Top Attractions in Houston
Houston has plenty to offer anyone who loves culture, whether it’s world class art museums, science centers, or quirky one-man expressions of imagination. There’s also plenty of places to go when the weather is cooperative, and a good number of options when you just want to stay cool in the summer.
Here’s a few our favorites things to do in Houston:
1. The Menil Collection
The Menil Collection is comprised of the private collection of twentieth-century art from museum founders John and Dominique de Menil. The Menil Collection museum opened in 1987 in a building designed by renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano. The collection ranks among the greatest private assemblages in the United States and includes works by such renowned artists as Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns. Also on the grounds is the Rothko Chapel, which features 14 of Mark Rothko’s final works before his death. The Byzantine Fresco Chapel is also part of the Menil Collection campus and exhibits two 13th century Byzantine church fresco paintings.
The Collection began with Surrealist works before expanding to Cubist, Abstract Expressionism, Pop, and Minimalist. It later expanded further (and backward in time) to include art works from the Byzantine Empire, Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Pacific Northwest. In total, the collection holds 17,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs and rare books . Visiting The Menil Collection is free — read more here (Photo by J E Theriot)
2. Museum of Fine Arts
Museum of Fine Arts in Houston is the oldest art museum in Texas and home to the largest art collection in the southwest United States. Over 63,000 works of art are spread across 300,000 square feet of space in two major museum buildings, the Caroline Wiess Law Building and the Audrey Jones Beck Building. Surrounding the museum buildings are the Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden; and 18 acres of public gardens.
The Museum of Fine Arts’ collection spans 6000 years and comes from all parts of the world. It includes everything from African tribal art to Baroque and Impressionist paintings. Notable exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts include the Glassell Collection of African Gold, the Italian Renaissance and French Impressionism paintings, and the Asian Art — read more here (Photo by Ed Schipul)
3. The Galleria
The Galleria in Houston is a Texas-sized shopping mall — it contains over 400 stores. At a massive 2.4 million square feet, it is the largest mall in Texas, and it’s eighth-largest shopping center in the United States. With 26 million visitors annually, it is often cited as the most visited attraction in Houston.
The Galleria opened in 1970 and is notable for being a pioneer in the development of indoor shopping malls in American. It was the first to have an indoor ice skating rink and large skylights letting in natural light. The first anchor tenant was Neiman Marcus, and today’s tenants include Neiman Marcus (still), Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, True Religion, Fendi, Cartier, and Christian Dior, plus numerous restaurants and hotels — read more here (Photo by Jerald Jackson)
4. Children’s Museum of Houston
Children’s Museum of Houston contains 14 galleries of interactive exhibits that are sure to wow any child. The current facility opened in 1984 and contains 90,000 square feet. It is located in the Museum District adjacent to Hermann Park. In response to its popularity, the Museum has expanded and moved to larger spaces several times, and a new wing that was added to the building in 2007 and essentially doubled its size.
The museum was recently ranked as the best children’s museum in the country by Parent’s magazine. The Children’s Museum of Houston is designed for kids aged 6 months to 12 years old. The Tot Spot has mirrors and a ball pit and is a favorite of the younger kids. For older kids, there’s Invention Convention, Kidtropolis and EcoStation. Outdoor exhibits include the Weather Station, Eco Station, and the watery Flow Station. The staff is friendly and the facilities are clean and well-maintained. The Fresh Cafe offers everything from healthy snacks to burgers to ice cream — read more here (Photo by Sikeri)
5. Minute Maid Park
Minute Maid Park opened in 2000 and replaced the Astrodome as the home of the Houston Astros. It features natural grass in a stadium with a retractable roof and air-conditioning to compensate for the hot Houston summers. The stadium occupies a 25 acre site in downtown next to the historic Union Station rail-passenger terminal. It was constructed with steel trusses, brick and limestone in an effort to fit in with the historic neighborhood and adhere to the retro trend of new stadium construction in recent years. Passenger trains no longer frequent Union Station, but Minute Maid Park does have a popular model train that runs along west side of the ballpark after every home run by the Astros. Less popular — with players, at least — is the inclined Tal’s Hill in centerfield.
The food at Minute Maid Park is pricey, but good, and visitors can also bring in outside water and food (in a clear plastic bag). Tours of Minute Maid Park are available. Check their web site for schedule of games — read more here (Photo by Bukowsky18)
6. Houston Museum of Natural Science
The Houston Museum of Natural Science is one of the most popular natural history museums in the United States. The Museum’s beginnings date back to 1909, and the current facility was built in 1969. It is located in the Houston Museum District on the northern edge of Hermann Park.
