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One Day in Downtown Houston… Things to do with kids!

Over school break, we spend a lot of time on day trips just outside of Houston city limits… but urban Houston exploring is our very favorite thing to do.

My son, tired of the car rides, reminded me of this and got us back Downtown for a day of adventure.  He picked out his favorites and they are listed below.  If you have more favorites, let us know!

Getting Around:

My preference is to take METRORail and walk… but it is hot… so you can drive and park as well!  (We do both… and just have to decide if we want to deal with parking or if we want to deal with hot tired kids!)

METRORail is $1.25 for anyone older than 5 years old.  You buy tickets with cash or credit at the stations… and it’s the honor system (with spot checks).  Strollers are allowed.

You can park all along the tracks… but Hermann Park/Museum District has all day lots.  (Always check the signs and hide your valuables before you leave your car!)  Take the red line to Main Street Square and you will in the middle of Downtown!

For a quick overview of how to use METRORail, go HERE!

Parking in Downtown Houston is available with metered street parking or paid lots.  Street parking is limited to 3 hours and is about $2/hour (and free after 6:00pm and on Sundays).  Paid lots are usually good all day for around $10 (but vary greatly… especially with big events going on).  Our favorite activities are spread out over about 10 city blocks… so if you don’t want to walk, consider street parking for $2 at each stop.

One more option is to park over at Sabine Street bridge at the Buffalo Bayou Cistern.  You can bike (or walk) along Buffalo Bayou and pop right up into Downtown Houston.  See how to do it HERE!

Our Favorite Things to Do:

1.  Sam Houston Park & Heritage Society:  Sam Houston Park is Houston’s oldest park. It is located just behind City Hall in Downtown and is a huge piece of green space in the middle of skyscrapers.  You can tour the park and take an audio tour of the historic houses (via cell phone) for free.  For a small fee, you can visit the Heritage Society next door.

Take some pictures, swing and head to the next spot!

2.  City Hall & Julia Ideson Library:  Right next to City Hall is the Spanish revival style Julia Ideson Library.  It opened in 1926 as the Houston Central Library and it was to be the centerpiece of a 5 building civic center.  Due to the Great Depression, this vision was not realized and the other buildings were built in the modern style of the 1930s.

The Julia Ideson building was the central library until it was replaced by the larger library next door in 1976. Now it is home of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and the most beautiful children’s reading room that includes the original furniture, and many of the original books, from 1926.

Oh, and it’s rumored that this building is haunted by a friendly violin playing ghost.

3.  Allen’s Landing on Buffalo Bayou:  It was here in 1836 that August Chapman and John Kirby Allen claimed Houston. This site became Houston’s first port and is now a Downtown park.

This can be a quick stop… but it’s fun to see where Houston started!

4.  Main Street Square & Art Blocks:  Right along the train tracks is a lot of public art!

5.  Downtown Tunnels:  Under Downtown Houston there is a 7 mile, climate controlled, system of tunnels linking office buildings, hotels, banks, restaurants, retail stores and the Theater District. Go HERE for a map. These tunnels are usually open to the public from 6:00am – 6:00pm on weekdays.

The tunnels contain food courts, gift shops, banks, copy centers and more and are mostly located in the basement part of office buildings. You can enter the tunnels from street level stairs or elevators inside the buildings that are connected by tunnels. The Wells Fargo Plaza has direct access from the street to the tunnel.

6.  Market Square Park & Houston is Inspired Mural:  Market Square Park is in Downtown’s Historic District and original town center. In 1836 this park was started as Congress Square and was renamed a few years later to Market Square.

Market Square “burned through” three City Hall buildings and finally became a parking lot. In 2010, the renovated park was reopened.

The park has fountains, gardens, art work, a Niko Nikos cafe, shaded seating, trees to climb, grass to run in and two fenced dog areas.  The park is only one block by one block, but a lot is packed into this urban space!  And right across the street is my favorite “Houston is Inspired” mural by Gonzo247!

Here you can also walk over to Barnaby’s for lunch or to the Red Button.  And for something fun, look up at the high rise next door on Preston Street.  A glass pool is hanging over the top of the 40th floor!

7.  Burp the Bayou:  Have you heard about the Big Bubble in the Buffalo Bayou? Have you seen the mysterious red button on the Preston Street Bridge? A friend told us that their 5 year old’s favorite thing to do in Houston was to, “burp the bayou”, and we just had to know what this meant.

In the middle of the brick column on the south(ish) side of the Preston Street Bridge, is a little red button. When you press it, the water it bayou will bubble for several seconds. I realize that this is just a button and some bubbles, but if you are going to visit it, you really have all the materials you need for a great adventure.

First off, there is no sign above this little button. It is just a mysterious red button in the middle of Downtown Houston. You don’t know whether you should press it or not. And if you do press it, what will happen? Where should you look? And say you see or hear the bubbles, what is causing it? Did you wake a bayou monster? And if a boat is traveling down the river, what would happen if you timed the bubbles just right?

For best results, tell your kids you hear there is a mysterious red button in Downtown Houston and you need to find out what it does. Get them close to the bridge and see if they can find it. Once you find it, ask for ideas on what it might do and see who is brave enough to push it.

Once pressed, try to find the bubbles and ask what could be causing them. Finish up with several minutes of pressing the button, running to the side of the bridge, watching the bubbles and giggling with delight.  Learn all about it HERE!

AND know two things… this is quirky.  We like quirky things.  And second, when there is a lot of rain or flooding, the bubbles may not work.  You’ve been warned!

(12/30/19 Update: The bubble hasn’t been working every day, but there are plenty of other fun things to do!)

8.  Phoenicia & Shops at Houston Center:  On the ground floor of the One Park Place high rise, right across from Discovery Green, is Phoenicia. Half of it is a fancy grocery store and half of it is a restaurant called MKT BAR (or Market Bar). Both are casual and family friendly (even with the “BAR” in the name).

Across the street are the Shops at Houston Center.  There are some shops, food court restaurants and a series of Houston murals along the outside!

9.  Discovery Green:  Ten years ago, Discovery Green was a parking lot.  Now it’s one of the very best places to go in Houston.

There is a playground, splashpad, restaurant and tons of free events.  One side of the park is super popular… but venture over to the corner by the Hilton and George R. Brown for a quiet spot and Listening Vessels!

More to do:

There is a lot more to do in Downtown… including the cheering for the sports teams at Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center and BBVA Compass Stadium.  You can also go to the Downtown Aquarium, but look for the buy one get one coupons on their website.  (You can often find them on Tuesdays in the summer and Saturdays in the fall.)

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