By Judi Lees
Like everything in Texas, Houston is big. However, there is a saving grace when it comes to sightseeing – many of the city’s museums are in the Museum District and the second bit of good news is that some are ideal for the whole family. The Houston Museum of Natural Science covers everything from dinosaurs to an in-depth view of the oil industry. Don’t miss the Cockrell Butterfly Centre housed in an atrium style complex. Hint: have the kids wear bright-coloured tops. There is also the Wortham IMAX Theatre and the Burke Baker Planetarium at this location so plan at least half a day here.
The Children’s Museum of Houston is delightful and features a variety of galleries for children four months to 14 years of age. While there are many high-tech sections, there are also very folksy ones like the Farm to Market.
Heading south, the NASA/Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston, between Houston and Galveston, is where you enter the world of space. Further south, Moody Gardens boasts tropical gardens inside a glass pyramid, penguins and tropical fish, a cruise aboard a paddlewheeler, Discovery Museum and an IMAX theatre and a sandy beach.
Galveston is tucked into a natural harbour on the Gulf of Mexico, connected to the mainland by a three-kilometre causeway. Stroll the beach and explore the restaurants, galleries and shops along the harbourfront. The Strand Historic District harkens back to when Galveston was the richest city in the southwest.
Kids love the Texas Seaport Museum, as they get to explore the Elissa, a grand, three-masted, tall ship that was built in 1877. The adjacent museum and theatre chronicles Galveston’s past as an entry point for 133,000 immigrants.
The Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark gets a resounding thumbs up thanks to whitewater rapids, uphill water coasters, wave pool and even a river system, called the Transportainment.
Inland, Harlingen is familiar to birders around the world. There is the Rivo Grande Valley Birding Festival, every November and the Hugh Ramsey Nature Park is THE place to spot many species. For most, though, this is just a fine place to hike and enjoy tropical splendours. Explore Harlingen’s Jackson Street, the hub of its life for nearly 100 years. There are larger than life murals, an antique mall and a funky selection of shops. Follow the Harlingen Heritage Trail that recalls the days when railroad workers called this stop between Corpus Christi and Brownsville, Rattlesnake Junction.
From Harlingen, it is an easy drive to South Padre Island, a haven of spring break fun. The allure here is beaches. South Padre Island boasts a warm sandy beach that is dotted with resorts and fine restaurants. This is the place to get on a boogie board, ride a wild ‘banana’, try windsurfing or jet skiing, body surf, swim, scuba dive and horseback ride. Take the family on a dolphin tour. There is also golf and tennis.
The next stop is Corpus Christi, a well-visited seaside port for many reasons. Sailors and windsurfers flock here for the constant breezes. There are sightseeing ocean tours, deep-sea fishing and an intriguing mix of waterfront museums. Tour the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay; it is not often you get to go aboard an aircraft carrier.
Kids love playing explorer at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science & Natural History, which has replicas of the Santa Maria and the Pinta. There is also a huge selection of golf courses, as well as the Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens and the Asian Cultures Museum & Educational Center.