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Kid-friendly day trips

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Easton Beitler, Everett Beitler

CASTLE IN THE COUNTRY Newman’s Castle, located near Bellville, makes for a unique day trip for families. Tour the castle to see a working drawbridge, moat, and more medieval charm. Pictured are brothers Easton and Everett Beitler recently touring the castle.

Buzz Baby is a column about life with little ones. Writer Annie McQueen is a mother of four children under the age of 8.

Spring break is a great time to find places nearby to explore. With a toddler or baby, it can be challenging to come up with fun and easy destinations without having to pack more than a diaper bag. We decided to list some easily accessible places from Houston – so parents can get there and back before naptime. All destinations are about an hour’s drive or less and have a family-friendly vibe.

Mom-of-two Jennifer Beitler recently visited a unique gem in the countryside not far from home. She and some friends took their kids on an outing to visit a castle – that’s right, a castle.

Newman’s Castle and Newman’s Bakery, located just outside of Bellville, offer tours six days a week starting at 10:30 a.m. for $15. The castle has a moat and a 3,000 lb. working drawbridge. Owner Mike Newman built the castle in the late 1990s.

Jennifer said her boys, Easton, who is in kindergarten, and Everett, a second grader, were mesmerized by the experience. “They make it super fun and theatrical for the kids,” said Jennifer. “Before the tour starts, one of the guides knights each child with a real sword. My boys loved that part,” she said.

Jennifer said that another favorite for the kids was the catapult. “There’s a little pond next to the castle and it’s a true antique catapult and they do a demonstration. The kids get involved again for this part and it was very fun,” she said. It is about 50 miles from Houston, making it an easy there-and-back, kid-friendly spot. It is helpful to have plenty of time to explore it all. “It is mostly a self-guided tour so be sure not to miss checking out the top flood bell tower and ringing the bell,” she said.

Another kid-friendly day destination is Brazos Bend State Park, located about 35 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County. The entrance fee is $7 per person 13 and older; kids under 13 are free. There is a kid-friendly, free nature center where kids can see baby alligators, snakes, and more. Volunteers are on hand to educate families about wildlife. It has almost 5,000 acres of nature with ponds and campsites. There is a playground near the campsite and restrooms, making it a great spot for families. As you walk around the pond, be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife.

Around 50 miles south of Houston, Lake Jackson is a neat day trip spot with a free marine museum, Sea Center Texas. Kids are sure to love this educational hands-on marine experience. The museum helps produce marine fish for stocking Texas waters and promoting coastal conversation.

North of Houston is a family fun park, 7 Acre Wood, which includes a petting zoo, a mini-golf course, a Western play town, a large playground and sandbox, a zip line, horseshoes, and more. Admission is $8.50 per person.

Georgia McQueen

RODEO FUN The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo offers activities and experiences for the whole family, including Fun on the Farm at The Junction. Pictured: Georgia McQueen enjoying a pony ride. 

Last but certainly not least, is a visit or two (or more) to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo – it is not an out-of-town destination but certainly worth adding to the spring-break list. This year, the Rodeo is running Feb. 28 to March 19. It is packed with fun activities for children of all ages. The Rodeo grounds open at 9 a.m., which is great if you want to get an early start and beat the crowds. (Note: Also in this issue, read Mutton Bustin’: A Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo favorite, which includes information about the popular HLSR event.)

A cute kid-friendly area at HLSR is Fun on the Farm, which is free (no carnival tickets required) and open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The area gives children of all ages a chance to explore the world of agriculture. The children get hands-on experience through participating in farm chores such as gathering eggs, pretending to milk a cow, planting and harvesting crops, and feeding pretend chickens in a chicken coop. The attraction also includes a mini credit union branch where children can learn about how credit unions work. The Fun on the Farm rodeo volunteers (some of whom happen to be teachers on their Spring Break) are wonderful at explaining each step of the process.

If there is still energy to burn before naptime, check out the carnival games or grab some delicious Rodeo fare like corn dogs, fresh-squeezed lemonade, or ice cream. After the sugar rush subsides, it will make for an extra nice nap.

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