Things to Do in Houston

Things to Do in Houston

Houston, Texas, is a vibrant metropolis with a rich cultural tapestry and a wide array of attractions that make it a top destination for visitors. From world-class museums and shopping districts to unique dining experiences and exciting nightlife, Houston offers something for everyone. This article explores the best of what Houston has to offer, covering everything from top sights and attractions to fun activities for adults, couples, and families. Let’s dive into the details of what makes Houston a must-visit city.

What is Houston Best Known For?

Houston is best known for its Space Center Houston, which serves as the official visitor center of NASA's Johnson Space Center. This iconic attraction provides a deep dive into the history of space exploration, offering interactive exhibits and the chance to see real spacecraft and meet astronauts.

Another hallmark of Houston is its diverse culinary scene. The city boasts a wide variety of restaurants serving cuisines from all over the world, reflecting its multicultural population. From Tex-Mex and barbecue to Vietnamese and Ethiopian dishes, Houston's food scene is a foodie’s paradise.

Top 15 Attractions in Houston

1. Space Center Houston

Space Center Houston is the official visitor center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and it serves as one of the premier space museums in the world. It's located in Houston, Texas, and offers a wealth of exhibits, tours, and experiences related to space exploration and NASA's ongoing missions. Here's a detailed overview of what visitors can expect:

Exhibits and Attractions

  1. Independence Plaza:

    • Shuttle Replica Independence: Visitors can tour a high-fidelity replica of the Space Shuttle Independence, mounted on top of the original Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. This exhibit allows visitors to walk inside both the shuttle and the aircraft, offering a unique perspective on how the shuttle was transported and operated.
  2. Mission Control:

    • Historic Mission Control Center (Apollo Mission Control Center): This iconic facility has been restored to its 1969 configuration and is a National Historic Landmark. Visitors can see where NASA flight controllers monitored nine Gemini and all Apollo missions, including the Apollo 11 moon landing.
    • Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center: This is the current nerve center for the International Space Station (ISS) operations. Visitors can view the active control room and see real-time operations of the ISS.
  3. Astronaut Training Facility:

    • This facility showcases how astronauts prepare for their missions. Visitors can see mockups of space station modules and other training equipment used to simulate conditions in space. This area is often a highlight, as it provides insight into the rigorous training that astronauts undergo.
  4. Starship Gallery:

    • This gallery features flown spacecraft, including the Mercury 9 capsule, Gemini 5 capsule, and the Apollo 17 command module. It also houses a lunar sample display where visitors can touch a moon rock.
  5. International Space Station Gallery:

    • Dedicated to the ISS, this exhibit includes interactive displays and models of the space station, offering insights into life and work aboard the ISS.
  6. Mars Yard:

    • An outdoor exhibit where visitors can see rovers and other equipment designed for future Mars missions. It includes a full-size model of the Curiosity Rover.
  7. Mission Mars:

    • This interactive exhibit explores the challenges of a Mars mission, featuring a simulated Martian environment, rovers, and information on NASA’s plans for human exploration of Mars.
  8. Rocket Park:

    • This outdoor exhibit includes a massive Saturn V rocket, which is one of only three remaining in the world. The exhibit also features other rockets and space vehicles, providing a historical perspective on space exploration.

Special Experiences and Tours

  1. Tram Tours:

    • Level 9 Tour: An exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour that provides a more in-depth look at NASA’s facilities, including visits to the Astronaut Training Facility and other restricted areas. This tour is limited to small groups and offers a more personalized experience.
    • NASA Tram Tour: A broader tour that takes visitors to Rocket Park, the ISS Mission Control, and other significant locations within the Johnson Space Center.
  2. Space Center Theater:

    • Featuring large-screen films and presentations on various space-related topics, the theater provides an immersive cinematic experience.
  3. Lunch with an Astronaut:

    • A unique experience where visitors can enjoy a meal and hear firsthand stories from a NASA astronaut. This program offers a personal perspective on space missions and life as an astronaut.

Educational Programs and Events

  • STEM Learning: Space Center Houston offers numerous educational programs, workshops, and camps designed to inspire students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). These programs include robotics camps, space school, and educator workshops.
  • Special Events: Throughout the year, the center hosts special events such as astronaut meet-and-greets, space-themed celebrations, and holiday events.

Facilities and Amenities

  • Dining and Shopping: The center has a variety of dining options, including a food court and cafés, as well as gift shops where visitors can purchase NASA and space-themed merchandise.
  • Accessibility: The facility is designed to be accessible to all visitors, with accommodations for those with disabilities.

Space Center Houston is not only a hub for space enthusiasts but also a vital educational institution that inspires future generations of explorers. Its comprehensive exhibits, interactive experiences, and behind-the-scenes tours make it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in space exploration.

2. Houston Museum District

The Houston Museum District is a vibrant area that features 19 museums, offering a diverse array of cultural, scientific, and artistic exhibits. Notable museums include:

  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH): One of the largest museums in the United States, MFAH has an extensive collection of over 70,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary. The museum also features rotating exhibitions, a sculpture garden, and various educational programs.
  • Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS): Known for its impressive dinosaur hall, planetarium, butterfly center, and extensive mineral collection, HMNS is a must-visit for science enthusiasts of all ages.
  • Children’s Museum of Houston: This interactive museum is designed for children and families, offering hands-on exhibits focused on science, technology, history, and culture.

