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Texas: Houston, Family Vacation Ideas - Cowboy Stories, Space Suits, and Great Theatre. Urban adventures come in many shapes and sizes. Each offering a unique glimpse of a city and the way it relates to families. Houston has plenty to be enjoyed. In addition to the amazing Johnson Space Center, METRORail is an adventure all by itself and trolley rides are fun; thrill to roller coasters and awesome shows; count butterflies and koalas; attend theatre under the night sky. It’s all about having fun in the city.

Find the American West. Visit to the days of cattle drives, chuck wagon fare and cowboy camps. See blacksmithing and hear ranching legends. George Ranch Historical Park is a 480-acre historical park within a 23,000-acre working ranch. Innovative living history programs the outdoor museum brings more than 100 years of Texas history to life for visitors. The Ranch hosts fun public activities all year long. Bonus points: In addition to ranch activities during the spring they host vintage baseball games which culminate with two matches played July 3rd and 4th. Also on July 4th enjoy Independence through the Ages with the 1830s, 1890s and 1930s style celebration. (George Ranch Historical Park 10215 FM 762 Richmond, 77469. (281)343-0218, 545-9212 or www.georgeranch.org)

Visit the Aztecs, listen to butterflies. Walk under the archway and discover the Americas in a series of galleries dedicated to the Western Hemisphere. From pre-Columbian art and statuary to Mayan ball games, the Houston Museum of Natural Science provides more than a day’s worth of interesting activities. Located in tranquil Hermann Park almost at the heart of the city, it is actuality is a collection of outstanding science museums dedicated to providing visitors with entertaining as well as educational experiences. During the summer months make sure not to miss the Leonardo De Vinci exhibit. The Cockrell Butterfly Center within the Houston Museum of Natural Science allows visitors to walk through a six–story-high rain forest environment and watch butterflies. There are so many that one is sure to light on someone in your group. Discovery: The Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals is solemnly awesome. The lighting and the visual space is very dramatic. An audiotape is available at the entrance so that some of the questions can be answered. Bonus points: Also during the summer attend one of the museums free to the public events - H2O Matters or RockFest! (John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, 1 Hermann Circle Drive, Houston, TX 77030 (713) 639-4629 or www.hmns.org)

See a heart throb. The Museum of Health and Medical Science gets high marks for creative use of holographs to explain the natural functions of a human body. Lilliputian figures converse with viewers and make everything seem simple. There are many interactive displays suitable for children ages 4 to 94. We spent plenty of time at the fingerprinting activity and then moved to the facial components matching activity. Bonus points: The moving science cart is a clever idea. Docents meander throughout the building engaging unsuspecting visitors in on-the-spot science activities. The exhibit hall is terrific. The movies are amateur when compared to other learning facilities but still worth a look. For Kids: Be sure to check out the KidsHealth part of the website. It’s a kid and teen friendly site that helps answer questions kids might have about the body and how it works. (The Museum of Health and Medical Science. 1515 Hermann Drive Houston, TX 77004. (713) 527-8243 or www.mhms.org)

Meet Carlos the Curious. One of the best children’s museums in the country, The Children’s Museum of Houston is not-to-be-missed for the under-11 crowd. The bilingual family learning environment contains 14 unique, a 166-seat auditorium. Visitors may explore another culture, paint a masterpiece or host a puppet show, or solve mind teasers unlocking the mysteries of creative problem solving. Discovery: The Think Tank is the home of Carlos-the-Curios, Felicia-Fact-Finder, Rosie-Risk-It, and Isaac-I've-Got-It, think Tank guides enjoying the museum is inevitable. Bonus points: On Thursday evenings the museum hosts Free Family Night. It includes free admission not only to all of the hands on exhibits but to variety of cultural, science and math programming. This also includes Spotlight Performances like Express Children’s Theatre, Las Americas Ballet Folklorico and Mariachi Imperial. (Children’s Museum of Houston 1500 Binz, Houston, TX 77004. (713)522-1138 or www.cmhouston.org)

See a koala and search for Nemo. The Houston Zoo has a wide array of habitats providing homes for more than 100 mammal species including monkeys, lions, tigers, elephants and Frodo, the pygmy marmoset. Houston Zoo is home to Mac, the largest baby elephant ever born in captivity. Discovery: The place is also for the birds. The zoo has one of the largest bird collections in the United States. Starting at the entrance macaws announce their location to visitors. The Tropical Bird House, an open aviary, displays a variety of beautiful birds and a chance to watch their antics and listen to their bird talk. The Kipp Aquarium at the Houston Zoo provides an awesome field trip through 23 aquatic habitats. It is the home to more than 100 species of fresh and salt water fish and marine invertebrates. Discovery: Unique to the aquarium is the 7,000-gallon South American flooded forest containing weedy sea dragons and carnivorous piranhas. Also, visit the 4,000 gallon coral reef exhibit to watch the moon jelly fish and to see the beautiful living coral in varying hues. Bonus points: Houston Zoo docents help kids find their own Nemo using an activity created from the popular movie, Finding Nemo. (Houston Zoo 1513 N. MacGregor Houston, Texas 77030. (713) 533-6500 or www.houstonzoo.org)

Renoir with the kids.
The Museum of Fine Arts has a total of 300,000 square feet of exhibition space and more than 45,000 works of art. The galleries provide the perfect way to enjoy learning about the visual arts symbolically traveling the globe through an amazing collection of art. Discovery: The First Sunday of every month is Target Free First Sunday, filled with creative adventures that include storytelling, performances and a Creation Station drop-in studio workshop. Bonus points: Any child, ages 6 to 18, who presents a public library card, will be admitted free on Saturdays and Sundays. The museum is baby friendly and strollers are permitted. Need to Know: The museum is closed to the public on Mondays. (The Museum of Fine Arts 1001 Bissonnet Street, Houston 77005. (713) 639-7300, Bayou Bend 639-7750 or www.mfah.org)

“All the world is a stage and…” Theatre Under The Stars. TUTS is the largest non-profit producer of musical theater in America has an excellent reputation. Their season runs from April to December providing a wide variety of outstanding theatrical experiences. Discovery: While verifying details for this feature I learned from TUTS that the Humphries School has one-week summer day programs for children interested in dramatic arts. This is also great news for parents who may be in the area on business and need to find something for their child to do. Need to Know: During July TUTS offers a free show called Disney’s When You Wish, which features some of the most memorable and loved Disney tunes. (713) 558-8887 www.tuts.com or (713) 558-8801 or www.tuts.org)

Ride the rail. With kids, the METRORail is an adventure all by itself. It provides a realistic solution to the stress of traffic within the beltline. It's a fast, convenient and safe. Travel between Downtown, Midtown, the Museum District, the Texas Medical Center, Reliant Park and the South Fannin Park & Ride lot.

Good eats with your kids. We know from reader feedback that some families collect the shirts or hats from Hard Rock Cafés. This is a good one (Hard Rock Café, 2801 Kirby Drive 1(713) 520-1134 or www.hardrockcafe.com). And Planet Hollywood located at the Galleria shopping complex is a sure thing after a shopping safari. (713) 621-6008 or www.planethollywood.com)

Photos provided by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and George Ranch. Text provided by Familytravelfiles.com staff and is based on destination site visits and interviews. Copyright 2012.
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