Houston is a big ole city servin’ up a Texas-sized menu of exciting activities for every kind of traveler. Science nerds can’t get enough of Space Center Houston and the awesome Houston Museum of Natural Science, while art lovers go nuts over the masterpieces — think Monet, Picasso, and Renoir — at the Museum of Fine Arts and bucketloads of unique art spots, like Rienzi Mansion, Rothko Chapel, and The Menil Collection.
The city’s downtown historic district is just one starting point for exploring more than a dozen history museums, while attractions like the Houston Zoo, a passel of parks, busy shopping malls, delicious restaurants, and exciting nightlife have what it takes to make your stay a winner. You can’t leave the Bayou City without digging into some Texas barbecue and Tex-Mex cuisine and kicking up your heels to live music at a real honky-tonk roadhouse.
The Top Attractions in Houston
Houston has more than enough to keep your whole family entertained any time of year. If you want to set your sights on the cool and quirky attractions loved by locals — maybe a 64-foot water wall or six miles of downtown tunnels, for example — Houston’s got you covered for that too.
Space Center Houston
Millions of geeks (and geeks-at-heart) have made the trek to NASA’s historic Johnson Space Center, located about an hour’s drive south of the city center. Space Center Houston gives tram tours of the huge complex and runs a museum with more than 400 space artifacts like moon rocks, plus exhibits on space travel and special events with astronauts. It’s the place to marvel at the Saturn V rocket and the Apollo 17 space shuttle and check out the historic and new Mission Control centers that were the voice in the ears of America’s astronauts for more than 40 years. Make sure to pick up an Astronaut Ice Cream Sandwich — freeze-dried — in the gift shop before you take off.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
After your space journey, come back down to earth — and back to the time of the dinosaurs — at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The museum features one of the largest displays of prehistoric creatures in the country, including a mind-blowing T-Rex skeleton. It gets rave reviews from science lovers of all ages for its temporary and permanent exhibits, including a planetarium, butterfly center, and IMAX theater.
Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park
Texas is known for being big and bold, and Houston’s famous water wall sure fits that bill — with a little beauty tossed in. The 64-foot-tall sculpture of rushing water is located at the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park in the city’s Uptown District. It’s free to take in the beauty and snap a super selfie at this manmade wonder.
Don’t forget a trip to the popular Houston Zoo, the city’s most visited attraction and the second most visited zoo in the country. The large grounds offer plenty of room for visits to 12 major exhibit areas that house critters from all over the globe. Highlights include the 6.5-acre African Forest, with gorillas, chimpanzees, white rhinos, and giraffes, and the three-acre Asian Elephant exhibit, featuring a large pool and covered seating for enjoying talks with the keepers. There’s also an aquarium and a children’s zoo.
Must-See Destinations for Art Lovers in Houston
Houstonians have a proud love of art — and the city’s art venues show it. From ancient artifacts and elegant fine art to eye-catching modern art and crafts, there’s tons of creativity on display if you know where to look.
Museum of Fine Arts
The ideal place to start is the top-notch Museum of Fine Arts, home to a mind-boggling 65,000-piece collection of works ranging from ancient art and pottery to Medieval and Renaissance paintings and an awesome collection of modern European and American art. Along with the permanent exhibits, the museum hosts plenty of temporary exhibits each year too.
Rienzi Mansion and Bayou Bend
Nearby, the museum’s Rienzi Mansion is chock-full of European decorative arts, while the Bayou Bend house museum — located in the River Oaks historic neighborhood — showcases an amazing collection of American decorative arts, paintings, silver, furnishings, and ceramics. Bayou Bend is also home to 14 acres of organic gardens.
The Menil Collection
The Menil Collection is near the Museum District in the Montrose neighborhood, and it’s worth the short drive to see the award-winning design of the campus and the attention-grabbing exhibits. If you’re a fan of Cy Twombly, don’t miss the permanent display of his work in a special gallery onsite.
Contemporary Art Museums
Houston is home to a ton of museums that are all about modern art. The Station Museum of Contemporary Art is a standout that spotlights local and regional artists. The Blaffer Art Museum on the campus of the University of Houston and the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts also highlight contemporary art, but the most popular choice, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, is known for adding a dose of humor with its choice of exhibits.
If you love world-famous, modern artist Mark Rothko, be sure to visit the super cool Rothko Chapel. It’s a quiet place to check out his paintings and take a little time to think about them.
The Best Sites for Science Buffs in Houston
It’s a no-brainer that you want to see the Houston Museum of Natural Science if you’re a science buff, but other popular specialty museums grab attention with their geek-friendly exhibits that you should take time to check out.
Burke Baker Planetarium
If you love our crazy galaxy, visit Burke Baker Planetarium — right next to the Houston Museum of Natural Science — to catch one of the sky shows, like Black Holes or Tales of a Time Traveler. The high-tech system pumps out some thrilling special effects that make you feel like you’re flying through the universe and kicking up space dust on the planets.
