This large Texas metropolis can seem overwhelming at first glance. But with a little bit of research, you'll discover that there's plenty to do in the Bayou City. Houston is home to the Space Center Houston, NASA's astronaut training, and flight control complex, as well as a buzzing Historic District, full of 19th-century architecture and upscale restaurants, and some world-class museums and art spaces, like the reverent Rothko Chapel. Whether it's your first time to this great Texan city or your tenth, there's always something new to discover. Here's our list of the 20 best things to do in Houston.
The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, home of the NASA astronaut corps, is located in Southeast Houston. The center spans 1,620 acres and consists roughly 100 facilities. Tourists can experience a simulation of a zero-gravity environment in the Living in Space exhibit or encounter a virtual rocket launch complete with exhaust at the Destiny ("Blast Off") Theater.
Sheltering over 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 beautifully landscaped grounds, or enjoy a more hands-on encounter by scheduling a guided tour. Tour experiences range from feeding a giraffe to shadowing a staff veterinarian for an entire day.
The Houston Museum District refers to the collection of museums, galleries, and cultural centers located within a 1.5-mile 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. 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.
Since the closing of Six Flags Astroworld, Kemah Boardwalk is now Houston’s nearest and largest amusement/entertainment park. Primarily occupied by hotels and restaurants, Kemah Boardwalk is an ideal place to entertain the entire family. Dining options include Landry’s Seafood House and Saltgrass Steakhouse. Attractions such as a Ferris wheel, train ride, and a carousel are all individually priced.
One of Houston’s most demographically diverse regions, Montrose has become the city’s hub of vintage shopping, live music, and LGBTQ activism. Restored mansions and bungalows, tree-lined boulevards, and an antique mall make this 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 their famous comedy shows.
Houston might not have invented the fajita, but it sure has mastered it. With hundreds of amazing Tex-Mex restaurants throughout the city, there's no excuse not to get your fill. Check out the Original Ninfa's on Navigation to experience some culinary history, or try any other of the city's best Tex-Mex restaurants for a taste of Houston's most famous cuisine. Don't forget the breakfast tacos or queso.
A splash of vegetation in Houston's otherwise concrete and glass-laden downtown, Discovery Green is more than just a pretty park. With concerts, exercise classes, special events and more, the 12-acre green space has tons of activities for people of all ages. Check out the park's events calendar, or just swing by to take a stroll. It's worth the trip.
Discover over 400 species of marine life and dine alongside a 150,000-gallon, two-story tank at the Downtown Aquarium. Pet a stingray or go on an exhilarating train ride through the Shark Voyage. Wrap up the evening by feasting on seafood entrees, steaks and 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 and Co., Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent.
Despite its reputation for being a car-filled concrete jungle, Houston has some great green spaces and hike and bike trails. The Buffalo Bayou itself stretches from just outside the 610 Loop all the way into the center of the city, and the park, which begins 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.
Admire the James Turrell Skyspace
Head to the Rice University campus for one of the most impressive art installations you're likely ever to see. Artist James Turrell has created an acoustically-engineered light and sound installation next to the campus's Shepherd School of Music which remains 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. While the show is free, reservations are required.
Make Your Own Craft Beer Pub Crawl
Craft beer has always been popular in Houston, and there is no shortage of great breweries to try some suds. The city is home to Texas' oldest craft brewery, Saint Arnold, which is open for tours Monday through Saturday. After visiting the original, you have no shortage of options, ranging from 8th Wonder Brewery, with its massive backyard, to Brash Brewing, a tucked-away warehouse-style brewery where you can try beers like the Smoglifter, a chocolate milk stout.
Float Along a Texas-Shaped Lazy River
Everything's bigger in Texas—even the swimming pools. Houston's massive Marriott Marquis offers a truly impressive Texas-shaped lazy river for guests to float in. While the pool is primarily open to guests of the hotel, you can book a spa treatment at the hotel's Pure Spa for day access. Floaties and towels are provided.
Try Some Crawfish
Few foods are more synonymous with the coastal south than crawfish and Houston has some good ones! If you're ready to go "mudbugging," as the locals call it, you'll find the city's best crawfish at places like BB's Cafe, or Crawfish & Noodles, which serves buttery, spicy crawfish with a Vietnamese accent.
Watch a Free Show at the Miller Outdoor Theatre
If you're looking for an inexpensive, yet entertaining, night out, visit the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park. Since 1923, Miller has offered entirely free performances from March through November. During any given month, you might catch anything from Shakespeare to a screening of Jurassic Park. The best part? You can pack a picnic to bring along—just leave the glass at home.
Go See the Bats at Waugh Bridge
If you thought Austin was the only city with a famous bat colony, 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 the 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour.
Explore a Mysterious Underground Cistern
Most Houstonians don't know that there's an 87,500 square-foot, 25-foot-tall cistern lurking under Houston's Fourth Ward. When it was built in 1926, it served as the city's first underground drinking reservoir before being decommissioned in 2007 due to leaks. Today, after a thorough restoration, guests can tour the underground cavern, which now hosts public art installations.
Meditate at the Modern Rothko Chapel
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.
Go to the Top of the San Jacinto Monument
This historical monument flies under the radar for most visitors, but it remains an important symbol of Texas's independence. Resembling D.C.'s Washington Monument, the San Jacinto Monument stands 570-feet tall and is topped with a star weighing 220 tons. Visitors can head to the tower's observation deck for an eagle-eye view of Houston's expanding metropolis.