Kids will love a walk on the wild side at the Houston Zoo.

Photography Phil Gould / Alamy Stock Photo

America’s fourth-largest city is big on fun and bursting with must-see sites. With award-winning museums, educational opportunities and plenty of engaging, nature-based entertainment, Houston is a great destination for the entire family.

For new visitors, the city can seem daunting, but fortunately, Four Seasons Hotel Houston is situated in the heart of the action, so there’s no better place to stay. Though it’s easiest to explore the city by car, Houston’s rail options do make it possible to visit many attractions without ever hopping on a freeway. Here are some of the best things to do in Houston with kids, from museums to live entertainment to kid-friendly hot spots.

Houston Museum of Natural Science

Though the museum’s Morian Hall of Paleontology is one of the most dynamic of its kind in the world, the appeal of HMNS extends far beyond dinosaur bones. Wander through the Texas Coastal Exhibit and the Shimmering Gem Vault before heading downstairs to the Welch Hall of Chemistry.

Upgrade your basic admission ticket for access to the Cockrell Butterfly Center, where visitors are invited to explore the three-storey, glass-encased rainforest. There, exotic live insects and plants live alongside more than 1,500 butterflies that fly free throughout the structure.

Children’s Museum of Houston

The Children’s Museum of Houston is a three-storey childhood paradise. From toddler to tween, the space has plenty to keep kids entertained for hours. The tiniest visitors will feel at home in the Tot*Spot play area, where all of the toys are replaced and sanitised every few hours, while older kids can explore the 40-foot (12-metre) PowerPlay climbing tower, create with all kinds of objects in the Inventors’ Workshop, and learn about hydropower at the FlowWorks exhibit.

Don’t miss a visit to Kidtropolis, where little ones get to earn Kidtropolis money, working in everything from banking to veterinary jobs.

Houston Zoo

Pack a picnic, comfortable shoes and swimsuits for the kids and spend the day at the expansive Houston Zoo. Located in the Museum District, the shady, 55-acre park is home to more than 5,000 animals and is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 zoos in the country. Download the app to help navigate amid the elephants, gorillas, giraffes and sea lions before cooling off in the water play park, steps away from the petting zoo and carousel.

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Space Center Houston

Take your family’s exploration to another world at the NASA Space Center.

Photography Chris Howes/Wild Places Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Located in the Bay Area, just a short drive from downtown Houston, Space Center Houston is one of the most popular sites in the city. Though the majority of NASA’s Johnson Space Center is closed to the public, Space Center Houston gives visitors a chance to learn more about the nation’s space program.

Go inside the Skylab 1-G Trainer facility, see a shuttle launch in the Blast-Off! Theater and check out the space shuttle Explorer. For the ultimate visitor experience, book a spot on the Level 9 Tour, which grants behind-the-scenes VIP access to only 12 visitors per day. (Note: Level 9 tickets must be reserved more than 24 hours in advance.)

Downtown Aquarium

Part exhibit, part restaurant, the Downtown Aquarium is a cool place to spend time on a hot Houston afternoon. Meander through elaborate habitats like the Louisiana Swamp, home to crayfish, gators and snapping turtles, before stepping inside the hull of a 17th century Spanish galleon and enjoying an up-close view of colourful clownfish, tangs and groupers.

Kids love the Stingray Reef exhibit, which allows guests to touch and feed the rays. Before you leave, take a ride on the Diving Bell Ferris Wheel and soak up bird’s-eye views of downtown Houston.

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

A sanctuary of 155 wooded acres (63 hectares) between downtown and the Galleria, the Houston Arboretum makes it easy to forget that you’re in the heart of the city. Enjoy a leisurely walk along one of the shaded trails (none of which exceeds 5 miles/8 kilometres), stopping by the pond decks to check out the fish and turtles. If you forget to bring your own repellent, be sure to stop by the main office for complimentary bug spray.

Galveston Island

Kids young and old will find fun in the sun on Galveston Island.

Photography Amar and Isabelle Guillen - Guillen Photo LLC / Alamy Stock Photo

Located an hour from Houston, the coastal city of Galveston is a great place to spend a day with the family. Start early, because there is a lot to do. Go under the sea inside Moody Gardens Aquarium Pyramid with penguins, sharks, seals and other marine life, before moving to Moody’s Rainforest Pyramid. Next door, Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark tempts pint-sized patrons with more than 35 thrilling adventure rides. If anyone has energy left, the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is a fun stop, as are the shops along The Strand Historic District.

Miller Outdoor Theatre

If you’re in town between March and November, be sure to check out the performance calendar at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Located inside Hermann Park Conservancy – which is a destination all its own – the amphitheatre hosts free shows along the hillside. On any given night, you might find a concert by the Houston Symphony or a classic movie playing on the big screen, while on other evenings Theatre Under the Stars performs Tony- and Grammy Award-winning musicals.

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