3. The Galleria

The Galleria is the largest shopping center in Texas and one of the premier shopping destinations in the country. Key features include:

  • Stores: Over 375 stores, including high-end retailers like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Gucci, as well as popular brands like Apple, Zara, and H&M.
  • Ice Rink: A full-sized ice rink located in the center of the mall, offering public skating sessions and skating lessons.
  • Dining: Numerous dining options, from upscale restaurants to casual eateries and food court options.

4. Houston Zoo

Located in Hermann Park, the Houston Zoo is a popular family destination that houses over 6,000 animals from 900 species. Highlights include:

  • Exhibits: African Forest, Kipp Aquarium, McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, and more.
  • Interactive Experiences: Opportunities to feed giraffes, take behind-the-scenes tours, and participate in educational programs.
  • Conservation Efforts: The zoo is involved in numerous conservation programs locally and globally.

5. Hermann Park

Hermann Park is a sprawling urban park in the heart of Houston that offers a variety of recreational activities and attractions:

  • McGovern Lake: Paddle boating and fishing opportunities.
  • Hermann Park Golf Course: An 18-hole public golf course.
  • Houston Museum of Natural Science: Located within the park, offering extensive exhibits on natural history and science.
  • Miller Outdoor Theatre: Free outdoor performances, including concerts, theater productions, and movies.

6. Downtown Aquarium

The Downtown Aquarium combines dining, entertainment, and education:

  • Aquatic Exhibits: Over 200 species of aquatic life, including a 500,000-gallon aquarium with a variety of sea creatures.
  • Restaurant: An underwater dining experience surrounded by a 150,000-gallon aquarium.
  • Amusement Rides: Features such as a Ferris wheel, carousel, and Shark Voyage, a train ride through a tunnel surrounded by a shark habitat.

7. Minute Maid Park

Home to the Houston Astros, Minute Maid Park is a state-of-the-art baseball stadium with a retractable roof:

  • Tours: Behind-the-scenes tours available, offering access to the dugout, press box, and luxury suites.
  • Events: In addition to baseball games, the park hosts concerts and other large events.
  • Amenities: Numerous dining options, including traditional ballpark fare and more upscale offerings.

8. Buffalo Bayou Park

Buffalo Bayou Park is a 160-acre green space offering a variety of outdoor activities:

  • Trails: Extensive biking and hiking trails with scenic views of the downtown Houston skyline.
  • Water Activities: Kayaking, paddleboarding, and canoeing on Buffalo Bayou.
  • Public Art: Numerous art installations and sculptures throughout the park.
  • Dog Park: An off-leash area for dogs to play.

9. The Menil Collection

The Menil Collection is an art museum in Houston known for its diverse collection and tranquil setting:

  • Artworks: Includes surrealist, modern, and contemporary art, as well as artifacts from ancient and medieval cultures.
  • Architecture: Designed by architect Renzo Piano, the building itself is a work of art.
  • Rothko Chapel: A non-denominational chapel on the museum grounds featuring paintings by Mark Rothko, providing a space for reflection and meditation.

10. Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens

Part of the Museum of Fine Arts, Bayou Bend is a historic estate featuring:

  • Decorative Arts: A significant collection of American decorative arts, including furniture, paintings, and textiles from the colonial period through the 19th century.
  • Gardens: 14 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, offering a peaceful retreat in the city.
  • Tours: Guided and self-guided tours of the house and gardens.

11. Discovery Green

Discovery Green is a 12-acre urban park in downtown Houston offering:

  • Events: Regular concerts, fitness classes, outdoor movies, and seasonal events like ice skating in winter.
  • Facilities: Playgrounds, a splash pad, dog runs, and a lake for kayaking and paddle boating.
  • Art: Various public art installations and temporary exhibits.

12. Rothko Chapel

The Rothko Chapel is a unique space for art, spirituality, and reflection:

  • Art: Houses 14 black-hued paintings by Mark Rothko, designed to evoke a contemplative atmosphere.
  • Purpose: Serves as a non-denominational chapel open to all faiths and beliefs.
  • Events: Hosts various events, including lectures, meditation sessions, and discussions on human rights and social justice.

13. Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

A 155-acre nature sanctuary providing:

  • Trails: Over five miles of walking trails through native forest, meadow, and wetland habitats.
  • Educational Programs: Classes and workshops for all ages on topics such as bird watching, native plants, and conservation.
  • Wildlife: Opportunities to see local wildlife, including birds, insects, and small mammals.

14. The Heights

The Heights is a historic neighborhood in Houston known for its vibrant community and eclectic mix of attractions:

  • Architecture: Features charming Victorian-style homes and bungalows.
  • Shopping and Dining: Home to trendy boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, and a variety of restaurants and cafés.
  • Community Events: Regular markets, festivals, and live music performances.

