As with all of our family trips, there’s always a bit of unexpected “adventure” along the way. You can read all the way through if you want to hear the whole story — see what kind of crazy things happen when you travel with 5 kids who always seem to get sick on a trip. Or, you can skip right on down to the headlines for each of our stops to get more of a review and suggestions for your own trip. Either way, I hope you’ll enjoy hearing about family travel to Houston, TX.
Our oldest daughter (3rd grade) has been in a running club after school called Girls on the Run. In the very beginning, we found out the goal of the training was for the girls to run a 5k which would be done in a city-wide race for all the clubs in San Antonio. Unfortunately, the date was set for a Sunday and we reserve Sundays for church and worship, not sporting activities. I contacted the area organizers and asked if it was okay if she still participate in the club even though she would not be able to do the 5k. They were so understanding and accommodating. They told us she could still participate and they could help us find a local 5k or they could put me in touch with the Girls on the Run organizers in Houston since their 5k would be on a Saturday.
Because it’s 3 1/2 hours away, Houston would require driving there the night before the race and an overnight stay in a hotel. But we knew it was disappointing for our daughter not to be able to do the 5k with her friends from school so we thought we could make it up to her by at least meeting up with other Girls on the Run participants in Houston — plus, we could make it a short family trip! So, we set everything up to go to Houston.
The weekend was forecast to be rainy and we planned that my husband and daughter could possibly be running in a little rain on Saturday. But we also had some rain on the drive. With lots of semis on the road and super wet roads, it was a little dicey. And then, we started hearing this strange noise. I realized that it coincided with the beat of the windshield wipers and we soon realized that the rubber “blade” part that sits against the windshield was coming off. Over a few minutes it was sliding further and further off and not being very effective at clearing the water from the windshield. Before long, we’d be left with no rubber blade on the driver side of the windshield! So we decided we needed to make a stop and took an exit at the first gas station we found.
Prasek’s Smokehouse (Sealy, Texas – 30ish minutes west of Katy/Houston)
There’s this truck stop/gas station here in Texas called Buccee’s that is a local favorite. It’s like the biggest truck stop you’ve ever seen times 20. There are more gas pumps than I’ve ever seen in one place and inside they have tons of very nice bathroom stalls, food, souvenirs (like Texas shirts and Texas shaped waffle irons), clothing, home decor, and probably 12 different kinds of slurpees. It’s crazy!
Prasek’s wasn’t quite as big but it was amazing and personally, at the risk of the locals reading this and leaving me hate mail, I liked Prasek’s a lot more. It was like a cross between a Buccee’s and a Bass Pro Shops.
They have an awesome huge fish tank and a binder full of pictures and fish names so the kids could figure out which fish was which.
The bathrooms were just as nice (though not as many) as Buccee’s with some super fun faucets in the sinks.
They have all sorts of clothing and novelties. We thought I should get the camo purse but then realized I’d never be able to find it (ha, ha)!
And the food was nothing short of amazing! They had all sorts of samples out and encouraged all 5 of the kids to sample. And it’s a good thing they did because I was blown away with how amazing it all was. We sampled pie, fruit kolaches (danishes), and amazing hot dogs. We left with some of their jerky, from a huge meat counter where you can buy all different types of jerky, and a couple giant treats to share at the hotel that night.
But this place was so amazing that we stopped again on our way home the next day. That time we bought mountains of food to take home with us, and some more jerky. My favorite was the thick cut turkey jerky. We also really loved the Churro Nuggets, organge cream gummy bears, and all the baked goods (the marble bread – white and rye breads marbled together and the cherry angel food cake — AMAZING!). If you are ever driving from San Antonio to Houston, you HAVE to stop at Prasek’s!
Johnson Space Center (Houston, TX)
During off-season, the Space Center has a little bit shorter hours. They opened at 10am and we got there around noon, so our hours were even shorter. I recommend you get there close to opening time to take advantage of as much time as you can. You can also buy tickets online or at the self serve kiosk to save on wait times.
