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A guide to Super Bowl weekend in Houston with CityPASS

Yep, everything's bigger in Texas, and Houston is no exception. There’s much to see and do, so knowing where to start can be overwhelming. If visiting for Super Bowl LI, here we offer a small breakdown of the best the city has to offer.

A diverse Houston is host to the 2017 Super Bowl.

Getting around

First, get your bearings. It’s a town known for its energy industry and urban sprawl. Interstate 610 is the freeway forming a circle around the traditional inner city and is known as the “Loop.” Houston is generally divided into areas inside and outside the loop.
Car, bike, bus and Metro are all great options for exploring Space City.

It might come as no surprise in a city known for oil that a car is probably your best bet. But the city also has an efficient metro rail and city bus system. If you prefer human-powered transportation, the Museum District, home to over 20 museums and attractions, is very walkable (and easy to access via the metro system), or you can take advantage of bike share programs like Houston B Cycle.

What to see

About 45 mintues from downtown, don't miss Space Center Houston.
If you want to see more than just the big game, CityPASS has you covered. Inside the Loop, there’s something for all ages. If you’re traveling with kids, consider Houston Museum of Natural Science, Children’s Museum of Houston and Houston Zoo. For a more grown up vibe, include Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, to your itinerary. All are located fairly close to each other in the leafy Museum District near Rice University and the Texas Medical Center. Downtown Aquarium is just up the road for family fun and great views of the city.

Houston Museum of Natural Science is fun for adults and children.

If you’re looking to get away from some of the hustle and bustle, two great attractions lay outside the Loop and near the “Third Coast.” Kemah Boardwalk offers tons of rides, shopping and restaurants by the water. And, of course, a visit to Space City wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Space Center. From its start in 1961 with Apollo to the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs, Johnson Space Center is still mission control for NASA. Space Center Houston is its gateway, serving as the official visitor center and offering educational programs as well as a museum of space artifacts and exhibits.

Diverse dining

Houston is diverse. There’s oil and gas wealth, cowboy culture mixed in with Hispanic, Latino and Southeast Asian communities, and plenty of eccentricity. That makes it a culturally rich city in a laid back Southern atmosphere with a vibrant dining scene.
Tacos A Go Go for food and a funky vibe.

If you could eat tacos for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even a late night snack, head to Tacos A Go Go, as it’s open early and late (until 2 a.m. on weekends.)

For seafood, we hear Danton’s is the place for oysters. Don’t be scared by the line out the door at the Breakfast Klub—it moves quickly. This Houston staple offers soul food like wings, waffles, Katfish and grits. Yum Yum Cha’s Cafe is a fine choice for dim sum,while Field of Greens is the area’s best-known health food restaurant.

Events

Football festivals and events abound.
NFL Experience Driven by Genesis is pro football’s interactive theme park. This ticketed event offers fans a unique chance to get involved in the festivities surrounding Super Bowl LI, offering interactive games, youth football clinics, merchandise from NFL Shop presented by Visa, player autograph sessions and more.

Celebrate the Lunar New Year and the year of the Rooster with dance performances, fashion shows, live music and more at the Chinese Community Center during the Texas Lunar Festival. The event offers free admission and parking.

Super Bowl Live is a free-to-the-public fan festival in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. Expect interactive games, exhibits, live music, food trucks and fun. Don't miss the signature attraction of the event, Future Flight, a combination of virtual reality and a drop tower that takes riders on a trip to Mars and back.

Go bigger

Like we said, everything is bigger in Texas and this list could literally go on and on. The Visit Houston Guide to Super Bowl LI is another great resource for events, itineraries, transportation, dining, nightlife and more. The NFL also offers the ultimate companion app for Super Bowl events.

Houston Museum of Natural Science with the acclaimed Jurassic James

James Washington III, better known as Jurassic James, is the Customer Service Senior Lead and a crowd-pleasing tour guide at Houston Museum of Natural Science. But, he’s not just a tour guide. A natural educator with a love for science, he quickly earned a reputation for going above and beyond. He was a visitor to the museum for years before becoming an employee and now trains other guides, teaches classes and helps guests with whatever they need. We caught up with Jurassic James for a look at his amazing classrooms, giant collections of rocks, minerals and dinosaur figurines, and insider tips for visiting.

"Jurassic" James Washington in his classroom at Houston Museum of Natural Science.

A passion for science: Science makes logical sense. There is a method of rational thought that must be adhered to. Like many people in science, I do not completely understand the nuances of social interaction or people’s thought process, but science is universal. People from all walks of life can appreciate the wonders of scientific discovery!

His amazing classrooms: The classroom contains a total of over 10,000 items of my own minerals, rocks and fossils, and almost 1,500 models alone! I am a Geology tutor by trade with my own collection, so I borrowed some of the Museum’s lower level classrooms for teaching space and set up the classrooms featured in the Chronicle. One day when I was off, my coworker told my boss about my classroom and the secret was out. Now I teach Adult Education, Home School and Beyond, Staff and Volunteers.

