7 Fresh Houston Date Night Ideas

Date nights are one of the highlights of my week. My husband and I don't get to do them as often as I'd like - between work schedules, sitters and $$$, organizing an adults-only outing can be a major project. So, when we do go out, we like to make it count by trying something new each time. Here are some fresh ideas to spice up your next date night:

1) A Luxury Movie Experience at iPic

Sure, it's twice the price of a regular movie ticket, but, for a special night out, it's totally worth it. Cuddle up with your honey in a private reclining pod, and get food and drinks brought right to your seat.

2) A Macarose at Amorino Gelato

Do you like gelato? How about gelato that has been expertly shaped into a flower, every petal a different flavor, with an exquisite macaron placed in the middle? I have eaten ice cream all over the world and I've never seen (or tasted) anything like this. Not a fan of ice cream? Other options include crepes and a decadent "Hot Chocolate Experience". Also, this place is conveniently located steps away from iPic (see above), if you'd like to try both in one night.



3) Breakfast or dinner or a cooking class or... at Pondicheri 

Indian hot spot Pondicheri offers a truly multifaceted food experience. Choose from sit-down lunch or dinner, grab a pastry or freshly squeezed juice at the Bake Lab upstairs, shop for unique spices or dishware, attend a special pop-up dinner or take a cooking class. We've tried dinner downstairs and breakfast at the Bake Lab and loved both.

4) Dream Home "Shopping" Trip

It might not be the right time to build, buy, or renovate your way to the home of your dreams...but that doesn't mean you can't start planning! Look up a few open houses in a nice neighborhood and go open house hopping. Then, hit up Crate and Barrel or Restoration Hardware and pick out furniture. The best part of a date like this is figuring out what your SO likes and doesn't like and negotiating compromises - I've been with my husband for 10 years and was surprised to learn some of his preferences! And, when it is time to move or renovate, you'll already be in sync.

5) Dry Powder at the Alley Theater

This one's for the finance guys (and gals). Dry Powder is a play - a story of power, passion, and private equity first produced in finance capital NYC, where it got raving reviews. My husband and I have been looking forward to this one for months.

Not into high finance? Check out the rest of the season at Alley Theatre or Stages Theatre, two of my favorite theaters in Houston. I've loved every show I've seen at either of these.

6) Cooking Class at Well Done or Sur La Table

For a unique spin on dinner out, take a cooking class with your SO. If you're thinking that you do enough cooking at home, don't worry - the staff at pro cooking classes does the dirty work for you, from ingredient prep to the dishes. The fun parts are left to you, and the type of dishes you'll learn to make are a far cry from your typical at home dinner. French, Italian, Mexican, desserts, beer - whatever your taste buds are craving, you'll find a class for it.

7) Fancy dinner at Riel 

Riel is a brand-new Montrose restaurant with a menu that defies the conventions of fancy restaurants. It's French, it's local Texan, it's Asian...and there's even a smidgen of Ukrainian. Leave your preconceptions at home. Borscht here is not like any borscht you've ever seen. I rarely eat mustard, but I loved the strawberry mustard that came with their meat pie. Also: delicious hanger steak entree, yummy fresh fish dishes and the sticky toffee pudding is to die for. And, everything can be shared!





Park of the Week: Wilson Wonderground Spark Park

I really wanted the Wilson Wonderground Spark Park to be the perfect playground. It definitely sounded perfect to me: designed based on Montessori principles, includes one-of-a-kind natural elements...oh, and also it has a little fortress. How many playgrounds have fortresses?

But, alas, it was not perfect. On my first attempt to visit, we were turned away. You see, as a Spark Park, the Wonderground has limited hours. On school days, it's off-limits until 5:30PM. I don't know many toddlers that are just heading out to a playground at 5:30, especially at this time of year, when that's basically sunset! If you do have a later schedule or live nearby, this might work for you. For the rest of us, there are weekends, when the park is open all day. 

We returned to the Wonderground on Saturday morning and were pleased to find it open this time. Indeed, there were quite a few natural elements - stumps, trunks, and logs to roll, climb on, and explore. Lana did not know quite what to make of them, since they looked so different from the usual playground equipment she sees. We definitely had a learning experience here! 



