Austinites might pride themselves on keeping their city weird, but Houston has its fair share of quirky. After all, with 6 million people and a metro area the size of New Jersey, you're bound to stumble across some pretty weird things. From a "burping" bayou to a house covered in beer cans, here are some strange Houston-area sights you have to see to believe.
The Big Bubble
There's a spot on the Preston Street Bridge downtown where if you push a button, it prompts a huge bubble to burst through the surface of an otherwise calm bayou. Locals call it the Big Bubble, and if you aren't explicitly looking for it, it's hard to find. No giant sign or arrow announces its presence, and you won't find it on any map.
The button was put there in 1998 as a way to increase aeration in Buffalo Bayou. Its mystery was actually part of the plan.
"It's just a red button. Do I push it or don't I? – You know? What's it gonna do?" said Dean Ruck, the mastermind behind the project. "I liked that idea that it's not a labeled or plaque piece of art. It's just something that people discover."
Pro-tip: Bring a buddy. The button is located at the start of the bridge, but the best view of the bubble is in the middle. Have one person push the button while the other watches, and then switch. If you have kids in tow, this song and dance will entertain them for a good, long while.
Eclectic Menagerie Park
Just outside the Loop off of 288 South, you’ll find a seemingly random assortment of steel sculptures. The collection belongs to Texas Pipe & Supply and sits at the edge of its property along 288's feeder road near Belfort Street. The first sculpture to make an appearance was the hippo, then later a Snoopy. Little by little, the grassy expanse filled with these giant, metal sculptures—most of which were designed and crafted by local artists Ron Lee and Mark Rankin.
You won't see a sign announcing your arrival, but you can't miss it. Today, the informal park is home to myriad pieces, including a grasshopper, rocket, and mariachi band.
Art Car Museum
Art cars are something of a tradition in Houston. Every year, the city hosts an art car parade, which is exactly what it sounds like: over-the-top, elaborately decorated cars strutting their stuff in Houston's downtown. The beloved annual event was the first of its kind anywhere in the United States and continues to be the biggest such parade in the country.
The Art Car Museum is a free museum in the eclectic Heights area, just off of I-10. It gets its name from the parade, clearly, but motorized artwork isn't the only thing housed here. The museum also has a range of gutsy contemporary art you probably wouldn't find in snootier art museums. The works here are real conversation starters—but, then again, that's the whole point. The museum's stated goal is to call attention to the various ways art can reflect and speak to cultural, political, and economic happenings of the day.
The best part of this museum is that curators continuously rotate new and interesting pieces into the galleries, ensuring there's always something new to see—and talk about.
The Orange Show began decades ago as a way for a Houston mailman to pay homage to his favorite fruit. Creator Jeff McKissack spent roughly 25 years turning his East End property into a mesmerizing architectural feat of mazes, balconies, and mosaics. He used largely reclaimed materials like old bricks and farm equipment, and, of course, a whole lot of orange. He worked all the way up until his death in 1980, and a local arts patron stepped in to preserve McKissack's masterpiece. The site now spearheads much of the city's folk art activities and educational programs, becoming one of Houston's most beloved—albeit a little strange—cultural institution.
While McKissack was hammering away at the Orange Show, another Houstonian in the city's Rice Military neighborhood was putting his own artistic touch on his home—this time with the help of his favorite beverage. John Milkovisch spent much of his retirement creating aluminum siding, curtains, and archways for his home out of beer cans. Little by little, he flattened out an estimated 50,000 cans and fastened them together to make adornments for his home that were often as functional as they were decorative. The rooftop garlands, for example, helped to lower the cost of energy bills while simultaneously "singing" in the wind.
You can drive past the house to gawk if you want to, but a tour is the best way to get the full experience and learn the history of how Milkovisch turned his house into one of Houston's most praised pieces of folk art.
A cool underground attraction lurks under Buffalo Bayou Park near the Sabine Street bridge and a stone's throw from downtown. It's known simply as the Cistern and is a relic of the city's water system built in the '20s. The 87,500 square-foot cavern is a favorite subject among local photographers because of its 200+ concrete pillars that make the space eerily beautiful.
The site used to be a reservoir for the city's water supply until irreparable damage caused it to sit abandoned for the better part of a decade. It was reopened for the public to view in May 2016.
Pro-tip: Tours are limited to only a few days a week, and reservations are required. See the website for details.
Houston has some pretty amazing museums, but the strangest has to be this one. The 30,000+ square-foot facility houses a ton of artifacts chronicling the history of the funeral services industry. In addition to vintage hearses, the museum boasts an honest-to-God Popemobile once used by Pope John Paul II, a casket embellished with actual currency, and an entire exhibit devoted to embalming.
If you've ever driven up I-45 north of Houston, you've probably seen the massive statue of Sam Houston right by Huntsville. The statue was created by local sculptor David Adickes, and giant replicas are kind of his thing. He once created 43 massive busts of American presidents for a display in South Dakota. His most famous, however, are his Beatles statues that now sit outside 8th Wonder Brewery. A chainlink fence surrounds the studio, but you can still catch a glimpse of some of his sculptures from the street.
Waugh Drive Bat Colony
Just under the Waugh Drive bridge between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive, tons of tiny bats make their home in the crevices. For years, Houstonians have ventured to the bridge at sunset to watch thousands of bats fly in one huge group across the sky.
The colony took a hit during Hurricane Harvey, when the bayous crested over the Waugh Drive bridge, killing many of the bats and flooding their homes. After the flooding, the colony has become more reserved, flying out when it’s a little darker and in smaller groups. But while fewer in number, the bats are still an impressive sight.
Pro-tips: For the best views, stand on the observation deck located on the corner of Waugh Drive and Allen Parkway.
Texas-shaped Lazy River at the Marriott Marquis Downtown
This Texas-shaped lazy river at the Marriott Marquis downtown is a bucket list item for a lot of Houstonians. The hotel opened in late 2016 just in time for the Super Bowl, and the rooftop lazy river—positioned more than 100 feet in the air and at an impressive 510 feet long—has been a huge draw ever since. After all, what do Texans love most? Texas.