We had heard they do tram tours and with the storm that we had driven through on the way there and was heading our way, the first thing we did after getting inside was head to the back right corner for the tour lines. Even on an off-peak day, we had about an hour wait in switchback lines for the tour.
There were two tours to choose from. One was for Mission Control. It’s under renovation right now and the lines for that were really short. The other was for the astronaut training building and that’s the one we chose. Both tours end with a stop to see the Saturn V rocket which was what we really wanted to see.
The tram takes you all over the space center “campus” and points out different buildings and what they’re used for. But they’re just plain old buildings and my husband and I kind of laughed that they make up anything they wanted to tell us about those buildings and we wouldn’t know if it was true or not because they just looked like plain old office buildings and you just drove by them. At the Astronaut Training stop, we got to go inside and see where some of the actual training was happening. There’s a glass window up above that lets you look down on a replica of the international space station that they use for training and some of the robots that they train with. It was kind of cool but there were a lot of people crowding around the windows together and you just kind of walk by.
The real highlight was the stop at Rocket Park and a friend told me you can just drive out there yourself, without waiting for one of the tram tours, if you want. This was the best reason to make the trip to the Johnson Space Center. When you walk inside the warehouse that houses the Saturn V, you are blown away by the size of it. There was lots of info along the way that we didn’t take the time to stop and read with the kids but we walked around and oohed and aaahed at the massive size of everything and there was one “augmented reality” sign. If you download the Space Center App, you can open the app, find the augmented reality feature that matches up with the sign, and it will show you how the rocket breaks apart after it is launched.
When we finished the tram tour, the kids were excited to check out the museum. There was a lot of fun stuff but there were several things that only go on at certain times and we didn’t have time for any of the videos. (That’s why I recommend getting there earlier than we did!)
The kids still had fun with what was available but I was disappointed by a couple things in the kids interactive area that didn’t work. For the price of tickets, you’d think they would keep everything in good working order. But the scale that showed you your weight on Earth and then on other planets didn’t work. It showed your weight on Earth and the same weight for all other planets. It was the same thing where there was a weight to pick up. It was supposed to get heavier or lighter as you pressed buttons for different planets but it wasn’t changing either.
There were some virtual reality and simulators but they each cost extra and as we watched the one simulator spin around we realized the kids probably wouldn’t like it anyway. (They’re not too adventurous with that kind of stuff.)
I had seen some awesome space shirts on kids throughout the day that I was hoping to pick up for the kids but they didn’t have any of those in the gift shop. There were a couple cute shirts but not enough for our 5 kids, so we didn’t get anything. The lines were crazy long in there as it neared closing time, too.
All in all, the good outweighed the bad, and we wished we would’ve had more time there and stopped at the guest services desk on our way in instead of our way out. They have a brochure that tells the best way to plan your visit that would’ve been very helpful. Definitely stop there before you do anything else! I’m very glad we went for my space loving husband and kids; we all enjoyed getting to see a bit of space history.
Burger Nation (Houston, TX)
When we finished at the Space Center, it was definitely time for dinner. We didn’t want to just stop at a chain, someplace we could eat at home, so we purposely looked for something different to try. It costs a lot of money to buy dinner for 7 people so we’re always taking a chance since you don’t know what you’re really going to get.
But we found this place called Burger Nation almost right across the street from the Space Center and what a find it was! This place had almost too many options for burgers (including camel, and elk). We didn’t get adventurous this time and went with the American Burger on sourdough bread. I think it’s probably the best burger I’ve ever had. The bread was amazing and the meat, too. The kids and my husband all loved what they ordered. I also ordered fried pickles and they were delicious.
There were some mix ups with food but they were great about straightening everything out and helping us order to begin with. Super friendly staff and awesome food. If you go to the Space Center, I definitely recommend Burger Nation for dinner afterwards!
On our way to find the hotel after dinner, I opened my email to find a message from the Houston Girls on the Run organizers letting me know that the race the next day (the reason we were in Houston) was cancelled due to severe thunderstorms in the forecast.
