See also: Where to stay in Houston
Houston is a city of duality – it is rodeos and riding boots alongside clicking heels of a trendy metropolis, it is outdoor festivities and polished museums. One of the largest cities in the United States, its hulking mass allows for multiple green estates and expansive architectures. And it is in this generous splay of land that we find stunning art collections, spirit-bolstering concerts, amusement parks that seek ultimate thrills and retail blocks teeming with both high-end and indie designers. Diverse neighborhoods aside, the cultural patchwork in Houston also guarantees a mixed culinary palate; indulge in the customary burgers and pizzas whilst stuffing down tacos and guzzling craft brews.
Embrace the outdoors at Buffalo Bayou Park
The inexplicably poignant kneeling men structures within Buffalo Bayou Park are only one of many art installations in this thought-provoking urban green space. Spawning skyline views and activity venues over 160 acres, the park is home to the Johnny Steele Dog Park, Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark and Eleanor Tinsley Park – it is truly made for the community. Wake up early and work up some sweat on its hiking and biking trails. To fully appreciate its picturesque setting, dine at the kitchen and bar of The Dunlavy or lounge about its lawns under their annual Independence Day fireworks display.
Visit Houston Museum of Natural Science
One of the many museums that make up Museum District, Houston Museum of Natural Science stands out for its extensive exhibitions. Spread out over four floors are halls dedicated to Paleontology, a planetarium, tropical insects and taxidermied animals. You’ll come to hoard every tidbit on the world’s various biospheres and those that live within them, and marvel at the recreated skeletons of dinosaurs. Ancient Egypt crypts and fluttering butterflies will send you first into mysterious customs then a tropical dome. Dress comfortably because it is guaranteed to be a whole day affair.
Be stunned by the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
The name of this Hindu temple sure is a puzzle of vowels and consonants, but it has nothing on the physical ensemble itself. 33,000 pieces of hand-carved marble make up this stunning architecture, and the Turkish limestone adds solidity to its elegance. From afar, its arches, pillars and domes appear like a fairy tale castle built with ivory – its interior plays host to more radiant art forms such as Italian marbling to tapestries.
Bless your ears at Warehouse Live
Live music is a huge part of Houston culture, so get into Warehouse Live and head bang away! Having hosted rappers such as Drake, Bun B as well as Blondie and Gwar, its ballroom of 1,300 capacity and 600-strong audience space in the conjoined studio has welcomed millions of visitors since its conception. Spice up your concert experience by partaking at their full-service bars as well; Warehouse Live doesn’t just put on performances, but gifts you with an adrenaline-pumping experience.
Explore Hermann Park
Lower the heat at the massive Hermann Park perched on the southern end of Museum District. A city-escaping landmark that can occupy your entire day, it is outfitted with endless green nodes such as the quirky Family Garden, mystical Japanese Garden and thorny Rose Garden. Spacious lawns are dotted with picnickers while the art-oriented find themselves cooing over the sculpture promenade. Joggers dominate the Marvin Taylor Trail while those with extra time on their hands stroll about Bayou Parkland. McGovern Lake is a popular choice too, as visitors can rent a pedal boat and drift serenely for hours.
Shopping at The Galleria
Did someone ask for a packed day of shopping? Preferably with air-conditioning to avoid the heat? Well, The Galleria shopping mall is the answer to your retail queries. Drop by this shopping district for over 400 stores and eateries, two complementary hotels and a skating rink. Mixing local brands with trendsetting names such as Hermes, Tom Ford and Alice + Olivia, The Galleria will have you walk away with bags full of wardrobe. For alternative goodies (think wines from Vineyard Vines), nearby Highland Village is worth a visit too.
Explore Broadacres District
Some people prefer to aimlessly roam around a city and bask in the ambiance; in Houston, Broadacres District is the strolling grounds you’re looking for. Brick-lane paths and oak-shaded esplanades line the North and South Boulevards like a novel set. Take your camera with you to memorialize the 1920s mansions and restored bungalows, each home adding to the district’s nostalgic value. Exploring a city doesn’t have to be frantic after all, so take your time to snap some shots.
