Even though it's the fourth largest city in the United States, Houston still has a small-town feel to it, partly because of the sprawling nature of the city. That makes it a particularly great place for families and kids. Add to that the bounty of free activities available, and you've got the makings of a vacation that's big on fun -- but low on price. You can find something to please everyone in the family.
Be sure to check out the Miller Outdoor Theatre at Hermann Park -- the only free open-air theater of its kind in the United States, -- which features professional performances from Houston's symphonies, opera guilds, and theatres. You can sign up for free tickets in advance if you want covered seating, or just show up to a performance with a picnic blanket and some lawn chairs, and grab a spot on the grass hill overlooking the theatres.
6000 Golf Course Dr., Houston, Texas 77030. Hours: open 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, performance schedule varies; Admission: Free
The Port of Houston Authority offers a free public boat tour (reservations are required the day before) aboard the M/V Sam Houston, a spacious, air conditioned vessel that holds up to 90 passengers with comfortable seating. The trip is a 90-minute ride through the Houston Ship Channel. You'll see international cargo vessels coming and going, plus get a glimpse of what's going on in the Turning Basin Terminal.
111 East Loop North, Houston, Texas 77029. Hours: Closed Mondays and Holidays, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 am & 2:30, Thursday and Sunday: 2:30 only. Admission: Free, reservations required.
Want to connect with nature? Explore 155 acres at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center. You'll find five miles of walking trails, plus a Discovery Room with plenty of hands-on activities and exhibits -- all for free. The museum is dedicated to protecting and teaching about natural habitats and environments.
4501 Woodway Drive, Houston, TX 77024. Hours: Grounds and Trails: 7am to dusk daily, gates close at 7pm, Building: 9 am to 5 pm daily, Nature Shop: 10am to 4pm daily, Discovery Room: 10am to 4pm Tuesday-Sunday. Admission: Free.
Looking for some culture? The Contemporary Arts Museum has been free to the public since it originally opened in 1948. The museum does not have its own collection, but rather features contemporary artwork from around the world. In other words, the exhibits change constantly, so you can explore this museum again and again.
5216 Montrose, Houston, TX 77006. Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10am-5pm; Thursday 10am-9pm; Sunday 12pm-5pm; closed Mondays. Admission: Free.
For older children, the Holocaust Museum Houston is an important place to visit. The museum is a memorial to the 6 million Jews and others who died in the Holocaust, and to those who survived its atrocities. You'll find important lessons about the dangers of succumbing to hate and prejudice, as well as the importance of action over apathy.
5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004. Hours: Monday-Friday: 9am-5pm, Saturday-Sunday: 12-5pm. Admission: Free.