The collections: Growing up I liked dinosaur toys (still do), and I just bought them to play with and have. My mom would come home from work and see herds of dinosaurs separated by species and time period all over the house. Being the ever-so-supportive parent she is, she would ask for a simple path to the kitchen and bedrooms.

For me, having a book and a model and drawing a picture gave me a better understanding of these long-lost animals. When I started teaching, I used the same methods for my students with positive responses. Many of my students wondered why I brought toys in to sit next to the fossils. They would laugh, thinking it was silly. Then they passed their exams, which turned their laughs into thank yous. As I bought more models, it became a more formal collection.

Creating the giant murals around the classroom: First, I am not an artist by any means. But I am a visual learner and even though I took college courses and graduated from University of Houston Downtown, drawing diagrams and making graphs is how I teach myself. So having classrooms with walls made of white board was a godsend, and I could see the full possibilities of what little drawing abilities I have. In short, the diagrams are of the Earth’s crust and upper mantle. They stretch from the ground to about ten feet tall and cover the majority of four classrooms.

The Morian Hall of Paleontology

Favorite part of the museum: My personal favorite part of the museum is the Morian Hall of Paleontology. Paleontology is my area of study, making me a little biased. But my interest, like the hall, goes beyond dinosaurs. What makes our HMNS hall so special is its attention to adhere to the order of the fossil record, from the oldest fossils to man. I once had a guest ask me why the “dinosaur hall” had all the other fossils. I told her that is just it, it is the Hall of Paleontology (study of all prehistoric life), not just dinosaurs!

The most underrated exhibit: I feel the most underrated part of our museum is the Hall of Malacology and Gems of the Sea. Most people walk through very quickly and think, “It’s just a bunch of shells.” It may not be the biggest in the country, but it is one of the finest, if not the finest. The mount work of the shells is exquisite! Our Discovery Guides were trained by Curator Tina Petway, and each specimen has a story, which is why I am a proponent of tours—to hear those behind the scenes stories that could not fit on labels.

Best thing to see first: I would suggest seeing the Butterfly Center first. It closes slightly earlier than the rest of the museum. When you first enter the exhibit, there is an entomology display that is educational for the adults and kids alike. Next is the rainforest, which has live butterflies! You are instantly transferred from Houston to the tropics, including includes a cenote pond and waterfall. The lower level has more interactive lab displays and a bug vending machine.

The Texas Wildlife Hall

On what surprises people about the museum: Our guests would be surprised at how much work went in to our African and Texas Wildlife Halls. The exhibit holds actual mounted skins and is designed to recreate their authentic biomes with a few animatronics for the kids. The design is such that our guests are immersed in the environment. Where other wildlife displays are like three dimensional paintings, our guest can walk between the different locations. Our Curator Dr. Dan Brooks is a true scientist who has named many species, one of which was a bat that we just put on display!

The museum’s best kept secret: Our Hall of the Americas. When our guests go to the third floor, they gravitate to the Hall of Ancient Egypt, which is the largest in the country and deserves much fanfare! But the Hall of the Americas covers North, Central and South American cultures from the Arctic to Peru. There is even a model of an Aztec Temple that our guests can enter. I discovered it before I worked here and was awestruck!

The Hall of the Americas

What to see during a quick visit: The answer would of course be Paleontology and Egypt. When people come to museums, those are the halls that they expect to see. The saying “go big or go home”—our museum went big! But our Gems and Mineral Hall is one of a kind. Many museums show minerals with a strict chemistry focus, with the specimen separated by chemical grouping. The Curator, Mr. Bartsch, has designed the hall like an art gallery, which in my humble opinion, highlights the uniqueness of each specimen.

If you have all day: The Paleontology Hall is the rightful time-consumer, as my long tour showcased. Even though my area is dinosaurs, the trilobites are a two-hour tour alone. I have received training from Sam Stubbs, the trilobite donor/expert himself. And to look at the exquisite detail preserved in the fossil bugs is beyond belief. Many took over three hundred hours to prep!

Paleontology Hall

Best guest moments: I once saw a little girl turn the corner to see the first dinosaurs on display in the Morian Hall of Paleontology. She stood still and squealed continuously while switching from standing on one foot to the other, back and forth. It was pure joy—joy in seeing the fossil remains of these long lost creatures. I was starting my own tour nearby and said, “I hear you sister!”

