The Top 10 Kid-Friendly Historic Sites Around Houston
Teach your kids a little about Texas history at one of these great historic sites.
Compared with Rome, Beijing, or even New York, Houston as a city is a bit of a spring chick. Founded in June of 1837, the city is known for its new construction and recent boom in population. But even while Houston’s story is still unfolding, the area is home to many historic sites that are well worth a visit.
Address: 1 Monument Circle, La Porte, TX 77571
Hours: Open daily, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.
When we brag about everything being bigger in Texas, we’re including our war memorials. At 570 feet tall, the San Jacinto Monument in the Houston suburb of La Porte is 15 feet taller than the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. And that’s only fitting, considering it commemorates a battle that gave Texas its independence.
The Battle of San Jacinto lasted just 18 minutes and was the culmination of a hard-fought revolution led by local historical icon Gen. Sam Houston. The monument and surrounding park serve as a testament to those who fought valiantly in the Texian Army and secured Texas’ sovereignty from Mexico. Take an elevator ride up 500 feet to the observation deck to get a great view of Houston, or keep your feet planted firmly on the ground by exploring the museum at the base of the monument.
While the site is open all year for general tours, it also hosts an annual San Jacinto Festival in April that has a ton of free family-friendly activities, including music, games, and a live reenactment of the battle. The event is a favorite among Texas history buffs young and old.
Address: 3523 Independence Parkway South, LaPorte, TX 77571
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Right next door to the San Jacinto Monument is the battleship Texas. When it was first commissioned in 1914, the battleship Texas was the most powerful piece of weaponry on the planet. It would go on to become essentially the country’s first aircraft carrier and home to the U.S. Navy’s first commercial radar. The ship saw some of the fiercest battles in both World War I and World War II. It’s a piece of American history not often seen.
Admire the ship from outside for free, or pay a small admission fee for a self-guided tour. You’ll get a glimpse of how seamen and marines from the Greatest Generation lived while serving, including checking out restored sleeping quarters, the engine room, and even their medical facilities. For a deeper dive into the ship’s history, you can also take a special guided “hard hat tour” of areas on board that are usually closed to the public -- though these tours are available only a few times a year and cost a pretty penny.
Address: 10215 FM 762, Richmond, TX 77469
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Someday, someone might finally invent a time machine, but until they do, you can always visit the George Ranch Historical Park. At this 20,000-acre working ranch, you can experience the living history of four generations of families. Watch blacksmiths and cowboys in action, tour historical homes, engage in hands-on activities, and talk with fully costumed “interpreters” to help you better understand what the past was like on the ranch a century ago.
Those ages 4 and under get in free. Ticket prices are $5 for kids ages 5 and up and $10 for adults. While it’s not free, it’s well worth the price. If anything, your kids will finally appreciate what life was like before iPads existed.
23400 Park Road 12, Washington, TX 77880
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Clocking in at about a 90-minute drive outside of Houston, this spot is a bit of a hike, but it’s definitely worth a daytrip. After all, it is where Texas became Texas. At this spot, just off the Brazos River, 59 delegates met to declare Texas a free nation. And while it has been a while since Texas left its sovereignty behind to join the U.S., it’s still sacred ground for born-and-bred Texans.
Spend a full day exploring the nearly 300 acres of parkland that includes a visitor center and museum filled with interactive exhibits on the Texas Revolution. Afterward, tour Independence Hall -- where the delegates met to decide Texas’ fate -- or stroll through Barrington Living History Farm and the home of Dr. Anson Jones, the last president of the Republic of Texas.
Buy tickets in the visitor center for specific sites, or get a full-day pass to visit multiple attractions within the park. Be sure to check the park’s calendar before planning your visit for information on special hands-on activities scheduled, like cotton picking, making corn-husk dolls, or stage coach rides.
Address: 2618 Broadway, Galveston, TX 77550
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
If you’re a sucker for history and architecture, you’ll love Moody Mansion in Galveston. This four-story, 28,000-square-foot mansion from 1895 has been completely restored and is open for tours. You can appreciate the uniqueness of the home without even stepping foot inside. Designed to incorporate styles from several different cultures and time periods, the mansion is eclectic to say the least and houses a wealth of Galveston history.
The mansion is named after Galveston’s prominent and much-beloved Moody family. While not the original owners, the Moodys occupied the home for more than 80 years before turning it over to be used as a museum, complete with many of their own personal effects.
