Veteran messenger and local writer offer advice on enjoying Houston

Editor’s Note: Tracy Barber of Farmersville was 11 when she flew with her parents from Ft. Lauderdale to Dallas to attend her first Southern Baptist Convention meeting. Now she and husband Bart continue to take their two children every year without fail. We asked Tracy to pose questions for which she seeks answers as she anticipates preparing the family for an enjoyable SBC travel experience. TEXAN writer Bonnie Pritchett of Nassau Bay fills in the gaps with answers from her time in Houston and tips of a local hotel concierge Tim Hess.

Tracy: As the hotel door closes I’m thinking about taking a nap, but the kids have a different idea. The questions come non-stop from my daughter. When can we go eat? Is it time to go to the children’s museum? Are our friends here yet? Can we please ride with them to go to the aquarium? All my son wants to know is when he can go swimming.

Bonnie: Before I get to all of those important questions, consider hiring a teenager who will be in town with another Southern Baptist family to be on call as needed if you forgot to take advantage of childcare and day camps available by reservation.

Tracy:  Where is the closest restaurant with kid friendly food?

Bonnie: This part of the metropolis has been redeveloped for folks—single or couples with small well-groomed pets, not children—who can’t get enough concrete and car exhaust in their diet. The conspicuous absence of restaurants with children’s playscapes is, I’m guessing here, by design. There is a McDonald’s with a playplace in the next zip code over two miles away. Your best bet may be Hubcap Grill about 10 blocks away at 1111 Prairie.

No problem. Tracy already has Jason’s Deli mapped out at McKinney and Travis.

Tracy:  While I’m in Houston how do I know where to find the best Tex-Mex or barbeque?

Bonnie: This is an important question so I’m wondering why you listed it so far down in your query. The original Ninfa’s  (2704 Navigation Blvd) is about a mile and a half away. Houston’s First Pastor Gregg Matte adds that it is the birthplace of fajitas. Tracy is partial to Pappasito’s, (2536 Richmond Avenue). Chuy’s 2706 Westheimer Road) is Bonnie’s preference and Lupe Tortilla (2414 Southwest Freeway) is another popular pick.

For barbecue, Bonnie’s concierge friend from the Triple A 5 Diamond St. Regis Hotel recommends Pappa’s BBQ and Goode Company scattered throughout Houston. Tracy has Luling City Market on her radar at 4726 Richmond Street near the Galleria area. While in that same area, Gregg Matte recommends seeing the Williams Tower Water Wall at 2800 Post Oak Blvd.  Gary and Tammi Ledbetter are more interested in Pappa’s Seafood House (11301 I-45 N) since good Tex-Mex is abundantly available on the ride down and Rudy’s is already a Sunday ritual for lunch.

Tracy:  I really don’t like driving in city traffic so can I get around downtown without driving my car?

Bonnie: A cab should cost only about $6 to get from one point to another in downtown Houston according to Hess. There is parking-lot-turned-green space right across the street from the convention center called Discovery Green covering 12 acres. Take the kiddos there and cue Andy Williams singing “Born Free.” Check out discoverygreen.com.

Tracy found additional resources at downtownhouston.org/getting-around/ and ridemetro.org for travel to the zoo and museum. There are rail stops downtown and at the zoo, but it’s an easy drive as long as you avoid rush hour timeframe. But keep in mind the humidity level in the summer in Houston. Tunnel and skywalk information along with trolley details are accessed at downtownhouston.org.

Bonnie adds that this is also a good resource for what to do with a passel of squirming little ones or adventuresome teenagers: visithoustontexas.com

Tracy: How do the trolleys, tunnels, and trains work here?

Tracy already has found additional resources at downtownhouston.org/getting-around/ and MetroRail schedules at ridemetro.org for travel to the zoo and museums. Tunnel and skywalk information along with trolley details are accessed at downtownhouston.org.

Tracy: Are there any museums, aquariums, zoos, or historical sites that we need to see while we are in this part of the country?

Bonnie: I recommend the free water play space at the Downtown Aquarium restaurant (beneath the Pierce elevated bridge) which is part of the Landry’s chain. Finding the zoo requires knowledge of the bus route or the courage to drive in Houston traffic. The zoo boasts a wide variety of attractions, some free, some not. Adjacent to the park is Miller Outdoor Theater (Saturday’s production is Jacques Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne. Hillside seating is free. Check milleroutdoortheatre.com/events/408/ for details.) If an operetta about life in Paris isn’t your idea of fun, then let the kids roll down the hillside adjacent to the theater. It’s free and good for a laugh … until the kids collide and require medical attention. Not to worry! You’re only blocks from the world renowned Houston Medical Center.

Tours of Minute Maid Park, home of the working-on-the-great-fairy-tale-comeback Astros are available during the weekdays. Go to houston.astros.mlb.com/hou/ballpark/tours/index.jsp for details. The team plays out of town during the convention otherwise you could score some really cheap seats.

Pick up LifeWay’s Facts&Trends in the exhibit area for a long list of recommendations for enjoying Houston, adding a free view of the downtown skyline from the tallest building west of the Mississippi on the JP Morgan Chase Tower Observation Deck. For history buffs Facts&Trends Managing Editor Polly House steers folks to the historic district of 1800’s-era architecture, tree-lined streets and an eclectic mix of sidewalk cafes and shops. Allen’s Landing is the Plymouth Rock of Houston where August C. and John K. Allen stepped ashore in 1836 to claim Houston as their own. It’s where Buffalo and White Oak bayous come together as Houston’s first port.

Tracy: I don’t want to get home and find out we missed the best children’s museum.

Bonnie: Houston’s Children Museum (cmhouson.org, 1500 Binz, 713.522.1138) has been rated number one by Parent Magazine and it has recently expanded.

Tracy also is considering side trips to a few of these: the Space Center Houston (spacecenter.org, 1601 NASA Pkwy, Houston, 281.244.2100), San Jacinto Monument (sanjacinto-museum.org, One Monument Circle, La Porte, 281.479.2421), Battleship Texas (tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/battleship-texas, 3523 Independence Pkwy. South, La Porte, 281.479.2431), and the Holocaust Museum (hmh.org, 5401 Caroline St., Houson, 713.942.800). The Cockrell Butterfly Center is situated next to the Houston Museum of Natural Science (hmns.org, 5555 Hermann Park Drive, Houston, 713.639.4629) and features a simulated rainforest, thousands of colorful butterflies and a dramatic 50-foot waterfall.

Tracy: Of course we have to fit all these extras around the pastor’s conference and annual meeting so how long do I need to plan for each site? After paying for lodging, travel, and meals this week we need to save money where we can.

Bonnie: Go to citypass.com/Houston for discount deals, including a “two for Tuesday” special at the aquarium. And don’t forget to take advantage of the Exhibit Hall where many displays cater to kids and candy dishes are overflowing.

Tracy: The questions are still coming from the kids as all these questions run through my mind. Is it time to eat yet? When do we get to go to childcare at the convention? Will my friends from last year be there? Can we get in the pool yet? Mom, did you pack my swimsuit?

Tracy knows it’s time to find the closest Wal-Mart to solve that swimsuit issue. While not necessarily the closest, locals recommend the Wal-Mart at 9555 South Post Oak Road to the southwest off Loop 610. And it’s not too early to enter the dates for next year’s SBC in Baltimore, Md., June 10-11 and for 2015 in Columbus, Ohio, June 16-17. 

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