Park of the Week: Nottingham Park

If you're looking for shade, you can stop reading now. You will not find it at Nottingham Park. As far as all other determinants of park greatness go, however, this playground/splashpad/green space is awesome!

Here is the main playground: There are several play structures, with activities for all ages. The equipment is in great condition, and I saw some pretty unique features scattered throughout. 

You can see lots of thought put into even the little details, like these adorable "see no evil/hear no evil/speak no evil" cutouts on the steps :)

The ride-on supply is minimal, but Lana thoroughly enjoyed what there was to be ridden. There are also a few baby swings available!

Here's a shot of the baby side of the playground. As you can see, there is plenty to do that's low to the ground, but the wood chips might make it difficult for crawlers to fully enjoy. Depends on how much your kid enjoys eating non-food items!

Right next to the playground is a pretty cool splash pad with fountains and jets of all heights.

And, around the playground (which is totally fenced, by the way), there is a nice little walking trail:

We were very happy with this park overall, especially because we came on a relatively cloudy day. When it gets hotter, we will be back to try the splash pad!

If You Go: 
  • Address:  14205 Kimberley Ln, Houston, TX 77079
  • Parking: Free street parking

Happy Hour With Baby: Brenner's Steakhouse

You may know Brenner's on the Bayou as a fancy Houston steakhouse...but did you know it's also the perfect place for an outdoor happy hour with babies or toddlers? 

If you're skeptical, trust me - I was too. But we've now been here several times on weekends and weekdays and both adults and littles give the experience two thumbs up! 

The trick is to make your way all the way down to the lower patio, where you can snag a comfy sectional or two for your group. In addition to drinks (which you order upstairs at the outdoor bar), you can choose from a selection of yummy appetizers, from sloppy joe sliders to duck empanadas to venison corn dogs to tuna tartare tacos. Some of the appetizers will please toddler palates - but if not, there are always french fries :) 

The patio is huge, which means crawlers can crawl, walkers can walk, and runners can run while you keep an eye on them. But, inevitably, the kiddos will want to explore what lies beyond. And here, too, you're in luck, because what's around the patio is beautiful and calling out to be explored. 

Look for fountains, mini waterfalls, bridges, hills, walkways, stairs, and more on the spacious grounds.

If You Go:
  • Address: 1 Birdsall St, Houston, TX 77007
  • Hours: Opens at 5:00PM
  • Parking: Free valet

Park of the Week: Willow Fork Park

This post is brought to you by contributing writer Natasha Lee!

This weekend my daughter Audrey and I came to see the new Willow Fork park in Katy. It only opened several months ago and takes up an impressive 35-acre territory.

The parking lot is located in front of a bridge that takes you to the park, which made Audrey very happy. She loves bridges and loves throwing down things like sunglasses or sippy cups. This time we made it through without any losses.

The PLAYGROUND would be perfect for older kids but toddlers can have lots of fun too especially if they are adventurous and like climbing. Audrey loves spinning and I couldn’t pull her off the spinning device (I don’t know if they actually have a name). First she was spinning herself and after that some mulch apparently wanted to be spun too.

There is a nice PICNIC AREA of 6 tables with shade and some grills around so it would be perfect if you wanted to have your kid’s birthday party here.

But the most impressive part of the park was its TRAILS and lots of green space.

If you have a hyper kid like I do this place is perfect for running, exploring and burning some energy.

The trails go around a lake, take you through a cute bridge over a waterfall (again perfect for throwing things down into the water so be armed with some sticks and rocks).

My last but pretty important tip would be choosing a cool or overcast day for coming here. There is not much shade on the playground and trails as the trees planted are still very small. As they grow taller and wider the park will be getting plenty of shade but look out for the sun and bring hats and sun protection for now.

If you go:

  • Address: Grand Pkwy & Cinco Ranch Blvd, Katy, TX 77494 (near Cinco Ranch High School)
  • Parking: Free in front of the park
  • Restrooms available in the picnic area

Park of the Week: The Square at Memorial City Mall

Lana and I visited Memorial City Mall recently...but shopping wasn't on our agenda! Instead, we checked out the new green space at the mall -  The Square. We loved this baby-and-toddler-friendly park! 

We had a little bit of trouble locating The Square, leading us to circle the parking lots for a few minutes. Don't be like me; take a minute to figure out where it is before you go. (You can find it here, between the Cheesecake Factory and Maggiano's). Once we arrived, Lana was very impressed by the water feature at the entrance. I barely managed to usher her forward into the actual park!

The main part of The Square is a large green space. As you can see, there is still a bit of construction residue (though I didn't see or hear any active construction happening while we visited). A group of moms was in the midst of a stroller fitness class when we stopped by, and cartoons were playing on a giant TV screen. Overall the space felt safe and clean, with very few ways for a wily toddler to escape. We liked that it was shaded (at least in the morning!) and covered with astroturf.

While the main space was fun, we spent most of our time in a little toddler corner, which beckoned Lana with brightly-colored logs and tunnels and animals:

She climbed through the tunnels and on top of the stump, petted the animals, and had a blast!

I'm not sure whether this was supposed to be a slide, but Lana definitely turned it into one!

