Last week we looked at tourist attractions inside Houston proper; this week we rank tourist attractions outside the city limits. Last week our list included museums, shopping destinations, public art and inner city parks. This week, our choices include fewer museums and art, but lots more beach side attractions. High on the must-see list for most tourists is Space Center Houston, and we agree. (The Space Center snagged the top spot last week.) But there's a real charm to the historical and nature sites that are just a little further away from downtown Houston. We think the attractions selected this week are well worth the extra driving time it takes to reach them.
10. George Ranch Historical Park 10215 FM 762 Road, Richmond 281-343-0218
You can see 100 years of Texas history brought to life at the George Ranch Historical Park. The park has frequent re-enactments (although they don't get quite as literal as the San Jacinto Battleground re-enactments - see the next page), cook-outs, hands-on history tours and demonstrations.
9. San Jacinto Monument and Museum / Battleship Texas One Monument Circle, La Porte 281-479-2421
The San Jacinto Monument folks like to brag that the fight that gave the battleground its name was "18 minutes that changed history." Re-enactors take their job very, very seriously and the San Jacinto Day celebrations get bigger and more elaborate every year. Between battles, there's lots to see in the museum with regularly rotating exhibits, the top-floor outlook of the monument features a spectacular view of the area and there's lots of green space if you just want to wander around or sit under a tree.
8. Museum of the Gulf Coast 700 Procter St., Port Arthur 409- 982-7000
The Museum of the Gulf Coast likes to say it's the place where you can see "Jurassic to Joplin," that would be rock legend Janis Joplin, of course, Port Arthur's most famous resident ever. There are lots of exhibits, most with a strict local focus. Exhibits, events and various day camps for kids are regularly scheduled.
7. Armand Bayou Nature Center 8500 Bay Area Blvd., Pasadena 281-474-2551
Like the rest of the Gulf Coast, the Armand Bayou Nature Center still shows a few signs of wear-and-tear brought on by recent hurricanes and droughts, but only a few. There's still lots of nature to explore at the center. Get as up-close as you want - or do what we do and bring binoculars.
6. Sea Rim State Park 19335 S. Gulfway Dr., Sabine Pass 409-971-2559
Sea Rim State Park is for the extreme DIY-enthusiast. Be prepared to bring everything you might need with you because the park itself offers very little in the way of concession stands or public restrooms. On the flip side, it has an abundance of natural Gulf Coast beaches, trails and marshland. It might not be the most comfortable of all the attractions on our list, but it is one of the most beautiful.
5. George Observatory 21901 FM 762, Needville 713-639-4629
Located inside Brazos Bend State Park, the George Observatory is a satellite location of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The observatory is regularly open to the public and everyone's invited to look at the stars through its huge telescope. There's also a number of options for private rentals -- such as a kids' sleepover and parties. Check out the museum's schedule for events at the Observatory throughout the year.
4. Surfside Beach Village of Surfside Beach
With 27 miles of clean beaches and a promise of warm waters through most of the year, Surfside Beach is great to visit any time. It's a little more low-key than Galveston, unless there's a festival scheduled in which case the beachfront turns into one big party, usually one big family-friendly party, that is.
3. Kemah Boardwalk 215 Kipp Ave, Kemah 877-285-3624
You'll have your choice of restaurants, bars, rides and more at Kemah Boardwalk. The location is natural, but everything else is designed to keep folks happy and comfortable. Take advantage of the boardwalk's many festivals and holiday celebrations.
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2. Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier 2501 Seawall Blvd., Galveston Island 855-728-0697
We aren't going to lie - what we like most about the Pleasure Pier is the fried chicken we get at Bubba Gump's, one of the eateries on site. Other people like the rollercoaster, the games or the people watching. Expect a crowd and a couple of lines for the more popular attractions. Notice we didn't say long lines; most of the time the pier staff keeps everything moving along.
1. Moody Gardens One Hope Blvd., Galveston Island 800-582 - 4673
A longtime area favorite, Galveston's Moody Gardens gets the top spot on our list for two reasons. One, it has a great variety of activities, all at a great price. Visitors can tour the Aquarium Pyramid, get bounced around in the Ridefilm, check out penguin, nose-to-beak, or take a paddlewheel boat ride. It's more than enough to keep even the most energetic of kids busy all day. And two, it has air conditioning. Say what you want, but being able to visit "nature" in an air conditioned environment sounds like heaven during hot Texas summers. Lots of events - from films to concerts - are scheduled year-round.