There are not enough words in all the languages of man to describe how hot it is in Houston right now. The sun rules us like a Pharaoh, only with more cruelty and sweat. You venture outside at your own peril, and if you do it's like being wrapped in wet towels that are also somehow on fire.
But, summer is also the time when schools stop watching our kids for us for free and if you want to keep them from trying to shove a cheese sandwich into your PS4 then it's good to get them out of the house. Luckily, there are splash parks all over the city full of sprinklers and water features for them to horse around in, and ever better, most of them are completely free!
A note: In general we're talking about play areas with water features, not actual water parks.
The Aquarium is a great place to blow a few hours, and the all-day passes are a really good deal. There's one aspect of the Aquarium though that you don't have to pay any money to enjoy, and that's the water playground in from of the stage. It's nothing fancy, but it can take the sting off the heat while waiting in line for the Shark Train. It's also the only splash park that regularly has music playing, which is a plus or minus depending on how sick you are of "Gangnam Style".
Another bare bones affair, but unlike the Aquarium at this butterfly-themed park you don't have to pay to park and the other amenities are free. All of Jaycee is really well maintained and clean, and the rest of the playground equipment is some of the best in the city. Another plus is that Jaycee has port-a-potties so you can change (In a cramped environment, true) from water clothes to regular clothes.
Marian Park already has a wonderfully wide-open feel to it. The splash pad there was opened in 2011, and features three different areas with controllable features. It's one of the easier parks to sun around in unencumbered, and is a perfect place to occupy a child while you take in an aerobics class at the community center.
7. Ervan Chew Park
Shady and pleasant and right in the heart of Montrose, most people I know aren't even aware this park exists. The splash park aspect has some really great sprays, including a cage of streams that the kids can control themselves while a friend huddles down to try and stay within the spray. There's also a dog park here, so you can let both human and furry rascals run off that excess energy.
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6. Settegast Park
Just a solid splash park all around. Settegast is probably the bar you'd set for a "good park", being neither too simple or overly ambitious. There's geysers and misty arches and other good stuff, and it gets points again for the safe rubber surface. All in all, when you think of a splash park Settegast is perfectly textbook.
5. Nieto Park
Designed to look like a beach, the Nieto Park water area is colorful, whimsical, and fun. There are pipe tunnels and palm trees that spray water, as well as plenty of shade for parents to just sit and watch. Another perk is that the surface is rubberized, not stone, so fewer slips and accidents.
4. Montie Beach Park
Another great beach-themed, park. Montie Beash gets extra points for the adorable whale that spouts water through, and because the wave effect from the wave sprays is actually pretty close to the feeling of the tide washing over your toes.
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One of the most popular splash parks in the city is the Gateway Fountain at Discovery Green. Personally, I find it more of a divergence than an actual play area, but there's no denying that it's probably the best kept of the splash parks in the city. The jets are really something else, as well. Lots of power in the water, and it's a really great place to make friends.
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Though it really dances a little closer to water park or pool than splash park, the Noah's Ark-themed water play area at the Quillian Center is amazing enough that it can't be left off the list. Water slides improve almost everything in the world, and the structure is whimsical and fun. The downside is that it's one of the few splash parks you do have to pay for, with a $7 entrance fee, but you also get access to the big adult pool for that.
It doesn't get much better than good old Hermann Park. Part of the massive park complex, the large and well-maintained sprayground has everything you could want. The water effects are varied, and there's a real sandy beach next to it to complete a beach fantasy. It's also a good way to cool off after a hot day at the nearby zoo if the walk hasn't tired you out.