15. The Pink Swan Shop - Permanent Jewelry

The Pink Swan Shop is a trendy boutique specializing in permanent jewelry:

  • Permanent Jewelry: Offers customized, permanent pieces such as bracelets and anklets, which are welded closed and meant to be worn continuously.
  • Keepsakes: The shop provides a unique and personalized shopping experience, perfect for memorable keepsakes or gifts.
  • Atmosphere: Known for its chic and welcoming environment, attracting fashion-forward individuals.

Things to Do in Houston for Adults

Houston offers plenty of activities tailored to adults, from upscale dining and shopping to cultural experiences. Enjoy a night out in the Theater District, which hosts performances from the Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony, and Broadway shows. For a more laid-back evening, explore the craft beer scene at one of the many local breweries or enjoy a sophisticated cocktail at a rooftop bar with stunning city views.

Things to Do in Houston This Weekend

Weekends in Houston are packed with events and activities. Visit one of the city’s many farmers' markets, like the Urban Harvest Farmers Market, for fresh produce and local goods. Take a stroll through the Montrose neighborhood, known for its eclectic mix of art galleries, vintage shops, and cafes. End the weekend with a relaxing boat tour along the Buffalo Bayou, offering a unique perspective of the city’s skyline.

Things to Do in Houston for Couples

Houston provides a romantic backdrop for couples. Spend an evening dining at one of the city’s renowned restaurants, followed by a moonlit walk in the McGovern Centennial Gardens. For a cultural date, visit the Museum of Fine Arts or catch a performance at the Alley Theatre. If you’re looking for something more adventurous, try a tandem kayak ride down the Buffalo Bayou.

Things to Do in Houston with Kids

Families will find an abundance of activities in Houston. The Children’s Museum of Houston is a top choice, offering interactive exhibits that educate and entertain. The Houston Zoo and the Downtown Aquarium are also great options for a fun-filled day. Don’t miss the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where kids can marvel at dinosaur skeletons and explore the butterfly exhibit.

Things to Do in Houston Today

If you’re looking for something to do today, consider visiting the Houston Botanic Garden, where you can enjoy a peaceful walk among beautifully curated plant collections. Alternatively, check out the latest exhibits at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston or enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the many food trucks around the city.

Things to Do in Houston at Night

Houston’s nightlife is vibrant and diverse. Head to the Midtown area for a mix of lively bars, clubs, and music venues. The House of Blues and White Oak Music Hall regularly feature live performances from local and touring artists. For a more relaxed evening, visit the Miller Outdoor Theatre for free outdoor performances ranging from Shakespeare to symphonies.

Unique Things to Do in Houston for Adults

For a unique experience, adults can visit Axelrad Beer Garden, known for its hammocks and extensive beer selection, or take a cooking class at Central Market to learn new culinary skills. Another offbeat option is the National Museum of Funeral History, which offers intriguing exhibits on funeral customs and memorabilia.

Top Attractions in Houston

To summarize, some of the top attractions in Houston that should not be missed include the Space Center Houston, the Museum District, The Galleria, Houston Zoo, and Buffalo Bayou Park. Each of these destinations provides a unique insight into what makes Houston such a dynamic and exciting city.

Whether you're a local or a visitor, Houston’s blend of culture, history, and modern attractions ensures there’s always something new to discover. From exploring world-class museums and dining at top-notch restaurants to enjoying outdoor activities and unique shopping experiences, Houston has it all.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are some fun things to do in Houston?

Houston offers a wide variety of fun activities for all ages and interests. Some popular options include visiting the Space Center Houston, exploring the Houston Museum District, shopping at The Galleria, and enjoying outdoor activities at Hermann Park. For nightlife, check out the Midtown area for bars and live music venues.

What’s the one thing you have to do while you’re in Houston, TX?

If you have to choose one thing, visiting Space Center Houston is a must. It offers an immersive experience into the world of space exploration with interactive exhibits, real spacecraft, and the opportunity to learn about NASA's missions and meet astronauts.

What are some fun, unusual things to do in Houston?

For those looking for unique experiences, consider visiting the National Museum of Funeral History, exploring the vibrant street art in the East End, or taking a tour of the Buffalo Bayou Cistern, an underground reservoir turned art space. Another unusual activity is enjoying a beer while relaxing in a hammock at Axelrad Beer Garden.

What are romantic things to do in Houston?

Houston offers numerous romantic activities for couples. Enjoy a fine dining experience at one of Houston's acclaimed restaurants, take a moonlit walk through the McGovern Centennial Gardens, or watch a performance at the Alley Theatre. For an adventurous date, consider a tandem kayak ride on the Buffalo Bayou or a serene boat tour.

What are some random things to do in Houston?

For some random, off-the-beaten-path activities, visit Smither Park, an art park filled with mosaic sculptures, or spend an afternoon at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center. Another quirky option is taking a tour of the Beer Can House, a house decorated entirely with beer cans and other beer-related items.

What are some non-touristy things to do in Houston?

To experience Houston like a local, visit the Heights neighborhood for its eclectic mix of boutiques, cafes, and historic homes. Attend a local farmers market such as the Urban Harvest Farmers Market. Enjoy a live show at a smaller venue like The Continental Club, or explore the city's hidden green spaces like the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center.

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