Popular exhibits at the Houston Museum of Natural Science include:
• The Hall of Paleontology — this exhibit was added in 2012 and features over 450 fossils and dinosaur artifacts spanning 3.5 billion years.
• The Wiess Energy Hall — explains how oil and natural gas is formed, extracted and used.
• The Gem Vault — boasts an extensive collection of gems.
• Cockrell Butterfly Center — very popular tropical forest atrium full of butterflies.
• Burke Baker Planetarium
• Wortham IMAX® Theatre
The Challenger Center was opened in 1988 in honor of the astronauts who lost their lives on the mission. A brand new Hall of Ancient Egypt exhibits contains hundreds of artifacts dating back 5,000 years that offer a glimpse into ancient Egyptian life and culture — read more here (Photo by Adam Baker)
7. Houston Zoo
Houston Zoo is located in Houston’s Hermann Park and houses over 6000 animals — everything from flamingos to giraffes to ring-tailed lemurs. Over 1.8 million visitors make a trip to the zoo every year, making it the 7th most visited zoo in the United States.
Popular exhibits at the Houston Zoo include the African Forest, the Carnivores Exhibits (large cats and bears), the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, and the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo. Snow Leopards were added in 2014, and a new gorilla exhibit will open in 2015. When it’s hot outside, visit the Kipp Aquarium or one of Houston Zoo’s other thirteen air-conditioned exhibits. Visitors are allowed to bring in your own food and drinks — read more here (Photo by Josh Grenier)
8. Space Center Houston
Space Center Houston is part of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and a must-see destination for fans of the NASA program. The attraction is located about 27 miles southeast of Houston. Definite highlights include going inside a full-scale replica of the Space Shuttle that sits atop a Boeing 747. Visitors will also like seeing the massive original Saturn V rocket and the original mission control center. Other spacecraft exhibits include the Mercury 9 capsule, the Gemini 5 capsule, the Apollo 17 command module, and a Lunar Rover Vehicle trainer.
The NASA tram ride offers a behind the scenes view of the real working areas of the Johnson Space Center, including the Mission Control Center and the Saturn V Complex at Rocket Park. The Space Center Theater presents the history of the program on a 5-story screen. The Blast Off Theater takes the next step and gives viewers an realistic account of what it feels like to be on a mission blasting off into space and then docking at the International Space Station — read more here (Photo by Heatheronhertravels.com)
9. Hermann Park
Hermann Park is the center Houston’s outdoor life and the home of many of its cultural institutions. The park is huge at 445 acres, and it is centrally located adjacent to Rice University, the Texas Medical Center, and the Museum District just southwest of downtown Houston. The roots of the park date back to 1914, when George Hermann donated the land to the city of Houston. Many of the facilities fell into disrepair in the 1980’s, but a concerted effort by the city and park supporters have worked to make it a beautiful credit to the city, and now it’s popular with both residents and visitors.
Attractions at Hermann Park include:
- Houston Garden Center
- Miller Outdoor Theatre — has offered free outdoor performances since 1923
- Houston Museum of Natural Science and Cockrell Butterfly Center
- Japanese Garden
- Houston Zoo
- Hermann Park Golf Course — the first desegregated golf course in the United States and one of the first in the South to have grass greens instead of sand
- Hermann Park Railroad
- Mecom-Rockwell Fountain and Colonnade
10. Saint Arnold Brewing Company
Saint Arnold Brewing Company was started in 1994 and is the oldest craft brewery in Texas. The Brewery was named for Saint Arnulf of Metz, a 7th century French bishop and patron saint of brewing who advised parishioners to drink beer instead of foul local water. The brewery is located in a historic brick building just north of downtown.
Five year-round and five seasonal beers are made, as well as a very good root beer. Popular beers include Amber Ale, Elissa IPA, and Fancy Lawnmower German-style Kölsch. They brew a series of single batch beers under their Divine Reserve label. Tours begin by getting an “Mmmmm beer” stamp on your hand, and then they finish with free samples in Texas’ oldest craft brewery. Bring your own food and games and hang out in the picnic area. The brewery is popular and can get busy on the weekends — read more here (Photo by Dan Keeney)
11. Buffalo Bayou Park
Buffalo Bayou Park is a 124 greenway and series of smaller parks that straddles both banks of the Buffalo Bayou basin as it makes its way from Shepherd Drive on the west side of Houston through downtown and to Allen’s Landing, which was Houston’s original port, on the East End. The park offers beautiful scenery, some rare Houston hills, and excellent skyline views along its meandering route. Hiking and biking trails traverse the whole park and run on both sides of the bayou. Canoes and kayaks for paddling the bayou are also available for rental. Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive runs alongside the park.
Features of Buffalo Bayou include:
• Eleanor Tinsley Park — this popular outdoor area is home to Houston’s annual Fourth of July celebration and other festivals.
