Visiting any city around the world can be a daunting prospect and this is especially the case when you take a trip to the fourth largest metropolis in USA. Experiencing Houston, Texas over a holiday weekend requires planning and efficient time management. Throw into this weekend getaway our desire to visit San Antonio (almost 3 hours away) and you really have a hectic schedule planned.
Let me introduce our saving grace for this weekend trip – the Houston CityPASS! We were delighted to partner with the Visit Houston tourism board who provided us with an abundance of valuable information on places to stay, places to eat but most importantly the top attractions throughout the city.
Purchasing a CityPASS in one of the various cities where this is available offers tourists the opportunities to experience some of the key attractions.
The Houston CityPASS offers visitors entry to the following attractions:
- SPACE CENTER HOUSTON
- DOWNTOWN AQUARIUM
- HOUSTON MUSEUM OF NATURAL SCIENCE
- HOUSTON ZOO or KEMAH BOARDWALK
- THE CHILDREN’S MUSEUM OF HOUSTON or MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, HOUSTON
As you can see, purchasing a CityPASS in Houston provides entry to 5 of the main attractions in and around the city. For only $49 for adults and $39 for children, this is an absolute steal with the savings on offer!
If experiencing Houston during a weekend getaway is a little too hectic for you, the beauty of the Houston CityPASS is the flexibility it offers, as it provides you with nine consecutive days to visit each of the attractions from the first day of use.
Not only do you receive tickets to the aforementioned attractions, you also receive a map of the Houston area that details exactly where the attractions are located (along with public transportation options) and additional coupons to add to your savings while exploring Space City!
One of the key benefits of being a CityPASS holder when visiting attractions is that you are able to bypass the long waiting lines for tickets and generally are treated as VIP guests which is an added bonus.
Our trip to Houston saw us opt for the following 5 attractions which we were able to experience.
After collecting our CityPASS booklets, we decided to visit the Downtown Aquarium first early Saturday morning to hopefully beat the rush of tourists and locals experiencing this popular spot on a holiday weekend.
Approaching the Aquarium our first hurdle to overcome was parking. On-site parking is offered at the attraction and you can either valet for $9 or self-park for $8 which may seem a little expensive for one attraction, but given that you can park here all day it’s actually a pretty reasonable deal.
I will be perfectly honest that I was a little disappointed by the Aquarium. I have been to a couple of others before around the world and this was a little small in comparison to others I have visited. However, as a family attraction this is worth experiencing especially if you are visiting with kids as there are plenty of exhibits to keep you interested.
I enjoyed how the self-guided tour was broken down into separate areas, each with different names to represent the animals within the section. For example, wandering through the Louisiana Swamp offers bullfrogs, alligators and snapping turtles while the Shipwreck exhibit is home to octopus, eels and a myriad of fish species.
As we walked through the Rainforest exhibit, we were treated to a live show from a parrot alongside one of the Aquarium’s bird trainers. I have to say though that the best part of the experience was entering Maharaja’s Temple, home of a white tiger. I am still trying to figure out exactly how this is related to an aquarium but regardless it was an awesome sight and well worth the admission alone!
Finally, the Stingray Reef concludes your journey through the Aquarium and here you can touch and feed live stingrays.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Located about 3 miles from the Aquarium is the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston which is a completely different experience yet fascinating in it’s own right. I will be the first to admit that I am not an art critic and generally find art museums to be relatively boring. However, I can honestly say that our experience here was very positive and certainly worthwhile.
After visiting the Louvre in Paris, it’s sometimes difficult to compare the smaller art museums but the expansive collection of exhibits on offer here in Houston made this a memorable experience.
Parking is limited but there is a parking garage available for $6 if you are visiting the Museum of Fine Arts and again you can stay here as long as you want to! Given the museum’s close proximity to some of the other CityPASS attractions, this may well be a good spot to park your vehicle (if you are not using public transportation).
The Museum is divided across three floors, each with a variety of exhibits on offer. Consider your personal interests before determining which exhibits you want to spend most time on. Our experience saw us spend more time in the temporary Charles Marville, Photographer of Paris exhibit before moving to some of the geographical and cultural exhibits from around the world.