Best spot for adults: Our Hall of Ancient Egypt has real mummies and is designed like an Egyptian temple. It's like we brought a little piece of Karnack to Houston. The in-depth look into this amazing culture is like no other! Although the hall is fun for children too, I have noticed adults like to take the time to drink in the whole experience in this, one of most quite halls in our museum

Best spot for kids: Many children love to touch things. The Cabinet of Curiosity is the brainchild of the museum president, Mr. Joel Bartsch. In this exhibit, everything can be touched very lightly. Cabinets like this belong to people curious about the natural world. They gathered specimens from all over and displayed them in their homes. In some ways, my classrooms abide by this long tradition of people fascinated in the natural sciences.

Cabinet of Curiosity

When visiting: When you come to our museum, through the main entrance there is an information desk where the concierge team wearing black and white are just waiting to help you, our guest. We are here to answer questions and guide you to a wonderful day. And if you want to know more, the Discovery Guide tours are offered every day to the public to give you the background information that will make your experience all the more sweet, like a cherry on top!

Thanks, James. Read more about him here, and here. Houston Museum of Natural Science is part of Houston CityPASS.

Yes, You Can Have an Affordable, Family-Friendly Vacation in NYC

By Ellen Schmidt of Baby Meets City

While one might not initially think of New York City as a “family-friendly” vacation spot, the Big Apple is here to surprise you. From kid-approved offerings on Broadway and wide-open spaces in Central Park, to free outdoor concerts, food carts, and reliable mass transit (and everything in between), NYC is a veritable playground for both kids and parents.

Having two young daughters in Manhattan has made me an expert at taking the kids around the city, including getting the stroller on the subway! To determine where to go in New York as a family, I look for a place with enough space, enough bathrooms, entertainment for the whole family (really!), and affordability.

Location

In a city of over 8 million people, space is at a premium, and a little elbow room to move around can sometimes feel like a luxury. Luckily, you have options as a visitor to this amazing (and very crowded) city. If you’re looking to stay indoors, our large world-renowned museums will be your best bet in terms of space.

Some of my family’s favorites include:.

Headed outdoors? Nothing beats Central Park in terms of wide-open spaces. Whether you’re taking in the view atop Belvedere Castle, relaxing on a blanket in Sheep Meadow, powering a sailboat around Conservatory Water, or taking a rowboat out on the lake, there’s so much to do in Central Park..

Other favorite outdoor spaces include:

  • The Highline
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park
  • Governor's Island
  • Hudson River Park
  • Bryant Park

 

Dining

Want to eat somewhere without feeling like you’re involved in the conversation at the table next to you? Here are some of my family’s favorite restaurants that meet all of our “family-friendly requirements,” including comfortable seating, changing tables in bathroom, high chair availability, and crayons/paper and kid-friendly menus. Oh, and the food is pretty tasty, too:

  • Wagamama
  • Playa Betty’s
  • Hill Country
  • Bubby’s
  • Chelsea Market (we like to grab & go and eat al fresco on The Highline!)

Now, will you be able to completely avoid being crammed up next to a complete stranger at some point during your visit to NYC? Probably not. But hey, that’s part of our charm.

Entertainment

There really is something for everyone in New York City, and there’s no reason you have to do exclusively “kid” activities while you’re here. Broadway, for example, has amazing shows that the whole family will love, like Aladdin or The Lion King. We saw Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour and loved the storyline and acrobatic routines.

New York City isn’t just Times Square, however, and every neighborhood has something amazing to offer. What about a walking tour of sweet shops in the West Village? Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge? Touring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or taking in the view from Top of the Rock? And if you find yourself here during the summer months, check local papers and websites for free concerts in the parks - they happen almost daily!.

Other family entertainment ideas:.

  • Empire State Building
  • Chamber Magic at The Waldorf Astoria
  • Coney Island
  • Guided tour bus ride
  • One World Observatory

 

Comfort and Affordability

True, it’s not inexpensive to live in the Big Apple. But you would be surprised at the amount of free or low-cost activities that you can take part in without breaking the bank. Here are a few things we love to do together as a family. They’re as laid back as they are cheap:

  • Take in a Brooklyn Cyclones game at Coney Island (a much cheaper alternative to a major league game). Plan your visit during one of their post-game fireworks shows!
  • Go for a rowboat ride in Central Park ($15/hour, and an hour is plenty of time to row a boat, believe me.)
  • At Schiller’s Liquor Bar, one of our favorite restaurants on the Lower East Side, kids under 10 eat free from 5-7pm on weeknights (with purchase of adult entree).
  • And, of course, CityPASS! See the best attractions in New York City for a fraction of the cost to do it on your own. We are home to so many iconic destinations, and this is the perfect way to see them. Have a great vacation with the kids!

Ellen Schmidt is a freelance writer & social media consultant. She blogs about life in NYC with children in tow at Baby Meets City, and has a new website about NYC family vacations in the works!

Go for a College Football Bowl Game, Stay to Explore the City

If you're traveling to cheer on your favorite college football team in a bowl game, stick around to explore the rest of the city. read more »

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