Back when Houston decided it no longer really wanted to be the Space City anymore (The reasoning behind which still escapes me to this day), we rechristened ourselves the Bayou City and also got really into trains. When Enron Field opened the old Union Station location they went in for a distinctly train station homage, and the engine along the stadium walls celebrating the frequent home runs has become a beloved fixture.
My daughter loves trains. Most kids do. And the good news is that if you want spend a couple of days chugging along on choo choos with your kids there are some really first rate ways to do it.
10. Memorial City Mall Train Let's start off with the "that's not a real train" entries to get them out of the way. There are two really good mall trains in Houston. The lesser of them is in the Memorial City Mall, with depots near the ice rink. The $4 ride through the mall is quite pleasant, though a bit cramped for adults. Sometimes the train stops by the gourmet popcorn stand for free samples, which is a plus.
9. Katy Mills Mall Train For all intents and purposes the train ride at Katy Mills is identical to Memorial City, though I do believe it is slightly longer and therefore the better deal. I also kind of feel bad how often I rank Memorial City of Katy Mills in terms of attractions and the like, so here you go, Katy Mills. This one's on me.
8. Kemah Boardwalk Train This ride is the closest that you can get to recreating the old AstroWorld train ride, as it weaves in and out of the roller coasters and other amusements on the Kemah Boardwalk. It also has a fantastic ocean view, but my favorite part is honestly olfactory. You pass tons of stands and restaurants selling fried deliciousness.
7. Old MacDonald's Farm Train I can't say enough good things about Old MacDonald's Farm as an affordable day out for kids. For a very reasonable price you can pet plenty of animals, play in a great playground, swim, and yes, even ride a train around the property. It's not a visually exciting as the Kemah train, but as part of the overall fun of the place at rates that don't bust your wallet I think it's a better time.
6. The Quebec: Though it doesn't actually go anywhere, try to find a free moment to head out to the Rosenberg Railroad Museum and climb aboard the luxury car "Quebec". Built in 1879, the opulent and beautiful three-bedroom business car was used by the Canadian government to conduct high level mobile meetings between prime ministers and other dignitaries. It's a shame you can't actually ride anywhere in the 'Quebec", but it's a rare look into the high class rail travel of the 19th century. The rest of the museum is definitely worth the drive out.
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5. Hermann Park Train For a lot of people this train is the only train in Houston outside the METROrail they know. It's hauled generations of families visiting the Houston Zoo around Hermann Park, and sharing a trip on it is a hallmark moment between kids and parents. Nostalgia only gets you so far, though when you could also take the...
4. Aquarium Shark Train It's real hard to top riding a train through an underwater tunnel filled with sharks. If you catch them at just the right time the train will stop and you'll get to witness a feeding. The jump scare at the end of the ride is a little predictable and cheesy, but kids seem to love it. I do wish it was a bit longer a ride though. Maybe the city could persuade the Aquarium to open up the ride and expand it along the bayou in Memorial Park.
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3. Houston Area Live Steamers I purposely didn't do anything with model trains for this list because I wanted to focus on life-sized attractions, but the folks at the Houston Area Live Steamers are actually both. The group specializes in steam engines that are definitely miniature versions of the trains of old, but are still large enough for children and adults to ride on. The sheer craftsmanship involved in their work is uncanny, and in addition to being fun could serve as inspiration to any number of mechanically-minded kids.
2. Houston Historical Tours Now, you had better be prepared to spend an entire day in this endeavor, but it's totally worth it. Houston Historical Tours buses tourists out to rural areas of Texas like Palestine, Rusk, and Cedar Park that still maintain diesel and steam engine trains that roll through the picturesque Texas countryside. Weather permitting; sometimes these railroads will even stage Wild West gunfights along the route. There's also plenty of stops for food and shopping along the way, but like I said, it's an all day affair that involves a three-hour commute by bus from Houston. If you want an authentic old-school train ride though it cannot be beat.
1. Harborside Express Though rolling through Galveston isn't quite as impressive as a trek through the countryside on a steam engine, there's no denying that the Galveston Railroad Museum is a hell of a lot closer. In addition to seeing the largest exhibit of rolling stock in the southwest, $4 will allow you a 15-minute ride inside or out on the decks of the Missouri Pacific Caboose #13895 attached to the Harborside Express on most Saturdays. It's by far the best train ride that doesn't involve three hours into the boondocks, and once it's over there's plenty of train awesomeness left over at museum to ogle at. All aboard!