Take advantage of free and cheap summer activities for kids

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Brown Promenade at Discovery Green | Photo: Erion Shehaj via CC

School’s out for Summer and the kids are anxious to fill every minute of their days with tons of fun. Make this the best summer yet without breaking the bank by using our guide to free – and a few almost-free – summer activities for kids in Houston.

Learn Something

Get the entire family out of the house for fun and educational experiences in the Houston Museum District. Most museums have designated free admission days.

  • The Art Car Museum – For the creative kids or the car enthusiast, this is the place for contemporary art and, of course, art cars. Admission is free but check their site for changing summer hours.
  • Asia Society Texas Center – Explore Asian culture through the arts at Asia Society Texas Center. Admission to the building is free; $5 for adult admission to the Sarofim Gallery, free for children 12 and under.
  • The Children’s Museum of Houston – Find an activity for all ages at the Children’s Museum of Houston. Big kids are in charge at Kidtropolis – where they can choose to be a veterinarian, a postal worker, or master the stock exchange. The younger ones – 35 months and under – can run amuck at Tot Spot and enjoy a world made at their eye level. Free Family Night Thursdays 5pm to 8pm.
  • Contemporary Arts Museum Houston – Check out modern works from artists around the globe at Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum. Stop by the front desk for a free Family Guide that will lead you through the museum in a way that’s interesting for children of all ages. CAMH admission is always free.
  • The Health Museum – Learn all about the human body while standing inside a gigantic rib cage or sign the kiddos up for The Health Museum’s 2016 Discovery Camps. This museum is rich with hands-on exhibits and houses the McGovern 4D theater. Free Family Thursdays 2pm to 7pm.
  • Museum of Fine Arts Houston – Stop by the Kinder Foundation Education Center at the MFAH for tips on how to make the most of your visit to the museum. See this summer’s captivating Kusama: At the End of The Universe enviroments opening Sunday, June 12 and perfect for the kids. Free admission all day on Thursdays; free general admission for children 12 and under, military personnel plus their families throughout the summer and children 18 and under with a public library card on the weekend.
  • Houston Museum of Natural Science – Roar with the dinosaurs in the Paleontology Hall, gaze at sparkling stones in the Hall of Gems and Minerals and catch a film in the Planetarium at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Free on Thursdays from 3pm to 6pm. You can also save on entry to the Butterfly Center and special exhibits, including Virgin of Guadalupe: Empress of Americas and Fabergé: From A Snowflake To An Iceberg.
  • The Fabiola Project at the Byzantine Fresco Chapel – Check out the latest free installation in the Menil Collection’s Byzantine Fresco Chapel. Consisting primarily of paintings, The Fabiola Project is made up of more than 450 reproductions of a lost 1885 work by Jean-Jacques Henner depicting 4th-century Roman Saint Fabiola.

Get Outside

Slather sunscreen on the kids and enjoy these free (or cheap) outdoor summer activities in Houston.

