Houston is home to NASA's astronaut training and flight control complex, a buzzing Historic District full of 19th-century architecture and upscale restaurants, and some world-class museums and art spaces, to boot. The Texas metropolis maintains its warm climate year-round, making mid-winter outdoor movie screenings and off-season strolls through the Buffalo Bayou entirely possible. There's always something to do in the Bayou City, for first-time visitors and lifelong Houstonians alike.
If there's one thing Texas is known for, it's the sports. While Houston's teams fail to measure up to Dallas' Cowboys in terms of cult favoritism, the city is still incredibly sports-centered. It's the home of the Astros, who won the 2017 World Series and play every summer at Minute Maid Park. Other times of year, you can catch the Rockets playing basketball at the Toyota Center, the Houston Texans tossing the pigskin at NRG Stadium, or the men's and women's soccer teams, Dynamo and Dash, playing at BBVA Stadium.
Austin isn't the only Texas city with a flourishing music scene. Houston has a wealth of iconic concert venues—some massive enough to host international acts, others small but acutely hip and under-the-radar. For big events, check the schedule at the Bayou Music Center (formerly the Revention Music Center) by Live Nation, the Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land, or the House of Blues downtown. But for something more intimate, don't skip Satellite Bar, a hip dive showcasing local bands, and The Heights Theater.
And speaking of the Heights, this neighborhood's 19th Street is an eccentric strip ideal for thrift-store hopping and cafe dining. Strolling amid its retro buildings, whose storefronts are adorned with vibrant antiques and vintage clothing, will teleport you to a simpler time. The district is a hub for local arts and culture, frequently holding community events like Third Thursdays Sip & Socials. Check the 19th Street Facebook page for upcoming happenings.
Catch an Outdoor Movie, Any Time of Year
Even throughout the winter, Houston's highs remain in the 60-degrees range, meaning: Movies in the park are a year-round tradition. Green spaces around the city—Discovery Green, Market Square Park, Sugar Land Town Square, and the Lawn at Memorial City, to name a few—keep the al fresco flicks streaming on their big screens regardless of the season. For a more upscale, date night-worthy experience, try the Houston Rooftop Cinema Club, which screens classic films on various iconic rooftops around the city.
The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, home of the NASA astronaut corps, occupies 1,620 acres in Southeast Houston, consisting of roughly 100 facilities. The sprawling estate is not just for astronauts, either; tourists can experience a zero-gravity simulation in the Living in Space exhibit or encounter a virtual rocket launch, complete with exhaust, at the Destiny ("Blast Off") Theater.
Sheltering more than 6,000 animals and 900 species, the Houston Zoo is one of the most visited zoos in the nation. Spend the day strolling through the facility’s impeccably landscaped grounds, or get more hands-on by scheduling a guided tour—experiences range from feeding a giraffe to shadowing a staff veterinarian for an entire day.
The Houston Museum District is where a number of museums, galleries, and cultural centers are packed into a mile-and-a-half radius of Hermann Park. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which also houses the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, boasts a collection of roughly 60,000 pieces, and just a few blocks away is the Health Museum, home to Houston’s first 4D theater. Other area attractions include the Holocaust Museum, Houston Center for Photography, and the Lawndale Art Center.
Spanning 60 acres on the Texas Gulf Coast waterfront, Kemah Boardwalk has grown from a dining destination to Houston’s largest theme park, featuring a Ferris wheel, train, and carousel (all available for rides and individually priced). Packed with hotels and restaurants like Landry’s Seafood House and Saltgrass Steakhouse, this amusement hub makes for a fail-proof family outing, only 30 miles from downtown.
One of Houston’s most demographically diverse regions, Montrose has become the city’s centerpiece of vintage shopping, live music, and LGBTQ+ activism. Restored mansions and bungalows, tree-lined boulevards, and an antique mall make the neighborhood a unique, pedestrian-friendly tourist spot. Stop at Rudyard's, a neighborhood dive bar, for a cold beer and a meal—you might even catch one of its famous comedy shows.
Houston might not have invented the fajita, but it sure has mastered it. Between its hundreds of Tex-Mex restaurants, there's certainly no shortage of tortillas in this city. Check out the Original Ninfa's on Navigation—a hotspot for fajitas since the early '70s—for a lesson on the area's culinary history, or El Tiempo Cantina, the franchise launched by Mama Ninfa's own grandchildren, for a sprawling collection of quesos. And don't forget to sample the breakfast tacos while you're in town—they're a Houston specialty.
A splash of vegetation in Houston's otherwise concrete and glass-laden downtown, Discovery Green is more than just a pretty park. It's also a common venue for open-air concerts, exercise classes, summer picnics, and more. The 12-acre green space is worth visiting just for a stroll, but check the park's events calendar for special events.
Discover 400-plus species of marine life and dine alongside a 150,000-gallon, two-story tank at the Downtown Aquarium. Here, you can pet a stingray or go on an exhilarating train ride through the Shark Voyage, then wrap up the evening with a seafood feast followed by decadent desserts in the aquarium restaurant.
The Galleria Houston is an upscale shopping mall centrally located just outside the 610 Loop in Houston’s Uptown District. The retail center is anchored by Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue, and occupies such high-end tenants as Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, and Saint Laurent. It's especially handy for escaping the summer heat or rainy days.
The Buffalo Bayou stretches from just outside the 610 Loop all the way into the center of the city, and the park—beginning at Shepherd Drive—offers some breathtaking views of the downtown skyline. Don't have a bike? You can rent one using the city's bike-share program, Bcycle. Docking stations are located near the trail at Jackson Hill and Memorial Drive and the Sabine Bridge.
Head to the Rice University campus for one of the most impressive art installations you may ever see. Artist James Turrell has created an acoustically-engineered light and sound installation next to the campus' Shepherd School of Music, and it happens to be one of the best things to see in H-Town. Dubbed Twilight Epiphany, the show is projected onto the building's roof at sunrise and sunset. The show is free, but reservations are required.
Make Your Own Craft Beer Pub Crawl
Houston is home to Texas' oldest craft brewery, Saint Arnold, which is open for tours Monday through Saturday. After visiting the original, you can keep the momentum going at 8th Wonder Brewery, known for its massive backyard, or Brash Brewing, a tucked-away warehouse-style brewery with a low-key atmosphere.
Everything's bigger in Texas—even the swimming pools. Houston's massive Marriott Marquis might top them all with its truly impressive Texas-shaped lazy river. While the pool is primarily open only to guests of the hotel, non-guests can book a spa treatment at the hotel's Pure Spa for day access. Floaties and towels are provided.
If you thought Austin was the only city with a famous bat population, think again. Houston has its very own colony of 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats, which reside under the Waugh Bridge, near Buffalo Bayou. While Austin's colony is larger, Houston's bats live under the bridge year-round and are not migratory. The bats emerge nightly to feast on insects, often eating up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour.
This one-man museum is one of Houston's most popular attractions—an impressive feat given that it only houses 14 works of art. Rothko Chapel opened its doors in 1971 as a monument to the work of abstract artist Mark Rothko. Today, the main room of the interfaith chapel is a quiet octagonal room filled with the artist's massive, single-color canvases. Other than simple wooden benches and a few meditation mats, the chapel has no furniture or decoration.