Browse the Museum of Fine Arts
From Egyptian statues to Van Gogh masterpieces, the Museum of Fine Arts proves to be an excellent curator. You can chip away at over 63,000 artworks over the course of days and still not have enough of the elegant galleries. Since its collection is often rotated and temporary exhibits feature works from other major museums, visitors can come time and again for new displays.
Drift the universe at Space Center Houston
Hanging astronauts and floating space shuttles bring you straight into the dreamsphere that is Space Center Houston. Perhaps it is a bit touristy, but landmarks gain their reputations for a reason and this center has many. Browse through their interactive exhibitions to learn more about space and its studies, via moon rock displays and a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes at NASA. Saturn V is a mammoth act – you can now see the most powerful rocket ever launched. Whether you’ve dreamed of flying through the universe or not, Space Center is a classic to-visit that will remind you just how much out there is unknown.
Hit up Urban Harvest Farmers Market
Rise and shine at 8am for a fulfilling run of Urban Harvest Farmers Market. Local farms and small-sized businesses come together at this packed venue to offer fresh, organic produce. Find baskets full of juicy strawberries or green melons, crates of seasonal jam to go with the freshly baked loaves. Unique souvenirs are aplenty too; buy home scented soaps and handicrafts or treat yourself to some hand-cut flowers. To fully wake you up, there’s a roster of live music and breakfast goods (coffee included) to cycle through.
View the sun at Rice University
No doubt you’d prefer to steer clear from academics, but Rice University houses a unique feature not to be missed. The flat, sun-tracing installation by James Turrell (appropriately titled Twilight Epiphany Skyspace) is a pyramidal structure that glows in tandem with the sun’s arc. Combining light and sound like a concerto on canvas, sunrise and sunset visitors will be caught off guard by the magical presentation of this art work. If you have time, wander the grounds for the beautiful architectures of Link-Lee Mansion and the Chapel of St. Basil.
Get artsy at Project Row Houses
You can indeed expect a row of identical, white-washed and triangle-roofed shotgun houses as the name suggests. Created by a community-based arts and culture organization, Project Row Houses is a collective of art studios within a rather unusual setting. Not only does it draw artists to Houston’s long time African American neighborhood, it has revitalized the way in which art is discussed and presented. Here you’ll find local artists and art-lovers milling inside and about the houses as they chatter about the artworks on display, evoking a deep sense of community. Join them between Wednesdays through Sundays.
Do just about everything at Discovery Green
Like Houston’s patchwork of culture and entertainments, Discovery Green pulls together the best of seasonal delights in one space. You can loosely call it an entertainment district of the outdoors variety, as pop-up flea markets, yoga workshops, open-air skating parks and movie screenings gathers the community around. Kinder Lake covers water themed fun, kayaks and paddleboards swerving around each other. Music is brought outdoors as well, with Jones Lawn being the perfect venue for festivals and charity concerts. And of course, classic Brown Foundation Promenade brings peace in ordinary lawns and walkways, spiced up by seasonal light installations and art.
Luxury haven of River Oaks District
Get your credit cards ready for River Oaks District, an outdoor shopping complex that will have you trussed up in the latest fashions and luxury wear. Brand names dominate this 252,000 square feet of space, slung side by side with stylish restaurants and sidewalk cafés. From Cartier to Dolce & Gabbana, Canali, Alice + Olivia to Jo Malone and Tom Ford, expect a range of fashionable goods and cosmetic add-ons. Treat yourself to a new outfit then strut your stuff at a fine-dining experience.