There's also a sizable sandbox area for sand play. And, in addition to the natural areas, there' a pretty cool plastic play structure that is just fine for older toddlers (Lana is 20 months and she enjoyed it).


And there's this guy. Lana tried and failed to climb it, but had fun running around inside it:


The fortress did not disappoint. Lana enjoyed hiding inside and peeking out of the window.


We also discovered these cool mosaics, which were great for an I Spy game. Lana has been learning lots of shapes lately, so she enjoyed looking for rhombuses, stars and hearts. Plus, who doesn't like birds and butterflies?  


Also, we unexpectedly found some hens. See if you can spot them when you visit! 


So, the Wonderground is not the holy grail of playgrounds, but it is super-unique and definitely worth a visit if you have a toddler, especially if you've been getting tired of the same old playground routine.

If you go:
  • Address: 2100 Yupon St, Houston, TX 77006 (entrance on Yupon just south of the school)
  • Parking: Free street parking
  • Hours: Opens 5:30PM on school days; open all day when school is out. 

Playground of the Week: Loftin Park (aka Bellaire Town Square Park)

How have I lived in Houston for over two years without discovering this awesome toddler-friendly playground? If you haven't been to Bellaire Town Square park yet, I recommend you check it out ASAP! 

The playground is divided into two areas - one for toddlers and one for big kids. There isn't a fence or any other physical barrier between the two, but the older kids generally stay on their side (and I don't blame them - just look at that super-cool futuristic big kid play structure!)


The small toddler play structure is in great shape and has pretty typical features - steering wheel, two slides, steps, a "window" to peek through. One quirk we noticed: there is no bottom step like you'll find on virtually every other play structure. So your toddler has to pull him- or herself up. 20-month-old Lana struggled a bit, but she got it in the end. This would not work very well for crawlers or climbers, though.


Our favorite activities on this playground weren't the play structures, though. Lana, who is obsessed with transportation, spent most of her time on the two ride-on toys (a bus and a fire truck), and also the amazing kid-size train.


I know it looks like she's falling off, but she's actually climbing on (and very successfully, I may add!)


This train was a hit with Lana and many of the other kiddos on this playground. Can you spot Lana in the above photo?


There are also 4 baby swings and lots of open space to run at a comfortable distance from cars and roads. In the afternoon when we visited, there was plenty of shade (though not 100%).

Overall, this playground is definitely one of our new Houston favorites for toddlers. If you have a pre-walker, they can still enjoy the train and swings...but there are wood chips aplenty, so if your child likes to snack on them, beware!

If You Go: 

  • Address: 7001 5th St, Bellaire, TX 77401 (right next to the Bellaire Town Square Family Aquatic Center)
  • Parking: There is a free parking lot at the Family Aquatic Center 


IKEA - Not Your Typical Toddler Playspace

What do you do when it's too cold to spend much time outdoors and you want to avoid the slew of viruses at the indoor play areas? You take your toddler to IKEA, of course!

When you think "kid activities at IKEA", the first thing that comes to mind might be the official play area where shoppers can drop off children for some ball pit fun under the semi-watchful eye of a bored young man or woman. However, for most of us at Houston New Moms, this is not an option, as children must be potty-trained and over 37 inches tall to be admitted. So instead, we took 20-month-old Lana to explore the upstairs showroom, and were pretty shocked to see just how much fun she had.

Here are just some of the activities that amused Lana (and her parents) during our morning at IKEA.