Museum of Health and Medical Science
The Museum of Health and Medical Science — also known as the “Health Museum” — is run by the Texas Medical Center. This science center’s hands-on displays include the Amazing Body Pavilion, giving an up-close look at the human body and how it works. Using multimedia and special effects, the Health Museum has apps that show you what you’ll look like in 30 years, and the “4D Theatre” experience takes you on microscopic adventures, including viewing tiny mites that live on your skin. Gross, right?
Waugh Bridge Bat Colony
When the sun goes down, the bats come out. If you stand under the Waugh Bridge located over Buffalo Bayou at Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive, you can see the 250,000 winged critters in the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony emerge at dusk. If you want a closer look, book a seasonal boat tour to watch this fantastic bat show from May to October.
Historic Specialty Museums in Houston
Houston has its blockbuster art and science museums, but for a closer look at the city’s history, you need to dive deep into a few of its specialty attractions.
National Museum of Funeral History
The National Museum of Funeral History is an underground hit due to its kinda-creepy-but-cool displays of funeral stuff from around the world and everything you were ever afraid to ask about embalming and death care. The museum’s permanent exhibits include displays on the funerals of presidents and popes and historic hearses.
Heritage Society Museum
Located in Sam Houston Park in downtown Houston, the Heritage Society runs a hands-on outdoor historic site with nine structures dating from 1823 to 1905. You can also tour the Museum Gallery next door to learn more about Houston’s history.
On a solemn note, the Holocaust Museum, which opened in 1996, is one of the largest memorials of its type in the country. It displays artifacts honoring the Jewish people who lost their lives and their communities at the hands of Adolf Hitler’s forces in Germany. The permanent exhibits include a Danish rescue boat and a European rail car from 1942.
Places to Visit with Kids in Houston
If you bring the kids on your trip to Houston, there are plenty of exciting attractions you can enjoy together. Space Center Houston, Houston Zoo, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science are no-brainers, but there’s much more to explore.
Inside the Houston Zoo, be sure to stop at the Children’s Zoo to check out the realistic-looking bat cave, playground, and goat petting area. The Natural Encounters building features an eye-catching display of animal habitats with big windows that let you see the animals close up. There’s even a tunnel for kids to crawl through to get an in-the-water look at piranhas in the river.
Children’s Museum of Houston
Houston is home to the famous Children’s Museum of Houston, one of the largest of its kind in the country. The museum’s 90,000 square feet serve up an awesome mix of science, tech, art, culture, and history for kids to explore. The hands-on exhibits include:
- Kidtropolis: kids can try out the jobs of their dreams
- Invention Convention: children are invited to make their own gadgets
- FlowWorks: visitors can learn about water power and how it’s used
- The Tot Spot: keeps the very little ones, ages three and under, busy with tons of fun stuff to do
For some fun in the sun, visit Hermann Park, a 445-acre oasis that won a Nickelodeon Parents Pick Award. Ride on the Hermann Park Railroad and try your hand — or maybe your feet — on some pedal boats on the lake. There’s even a peaceful Japanese Garden when you need a little quiet time.
Discovery Green Park
Discovery Green Park, a 12-acre downtown park, is another great place to chill out with kids. It’s home to a model boat pond, interactive water jets, and a playground. Plan ahead to catch outdoor programs and shows. Don’t miss the Listening Vessels sculpture: It can pick up the sound of your voice and throw it up to 70 feet away.
Houston Area Live Steamers
From March to November, take your kids for a rootin’ tootin’ ride on a mini steam engine train. Houston Area Live Steamers, the operator of the train rides in Zube Park in Hockley, are steam engine modeling pros. The train ride chugs along a 4,700-foot track over mini bridges and past tiny windmills.
Older kids and teens who like their thrills on wheels might just give a big thumbs up to North Houston Skatepark, billed as the largest skatepark in the country, or Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, a state-of-the-art facility designed by one of the top skatepark design firms. Watch the locals try out the bowls, ramps, pipes, and stairs, or hop on your own board if you dare. The Jamail park has areas for skaters of every level.
Quirky and Offbeat Places to See in Houston
Houston is known for its free-wheeling vibe and mish-mash of zoning laws, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that artists and other creative types have made it their home. If you’re totally on board with everything quirky, check out these five spots you won’t want to miss.
David Adickes SculpturWorx Studio
Texas is known for growing things big, bigger, and biggest, but you still might be wowed by the sight of the gigantic, 36-foot-tall statues of The Beatles at the David Adickes SculpturWorx Studio. Adickes created massive sculptures, including the Fab Four and the heads of U.S. presidents, for many years at his studio in the neighborhood. The studio isn’t open to the public, but the amazing statues are all located outside for easy — and free — viewing.
Orange Show Monument
The Orange Show monument in Houston’s East End was created by a Houston postal worker, Jefferson Davis McKissack, who used all sorts of things he found to create mosaics and structures that celebrate his favorite fruit. He completed the project in 1979, and visitors have described it as circus-like and a colorful feast for the eyes.
Art Car Museum
If you’re into driving around in your art, the art car movement might be just right for you. Houston’s Art Car Museum gives you an inside view of this offbeat art form, which mostly involves artists using glue, paint, and stuff like cameras, corks, CDs, trophies, and Barbie doll heads to deck out cars from top to bottom. You can also check out quirky makeovers of bikes and motorbikes.
