Raising kids isn’t cheap. And raising them in Houston’s bustling metropolitan center of the arts, culture and food? Even less so. But even in Houston, fun family activities don’t have to cost a bundle. These 50 free things to do in the city (and the ‘burbs!) include outdoor adventures, crafts, STEM, gaming, and spots where your kids can just run themselves ragged—and your wallet won’t take a hit.
Bonus! Finding free things to do with kids doesn’t just help fill the day—it helps them develop the 5 C’s at the heart of the Begin Approach to helping kids thrive in school and life. Whether you’re stoking Curiosity at a museum, building Core Skills at the library or playground, or firing up Creativity looking at art, you can make a big difference by getting out there to explore.
The Short Cut
- Free things to do with kids are a great way to build the 5 C’s while having fun with your family
- Taking your kids out to events and new places inspires them to explore and move their bodies, which helps them form new neural connections
- Houston has a ton of free things to do, from zoo visits and boat rides to museums, parks, and splash pads
- There are dozens of free Houston attractions available all year long, and others are specific to the season
1. Every Thursday, the Houston Museum District opens its most popular museums…for free! Explore the Children’s Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Natural Science, the Health Museum, and others for absolutely no admission fee.
2. See animals, climb through the piranha tank tunnel, pet the goats, and play at the Houston Zoo for free once a month. On the first Tuesday afternoon of each month during the school year, the zoo opens its gates to the public. Arrive early, take the metro, or park by the museums and walk over to beat the parking mess. And make sure to grab your tickets online ahead of time, as they can sell out!
3. Right in the middle of the city, at the busy bridge crossing Buffalo Bayou, more than 200,000 bats emerge each night at dusk. Grab a spot on the banks of the bayou and watch them fly towards the Downtown skyline.
4. Get a free boat ride in, either from Galveston to Bolivar and back (you might spot some dolphins on this one!) or on a tour of the Houston Ship Channel (just make a reservation for this one). If it’s winter, bundle up because winds along the water tend to be gusty.
5. Houston is the Art Car capital of the world! It is not uncommon to see cars covered with gnomes or topped with a huge Santa hat driving down the street. In April, you can find 200 of these cars driving down the Art Car Parade Route, but you don’t have to wait to see them once a year! Visit the art cars all year long at the Art Car Museum in the Heights.
6. The Houston Police Department has a stable that is home to nearly 40 police horses and you can visit them for free. Bring your own bag of carrots, apples, and peppermint and feed the horses. Just be sure the bag is big because these horses can eat a lot!
7. Not only can you meet the horses at the stables, you can see the police officers at work at the Houston headquarters! In Downtown Houston, stop by the Houston Police Department, go through the metal detectors, check in with the officers, and visit the Police Museum in the lobby. See the old police car, motorcycle, and helicopter, and watch the police officers hard at work.
8. Visit your local fire station. Bring the firefighters some cookies or treats, thank them for the job they do, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to sit in a fire truck! You can also schedule a formal tour for a group, or have a fire truck come to your school for free. Just know that firefighters respond to calls all day and all night, so they may come and go during your scheduled time.
9. Try visiting Glassblowing Houston in Tomball on the first Saturday of the month for a free glass blowing demo, with narration from artists. Then head to nearby Jerry Matheson Park to play on the massive wooden playground.
10. Find a book, attend a story time, use the computers, and so much more at the local library. The events calendar is full of family-friendly activities from music classes to yoga.
11. Pack a picnic and head to Smither Park on Saturdays (weather permitting!) to see artists in action, as they cover more of the park’s surfaces in beautiful mosaics. If you ask nicely, maybe they’ll let you lend a helping hand!
12. After a walk through nature at the Houston Arboretum, play at the unique nature playground with a rope bridge, sand, and tunnels. Then visit the air-conditioned Discovery Room for some hands-on learning.
13. Discovery Green used to be a parking lot. Now it’s the center of activity in Downtown Houston! It’s home to a mist tree, splash pad, playground, and a calendar full of year-round, free events.
14. Hermann Park is what really pulls the Museum District together. Visit any day to walk the trail, play at the playground, splash in the water, and feed the ducks. (And if you want to splurge on any non-free activities, you can ride the train, pedal the boats, or visit the zoo!)
15. Visit farmers’ markets all over the city! Each week they pop up in parking lots and parks around town. We recommend visiting City Hall on Wednesday and Eastside on Saturday and Sunday, and finding one near you!
16. Let your kids practice their art museum voices with a visit to these free art destinations: The Menil Collection, Cy Twombly Gallery and Dan Flavin Installation in Richmond Hall, the Blaffer Art Museum at U of H, or The Moody Center at Rice.
17. OK, so the train is not absolutely free…but it is free for kids five and under and only $1.25 for everyone else! Jump on and ride end to end, or take it to visit NRG Stadium, Downtown Houston, and East End.
18. Experience Twilight Epiphany at sunset. The James Turrell light show/installation on the Rice University campus offers free reservations. While young kids might not enjoy the subtle changes, bringing something for them to color on might help you get a moment to take it all in.
19. The Square at Memorial City has a calendar packed with events. Check the calendar regularly to get all the details! You’ll also find the mall’s two-story carousel, Frolic’s Castle indoor playspace, and NHL-sized ice rink nearby.
20. CityCentre is Houston’s new shopping and dining district, and you’ll often find concerts, fitness classes, and more in the courtyard—much of it free for the community!
22. The Armand Bayou Nature Center isn’t free for the whole family, but it does have free admission for kids under three! It’s a great way to encourage families to get outdoors with programming dedicated to themes like owls, alligators, and bison.
23. Market Square Park is in the center of historic Downtown, which makes it a perfect place to have a midday snack and play on the grass and in the fountain. It’s very dog-friendly and has regularly scheduled fun like blanket bingo, concerts, movies, a Cinco de Mayo fest, and more.
24. Rent bikes, kayaks or canoes, play at the Nature Play Area, and see one of the best city views from Eleanor Tinsley Park—all part of Buffalo Bayou Park.
25. Head to 19th Street in the Heights for the First Saturday Arts Market (on the first Saturday of the month), where you can stroll through tents full of handmade goodies, enjoy live music, and get treats from local food trucks.
26. You know what doesn’t cost money? Giving back to the community. The Houston Food Bank welcomes families—even those with kids as young as six!—to volunteer in the Portwall Warehouse.
27. You can never get enough visits to the Nature Discovery Center in Bellaire. Play at the indoor Discovery Rooms full of exhibits and live animals, or head outdoors to Russ Pitman Park and nature playground.
28. The Central Green at La Canterra in Cinco Ranch hosts plenty of freebies for Katy-area families (if you can resist the shopping!). Look for the monthly movies for a fun night out.
29. Read Alice in Wonderland (or just watch the movie—we won’t tell) and visit Evelyn’s Park to see the sculpture dedicated to Lewis Carroll’s story. Kids can actually join the Mad Hatter’s tea party and go on a treasure hunt for 150 tidbits from the book that are hidden in the sculpture.
30. Sure, you can visit Gallery Furniture for a new mattress or sofa, but the North Freeway location also happens to have an indoor playscape, a Texas-sized mattress for kids to actually jump on, and even some exotic birds. You might even bump into local celeb Mattress Mack!
31. Admission to the San Jacinto Monument and museum are always free (special attractions, including the observation deck, cost extra). Visiting is a fun and interactive lesson on Texas history for kids.
32. The Gerald D. Hines Water Wall is now a Houston Instagram landmark. Take your crew after a shopping spree (or romp around the Galleria’s free indoor playspace) to selfie at the Water Wall and play in the grassy park.
33. While we don’t recommend this for young kids, the Rothko Chapel is a great way to introduce older kids to reflection and meditation. It’s free to visit and you’ll occasionally find meditation programs geared specifically towards children.
34. Kids obsessed with American Ninja Warriors? There’s actually a free challenge course they can try on their own at Tom Bass Park! Time your crew and see who can finish it fastest.
35. Explore a totally new aspect of the city, or just get a new perspective on an old favorite with a free Houston Greeter tour. This is especially fun if you’re hosting out-of-towners, or just moved to HTX.
36. BAPS Shir Swaminarayan Mandir Temple is one of Houston’s most beautiful architectural landmarks. Visit (entry is free—be sure your legs and shoulders are covered) to see it for yourself and teach kids about Hinduism.
SPRING & SUMMER
37. Take part in the time-honored tradition of driving the kids around town for the perfect bluebonnet photos. You can make a trip out of it by venturing to Brenham, or stay local and get a few sweet photos without leaving the city limits.
38. Under Downtown Houston you can find seven miles of climate-controlled tunnels linking office buildings, hotels, banks, restaurants, retail stores, and the Theater District. Head down during work days to eat lunch and see a different view of Downtown.
39. It might feel ambitious, but pack loads of snacks and water, then bring all your beach gear from home and you can absolutely make a Galveston day trip cost-free.
40. If you’ve got stable bike riders or skateboarders, ride at Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark or the North Houston Skatepark (it’s the largest one in the country!). Entry is free to these parks and helmets are required.
41. Parents often need free entertainment for their kids come summertime. Look no further than Houston Parks & Rec. Free tennis programs at the park, free skateboarding lessons, and free adaptive tennis are all available. Don’t forget about the free SwimWise swim lessons, too!
43. See plays, concerts, and movies—for free—at Hermann Park’s Miller Outdoor Theatre. All shows are free, and seating is available under the roof or on the lawn. Look for a lot of midday family performances during the summer.
44. The City of Houston has 27 free splash pads open all year long. Unlike pools, there is no deep water, so even the youngest kids can splash and play on their own. Turn on the water with the touch of a button and run through to cool off!
45. Did you also know that the City of Houston has dozens of free pools open from June to September? They’re a great way to splash and play in the heat of the summer!
FALL & WINTER
46. Without summer’s oppressive heat, walking around Houston is actually manageable. If you have stroller-aged kids, this is a great list of trails. With older kids, try a “hike” at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center or a drive to Brazos Bend State Park.
47. If hiking’s not quite your speed, bike rides along the bayou and some of our other favorite trails are great at this time of year, too.
48. Winter is an excellent season for mural hunting and taking pictures throughout Houston. Here are some of our favorites, but new ones are being painted all the time! Try finding new murals added each year as a part of the HUE Mural Fest, too.
50. Chances are January temps will be quite mild, which means watching and cheering for the inspiring runners of the annual Chevron Houston Marathon is all the more fun. Everyone celebrates at RunFest in Discovery Green after the race!
Keep Learning with Begin
You’ll be amazed how much your kids discover while you’re out and about in Houston, and with Begin’s award-winning early learning products you can keep them exploring at home too. We know what matters in learning, and we make it easy—for your kids and for you. See what we can do for your family today.