  • Tossing her on the couch (we do this at home and she loves it. Here, with fifty-some couches to choose from, she was in heaven). 
  • Trying to reach the various signs and price tags hanging from the ceiling and batting them back and forth

  • Opening and closing cabinet doors over and over

  • Sitting in a sink and playing with the faucet and handles. She loves doing this at home, but it is so much better here, since no water actually comes out

  • Following the trail of arrows through the showroom
  • Climbing through tunnels and into tents in the toy area
  • Identifying colors and shapes aplenty, as well as new vocabulary words for furniture we don't have at home.
  • Playing with the rocking horse (actually, technically a rocking moose) in the toy area
  • Cooking in the play kitchen in the toy area 
  • Sitting on every kid-sized chair we passed (and there are many spread out all over the store)

  • Making friends with the many other toddlers who were engaged in similar activities
  • Rewarding ourselves with a snack at the uber-cheap cafe with reasonably healthy choices for kiddos. 
  • Playing with the several Lana-size play structures in the cafe

And while we played, my husband and I also checked out a number of things we need to purchase for our house -- a win-win situation. Next time you're looking for something fun to do with your little one, I highly recommend spending an hour (or two, or three) at this toddler paradise.

Lana took a souvenir home :)

Park of the Week: Katy Play Station

In our family, it's never too cold for a playground visit. This week, we are featuring Katy Play Station, one of our favorite playgrounds in the Houston area. 

Unless you live by Katy, this playground is a bit of a hike...but it is so totally worth it. Let's begin with these one-of-a-kind swings. Plop your baby in, sit down facing him/her, and start swinging! Lana loved having me swing with her (warning: adults may get a wee bit dizzy). 

 

Now, let's take a look at the whole play structure. This "playground without limits" is huge, with lots to do for crawlers, climbers, and walkers.


Here's a close-up of one of the coolest parts of the play structure, a life-size train:

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This special slide was another favorite - it's perfect for little ones who may not be ready for big-kid slides yet. 


What To Do This Weekend in Houston (12/17-12/18): The Baby & Toddler Edition

Wondering what to do with your baby or toddler this weekend? Check out Houston's only weekend events guide for ages 0-3. We have free snow, a live nativity scene, holiday lights aplenty, and much more!

1) Snow on the Boulevard (Heights)

When: Sunday, Dec 18, 2:00PM-5:00PM
Where: Grace United Methodist Church
1245 Heights Blvd
Houston, TX 77008
What: Free event. From the event page: "Come and play in the snow, drink hot cocoa, see Santa Claus and more!"

2) Outdoor Christmas Pageant @ St. Mark's (Heights)

When: Saturday, Dec 17, 7:00 PM and Sunday, Dec 18, 11:00 AM 
Where: St. Mark's United Methodist Church 
600 Pecore St
Houston, TX 77009
What: From the event page: "Live representation of the Christmas story with beautiful music celebrating the season — with live animals and little angels and shepherds. (outdoors, weather permitting)"

3) Christmas Trains @ Second Baptist (Memorial)

When: Saturday, Dec 17, 10:00AM-2:00PM
Where: 6400 Woodway Dr
Houston, TX 77057
What: Free event. Also open during the week throughout December if you miss it this weekend. From the event website: "This year, in the Atrium of Second's Woodway Campus, an array of model trains will wind their way through miniature snow-covered villages for the enjoyment of families and friends throughout the Christmas season. Mountains, tunnels and a host of buildings and landscapes complement the setting, adding to this fun family treat. The display opens Saturday, December 3 and will remain open through January 1."

4) A Katy Old-Fashioned Christmas Festival (Katy)

When: Saturday, Dec 17, 10:00AM-5:00PM
Where5717 2nd St
Katy, TX 77493
What: From the event page: "FREE event - 7th Annual a "Katy Old Fashioned Christmas Festival" located in Historic Downtown Katy. This special Christmas market will feature produce, arts and crafts, antiques, jewelry, gifts, carolers, food, entertainment, and... 50,000 LBS OF SNOW for the kiddos! The snow is arriving at 11am. The FREE snow park will be located at the park next to the City Annex building at the corner of 2nd St. & Ave. B. You can get your picture taken with Santa too for $5! ...No Label Brewing Co. will be hosting their famous beer garden located at the Ave. B & 3rd St. intersection!"

5) Nite of Lights (Northwest)

When: Saturday, Dec 17, and Sunday, Dec 18, anytime after dark
Where: Throughout Prestonwood Forest neighborhood - check out visitors' map!
What: Free event. Check out the holiday lights in the Prestonwood Forest neighborhood. The residents here compete to create the best holiday displays - and recently announced the winners! A visitor's map makes it easy to find the houses to see. 


