I thought I might be asking for trouble taking my grandchildren to stay at a swanky Houston hotel, but our stay at Hotel Zaza in the Museum District paid off. We were going to see Ramses the Great & The Gold of the Pharaohs, a world premiere exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I invited my daughter and the grandkids to go with me to see the exhibit, and they were so excited. The anticipation is almost as much fun as the actual trip with children. Dakota, my 6-year-old granddaughter — who knows way more about Tutankhamun, Egypt, and the pyramids than I do — will probably wear her Cleopatra (Halloween) costume. Four-year-old Hank won’t be far behind. He will want to wear his plastic dinosaur head when we visit the Morian Hall of Paleontology.
We hit the Houston highlights mostly near our hotel during our 3-day weekend. Here are some fun things to do in Houston with the grandkids.
1. Stay At Hotel ZaZa In The Museum District
I remember when the Hotel ZaZa was the old Warwick Hotel years ago, and it was just as beautiful now as it was back then. The luxury accommodations wowed the kids. They liked the bejeweled horse standing in the lobby’s koi pond. I loved the beautiful artwork everywhere in the hotel. The location is perfect for the places we wanted to visit; just a two-block walk to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Hermann Park was across the street. The limousine will drive you anywhere within a 3-mile radius of the hotel, so we parked and used the car service to get around.
2. Houston Museum Of Natural Science
The grand Houston Museum of Natural Science is full of captivating exhibits, some permanent and some on worldwide tours. On our visit, we explored Ramses the Great, ancient Egyptian tombs, and paleontology — and this doesn’t even scratch the surface.
We learned about Ramses the Great and his wife, Queen Nefertari, who reigned over 3,200 years ago. While exploring over 180 magnificently lighted and displayed artifacts, we saw some never shown before. We ventured through rooms filled with golden tomb treasures, carved obelisks, royal golden masks, sarcophagi, stunning jewelry, animal mummies, and architectural displays showing the giant-seated statues. Painted background displays made you feel like you were inside the chamber, observing the artifacts. The multimedia recreation of Ramses’s Battle of Kadesh is displayed as the mightiest battle ever.
We found a Senet gameboard carved on a stone, symbolizing the deceased’s passage through the underworld. The grandkids and I had just played a game the night before from Dakota’s Egypt book I had given her for Christmas. The statue of Ramses II as a sphinx offering a ram head vessel and the other objects are on display through May 23, 2022. Then the exhibit moves to Boston and San Francisco before it tours different parts of the world.
New Hall Of Ancient Egypt
We entered through an archway with two seated, larger-than-life stone figures, viewed a sunrise timeline, and walked through eight rooms — over 12,500 square feet. The New Hall of Ancient Egypt is the revamped permanent experience at the museum. The grandkids liked this better because there were actual mummies on display. Visually, it’s almost overwhelming, with paintings on walls and columns of Egyptian Art depicting ancient Egyptian life.
The golden room was our favorite: a simulation of the tomb of Tutankhamun. I loved the tomb of Nefertari and the animations and models showing Egyptian mythology and temples. Rows of arches and columns create a feeling of magnificent architecture as we explored fashion, religious symbols, sarcophagus lids, mummies, jars, and icons.
Morian Hall Of Paleontology
This dinosaur exhibit was Hank’s favorite since he is very enthralled with dinosaurs. At Morian Hall of Paleontology, these dinosaurs look like action figures, some chasing, grazing, escaping, or flying. This display was unique and had many more prehistoric beasts than any other I’ve seen. The exhibit’s curator, Dr. Robert T. Bakker, Ph.D., a world-renowned paleontologist, changed the image of dinosaurs from slow, dumb, cold-blooded animals to swift-moving, warm-blooded creatures — some that even had feathers. He currently is leading a dig for Dimetrodon and other Permian-era species in Seymour, Texas, southwest of Wichita Falls.
More Amazing Exhibits At The Museum Of Natural Science
The Burke Baker Planetarium has presented astronomical programs since 1964. The Planetarium shows video technology on its dome including presentations like Black Holes, Death of the Dinosaurs, and Stars of the Pharaohs. See live butterflies at the Cockrell Butterfly Center and Brown Hall of Entomology. The Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals displays an 850-pound amethyst, a priceless crystallized gold cluster, and over 450 bejeweled mineral objects. The grandkids and I could spend all day here and not see it all. Grab your tickets in advance here.