We spent about an hour here and could have stayed longer if I didn't have errands to run. I found it easy to sit back and enjoy a book while Lana played - with such a small, open space, I had no trouble keeping an eye on her. We're so excited to have a place to play outside next time we're stopping by the mall!

If You Go:
  • Address: 303 Memorial City Way, Houston, TX 77024
  • Parking: Free in the Memorial City Mall parking lots

Park of the Week: Jaycee Park & Splashpad

This past weekend, we got to visit a new playground for a birthday party; as soon as I saw it, I knew it was worthy of a "park of the week" post. Jaycee Park is a favorite with Heights families, and has quite a few features to keep toddlers entertained. 

Let's start with the play structure. There's just one, and it's big, with slides, drums, a net to walk on, and much more. Because big and little kids all play together, and due to the size of the various features, it's better for older toddlers. The two-year-olds and nearly-two-year-olds at our party certainly enjoyed it!

As far as shade, you can see in the photo below that much of the playground is shaded in the morning, though as the day wears on, that shade recedes. Nevertheless, the large green umbrellas and surrounding trees make sure you're never in playing in full sun. 

In addition to the main play structure, there are a few smaller features, like this spinning seat, a ride-on, a seesaw, and a little rock wall.

Then we have the splash pad. It's a fun one, with various fountains unexpectedly erupting at different times. It's mostly in the sun but there is a bit of shade. 

Another thing I really loved about this park - tons and tons of green space around the playground and splash pad. This means plenty of room to run or lay out a blanket for a baby playdate. It also makes for a large buffer zone between kids and cars (see how far they are in the below photo?) I did see a number of puddles, so watch out for mosquitoes after it's been raining.  (Also - how adorable is that party table?)

Between the play structure, the seesaw, the splash pad and the green areas, we really enjoyed our time at Jaycee Park. We will definitely be coming back!

If You Go:
  • Address: 1300 Seamist Dr, Houston, TX 77008
  • Parking: Free street parking, 1-minute walk to playground

Mommy & Me Class Spotlight: Make Some Music at Crescendo Family Music

Looking for a fun activity to do with your little one? Registration is now open for Crescendo Family Music’s spring session, starting April 1! With developmentally appropriate activities including singing, dancing, and playing with instruments, these 45-minute classes are the perfect opportunity to make music and bond with your child.

Crescendo Family Music classes are open to kids age birth-age 5. This mixed-age approach allows the smallest music makers to learn from older children, while the older toddlers and preschoolers enjoy sharing their wisdom with the little ones. All classes follow the research-based, internationally-renowned Music Together® philosophy.

Crescendo Family Music also offers a one-of-a-kind Generations class, held at The Village of The Heights retirement community. This is a regular family class with a twist - the residents of The Village of The Heights are invited to join kids and parents in making music. You do not have to have a family member living at The Village to sign up for this class.

You can sign up for Crescendo Family Music classes online. Tuition is $175 for your first child, and just $125 for siblings (siblings under 8 months can join free!) Tuition includes the full session (8 classes), a CD and digital music download with the music you’ll be hearing in class, a songbook, a family sing-along/concert with musicians, two makeup classes, and a musical instrument making workshop! With classes available on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, including both morning and afternoon slots, you’re sure to find a time that works for your schedule.

Click here to register for a class! Class sizes are limited, so sign up now to reserve your spot. If you’d like to learn more about Crescendo Family Music, check out their website and Facebook page.

Park of the Week: Houston Arboretum

This week, we're toddling around another nature preserve, the Houston Arboretum. Much like last week's park, Edith Moore Nature Sanctuary, the Arboretum features a large, criss-crossing network of shaded trails - though this one is a bit closer to central Houston. There are long trails, medium trails, and super-short trails your toddler can walk all on her own. There are trails that will work for jogging strollers and regular strollers. In short, it's a pick-your-own-adventure of the best kind, and you can keep coming back again and again without losing interest. 

Along the way, you might spot all sorts of cool plants and critters. We found these colorful berries on our last visit: 

And the trails are only part of the fun. At the very entrance is an indoor area with discovery rooms to interact with nature in an air-conditioned setting. Right outside, there is a large nature play area with sand and stumps and tunnels and shovels:

Around this time of year, many of our favorite playgrounds start getting too hot and sunny, so it's awesome to have a shaded refuge to explore instead! Plus, for kiddos 18mos-3 years old, you can check out the weekly Tyke Hikes scheduled for most Mondays in the spring! These hikes include a storytime, activity, and a stroller-friendly hike. They're free for arboretum members and $7 for non-members. 

If You Go:

  • Address: 4501 Woodway Drive Houston, TX 77024-7708
  • Hours: 7 days a week, 7:00AM-7:30PM. Indoor discovery room is open 10:00AM-4:00PM every day except Mondays. Tyke Hikes are scheduled 9:30AM and 10:30AM most Mondays (check website for details)
  • Parking: On weekdays, you can generally find parking on the Arboretum grounds, but the lot is small and does fill up. From Arboretum website: "Additional parking is available in a satellite lot at the Running Center, just east of the Arboretum’s entrance on Woodway Drive. It is a pleasant quarter mile hike under the Memorial Park Living Bridge to the park’s entrance."