  • Big Bubble Under the Preston Street Bridge – Give your kids permission to press the mysterious red button and the water in the bayou below will bubble up. If you’re a prankster, this could be a great opportunity to play a joke on your kiddos.
  • Buffalo Bayou – Explore the evolving Bayou Bayou Park. Check out the newly opened Cistern at Buffalo Bayou Park by making a $2 reservation; children ages 9 and older only. You can catch a Twilight or Second Saturday boat tour if everyone in your family is over four years old. Boat tours are $7 for adults and $5 for children ages 4 to 12.
  • Discovery Green – There’s always something happening on the Green. Activities like the free Screen on the Green movie night series, various fitness classes, Thursday night concerts, kayaking and standup paddleboarding, or Flea by Night are available throughout the summer. Whether it’s fun in the water or on land, Houston’s favorite downtown family destination park has it all.
  • Friday Night Flicks at Five Points Plaza in La Porte by the Bay – Enjoy free screenings of family films all summer long, including recent hits like Disney’s Frozen, The Lego Movie and more. Movies start just after sunset (so, after the summer solstice, they start a little earlier each week). Check the schedule for estimated start times.
  • Galveston Beaches – Pack the cooler, umbrella and towels, and head to the coast to hit one of Galveston’s many beaches. From Galveston Island State Park to East Beach, there’s plenty of sand for everyone. Most beaches charge about $8 per vehicle; State Park admission is $5 for adults and free for children 12 and under.
  • Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park – Get back to your roots with the Heritage Society. Some of the oldest buildings in Houston have been relocated to this site. It’s quite the experience to view these historic structures in the shadows of the shiny new skyscrapers of today. Guided tours available for $15 for adults, $6 for kids 6 to 18, free for kids 5 and under. Admission to the gallery is always free.
  • Houston Astros Games at Minute Maid Park – Take your kids out to the ball game at Minute Maid Park. With a variety of discounts including $1 hot dog Wednesdays, free firework shows on Fridays, Coca-Cola Value Days and Family Sundays, you’ll be able to make it to a ‘Stros game without breaking the bank.
  • Houston’s Public Swimming Pools – Dive into one or more of the City’s 37 public pools all summer through Labor Day. Bring your sunscreen.
  • Market Square Park – Catch a free movie screening, grab dinner at Niko Niko’s or try your hand at a game during Blanket Bingo on the third Thursday of the month for $10 in downtown Houston’s Market Square Park.
  • McGovern Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park – Explore the newest addition to Hermann Park that’s chock full of gardens and water displays perfect for a day at the park. Climb to the top of McGovern Centennial Garden’s 30-foot mound for a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area.
  • Miller Outdoor Theatre – Pack a picnic and roll out a blanket on the lawn at Miller Outdoor Theatre to enjoy a show under the stars. The theater in Hermann Park offers concerts that range from Zydeco bands to the symphony, theatrical shows and almost any type of dance performance you could think of. All shows are free, covered seating is also free with advance reservations.
  • Splash Pad at Ervan Chew Park – In addition to the dog park, playscapes for big kids and toddlers, ball fields, and a basketball court, Ervan Chew offers up a splashpad. This large, ground level fountain allows kids to play in the spraying water and turn it back on when the automatic timer runs out, wearing themselves out while parents watch from a close, but dry, distance.
  • Other Splash Pads Around Houston – Let the kids roam free in Houston’s 19 other splash pads and spray grounds across the city, plus additional splash pads in Discovery Green, the Houston Zoo and Downtown Aquarium.
  • Waugh Bridge Bat Colony – Watch 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats take flight as they emerge from the bridge en mass to search for dinner. The best places for viewing include the bridge’s Observation Deck and sidewalk along with the Buffalo Bayou Park bank on the corner of Memorial and Waugh and the Memorial Fountain on Allen Parkway. Enjoy a free and informative Bat Chat every first and third Friday night of the month, year round.
  • Canino’s Produce & Farmer’s Market – Take the kiddos for the fresh sights, smells and tastes of one of Houston’s oldest and highly regarded open air farmer’s markets. Located in Houston’s historic Heights off of Airline Dr, Canino’s Produce is devoted to their specialization in using as much local/regional fruit and vegetables. Both Canino’s and the farmer’s market are free to attend.
  • The Showboat Drive-In Movie Theater – Catch modern movies in an old school double feature at this drive-in located in Hockley, just ten minutes west of Tomball in Northwest Houston. Open every weekend Friday through Sunday, the theater hosts new release films in an outdoor double feature format that takes you back while introducing the kids to a new moviegoing experience through an age-old tradition. $6 per adult, $4 per child ages 3 to 12, kids 2 and under are free.
  • Sugar & Cloth Color Wall – Gram your best photos in front of a rainbow palette backdrop at the new Sugar and Cloth Color Wall in The East End. Located at 3302 Canal Street outside of Headquarters, eight vertical color blocks extend from the top of the building’s facade to the side walk giving the illusion of a photography studio setting. Pick a favorite color or take a photo in each of the eight choices at this free to attend photo op.

Relax in the Air-Conditioning

Escape the heat and humidity with these fun and free (or cheap) indoor activities for the kiddos.

  • Children’s Summer Series at Studio Movie Grill – Take in a kid’s flick with your family and enjoy deep discounts at CityCentre’s Studio Movie Grill. Shows include Over the Hedge, Madagascar 3, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Shrek and Wallace and Gromit, and play on weekdays at 11am. Tickets are just $1.
  • Houston Public Library – It’s easy to overlook the public libraries in a city with so many attractions, but don’t forget these little gems. Each neighborhood library has special summer programs for kids of all ages that are free or very low cost. Some events include petting zoos, storytime, clown shows and gymboree.
  • Moody Gardens – Explore the depths of the ocean in the Aquarium Pyramid, see rare plants and animals in the Rainforest Pyramid, catch a flick in the 3D or 4D FX theater, or hop aboard the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat for a leisurely cruise. Moody Gardens has plenty to occupy the entire family for a few hours or the entire day. Honor students in pre-k through 12th grade receive free admission to one attraction when they show their report card.
  • Sam Houston Boat Tour of the Port of Houston – Cruise around in air-conditioned style while you sit back, relax, and watch the buzz of one of the busiest ports from the water. The boat ride is free, but reservations are required.
  • See a Show at the Theater – Catch a play, concert, musical or comedy show at one of the many theaters in Houston for half price.
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