3. The Children’s Museum
Designed for kids ages 3–12, donations, memberships, and individual ticket sales support The Children’s Museum. Kids can play in the Kidtropolis, a city for kids, where they choose what they want to be and work with other kids to make it function. The Invention Convention Workshop provides gadgets like Legos where kids design and build. How Does It Work explores physical science using mazes, tunnels, and tubes. Powerplay allows kids to study nutrition, health, and exercise with climbing mazes and tunnels where they jump, stretch, climb, crank, and crawl their way through the space. There are endless possibilities for entertainment here, plus venues for birthday parties, playdates, and family nights. Sign up for timed entries and purchase individual or member tickets. The museum is within walking distance of Hotel ZaZa.
4. Hermann Park
With over 445 acres, the urban Hermann Park Conservancy is in the heart of Houston, south of downtown, near the Texas Medical Center, the Museum District, and right across the street from Hotel ZaZa. Presented to the city in 1914 by George Hermann, the Park boasts historic public green spaces and Art in the Park. Ride the Hermann Park Railroad, pedal boats on McGovern Lake, visit the Japanese Gardens, McGovern Centennial Gardens, and the Gift Shop in Lake Plaza.
GingerKale offers healthy breakfasts like Avocado Toast, strawberry crème Fraiche toast, or breakfast tacos. Sample the GK burger, cobb salad, or club sandwich for lunch.
The Pioneer Memorial Log House Museum serves as a memorial to Houston’s pioneer women and men.
As a kid, I remember having my picture taken standing under the Sam Houston Monument, the General sitting atop his horse, Saracen. General Houston has guarded the entrance to Hermann Park at Montrose and Main Streets since 1925.
The kids played at the Buddy Carruth Playground for All Children, an excellent place for swinging, climbing, sliding, and laughing. The 100-year-old Houston Zoo, within Hermann Park, spreads over 55 acres with over 6,000 animals, the second most visited zoo in the United States.
5. Waugh Bridge Bat Colony
See 250,000 bats fly from under the Waugh Drive Bridge, over Buffalo Bayou, and between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive. See a fantastic view of the bat flight from a pontoon boat and learn more about these flying mammals.
6. Urban Harvest Farmers Market
On Richmond, near Kirby, visit the kid-friendly Urban Harvest Farmers Market for a casual morning of shopping local produce like eggs, honey, coffee, fruits, vegetables, cheese, and bread with people watching and food demos.
7. Downtown Aquarium
In downtown Houston, head to the Downtown Aquarium to see the stingray reef, the 500,000-gallon aquarium, adventure exhibit, plus unlimited amusement rides. Have lunch or dinner at the full-service restaurant. You could easily spend 3 or more hours here. We had to tear the kids away to leave. Grab your tickets in advance here.
8. The Galleria-Area Water Wall
A 64-foot-tall fountain looks like a vast horseshoe of running water, sitting amid 186 oak trees at the base of the 64-story Williams Tower. What a great location to take pictures and feel the mist.
9. Space Center Houston
Learn everything about space here and become a certified astronaut at the Space Center Houston, where you can spend all day. See moon rocks, the NASA Johnson Space Center, two mission controls, and the place where astronauts trained. The amazing SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket and the first-stage booster stand over 156 feet tall. Make your reservation since ticketed admission is timed-based.
Pro Tip: Get the Houston CityPASS and save money on attractions.
Places To Eat
The Monarch Restaurant & Terrace in the Hotel ZaZa served an excellent breakfast with avocado toast, breakfast tacos, plate-sized pancakes, and French toast. The terrace boasts views of Mecom Fountain, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Hermann Park.
Goode Co. Seafood on Westpark was close to the hotel and offered delicious seafood. I can vouch for the jumbo lump crab cake. My daughter and I shared a bowl of seafood gumbo and the Laguna Madre shrimp stuffed with jalapeño and cheddar, wrapped in bacon and roasted mesquite. The kids filled up on fried shrimp and fries.
We met Aunt Missy for lunch at Barnaby’s Café in the Museum District, a short drive from the hotel. The sandwiches were enormous, as was my pesto chicken salad and artichoke hearts sandwich. The kid’s menu offered roadside sliders and two bite-sized burgers with French fries, which the kids split with mac & cheese.
Cyclone Anaya’s in Rice Village, near our hotel, offered Campechana, a shrimp mixture, Gulf Coast blue crab, tomato, onion, jalapeño, cilantro, and chipotle cocktail sauce served with plantain chips. The bacon-wrapped shrimp served with rice, refried beans, grilled vegetables, guacamole, and pico de gallo was out of this world. The kids split a grilled chicken breast with veggies and guacamole.
There’s plenty more fun-filled Houston experiences for all ages: