Seven days a week, the Houston Museum of Natural Science cultivates knowledge with interactive exhibits that shuttle minds into such far-flung realms as tropical rainforests and outer space. Permanent exhibit halls house everything from the skeletons of brachiosauruses in the recently expanded Morian Hall of Paleontology to artifacts from ancient Egypt and the Americas.
Housed inside three stories of glass, the museum's Cockrell Butterfly Center habitat teems with more than 1,500 winged wonders from around the globe, which frolic around a 50-foot waterfall, and flutter through exotic plants. Visitors can also gaze skyward in the Burke Baker Planetarium, which casts more than 10 daily shows with curve-mirror projection technology. Eyes marvel at the planetarium's 30'x18' full-dome digital theater, capable of transporting families to the aurora borealis in the Arctic Circle or to the nougat-flavored center of a black hole.
Most camp counselors can teach children how to tie-dye a T-shirt or braid a friendship bracelet. Very few, however, have experienced the exhilaration of vaulting into the end zone for a goal-line touchdown or intercepting a game-winning pass in front of thousands of rabid football fans. Across the country, Sports International Football Camps grant participants the opportunity to learn firsthand from professional athletes, whose gridiron battle scars have been forged by bell-ringing collisions with fearless opponents and reckless mascots on motorcycles.
Since 1983, the organization has partnered with veteran high-school coaches and pros, such as three-time Pro Bowl running back Priest Holmes, All-Pro linebacker Brian Cushing, and Super Bowl champion–cornerback Terrell Thomas. In those years, the camp has schooled some 96,000 alumni, including current NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich. Coaches break campers into groups by age, position, and ability and run practices that are competitive yet fun and supportive. For in-depth focus on the specific techniques of skill-position players, the camp also offers special academies for passing and receiving as well as kicking, punting, long snapping, and cooler lifting for Gatorade victory showers.
Dance Du Coeur Sugar Land Dance Studio slims and tones bodies with customizable, indoor boot-camp classes held on a morning and evening schedule within a gleaming, 6,000-square-foot facility. Instructors lead one-hour workouts that can be modified for various fitness levels to challenge the body from head to toe and tone flabby shadows. The course eschews weight training in favor of exercises designed to strengthen the core and confuse muscles into better shape. Students do not need to take classes consecutively; they can drop in any time boot-camp classes are held.
The stars of XBox, Wii, and even indie games come alive through the power of displays?and more than a few fan-made costumes?at SGC. SGC boasts that while its name used to stand for ScrewAttack Gaming Convention, now it just means "the best party in gaming!" The three-day event convention and festival sprawls throughout an 80,000 square-foot space inside the downtown Sheraton Hotel. One of its biggest attractions couldn't happen without the fans: unlike the average court proceeding, a whimsical cosplay contest enables attendees to show off their costumes and slip into character as heroes, villains, or morally ambiguous Tetris blocks.
Throughout the weekend, the convention thrills guests with a dealer room showcasing up to 80 vendors, a game room filled with consoles and arcade cabinets from nearly every generation, and a hall for tabletop gaming. Much of the action also happens in the main auditorium, which can accommodate up to 1,500 audience members. Here, celebrities and industry leaders?past guests have included Adam Sessler and The Angry Video Game Nerd?give panel discussions, and live video-game-themed bands play shows that are then streamed to the internet and directly onto their parents' cell phones.
Athletic & Performing Arts Center is a one-stop shop for kids' fun and athletics. It was born when two of Houston's long-running kids' gymnastics and dance programs joined forces. Now under one name, the instructors lead a variety gymnastics classes from Teeter Toddler classes intended for tots 16 months-35 months old, to an assortment of tumbling classes for kids over 6 in a range of skill levels. Available dance classes include styles such as ballet, jazz, tap, and hip-hop. They also host open-play sessions, in which kids can blow off steam after a long day at the lemonade stand.
Jerit Pogue, the owner of the newly unified APAC, says that he and his fellow trainers and teachers love seeing the glow of accomplishment on the kids they train, whether they just walked off stage or mastered a new trick in practice. "We have kids who cry everyday because they don't want to leave," he says.
Handicap Accessible: No
Staff Size: 25–50
Parking: Parking lot
Most popular offering: Gymnastics and dance classes
Pro Tip: Come prepared for kids to have fun and learn.
Sugar Land Dive Center’s store boasts scuba gear from brands such as Atomic, Oceanic and Sea Life, but their signature product is an intangible: a sense of confidence underwater. The PADI five-star dive center’s courses impart just that. After classroom-based instruction, the center’s open water instructors teach divers to breathe underwater and handle their complex gear by practicing in a pool. The program then culminates in a series of real open water dives, which result in open water certification more useful than its earlier incarnation, certification to open water that’s in an aluminum can.
Sugar Land Dive Center also teaches more specialized courses that can transform open water-certified divers into future rescue divers and PADI instructors. For a fusion of dive practice and vacation, students can also travel the world on international scuba trips, which whisk participants to locales such as Cozumel and Fiji.