In my experience, there are two kinds of outings with your children. The first is an actual fun event, planned or unplanned, where the goal is to enjoy the day and the magic of childhood and blah blah blah. The second is, “Dear God, where can I take this demon that has possessed my child so he or she can burn off some of their energy and stop driving me to drink?”
Parents develop a keen sense of how their children are going to react that is similar to long-range weather forecasting. You may not see the screaming meltdown over hair accessories coming any more than a meteorologist sees a freak thunderstorm come up, but practice makes you right more often than not. I know that when the kid has dark circles under her eyes by 11 a.m. and starts talking about busting open her science kit to do “experiments,” it means I need to find her something physical to do for a few hours so I can trick her into a nap. Otherwise I’ll be cleaning food coloring and vinegar out of the carpet when Lisa Frankenstein’s mad science blows up in her face. Luckily, Houston has plenty of these places.
10. Houston Museum of Natural Science Block Party
5555 Hermann Park Drive
Probably the best place to turn a kid loose with LEGO in Houston is the newly-opened Block Party area of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The defining aspect is space. In addition to work tables a-plenty there is an enormous circular play area with a padded floor that allows plenty of room to build towers and destroy them, all without losing pieces that at home you would find by stepping on them. The only real downside is the price, which is $5 per builder on top of the already pricey general museum admission. Still cheaper than most LEGO sets, though.
Side note: notable builds are displayed in cases around the room. These include LEGO representations of the characters from Five Nights at Freddy’s as well as a Mayan pyramid where a human sacrifice is being conducted. There’s even a severed head on the steps and red bricks represent a flow of blood downwards. See? I told you it was perfect for kids acting terrible.
9. Old Macdonald’s Farm
3203 FM 1960 Road East
Though it gets a little less fun as the heat approaches, Old Macdonald’s Farm is a great place for kids to run around being nuts. There are plenty of animals to pet and feed, a big mound of dirt to climb, a train to ride, a fort to wage tiny warfare from and they also have a decent pool if you’re into that. It’s pretty far from town, though, and they do not take credit cards even at the snack bar. On the other hand, a trip there will almost certainly get your kid to nap in the backseat on the drive home.
8. Blessington Farms
510 Chilsom Trail
Pretty much the same as Old Macdonald, but slightly better in some respects. There’s fruit-picking, for instance, and anyone that’s had to pry a kid out of a field of flowers just to get them somewhere will back me up that allowing them to pull fruit off a bush will let them express their grabby urge to destroy in a somewhat productive manner. Also, they have a big slide and pipe races, and you can even fish there.
7. Houston Arboretum and Nature Center
4501 Woodway Drive
My personal favorite spot to unleash a kid with a bad temper brewing is at the Arboretum. Something about the trails and the trees seems to inspire a sense of inner stillness while offering the thrill of exploration. If that doesn’t work there’s a big sand pit for them to thrash about in. It also has the advantages of being centrally located and totally free. Oh, and sometimes you’ll stumble across a snake eating a frog, and nothing quite gets a kid to look at the world with some new perspective like that.
6. Alamo Drafthouse
Every Tuesday for the first showing before 5 p.m. Alamo Drafthouse allows parents to bring kids of all ages including toddlers to their theater. They turn the lights a little up, the sound a little down, and basically offer one of the most family-friendly movie experiences in the city. They will also bring food to you, so there’s no leaving kids by themselves in a seat or having to haul a baby set-up down to the snack bar. If it’s been a particularly rough day with the kids, they’ll also bring you alcohol, but if I were to truly recommend the premium drinking-in-front-of-your-kids destination in Houston…
5. Drix Restaurant and Lounge
1850 S. Mason Road
There aren’t nearly enough places in Houston that combine indoor playgrounds for kids with good bar service, but Drix is one of them. You can get the little maniacs fed and watch them crawl around a tube maze while you enjoy a stiff, after meal drink. At this point the legal team and the abstract concept of bloody common sense have asked me to remind you to just have the one drink, though, if you’re out with the kids. I know they can be trying, but it’s not worth a car crash.
4. Children’s Museum of Houston
1500 Binz Street
I do not, as a friend of mine does, recommend you “turn them loose in Kidtropolis and pretend they aren’t yours,” but it’s still a great place for the unruly. The staff - God bless every one of them - is fully aware and ready to have every inch of the museum grabbed, smacked and attempted to be taken apart. That’s the point, and they just put it all back together again so other kids can knock it down. I do recommend the Inventor’s Workshop in the basement for cooling down with crafts. Beware, though, you can’t get a phone signal down there so you’d best be prepared to entertain yourself making a doll out of a plastic spoon and pipe cleaners.
3. Frolic’s Castle
303 Memorial City Way
Still the number one indoor playground in Houston, Frolic’s Castle is a fantastic place in the Memorial City Mall for your kid to go all Where the Wild Things Are. It’s gated off and guarded by security, so you can relax as they dash around the truly impressive fairytale forest and castle. There’s almost no better place to put your feet up and let the kids be someone else’s problem. The place that is better?
7810 Katy Freeway
Here’s what I’ve done when I’ve been desperate to entertain my daughter at her most feral. I take her over to the Ikea play area and sign her in. You get an hour of supervised play in a very tightly secured area. Then I go buy a hot dog and, like, coat hangers or ice cube trays to justify having essentially paid someone nothing so I could listen to Welcome to Night Vale in my earbuds in peace for once in my life.
1. Jumping World Houston
14147 Northwest Freeway
If you absolutely, positively need to have a kid exert his or herself to the point of physical exhaustion, reducing them to a quiet lump on the couch watching TV while you try to get some stuff done, an hour at Jumping World cannot be beat. It’s a world made of trampolines. Nothing could possibly embody childhood fun more, and at the same time play is strictly refereed to ensure safety. It’s not only an affordable cure for boredom, but the ultimate wearing them out of nervous energy. When things get their most obnoxious, take them to Jumping World.