Sightseeing in Cloverleaf

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Moon rocks. Mission control. Space suits. If it's associated with space travel in the American imagination, it's probably well represented at Space Center Houston. The 183,000-square-foot complex serves as the official visitor center of NASA'S Johnson Space Center. More than 250 artifacts, exhibits, and attractions dot the space like stars in a pocket-size galaxy, fueling a passion for science, engineering, math, and technology with authentic remnants of past space missions.

Just a few of the exhibits likely to inspire awe: a full-scale replica of the space shuttle built using schematics and blueprints; the actual mission control facility where technicians monitored nine Gemini missions as well as every Apollo mission; and select pieces from the largest collection of moon rocks and lunar samples found anywhere. Space Center Houston also asks visitors to contemplate the future with exhibits that explore topics such as the challenges of successfully sending astronauts to Mars.

1601 Nasa Pkwy
Houston,
TX
US

The Houston Fire Museum celebrates the blaze-battling bravery of Houston's early firefighters as well as the tools they used in their line of work. Historical exhibits such as the 1937 Chevrolet pumper truck and the 1895 Ahrens Fox horse-drawn steamer give guests a look at the earliest fire trucks. During guided tours, visitors can follow the steps of a 1950s firefighter as he responds to a call.

But the museum is more than just a history of firefighting. Guests can soak up practical fire-prevention tips and learn how to draft an escape plan for their own home. In the Junior Firehouse, kids can host birthdays, where they dress in miniature bunker coats and slide down an authentic fire station pole padded at the bottom with gym mats and a pile of friendly, furry dalmatians.

2403 Milam St
Houston,
TX
US

The Houston-Galveston area is train country. Multiple railroad-related museums call the community home, as do approximately 20 model railroad clubs. So, how does a person gain entry into this not-so-secret club of train enthusiasts? Simply walk into the Big Texas Train Show, where 100,000 square feet of convention space immerses visitors in a train-filled world.

Here, various displays capture the train-enthusiast's imagination. Model trains?ranging from tiny Z scale locomotives to full-size garden trains?weave around meticulously constructed tracks. And vendors sell the supplies that people need to build their own routes at home, including the one secret ingredient needed to create steam. In addition, a wide variety of kid-friendly activities await little ones.

7390 Mesa Dr
Houston,
TX
US

The Heritage Society was created in 1954 as part of an effort to rescue the 19th-century Kellum-Noble House from destruction. Since its founding, the organization has taken over the operation of nine additional historic buildings, all of which have become part of a 10-acre museum complex in Sam Houston Park. At each of its buildings, the Heritage Society strives to connect guests to the past, exhibiting and celebrating the region?s diverse history in the process.

1100 Bagby St
Houston,
TX
US

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. Named one of the 12 best children's museums in the country according to Forbes.com, ranked No. 1 among the 10 best children's museums in the nation by Parents magazine, and voted Best Museum 2012 and 2013 by the Houston A-List Poll; Children's Museum of Houston 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.

1500 Binz St.
Houston,
TX
US

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.

5216 Montrose Blvd.
Houston,
TX
US