Catch a performance at Miller Outdoor Theatre
Switch up your day-time outdoor activities for a night-time variation instead – the Miller Outdoor Theatre adds a twist to the usual park jaunt. Lay down a towel or mat and settle in with snacks from the concession stand; you can also opt for covered seating (for free!). The best thing about Miller Outdoor Theatre is the variety in its programs, which range from children’s productions to Houston Ballet performances, to mini-concerts and Shakespearean plays. Make sure to check out their schedule beforehand for something that strikes your fancy.
Ride wild with Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
There are few competitions and shows as lively as Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, an annual March affair that draws in enthusiastic crowds. Enjoy tense but good-natured competitions before the main event and watch as barbecue-ers try to out grill each other. Then it is time for the old time traditions of barrel racing and two-stepping, followed by live performances by country artists. By the time the bull riders come bucking out, we’re already on our feet shouting.
Admire the San Jacinto Monument
The brightest star in Houston has to be the 220-ton figure atop the San Jacinto Monument, which scales 570 feet. The tallest memorial structure across the globe, it is dedicated to the Battle of San Jacinto of the Texas Revolution. First-time visitors should visit for a deep dive into Texan history; the San Jacinto Museum of History in its base launches you a few hundred years back. Since admission is free, enjoy their interactive exhibitions and scope out the city from the Observation Floor. In fact, we recommend starting here on your Houston tour to get a better sense of what to look out for in the city.
Spend the day at Houston Zoo
With over 6,000 inhabitants in Houston Zoo, you never run out of sights to marvel at. Natural habitat-style enclosures ensure that the animals are well taken care of while simulating a more realistic viewing experience. Zoom in on the beasts of the African Forest or use binoculars to spot birds in flight; the scaly residents of the Reptile and Amphibian House will send ripples down your spine. You can even get close to the giraffes at daily feedings, and learn more from the zoo keepers. If you’re visiting during fall to winter months, enjoy the zoo’s fantastic array of special events (like their Halloween Night Prowl)!
Go Brewery hopping
Thanks to a sudden spike in the craft brew scene, visitors can now enjoy a wide lineup of local brews. Start with Saint Arnold Brewing Company, the state’s oldest craft brewery; there you’ll find a beer garden and restaurant to complement its sprawling facilities. 8th Wonder Brewery is another recommended tap-turner – make sure to try their sampling plate at the outdoor beer garden.
Adventure through Kemah Boardwalk
It is a bit of a detour but absolutely worth it if you’re in desperate need of a breeze. Kemah Boardwalk isn’t just a waterfront promenade – it is chock full of amusement rides, small bites, live music, shops and frequent festivals. From a boat ride through Galveston Bay to more family-friendly Historic Pleasure Pier, you’ll find an assortment of entertainments. Don’t worry about getting hungry either, as burgers, pizza and sweet treats will keep you fueled up and eager to play.
Outside the city: Galveston Island
Beaches all around! Galveston Island is a must-do for those planning on a longer stay. Around an hour out from Houston, it is amusement park and historical district combined. Indulge in some water fun at Schlitterbahn Waterpark or the diverse Moody Gardens; the latter houses an aquarium, ropes course, rainforest and more attractions. Then take the route downtown to Historic Strand District for an array of Victoria-era buildings and old-timey establishments. Want to see more history? Visit the Grand 1894 Opera House down in the entertainment district or stop by Texas Seaport Museum for a dive into the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa.
Marvel at The Underground Cistern
Make reservations for a 30-minute guided tour through the cavernous Underground Cistern of Buffalo Bayou Park, an industrial relic from 1926 that was rediscovered in 2011. Once a drinking water reservoir, it is now preserved as historical architecture; the rows of identical pillars make for a mirroresque, inception-like space. Due to its mesmerizing design and generous 87,000 square-feet sprawl, the Underground Cistern has hosts meditations, art and light installations. If you’re on the search for unique architecture or even quick photo op stops, this has got to be on your list.
