Check out green space and outer space in Houston, Texas with your toddlers for a great family vacation day.

Houston’s main claim to fame, and its most unique feature, is that it is the home of NASA and it can deliver plenty of fun for families wanting to learn more about our national space program. But Houston and its surrounding cities also have some less well-known options including fine dining, excellent shopping, museums, art galleries, zoos and wildlife parks, beaches, amusement parks, rodeos, and annual festivals. So no matter what type of day is needed – it can be had in Houston!

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Families wanting to get their fair share of Houston’s fun should plan their visit for spring or fall to avoid the heat and humidity of summer. Always be prepared for rain no matter what season it is. It is advisable to have a car available since there are only a few areas where visitors can walk or use public transportation.

For a day of family fun in Houston try the following.

A Morning on Armand Bayou

Begin the day at Barnaby’s Café (1701 S. Shepherd, 713-520-5131) for breakfast. This is a great restaurant for sitting outside and people- and dog-watching. Be sure to take the kids inside to see the murals of the furry sheepdog, Barnaby (the restaurant’s namesake), in all his adventures. A favorite menu item is the huevos rancheros, but the apple pecan pancakes are a wonderful treat too (from $5.50).

Insider tip: Barnaby’s doesn’t have a kid’s menu for breakfast, so go with the side orders instead of ordering the huge portions of a full meal.

After breakfast, spend the rest of the morning exploring Armand Bayou and learn about the plants and animals found in local bayous, tour the Martyn Farm, and watch for alligators. The Armand Bayou Nature Center (8500 Bay Area Blvd., Pasadena; 281-474-2551; $3 for adults, $1 for children 4-13; 3 and under - free) offers a number of fun ways to tour the area including live animal exhibits, nature trails, an electric pontoon boat and guided canoe trips. Families with little ones will enjoy participating in the Mommy and Me classes, which include a themed tour of the facility along with an easy craft to take home ($8, includes child and adult).

Insider tip: It is best to visit Armand Bayou in the morning when it is cooler and the mosquitoes aren’t as bad, but be sure to bring sunscreen, bug spray, and plenty of water.

When it is time to head for lunch, a good bet is Mario’s Flying Pizza (1304 Bayport Blvd.; 281-474-5103). The pizza and pasta are both excellent and there is a good salad bar (from $7). Mario’s is also great for kids. The kid’s menu includes a variety of pasta, cheese pizza and the all-time favorite, chicken strips and staff will provide youngsters with pieces of raw pizza dough to play with while they are waiting for their meals.

Following lunch, take a quiet break, perhaps making it a nap opportunity for youngsters, by heading down Second Street for a view of Galveston Bay from Todville Road. This easy drive is a brief respite from the traffic and congestion of the city, and offers some great views of the water and, on the horizon, the huge ships coming into one of the busiest ports in the U.S.

An Afternoon at Space Center Houston

Next, head for Space Center Houston (1601 NASA Parkway; 281-244-2100; $19.95 for adults, $15.95 for children 4-11) for an afternoon of adventure in a cool, dark place. The center provides a number of kid-friendly exhibits with rockets for mini-astronauts to pilot, levers to pull, buttons to push, and a huge play center with slides, tunnels, and places to climb. Families can learn what it is like to be an astronaut, land the Space Shuttle, watch a shuttle launch and even run into some famous Star Wars characters. It is easy to lose track of time here since there is so much to do, so take the NASA tour first and don't miss the stop at Rocket Park.

Insider tip: Save $5 per person by buying tickets online or stop by area McDonald’s and pick up a $5 off coupon (there is one located right outside Space Center Texas).

A Tex-Mex Evening in Houston for the Family

For dinner take the family to Lupe Tortillas (891 West Bay Area Blvd.; 281-338-2711) for some great Tex-Mex with entertainment for the kids to boot. The restaurant’s outdoor sandbox with “ring-side” seating makes dinner a snap. Kids can play to the hearts’ content while parents finish their meals and enjoy a margarita. The portions are large, but don’t pass up the guacamole and order extra tortillas (from $8.50; kid’s menu from $5).

The perfect end to any day in the sultry south is a dip in the hotel pool to dispel the last of the day’s heat. Afterward, find a moment to stargaze and wonder what the astronauts are up to as the night falls in the Space City.

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