6) Deck the Halls Parade (Westbury)

When: Saturday, Dec 10, 6:30PM-9:00PM
Where: 5500 Belrose Dr
Houston, TX 77035
What: From the event page: "Join us to see mythical creatures of your wildest dreams march down the street. You won't want to miss Pegasus, the Centar, the Yeti, hosts of mermaids, unicorns, griffins, fairies, leprechauns, and more! Of course our traditional favorites will march alongside local businesses, organizations, bands, and community groups. Look out for the Nativity characters, Santa, Hanukkah Harry, Pancho Claus, Kwanzaa King, Dun Che Lao Ren, and many more! And watch out for Krampus..."

7) Bumpte Brand Launch (Medical Center)

When: Saturday, Dec 17, 3:00PM-7:00PM 

Where3527 Yellowstone Blvd

Houston, TX 77021

What: This one's for the expecting mamas. Come check out the brand launch of a new fashion maternity line. From the event website: "Catered snack bar, fabulous giveaways, free mini-massages, fashion show, and more!" 


8) Moody Gardens Ice Land & Festival of Lights (Galveston)

When: Saturday, Dec 17, 10:00AM-10:00PM (Ice Land)
6:00PM-10:00PM (Festival of Lights)
Sunday, Dec 18, 11:00AM-10:00PM (Ice Land)
6:00PM-10:00PM (Festival of Lights)
Where: 1 Hope Blvd
Galveston, TX 77554
What: From the event page: "As one of the largest holiday celebrations in the region, Festival of Lights has become a holiday tradition for families and groups alike. Enjoy more than one million lights within 100 sound-enhanced animated light displays and nightly live entertainment." Pictures with Santa also available!

9) Santa and His Reinsteer

When: Saturday, Dec 17, 12:00PM-4:00PM
Where: The Children's Museum
1500 Binz Street
Houston, TX 77004
What: From the event page: "It's the holidays with a Texas twist! You’re invited to pull on your boots and come hear the sleigh bells jingling from a live Texas reinsteer’s longhorns. One of Santa's "reinsteer" (yes, he has some!) has taken a wild turn to the Children's Museum of Houston and will be accompanied by Santa himself. Holy cow! Hop on Santa's sleigh and snap a photo with Old Saint Nick and his reinsteer! Bring your smartphone or camera!" Included with museum admission. 

10) Zoo Lights

When: Saturday, Dec 17, and Sunday, Dec 18, 6:00PM-11:00PM
Where: 6200 Hermann Park Dr
Houston, TX 77030
What: One of Houston's biggest holiday traditions, Zoo Lights transforms the Houston Zoo into an enchanted winter wonderland. Enjoy Christmas music, 2+ million lights, a gorgeous Christmas tree, and even a few nighttime animal sightings. Children under 2 get in free;  others pay $14.95 for zoo members (and their guests) and $19.95 for non-members. If you can't make it this weekend, Zoo Lights is open almost daily over the coming weeks. Weekday evenings feature lower prices and smaller crowds. 

What To Do This Weekend in Houston (12/10-12/11): The Baby & Toddler Edition

Our baby & toddler weekend guide is back after a brief hiatus. This week, we're experimenting with a new "Top 10 Events" format. Enjoy!

1) Latkepalooza (Bellaire)

When: Sunday, Dec 11, 3:00PM-5:00PM
Where: 9000 S Rice Ave
Houston, TX 77096
What: Free event. From the event page: "Latkepalooza is EVERYTHING you need for Chanukah, ALL in one place! Join us for Chanukah gift shopping, candle and menorah making, delicious bites and Latke making, crafts for kids and more!"

2) Gingerbread Build Off (Downtown)

When: Saturday, Dec 10, 10:00AM-4:30PM
Where: 900 Smith Street 
Houston, TX 77002
What: Free event. From the event page: "Architecture Center Houston will host the 8th Annual Gingerbread Build-Off at City Hall's Hermann Square... Competing teams will create their masterpieces using 100% edible materials. More than 3,000 spectators are expected to attend and cheer on the teams, play in the kids' construction zone, and see Santa! All of that entertainment is free and open to the public!" 

