While Houston might be sprawling, downtown is a compact area packed with a variety of cultural landmarks, exciting museums, and one of the country’s best food scenes. Whether you're interested in arts and culture or spending time with nature, there's something for everyone to do in downtown Houston.
Admire the Art Blocks
Art Blocks is a temporary public art initiative created and managed by the Houston Downtown Management District, and there are several eye-catching installations by internationally recognized artists like Patrick Renner, Jessica Stockholder, Havel Ruck Projects, and others. For fans of public art, merely walking around and soaking up the brightly colored murals and installations around Art Blocks is a treat.
Check Out the Quirky Beer Can House
After local John Milkovisch retired in the 1960s, he put his undying love of beer to good use: He covered the exterior of his house with over 50,000 beer cans. Milkovisch spent 18 years on his project, which resulted in a home that’s completely covered with flattened beer cans; Milkovisch even built mobiles, sculptures, fences, and windmills out of the tops and bottoms of beer cans, as well as wind chimes out of the pull tabs. The Beer Can House is easily one of Houston’s most unusual attractions.
Get Out in Nature at Buffalo Bayou Park
Need to get your nature fix amidst all those gleaming skyscrapers and miles (and miles) of freeways? Buffalo Bayou, the 52-mile slow-moving waterway and 160-acre city park, offers lovely views of diverse urban nature, along with beautiful gardens, hike-and-bike trails, paddleboat and bike rentals, public art, a dog park, and much more.
Have a Drink at La Carafe
Housed in the oldest commercial building in Houston (built during the Civil War era!), La Carafe is a serious slice of history. This centuries-old dive bar (easily the oldest in Houston) is listed in the National Register of Historic Places; it’s a real downtown treasure. Boasting an extensive wine selection, a fabulous jukebox, and an eclectic collection of artwork splashed all over the walls, La Carafe is the perfect place to spend an hour (or three) when you’re in downtown Houston. Just be sure to keep an eye out for the bar’s resident ghost: Carll, an old bartender.
See World-Class at the Menil Collection
At the internationally renowned Menil Collection, visitors can peruse one of the most significant art collections in the country. There are nearly 15,000 pieces here that range from Paleolithic-era carvings to Surrealist paintings; the main building houses special exhibitions and the permanent collection, and there’s a campus with four other museum buildings (two of which are dedicated to famed artists Cy Twombly and Dan Flavin). You could easily spend an entire day at the Menil and still not see everything, so be sure to reserve ample time to explore here.
Go Shopping at The Tipping Point
More than just your average sneaker store, The Tipping Point is billed as Houston’s “first and only creative lifestyle destination.” Located in the historic W. L. Foley Building, The Tipping Point curates a collection of limited-edition footwear, books, art, music, and apparel. With high-end collectible shoes displayed on the shelves like artwork, this is a destination for sneaker fiends, but it’s also a hub for local artists, musicians, and other creative types.
Relax at Discovery Green
Discovery Green is undeniably downtown Houston’s premier green space: This 12-acre park has it all, from tree-shaded trails and a new jogging trail to bocce ball courts and an art cart that’s stocked with supplies. There are playgrounds, interactive water features, restaurants, an amphitheater, and more; plus, the park hosts many events and activities throughout the year.
See a Show at Alley Theatre
Offering a packed lineup of shows (over 400 annually!), the Alley Theatre was founded over 60 years ago, and today, it’s one of the only American theater companies that supports a company of actors, designers, and artisans throughout the year. There are 11 productions each season, and the Alley is also home to several educational programs.
Have a Moment at Rothko Chapel
Commissioned by the Menils in 1964 to build a non-denominational church, famed American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko spent the final years of his life working on the project, and the result is nothing short of extraordinary. The interior serves not just as a chapel, but as a significant work of modern art: The stark, octagonal brick structure, which holds 14 Rothko canvases, is a unique space for self-reflection and inspiration.
Have a Beer at Saint Arnold Brewing Company
Houston’s most famous craft brewery, Saint Arnold Brewing Company, is the ideal spot to lounge in the sunshine and enjoy delicious local brews; and, with a cornhole area with multiple boards, three bocce courts, green spaces for open play, and a giant beer garden, there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy here.
Watch the Astros at Minute Maid Park
Home of the Houston Astros, Minute Maid Park can house as many as 40,000 fans (and keep them all cool, thanks to the 242-foot-high retractable roof!); going to a game here is a quintessential downtown Houston experience. Or, experience the park via Minute Maid Park Tours, which give guests a behind-the-scenes look at where the Astros play, including historic Union Station, the broadcasting booth and press boxes, and the dugout areas.
Browse the Brazos Bookstore
Undoubtedly the focal point of the literary community in Houston, Brazos Bookstore is one of the most well-regarded bookstores in the country for a reason: Everyone at Brazos really, really, really loves books. Everything is lovingly curated here, from the staff picks to the store’s events calendar. Brazos specializes in literary fiction, art, and architecture, but they also have a wonderful children’s section, and they regularly feature rising Texas authors at events.
Visit Hermann Park
A 445-acre playground, Hermann Park is where you’ll find the Houston Zoo, the tranquil Japanese Garden, a lake with paddleboats, and the Hermann Park Miniature Train, along with the recently opened McGovern Centennial Gardens.
Explore the Museum of Fine Arts
With over 65,000 works of art that span six continents, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston is among the ten largest art museums in the country. Be sure to allow ample time to explore inside and outside; the Cullen Sculpture Garden is sweetly serene. And, general admission is free on Thursdays, so plan your trip accordingly if possible.