While many children learn by performing hands-on tasks, school systems have yet to figure out how to incorporate gardens, imagination workshops, and towering aqueduct mazes into their budgets. With 90,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits, the Children's Museum of Houston sparks creativity by allowing kids to explore 14 learning stations. Ranked No. 1 among the 10 best children's museums in the nation by Parents magazine, named one of the 12 best children's museums in the country by Forbes.com and one of the 10 best by USA TODAY, and voted Best Museum in 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014 by the Houston A-List Poll, the museum has accrued a lot of praise. The Huffington Post has also given a nod to the Children's Museum of Houston, which encourages children to explore their curious nature with a variety of interactive exhibits. Exhibits include the interactive EcoStation, a solar-powered outdoor utopia with activities such as stream creation and leaf rubbing that inspire kids to think about environmental responsibility. At the Invention Convention workshop, kids can explore engineering possibilities with building blocks, propellers, and even basic robotics. The sprawling cityscape of Kidtropolis invites children to participate in a simulated economy. The experience requires them to earn paychecks, budget money on pretend debit cards, vote for political candidates, and learn how to obsessively check milk expiration dates at the onsite grocery store.
Jutting above the street, the modernist lines of Rafael Moneo's Audrey Jones Beck Building echo the eclectic collection found within. Under sky openings that let in natural light and the bitter gazes of pigeons who can’t seem to get their work shown, visitors meander through galleries that span the breadth of human artistry, from ancient sculpture to modern painting. Noteworthy works from the more than 64,000 pieces include Pablo Picasso's colorful cubist Two Women in Front of a Window, Edgar Degas's achingly expressionistic Woman Drying Herself, and an untitled sketch by Jackson Pollock that shows his wild, abstract genius evolving toward his celebrated drip paintings. A treasure trove of cultural artifacts from Africa, Asia, and the Americas expands the museum’s scope and transports visitors back in time as they gaze on a palpably pensive ceramic ballplayer from Mexico's Classic Veracruz culture or a life-size royal head forged from copper for a Nigerian royal court.
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With the sound of fast-approaching engines roaring in your ear, you jam your foot down even harder on the gas pedal and narrow your eyes at the upcoming left-hand turn, determined not to let up even for an instant. If you do, there’s a good chance that your new view will consist of your competition gloating triumphantly while they zip past you on the track. You may only be driving a GT-5 Sodikart, and not a tricked-out racecar, but you absolutely refuse to let any of the other adult or—gulp—junior drivers beat you.
Track 21 lets speed-demons careen around one of three indoor go-kart tracks at speeds of up to 40 mph as they try to edge past other karts, competing with fellow birthday partiers or coworkers to reach the finish line before it decides to become a finish wall. In case competition gets too fierce, the karts are surrounded by heavy nylon bumpers and rubber blocks designed to absorb impact from all sides.
Friendly rivalries continue on foot inside Area 21, a two-story laser-tag battleground beset with fog, obstacles, and space-age scenery. Sharpshooters zap each other's targets in pursuit of a grander mission, such as capturing the opposing base or stealing the enemy's supply of light, before matches end and scores are tallied on a stats sheet. Glowing decor also illuminates a jungle-themed nine-hole mini-golf course, where gorilla and lion statues bask in the black lights. Track 21’s arcade demands timing and button-smashing dexterity from gamers, and a track-side casino sets up rounds of blackjack, poker, and craps.
A bloody slaughterhouse. A strobe-lit maze patrolled by clowns. A zombie-infested bog. A room full of overdue utility bills. These are the most terrifying scenes humans can imagine, and many of them confront visitors to Screamworld, an attraction that stretches the haunted house experience across five uniquely spooky settings. Here, animatronic scares and disorienting lights lie in wait for groups, as do costumed actors seeking the perfect opportunity to spring from their hiding spots. Screamworld's performers don't shy away from offering an intense, frightening experience, and though the shrieks are all in good fun, the experience isn't recommended for children.
Inspiring those thrills and chills is practically an art form for Jim Fetterly, the mastermind behind Screamworld. Fetterly has designed annual haunted houses since 1989, so he and his team pride themselves on their ability to leave visitors with racing pulses, sweaty palms, and thoroughly spiked adrenaline levels. And their dedication has not gone unnoticed?America's Best Haunts continues to select Screamworld as one of the top haunted attractions in the country, while the Houston Chronicle hailed it as "Houston's longest-running and arguably best haunted house."
As daylight hours wane and temperatures drop, Discovery Green transforms Kinder Lake’s model-boat basin into a 7,200-square-foot open-air ice rink, beckoning visitors and locals alike to embrace the winter season. The cheerful sounds of Christmas carols, upbeat world music, and swing tunes emanate from the sound system as skaters gracefully glide past the site's colorful glass railings and mural-bedecked kiosks. In a separate children's area beside the main rink, toddlers and their parents can play on their own section of ice while safely avoiding faster-paced skating traffic. Special events also lend their own festive air to the attraction, where guests can watch live jazz bands or skate alongside Santa Claus.
To keep the ice at a constant and chilly 22 degrees, the rink conceals more than 17 miles of cooling pipes beneath its friction-defying surface. Recycled water from Kinder Lake helps create a cool, even skating surface, and the entire attraction siphons its power from renewable energy sources instead of coal buttons stolen from snowmen. Additionally, an onsite snack shop keeps bellies warm and cheeks ruddy with cups of coffee and hot cocoa, as well as hearty snacks including roasted peanuts, cookies, and belgian waffles.
Designed by award-winning architect Gunnar Birkerts, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston's stainless steel building safeguards a multitude of work designed to intellectual engage viewers and invoke complex reactions. The museum's two galleries, the Brown Foundation Gallery and the Zilkha Gallery, collectively host 8?10 free exhibitions every year.
The Brown Foundation spotlights work by internationally renowned artists and pieces organized around themes; past exhibits include a Kiki Smith survey and a showcase of performance art by black artists. The Zilkha, meanwhile, hosts the museum's Perspective Series, which gathers the work of emerging artists. The museum's Teen Council curates a biyearly edition of Perspectives, unveiling work by young, Houston-area artists that mine for deeper feelings than the normal teenage angst toward parents, teachers, and singing animatronic bears. The Teen Council also contributes to the museum's numerous programs, which include lectures and discussions for each show, as well as Musiqa concerts based on each Brown Foundation Gallery exhibition.