Our poor daughter was devastated but after a good cry, when we found our hotel, we were able to enjoy some yummy treats and a couple fun shows on tv before putting everyone to bed.
It wasn’t too much later, when I was trying to get to sleep, that a mild headache I had been dealing with for part of the day turned into probably the worst headache I’ve ever had. I couldn’t lay down because the throbbing became so intense that I thought my head would explode. And even sitting up was miserable. I didn’t have any medicine with me and while everyone slept, I searched the internet for pressure point remedies or anything I could do that might give me some relief.
Nothing was effective enough and I had just realized I would need to go to the store to find some medicine when my husband woke up. He volunteered to go find medicine which we thought would be an easy task. There was a Walmart just across the road . . . but it was closed at 1:30 in the morning (since when does Walmart in a big city not stay open 24 hours?). So he had to come back and get the car keys to go find something else. The closest 24 hour Walmart was 5 miles away.
When he was inside the store, that massive thunderstorm, that was the cause of cancelling the race the next morning, hit hard. I sat in the hotel room, worrying and praying as my husband was out in a strange city in the middle of the night in a storm that was the worst I had ever seen. From our hotel window, I was watching an empty parking lot behind the hotel where so much water running through it that the edge of the lot where the water ran off actually looked like a miniature Niagra Falls! The trees were blowing so hard and the rain looked like it was falling sideways and with such force that I wasn’t sure my husband would be making it back alive.
But he finally did make it back with medicine and a heating pad for my neck and I was finally able to get some relief and fall asleep for just a few hours. When we awoke to a beautiful, sunny day, we felt so bad for the race director who we were sure was getting all sorts of nasty messages from people. Because it would’ve been a beautiful day for a run. The storm that hit earlier than was predicted would’ve been absolutely horrible to run in had it hit when it was supposed to. And since we didn’t get much sleep the night before due to the storm and my headache, we were just fine with the race being cancelled.
So, we took our time getting out of bed, got ourselves ready and headed down to the hotel breakfast room. We were only there a minute, having gathered seats and getting some fruit for the kids when our 4 year old started complaining of her stomach hurting. It quickly turned into, “I’m going to throw up” and before she had even finished saying it, she had done it, all over the breakfast room floor!
I hurried all the kids out and back up to our room, leaving my husband behind to clean up the mess while I got our daughter to the toilet and where I could get her cleaned up. Thank goodness, I had the kids all pack an extra set of clothes “because you never know what might happen”, so we had clean clothes we could change her into.
By the time we got everything packed and loaded into the car, she was feeling a little better but we still gave her our bucket to hold in her lap that we keep in the car for sick tummy emergencies. Once again, we were glad the race had been cancelled and we weren’t sitting there at the race when all of that happened.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – Houston, TX Temple
We have a family tradition of taking pictures at our church temples whenever we find one on our travels. The Houston Temple was quite a ways out of our way, but since we didn’t know if we’d make it back to Houston, we decided to make the drive and I sure am glad that we did.
The 4 year old was feeling well enough to walk around without fear of vomiting, so we got out of the car to walk around the grounds and take some pictures. The temple itself was beautiful, but while the grounds aren’t large, it was the prettiest garden around a temple that I have ever seen. It was absolutely beautiful and so peaceful, just like the temple grounds always are.
We walked around and took pictures, then returned to the car. As we left, I remembered the flooding that had happened there with Hurricane Harvey 2 years earlier. My husband got to help with some of the flooding clean up afterward but was in a different area, not Houston. So, I used my phone and pulled up pictures of what the temple looked like when the area was flooded. We were blown away by how much water it would’ve taken to flood the area. Actually being there and looking at the pictures while we sat in the parking lot gave us a whole new perspective. We were so glad we decided to go ahead and stop at the temple before heading home.
It was a great way to end our trip, well, that and one more stop at Prasek’s on our way home. When I was growing up, it seemed our car broke down on every family trip. It wasn’t every trip, but it happened a lot! It was our “thing” and something we look back on and laugh. Unfortunately, our family “thing” has become illness on trips. It definitely makes them memorable!