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  • Sunrise over Huntsville State Park near Huntsville, Texas
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    Huntsville: History of Houston’s Namesake

  • Downtown Conroe, Texas
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    Conroe: Make a Splash

  • Interior of Goode Co. Fish Camp restaurant in Shendandoah, Texas
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    Shenandoah: Shopping and Entertainment

  • Aerial view of The Woodlands, Texas
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    The Woodlands: Open-Air Delights

  • Admiring model trains at the Tomball Historic Depot Plaza in Tomball, Texas
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    Tomball: Railroad Heritage

Pedaling swan boats through The Woodlands Waterway in The Woodlands, Texas
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Adventures Around Houston: Family Fun in the Texas Heartland

By Ashley Hughes

  • Route distance:
    303 km
  • Suggested Time:
    5 days

Head north to explore the unique places just beyond the city that are destinations in their own right.

Houston, Texas, is well-known as a cosmopolitan gateway to the Southwest USA, but you’ll find plenty to love in the cities and towns scattered around the metropolitan area. Take advantage of everything the area north of Houston along the Interstate 45 corridor has to offer, with family-fun opportunities ranging from lakes and parks to historic sites and everything in between. Fly into George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and rent a car to kick off your journey Around Houston.

01
Sunrise over Huntsville State Park near Huntsville, Texas
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Huntsville: History of Houston’s Namesake

From the airport, make your way roughly an hour north to Huntsville, Texas, an enclave surrounded by national forest that’s sure to appeal to history buffs. It’s home to the Sam Houston Memorial Museum & Republic of Texas Presidential Library, which explores the legacy of this president of the Republic of Texas. The site of his former homestead in Huntsville is now a 6-hectare complex that includes a museum, cabins and other buildings. Check out the rotating exhibits at the Walker Education Center, learn about Houston and the Republic of Texas in the Rotunda and enjoy hands-on historical demonstrations on Saturdays. In Huntsville’s historic downtown, you’ll find antique shops, eateries, public art and the Old Town Theatre, a restored 1940s movie theater that now hosts live performances, film screenings and other events. Heading south out of town, you can’t miss the Sam Houston Statue & Visitor Center. Snap a photo with the towering 20-meter statue of “Big Sam,” then, continue on to Huntsville State Park, where you can hike, fish, kayak and camp among majestic pine trees and wildflowers. There are also special junior ranger and explorer activities for kids available at the park headquarters.

44 km
0.5 hours by car
02
Downtown Conroe, Texas
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Conroe: Make a Splash

Next up is Conroe, one of the fastest growing cities in Texas – yet it retains the small-town charm of its days as an oil and timber boomtown. The revitalized downtown is filled with colorful hand-painted art benches, galleries, shops and restaurants. Stop in for a sip at The Ferm Meadery, which specializes in honey wine, before walking the historic streets and admiring the sights. For outdoor recreation, much of the activity is centered around the 8,900-hectare Lake Conroe and a bevy of thrills on the water. There are plenty of options to rent a boat for your own excursion, but several operators offer boat tours if you’d rather relax and let experts show you around. Pirate-themed cruises complete with treasure hunts and cannon fire are exciting for young swashbucklers, while a sunset outing with Cruisin’ Tikis is a great way for adults to unwind. A stay at the Margaritaville Lake Resort will help you live your best lake life, where accommodations range from beach-themed suites to private lakeside cottages that are ideal for a family. Enjoy amenities like an arcade, lazy river, splash pad and slides at the on-site water park.

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40 km
0.75 hours by car
03
Interior of Goode Co. Fish Camp restaurant in Shendandoah, Texas
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Shenandoah: Shopping and Entertainment

Continue south to reach Shenandoah; while it’s small in size at just 5 sq km, the city boasts plenty of activities and amenities sure to enhance your trip itinerary. One of these is Main Event, an all-in-one stop ensuring endless family fun for all ages with 28 bowling lanes, an indoor laser-tag course, billiards tables and more than 100 arcade and virtual reality games. After a little friendly competition, hunt for deals at Portofino Shopping Center, known for its dramatic Venetian-inspired architecture and over 40 shops and restaurants. With four other shopping centers in the area, you can find everything from clothing and home decor to sporting gear and cosmetics. If you’re a culinary enthusiast, diverse dining is another reason to carve out time in Shenandoah. Choose from dozens of casual and international cuisine options around town for a laidback meal with the family. Acclaimed establishments like Killen’s Steakhouse and Goode Co. Fish Camp offer a more upscale experience and are both helmed by James Beard Award semifinalists. When it’s time to tuck in for the night, check in to one of a wide range of hotels that suit a variety of budgets.

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2 km
0.25 hours by car
04
Aerial view of The Woodlands, Texas
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The Woodlands: Open-Air Delights

You don’t even have to get on the highway to reach your next destination The Woodlands, but the tree-filled surroundings set it apart. Outdoor spaces are plentiful here, and you can explore the picturesque city center by kayaking along the Woodlands Waterway or hopping aboard the free trolley, which passes by parks, restaurants and other attractions. Stop off at Market Street for trendy shopping and dining in an open-air town square. The collection of more than 90 stores and services consists of everything from luxury boutiques to spas and salons. Nearby, catch a show at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater that regularly features musical acts both local and internationally acclaimed. In addition to concerts, the world-class venue also hosts performing-arts shows with free lawn and mezzanine seating. Soak up more of nature on the Woodlands Trails, a network of pathways that connects 150 lush parks, including the George Mitchell Nature Preserve. It’s a perfect opportunity for your family to stretch their legs and breathe in the fresh air, while keeping an eye out for migrating birds.

18 km
0.5 hours by car
05
Admiring model trains at the Tomball Historic Depot Plaza in Tomball, Texas
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Tomball: Railroad Heritage

For your final stop, step back in time in Tomball, a small town whose growth was spurred in the early 1900s with the development of a railroad depot. Within the tight-knit community’s historic downtown you’ll find the Tomball Historic Depot Plaza with its one-of-a-kind railroad museum. View the historic train memorabilia and admire local artwork and two intricately detailed model railroads. You might also catch seasonal events that celebrate railroad history, like the Depot Day Fall Fest each November. Another place to glimpse into the past is the Tomball Museum Center, a complex of preserved buildings from the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Knowledgeable guides provide tours that shed light on life in Tomball from multiple perspectives.

If you’re in town on a Saturday, don’t miss the chance to shop for fresh produce, handmade goods and more from local vendors at the Tomball Farmers Market. No trip to the Lone Star State is complete without a taste of its signature smoky meats: Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue, ranked the sixth-best barbecue in the state by Texas Monthly magazine, uniquely brings together authentic barbecue and artisanal chocolate under the same roof. Savor tender brisket, sausage links, chocolate truffles and other delicious fare before heading back to George Bush Intercontinental Airport to return your rental car and prepare for your flight home.