The Top Reasons to Visit Houston in the Fall and Winter
Thanksgiving Day Parade
Houston almost never gets snow, but you can still hear those sleigh bells ringing around town if you swing by during the winter holiday season. To kick off the holidays, Houston’s Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade downtown entertains with high-stepping marching bands, colorful floats, huge balloons, and costumed characters. Expect big crowds for this popular event.
Ice Skating in Discovery Green
Head over to Discovery Green for some outdoor ice skating with the gang, weather permitting. You may need to lace up quickly, as the rink might not stay open very long under Houston’s iffy skies.
Holiday Spirit at the Houstonian Hotel
Stop by the Houstonian Hotel to let the lights, greenery, and colorful displays fill you with the holiday spirit. Listen to bell ringers and church choirs in the evenings while checking out mouthwatering displays of gingerbread houses and chocolate.
The Houston Zoo doesn’t lose its zing just because the temperature drops. The holiday display known as Zoo Lights is an awesome sight, with thousands of colorful lights wrapped around the trees and winding along the paths. Wet your whistle with some hot chocolate as you visit the animals on your own nighttime prowl through the zoo.
Sugar Land Holiday Lights
To top off your night with even more sparkle and dazzle, visit the Sugar Land Holiday Lights display at Constellation Field. More than 100 walk-through exhibits are lit up with more than two million shining lights, making it the perfect way to pump up the holiday cheer.
The Top Reasons to Visit Houston in the Spring and Summer
Spring and summer add more than blossoms to Houston. It’s the perfect time of year to tackle a trip packed with outdoor fun, concerts, shows, and free museum days. Pro tip — be sure to check the schedule of free days at the major museums, as they all vary.
Miller Outdoor Theatre
To start your spring off on the right foot, make a beeline for the full range of free shows at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park from March to November. Live music, dance, and plays light up the stage many nights, just waiting for you to pull up a lawn chair and enjoy the show.
Free Press Summer Fest
The largest free music festival in Houston in the summer is the Free Press Summer Fest, a motherlode of indie rock, hip-hop, folk, country, and electronic dance music concerts that draws music fans by the thousands. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, because the festival is sometimes cut short by stormy skies.
Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
Make tracks over to the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center to enjoy five miles of trails and get the scoop on Texas plants and animals. It’s a great place to relax and catch your breath. You can even bring Fido, as long as he’s leashed.
Lawndale Art Center
The Lawndale Art Center’s four large art galleries are like the prize inside an Art Deco building. The exhibits are mostly of modern art by area artists, and admission is free.
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
At Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, you can check out cool handmade ceramics, jewelry, textile arts, and other one-of-a-kind items. Even better, the gift shop sells pieces you can buy and take home to add to your own collection.
Houston’s Underground Tunnels
If you want to check out downtown, there’s a great way to beat the summer heat. Just step 20 feet below the city to explore Houston’s six miles of underground tunnels. Packed with restaurants and shops, the tunnels have entrances at Wells Fargo Plaza and McKinney Garage on Main Street as well as inside a number of office buildings.
The Best Barbecue Spots in Houston
As a city of more than 10,000 restaurants serving more than 70 types of cuisine, Houston dishes up a lot of variety. That’s all good, but if you’re looking for classic Texas barbecue — and you should be — there are a few places that really hit it out of the park for a hearty, delicious meal.
Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q
Texas-style barbecue means meats like beef brisket and pork shoulder smoked slowly over a wood fire. Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q is a longtime favorite with the locals. It has its own country store and tables with checkered-tablecloths inside an old barn-style building. Stop in for dinner and sample the different sauces.
Killen’s Barbecue is a modern, oak-shaded restaurant set up in an old school cafeteria. Folks line up here for tasty meats, baked beans, and other Texas classics.
Goode Company Barbecue
First opened in 1977, Goode Company Barbecue serves slow-mesquite-smoked meats with homemade sauces that are the real deal. This Texas tradition is just as famous for its delicious pecan pie.
Popular Tex-Mex Restaurants in Houston
If you’re looking for spicy food with a true Texas twist, Houston is the king of Tex-Mex cuisine as well as modern gourmet Oaxacan food.
One of the oldest family-owned restaurants in the city, Molina’s Cantina has catered to Texans’ unique appetites since 1941 in a casual setting.
Check out the award-winning Xochi, and get a true taste of the food of the Oaxaca region in Mexico — a modern gourmet one at that. The restaurant’s loyal fans can’t get enough of the authentic dishes, including mole and homemade tortillas.
At the upscale Hugo’s — located in a historic building right downtown — the name of the game is whipping up fresh and light truly Mexican cuisine, along with classic dishes and much more.
Just as fancy and friendly, Armando’s turns date night into a top spot for gourmet Mexican flavors. Beautiful antique mirrors and white linens complete the look — yes, you’re worth it.
Houston is a city of many cultures, with something to fill up every minute of your trip. From some of the country’s best museums to barbecue and Tex-Mex done just right, Houston won’t leave you broken-hearted, darlin’.
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