3) Christmas Trains @ Second Baptist (Memorial)

When: Saturday, Dec 10, 10:00am-2:00PM
Where: 6400 Woodway Dr
Houston, TX 77057
What: Free event. Also open during the week throughout December if you miss it this weekend. From the event website: "This year, in the Atrium of Second's Woodway Campus, an array of model trains will wind their way through miniature snow-covered villages for the enjoyment of families and friends throughout the Christmas season. Mountains, tunnels and a host of buildings and landscapes complement the setting, adding to this fun family treat. The display opens Saturday, December 3 and will remain open through January 1."

4) Winter Faire (Northside) 

When: Saturday, Dec 10, 2:00PM-6:00PM
Where: 3701 Hardy St
Houston, Texas 77009
What: From the event page: "A winter festival with activities like cookie decorating, arts and crafts, games and more. There will be live entertainment including musicians throughout the event and a puppet show for the children. Food and beverages will be available for purchase. Let's join to celebrate the season, eat, drink and be merry!" Best for toddlers and older.

5) Heights Holiday Market (Heights)

When: Saturday, Dec 10, 11:00AM-5:00PM
Where: 935 Harvard St
Houston, Texas 77008
What: Free event. Browse handcrafted items from local artists.  

6) Lights in the Heights (Woodland Heights)

When: Saturday, Dec 10, 6:30PM-9:00PM
Where: Woodland Heights
What: Enjoy the beautifully decorated homes of the Woodland Heights, live music, and food & drink. Many homes on the route host private parties, but there are plenty of options open to the public. Check out this one, this one, and this one

7) Tomball German Christmas Market (Tomball)

When: Saturday, Dec 10, 10:00AM-10:00PM 
Sunday, Dec 11, 10:00AM-6:00PM
Where: Old Town Tomball Near the Historical Train Depot Plaza, 201 S. Elm
What: From the event website: "4 Music Stages / 175 Street Vendors, Ethnic & Festival Food, Beer, Wine, Petting Zoo / Street Performers, Souvenirs, Arts & Crafts, Antiques, Heritage Center"

8) Moody Gardens Ice Land & Festival of Lights (Galveston)

When: Saturday, Dec 10, 10:00AM-10:00PM (Ice Land)
6:00PM-10:00PM (Festival of Lights)
Sunday, Dec 11, 11:00AM-10:00PM (Ice Land)
6:00PM-10:00PM (Festival of Lights)
Where: 1 Hope Blvd
Galveston, TX 77554
What: From the event page: "As one of the largest holiday celebrations in the region, Festival of Lights has become a holiday tradition for families and groups alike. Enjoy more than one million lights within 100 sound-enhanced animated light displays and nightly live entertainment." Pictures with Santa also available!

9)Santa's Wonderland

When: Saturday, Dec 10, 3:00PM-Midnight
Sunday, Dec 11, 3:00PM-11:00PM
Where: 18898 Highway 6 South
College Station, TX 77845
What: Santa’s Wonderland is the largest Christmas attraction in the state of Texas. Take a hayride or carriage ride through a trail of over three million holiday lights, explore a life-size Christmas Village, take a train ride, sit by a campfire, take photos with Santa, enjoy a bouncy house, and much more! All the info you need is located on the event's FAQ page here.

10) Zoo Lights

When: Saturday, Dec 10, and Sunday, Dec 11 6:00PM-11:00PM
Where: 6200 Hermann Park Dr
Houston, TX 77030
What: One of Houston's biggest holiday traditions, Zoo Lights transforms the Houston Zoo into an enchanted winter wonderland. Enjoy Christmas music, 2+ million lights, a gorgeous Christmas tree, and even a few nighttime animal sightings. Children under 2 get in free;  others pay $14.95 for zoo members (and their guests) and $19.95 for non-members. If you can't make it this weekend, Zoo Lights is open almost daily over the coming weeks. Weekday evenings feature lower prices and smaller crowds.