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.
A crackling fire warms guests perched at white-draped tables in the candlelit wine cellar. Upstairs, diners marvel at the picturesque views of the vineyard and rose garden filling the glass-enclosed patio's windows or deeply inhale the aroma of wildflowers drifting onto the vine-covered porch. It's against these intimate backdrops that servers at The Vineyards Restaurant deliver steak, seafood, and other upscale dishes to tables, which come aglow with candlelight as dusk falls.
The chefs work hard to make each bite as special as the surroundings. They age beef-tenderloin fillets for 45 days before plating them atop garlic-and-mushroom sauce and slowly marinate chicken in a spicy chipotle-garlic oil before nestling it in a bed of pasta covered in cilantro cream sauce.
With such food in such a setting, a regular night out at The Vineyards is one to remember, but a special occasion there is truly magical. For marriage proposals, anniversaries, and the reunions of long-lost pairs of socks, staffers lead guests down a candle-strewn path to a private table set for dessert among the vineyard's rows of grapevines. The Vineyards has held more than 500 weddings in its open-air pavilion, and its on-staff wedding coordinator and floral designer help plan picture-perfect ceremonies.
Steak and Seafood | Chicago-Style Chophouse Atmosphere | Freshly Baked Popover Starters
While You're Waiting
While You're in the Neighborhood
Before: Select a predinner drink from the dizzying selection of draft beers at Flying Saucer (14999 Montfort Drive).
After: Head down the street to Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar (4980 Beltline Road) for a night of dancing to the ivory-tickling tunes of A-list pianists.
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Kenny’s Burger Joint (1377 Legacy Drive, Suite 120, Frisco, TX), where the owners of Kenny's Wood Fired Grill shift the spotlight to handcrafted burgers.
Each night, about a half-hour before sunset, one of Capital Cruises' double-decker boats launches out onto Lady Bird Lake. Austin's skyline peeks its head over the tree-lined banks as the vessel floats toward the Congress Avenue Bridge. Once there, passengers watch the sun drop below the horizon and paint a streak of burnt orange across the sky in an action that seems to bring the bridge to life. Here, at one of the largest urban bat colonies on the continent, thousands of bats take flight and soar into the sky.
These bat tours are just one way Capital Cruises explores Lady Bird Lake. The crown jewel of its fleet, a 75-foot yacht, sets the stage for floating wedding parties and specialty cruises such as the Riverboat Gambler. During these trips, passengers play roulette and nibble fajitas, pasta, and barbecue catered by the Hyatt Regency hotel. Additionally, Capital Cruises' staff lets customers chart their own adventures with rentals of standup paddleboards, swan-shaped pedal boats, and 21-foot electric Duffy boats.
Gene Estes suspects that growing up in the "dry" precinct of Abilene, Texas, may have inspired his alcohol-based ingenuity; he crafted his first batch of wine from Concord grape juice when he was just 23. Years later, after holding various pharmaceutical jobs and putting to use his Masters in Microbiology, Estes's interest in wine re-emerged with a full and passionate force. Today, as the president and vintner of Lost Oak Winery, Gene works alongside resident winemaker Jim Evans to craft a host of award-winning wines. Among them is the 2012 Viognier, which scored a double gold in the renowned San Francisco Chronicle International Wine competition?meaning all five judges awarded the varietal with top scores before gilding the bottle twice in molten gold.
The winery itself offers both guided and self-guided tours, offering visitors a glimpse into the wine-making process complete with samples straight from oak barrels. Additionally, special events draw guests to the lush grounds for live music, wine club events, and the pre-Christmas holiday open house, where they can place preemptive wine orders with Santa.
Author and radio host Ken Hudnall leads groups on an informative trek through El Paso's famed, and oftentimes spooky, past during the Downtown History and Mystery Tour. Each traipse through time begins at the Camino Real Hotel, where ominous tales of a distressed bride and the lingering presence of Pancho Villa cast a spectral tone upon the outing's onset. Winding through city streets, Ken and crew stop at the Cortez Building, the Plaza Hotel, and the very first Hilton Hotel, which has hosted several celebrity weddings. As night falls and shadows begin to dance and pants unsuspecting patrons, a stop at the Mills Building—constructed on the site of a hotel that burned to the ground—rounds out the tour's itinerary.