Breeze through Menil Campus
Aptly named campus for its ‘learning through appreciation’ philosophy, the 30-acre wide Menil Campus is home to artistic treasures. Cross the neatly maintained lawns to visit the Menil Collection art museum, which seeks to connect indigenous art with contemporary pieces. In contrast to the unassuming buildings, you’ll find their trove of sculptures and paintings thought-consuming and vast. Pay a stop at Cy Twombly Gallery and Rothko Chapel, the latter of which features 14 abstract murals by the artist. And of the outdoor works, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dedicated installation piece – the Broken Obelisk – draws the eye with a reflective pool.
Hunt down the best tacos
Houston charms with culinary variety but none beat out tacos for top spot. Stuff your tacos full of chorizo, eggs and all the cheese starting with a full-sized brekkie at Brothers Taco House or Luna Y Sol Mexican Grill. Lunch tacos should be doubled the portion with beans and guacamole and barbacoa and stuffed pork – we recommend trying Tacos Tierra Caliente or Taco Keto. And of course, round off the day with a taco dinner too. If you’re worried about busting the budget, celebrate because Taco Tuesday is a real deal! Time it right and you’ll away with a stuffed stomach and happy wallet alike.
Visit Houston Museum of African American Culture
Immerse yourself in the Houston Museum of African American Culture to understand more the struggles, empowerment and constant strides made by their community. Through varied mediums and events such as film screenings, tours and discursive programs, you’ll come to learn about the African Diaspora and subsequent history.
Mingle at Market Square Park
Sitting squarely downtown is the iconic Market Square Park, a green space aimed at fostering a sense of community between surrounding businesses and residents. Expect daily performances, families lounging about, people walking their pets and others strolling down Milam Street’s history walkway. The series of benches and shaded areas provide ample resting spots, and there are plenty of art installations dotting the park.
Exercise and sports at Memorial Park
Memorial Park is a routine the locals won’t break even during the scorching summer. Round the park’s three-mile jogging loop or seek out its hiking trails. Sporting facilities such as softball fields, tennis and croquet courts, sand volleyball pits and pick-up games are abundant, alongside a driving range and 18-hole golf course. If that’s not enough, Memorial Park Fitness Center has opened swimming lanes as well. Instead of running around town for a temporary gym, why not just hit up this all-in-one complex?
Stroll 19th Street in The Heights
You’ll fall in love with Houston’s 19th Street whether you had planned to shop or not. Think blocks of quirky boutiques, antique stores, thrift shops and art galleries – a cluster of free-spirited establishments far removed from the posh and refined feel of department stores. In fact, the collection of cafés and restaurants will have you basking in the humble community vibe in no time. A far cry from sleek and posh River Oaks District, 19th Street is made for casual explorers and anyone looking for personalized souvenirs.
Experience a show at The Heights Theatre
Of the buildings along 19th Street, Heights Theatre stands out among the boutiques and vintage shops. Built in the 1900s and renovated in 2016, the modified stage sees headliners that include rock musicians, local bands, popular singers and other iconic performance troupes. You’d be amazed at the design, which can sit 500 fans with extra intimate balcony seats. Make sure to sketch out some post-dinner entertainment time and catch a show here!
Hop around the Theater District
Slip in and out of Theater District’s varied performance venues to enjoy Houston’s arts-oriented nature. Wortham Theater tops the list as the hosting facility of Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera, both classic acts to catch. Houston Symphony and the Society for the Performing Arts are based in Jones Hall while musical production companies are stationed in Hobby Center for Performing Arts. For a range of plays that run from the classics to modern scripts, try Alley Theatre. With so many options to choose from, you can easily slide a show or two as post-dinner entertainment, or work a show into your schedule.
Peruse and Purchase at Arts District Houston
Within the larger Sawyer Yards (a huge creative hub) area is Houston’s Arts District, welcoming both art-aficionados and the curious minded to wander through its selection of creative studios, art installations and galleries, eateries and repurposed warehouses. Between the artisanal pieces, digital prints, mixed media, traditional painting and sculpture works, you are guaranteed to find something that will tug at your heartstrings.