican free-tailed bats during the warmer evenings at the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony. The Bayou is an excellent place for a stroll and offers a fantastic view of downtown Houston.
You’ll also enjoy the shaded areas that serve as picnic spots for the family. Families with dogs will prefer the Johnny Steele Dog Park, which has exclusive play areas for small and large dogs, including doggy ponds and doggy-drinking fountains.
Families looking for seclusion can head out to Lost Lake, near one of the visitor centers. You’ll find it close to Dunlavy, situated by the lake.
Most vacationers look at the Houston Galleria as a shopping mall. Still, there’s so much more to do here than window shopping, one of the most famous malls in the USA.
The shopping center has one of the most interactive kid play areas in Magnolia City. For instance, there’s the Little Galleria – a play area on The Galleria’s second level.
This 2000 square feet space features mini shopping department stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom, and other famous buildings in Houston. Some activities include the Kids Empire Houston Westchase, which offers an exclusive and safe play area for toddlers and infants.
The Children’s Play Castle is also a fantastic play area for older kids. The family bathrooms, kid-sized amenities, and breastfeeding areas further elevate the experience making it an excellent place for kids.
At the same time, the adults can do a little shopping, making it a win-win for the family. If you have some spare change, consider taking the kids to the ski rink inside The Galleria, which offers a fantastic skating experience at the most minute cost.
The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center
You can expect free admission to the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center at any time of the year. It’s a nature sanctuary located downtown H-Town, with 5 miles of pleasant walking trails and lots of green spaces.
The nature center features various ecosystems, including woodland, riparian, savannah, wetland, and native prairie habitats.
You’ll need to look at the calendar of events to ensure you go at a time the activities are more suited to your kids’ wants. While admission is free, you still have to pay for parking.
Nonetheless, you can go on a Thursday, the only day the Arboretum offers free parking. Adults and kids will love the Discovery Room, which includes interactive exhibits and aquariums.
Even though it’s a non-profit, the facilities are still beautiful. The indoor nature center has various animals and plants on display that are amazing to see up close. The Arboretum is a relaxing and enjoyable destination but can be pretty hot when you go in the summer.
Still, the Donor Boardwalk and Meadow Pond are the two favorite places for most kids. You can be sure the family will have an excellent time enjoying the hands-on activities on offer.
The Garage Mahal
The Art Car Museum or Garage Mahal is one of Houston’s hidden gems and is the best place to see the most creative and incredible cars to awe your kids. It’s a unique museum with lots of interesting artifacts to enjoy despite its small size.
The museum is free and features various artworks from local artists. The rotating vehicles are a must-see, and you’re sure to see some outlandish vehicles that catch the eye.
The Art Car Museum also hosts events and exhibits and is the place to see unique art, which is hard to find in other venues. The cars in this museum also feature in an art car parade later in the year.
Little boys will love the cars; walking through this quaint museum barely takes twenty minutes. However, parking is minimal, and you’d be advised to get here as early as possible—still, the automobile art museum is worth any minor inconvenience you might encounter.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
The Houston Museum of Natural Science is undoubtedly one of the more popular museums in the United States, with famous galleries like Texas Wildlife and Ancient Egypt.
It also has one of the largest dinosaur halls, including the Gems Exhibit, where the family can sample some of the most expansive collections of rare geodes and gemstones. It’s an exceptional museum to see so many cool things in one place.
The Paleontology Hall is arguably the best in Texas, with its astonishing trilobite collection. Dinosaur-loving kids will never want to leave with the extensive collection of fossils dating back to the Jurassic Era.
Besides, attractions like the Cabinet of Curiosities and the Energy Hall are quite educative, and there’s no better way to time travel than to visit the newly renovated Egyptian Hall.
The one drawback about this place is the parking which costs a king’s ransom. Still, families on a budget can enjoy this museum from 10 am to 9 pm on Thursdays, and you also get free admission if you buy food at the museum food truck or from the café.
The Menil Collection
The Menil Collection consists of priceless art collected by John and Dominique de Menil. It is home to 19,000 artworks and artifacts, including rare books, prints, drawings, sculptures, and paintings.
The masterworks in this collection include African, ancient, and modern pieces that have been on display for the public since the 1980s. The Menil Campus sits on 30-acre of land, and the primary building is the brainchild of Renzo Piano.
It is considered one of the best-designed art museums worldwide. Older children interested in art will be amazed by the modern works of artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol, and Fernand Leger.
The Menil Collection is undoubtedly one of the best free things to do in Houston because of the unique buildings, delectable art, and exceptional staff.
For a free museum, it doesn’t get any better than this destination, with an eclectic collection of art pieces most will pay money to see.
More importantly, it doesn’t suffer from crowding like many other free attractions. The beautifully presented artworks are a sight to behold.
Families on a budget should stop by Rothko Chapel – a short walk away from The Menil Collection, and you can visit both to kill two birds with one stone. It’s a must-see for anyone remotely art-inclined, and the chapel is accessible to people of all faiths.
The architecture is an exciting conversation starter and complements the nearby Menil Collection with its quaint eccentricity.
Kids may not find this place exciting as it offers very little activity. However, it’s a place of sober reflection and worth stopping by after the hustle and bustle of H-Town.
Hermann Park Conservancy
The list of the best free things to do in Houston can’t be complete without the inclusion of Hermann Park. This 445-acre park is an excellent destination for families enjoying various activities in one place.
The park has vast green spaces, making it a fantastic venue for a picnic. Places like the Mecom Fountain offer seclusion, and you can drop by the Pinewood Café for some eats if you decide not to bring a picnic basket.
Additionally, you can hitch a ride on the Hermann Park locomotive, running for the past 50 years. This train has four boarding stations and allows vacationers to enjoy the park’s offerings more comfortably and leisurely.
If the Rothko Chapel seems creepy for kids, you’ll love the Japanese garden designed by world-famous architect Ken Nakajima. This garden is a soothing balm for the soul and uses natural scenery and objects as the garden’s architecture.
The Sam Houston Statue at the west entrance is a monument dedicated to the first Texan president when the state was still an independent country. Exploring the park a little further will lead you to the Reflection Pool at the back of the Sam Houston Statue.
There you’ll find benches along its length for visitors to relax. You can watch the ducks taking a dip in the water that is constantly circulated.
The Reflection Pool is also the perfect location for some jaw-dropping selfies. It’s not a surprise this spot has played host to many birthdays and bridal events.
Houston is dotted with 27 spray grounds you can enjoy with the kids. While pools close at certain times of the year, the spray grounds are open all through the year and offer families the chance for some free water-based fun.
It doesn’t cost a dime, and the activities are even more enjoyable than some paid venues around the city. These complimentary splash pods are best for summer when the heat wave hits hard in H-Town.
It’s an excellent way to keep your kids cool without shutting them in the house. The Monroe Field Spray Ground is a perfect destination for families with toddlers because it’s in a fenced enclosure.
You’ll also find many picnic tables in shaded sections for the adults to hang out while the kids splash in the water.
In contrast, the Brookglen Splash Pad offers ample running space. Kids will love the many water-spraying animals, including a giant dragon, and dumping buckets for exciting splash fun.
The next time you launch to the Space City, spend time exploring these amazing free things to do in Houston with kids. From nature centers and zoos to spraygrounds and art galleries, Houston boasts a ton of free entertainment and culture to immerse your family in its accommodations the entire trip. If you’re looking for additional experiences in Houston, check out their thriving mini-golf scene or splash over to one of the best waterparks in Texas.