Choose from two self-guided tours where you’ll learn more about the Moody family and their time in the mansion -- or splurge on a special behind-the-scenes guided “legacy” tour to visit parts of the house off-limits to most visitors.
Address: 2020 Postoffice St., Galveston, TX 77550
Hours: Vary by show | Click here to view the calendar.
While you’re in Galveston, try to swing by the 1894 Opera House. This historic theater was built in -- you guessed it -- 1894, and more than a century later, through hurricanes, fires, and several renovations, it still features live performances. In 1993, the state legislature declared it the Official Opera House of Texas, but it shows all manner of plays and musical performances.
The Grand, as it is called by locals, is a revered piece of Galveston history and a cornerstone of the city’s arts scene. Following a devastating hurricane in 1900, the community notoriously came together to repair the damage swiftly so that the theater could reopen only a few short months later.
It’s one of the few remaining theaters of its era in Texas and a must-see for theater history buffs.
Address: 6003 Memorial Drive, Houston, TX 77007
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. | Sunday, 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.
The Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens is part of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and houses much of the museum’s decorative art, paintings, and furniture. It used to be the home of the late Ima Hogg, a prominent Houston philanthropist, former first lady of Texas, and founder of the Houston Symphony Orchestra.
Walking around the property is like stepping back into a simpler, more elegant time. The 1920s-era home is spectacular to say the least -- beautifully designed with pieces dating back to the 17th century -- and the gardens are equally stunning. Originally intended as a series of outdoor living and entertaining spaces, the small gardens spread throughout the property are a beautiful extension of the house itself. For a special treat, be sure to visit in December when the space is converted into a holiday-themed wonderland. Reservations aren’t necessary for exploring the grounds and house on your own, but if you want a guided tour, you’ll definitely need one.
Address: 105 Sabine St., Houston, TX 77007
Hours: By reservation only, Thursday & Friday, 3 p.m. - 7 p.m. | Saturday & Sunday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Phone: 713-752-0314, ext. 301 or ext. 401
The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern offers a completely different -- but equally interesting -- aesthetic experience. In a city as young as Houston, this underground cavern is about as close as we come to having ruins. Built nearly a century ago, the cistern was used for decades as part of the city’s water system until it was decommissioned in 2007. Since then, it has remained largely unchanged.
Stepping into the cistern for the first time is both eerie and beautiful. About the size of one and a half football fields and filled with hundreds of 25-foot columns, the space is so large it takes 17 seconds for an echo to make it from one end to the other. The effect is impressive enough for even the most indifferent of teenagers.
Unfortunately, kids under the age of 9 aren’t allowed, but older kids and adults can go on a 30-minute guided tour of the space Thursday through Sunday. Tickets are $5 a person -- except on Thursday, when it’s free -- and reservations are always required.
Address: 1601 NASA Parkway, Houston, TX 77058
Hours: Vary by season | Click here to view the calendar.
There’s a reason Houston is called Space City. After all, it was in the historic mission control center at the Johnson Space Center that NASA monitored every Apollo mission on its way to the moon -- including Neil Armstrong’s famous first landing.
Space Center Houston -- NASA’s public museum in Houston -- houses tons of artifacts from the lunar missions, the International Space Station, and other pieces of space exploration history. A tram tour can take you throughout the grounds to see mission control, the Saturn V rocket, and even a viewing deck to watch real scientists and engineers develop the latest in space travel and technology. You could easily spend an entire day there and not see all that there is to see -- but it will be fun to try!
Address: 550 McKinney St., Houston, TX 77002
Hours: Monday & Tuesday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. | Wednesday, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. | Thursday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. | Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
This Spanish Renaissance-style building opened in 1926 as Houston’s Central Library and continues to house many of the city’s archives today. Bookworms will love exploring the book-lined reading rooms, while architecture enthusiasts will enjoy taking in the tall ceilings and intricately carved limestone and marble.
For those who relish a good scare, the Julia Ideson Building is also supposedly haunted. The resident ghost, Jacob Frank Cramer, reportedly was found dead inside the library in 1936. In the decades since, staff and visitors claim to have heard the ghost of the night watchman playing his violin through the building’s thick walls. If the beauty and history of the site don’t give you chills, the ghost stories surely will.