The Arts of India and other Asian exhbits provided an insight into the life and times of the Eastern empires but the main highlight for us was the Soto: Houston Penetrable located in the Cullinan Hall. 24,000 hand painted PVC tubes hang down from the ceiling of this hall and provide a great interactive opportunity to take selfies among the maze of tubes.
Unfortunately this was yet another temporary exhibit that was only avaiable through September 1 but if you get to experience any more of Soto’s work, I would highly recommend it.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
Having visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, I was looking forward to experiencing the Houston Museum of Natural Science. We were able to walk there from the Museum of Fine Arts but the first thing we noticed entering the museum was the vast number of people waiting to gain entry. The ticket lines were unbelievable and I am not exagerating that the wait times were likely well over a hour before getting admission into the actual exhibits.
As I mentioned earlier, as CityPASS holders we were able to bypass some of the longer lines and head to the will-call windows which were still pretty busy and apparently we should have gone through the corporate/member line instead (miscommunication on the museum employees part).
There are a variety of attractions at the Museum of Natural Science, some of which are included in the base ticket provided by the CityPASS but others that are added costs should you wish to see them. As with most museums, there are permanent exhibits along with special, seasonal displays. We visited during the Shark! season which gives you the opportunity to touch live sharks! A pretty cool experience I am sure but given the wait time was about 3 hours for this, we opted against this.
The Wortham Giant Screen Theatre offers a 4k digital experience with advanced 3D technology and a variety of shows are on display here. In addition, if you prefer the more relaxing Planetarium or Butterfly Center, you can purchase tickets for these also.
My favorite experience was in the Wiess Energy Hall where you can learn about the processes of energy development, from the drilling of oil wells to the various ways energy is used. The ‘Geovator’ is a simulator that takes you on an interactive experience down an oil well and explains the various stages in oil production.
The Morian Hall of Paleontology was also really insightful as it took you through the various pre-historic periods to the current day and provided a number of exhibits highlighting the various transitions from dinosaur to current day humans.
You could certainly spend several hours in the Houston Museum of Natural Science and leave with a plethora of knowledge in this domain. I would certainly love to back here and spend some more time to really enhance the overall experience.
Space Center Houston
The attraction I was most looking forward to was Space Center Houston which is the official visitor center to the active Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Part of the NASA group of active space centers, the location in Houston is about 30 minutes south-east of the downtown metroplis.
We opted for a late afternoon visit to the Space Center and after spending a couple of hours here we headed down to Galveston for the evening which is only another 30 minutes from there and highly recommended if you want to take a break from the city lifestyle for a few hours.
There are really two main parts to the Space Center Houston experience. The first is encapsulated in the actual visitor center and provides a variety of interactive experiences that you can participate in along with learning about the history of space exploration. The second which I have to admit was my favorite is the NASA Tram Tour which takes you around the grounds of the active space center.
There are a couple of tour options available, one that takes you to Mission Control and the other which we opted for takes you through the astronaut training process. Both tours culminate at Rocket Park, home to the legendary Saturn V rocket.
After completing all of the first four attractions on our first day, we saved Houston Zoo until our final day prior to heading home. Parking at the zoo is free which is always an added bonus and a short walk through Hermann Park takes you to the entrance.
You will really see the benefits of pre-ordering the CityPASS as you are able to skip directly past all the ticket lines and go through the main entrance. I would highly recommend grabbing a map of the zoo because it can be difficult to navigate you way around ensuring you don’t miss any of the animals.
Some of our favorite exhibits included the elephants and giraffes which both provided easy access for viewing. I tend to compare a lot of zoos with our experience at St. Louis Zoo which is still my favorite here in USA, probably because it is free and the exhibits are well designed for visitors to see the animals in near natural habitats.
Houston Zoo offers a fun-filled family adventure with plenty of animal species to keep you interested.
There you have our weekend getaway experience with the CityPASS attractions in Houston. As you can see from the list at the top of the post, there are a couple of other options available such as the Kemah Boardwalk which gives you free access to theme park rides for a day (with a few exceptions) and The Children’s Museum of Houston.
Our recommendation is do you research prior to heading to Houston and decide exactly which attractions you want to visit. We proved that you can explore all five in a weekend but if time permits I would highly recommend taking more time in certain spots to really enhance your experience.
Disclaimer – We would like to thank Visit Houston for providing us with 2 CityPASS booklets for our trip.These are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.