• Lee & Joe Jamail Skatepark — this 30,000 square foot facility is known as one of the best skate parks in the country.
• Wortham Fountain — also known as the Dandelion, this fountain is a favorite of joggers, cyclists and dog walkers looking for a cool respite from Houston’s heat.
• Waugh Bridge Bat Colony — every evening at sunset, more than 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from the crevices of the bridge.
• Rosemont Bridge — this two-level pedestrian bridge crosses the basin and provides excellent views of downtown Houston.
• Johnny Steele Dog Park — has fenced ponds for large and small dogs as well as wetlands areas and a place for dogs to wash off.
12. Holocaust Museum Houston
Holocaust Museum Houston is a significant and moving museum and memorial to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. The Museum does not gloss over the tragedies that occurred. Instead, they use history as a stark reminder of the atrocities that can fester when hate and prejudice go unchecked. The HMH opened in 1996 and is the nation’s fourth largest museum dedicated to the Jewish Holocaust. It is located in Houston’s Museum District.
Visitors to the museum will see exhibits that include vintage WWII film footage, a Danish rescue boat, a replica gas chamber, and an actual German railroad car that was used to transport victims to the prison camps. The most moving part of the museum is perhaps the filmed interviews with Holocaust survivors. The museum also presents the history of the Jewish religion and the State of Israel. The Boniuk Library is part of the HMH and holds more than 5,000 volumes related to the Holocaust and World War II, including books, documents, photos, film footage, and over 250 testimonies from survivors — read more here (Photo by Laurence Simon)
13. Discovery Green
Discovery Green serves as a village green and central meeting place for the city of Houston. The downtown park is 12 acres and opened in 2008 — before that, it was a mass of parking lots and underutilized green space. Today, over 2 million visitors frequent the small park every year.
Discovery Green provides a space for live music, free yoga, cultural festivals, a weekly farmers’ market, and outdoor movies. Scattered through the park are public art displays, and the programming schedule features more than 400 events each year. There’s a small lake, gardens, old live oak trees, and an ice skating rink in the winter. There are two restaurants in the park, as well as lots of food options in the area surrounding Discovery Green. Kids will love the playgrounds, interactive spray fountain, and mist tree. Dogs will love the two dog runs. There is underground parking available under the park — read more here (Photo by Erion Shehaj)
14. Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens is an extension of Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts and holds their collection of American decorative arts and paintings in the former home of civic leader and philanthropist Ima Hogg. Cross the suspension bridge over the bayou and enter the spectacular, well-manicured grounds surrounding Bayou Bend. Fourteen acres of trails and gardens surround Ima Hogg’s restored period home. Enter the home and see one of the finest collections of 18th and 19th century decorative arts in the country. The rare and beautiful decorative art, paintings and furniture in the collection date from approximately 1620 to 1876, and the are installed throughout the mansion in 28 period room settings.
Highlights of a visit to Bayou Bend include:
• The Pine Room — features Early and Late Baroque pieces that were popular in America from 1730–1760.
• The Drawing Room — displays furniture from major urban areas of the Colonies, including Boston, Newport, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.
• The Murphy Room — displays furnishings from the 17th and 18th centuries that are reflecting of America’s colonial past.
• Diana Garden — walls of evergreen yaupon hedges create an outdoor “room” that separates the garden from the woodlands beyond.
• Butterfly Garden — this garden was first planted by Miss Hogg and includes flowers and dwarf azaleas surrounded by a boxwood border.
15. Art Car Museum
The Art Car Museum is well-named it’s full of cars that have been turned into works of art. The purpose of the Museum is to allow artists to use cars as a means of personal expression for the way it has changed the American way of life and come to symbolize America. Houston has evolved a bit of a ground zero for the country’s art car movement. The first art car exhibition took place in Houston in 1986 and had 11 cars participating. In 1988, Houston debuted the first Art Car Weekend and had 40 cars participate. The popular event now takes place annually every Spring and attracts over 250 artistically-altered cars from across the country.
The museum opened in 1988 in a chrome and is housed in a metal clad building dubbed the “Garage Mahal.” The museum features displays that rotate every few months as new artists are invited to participate. Most cars are decorated by having various items glued to the exterior, such as cd’s, dolls, coins, corks, and trophies. There are also paintings, sculptures and films from past exhibitions and parades. The Art Car Museum is fun and quirky. It’s also free. Check their web site for hours — read more here (Photo by Cali4beach)
16. National Museum of Funeral History
The National Museum of Funeral History is not to be missed, as it only contains the largest collection of funereal artifacts in the United States. Robert L. Waltrip opened The National Museum of Funeral History in 1992, and it is located in a nondescript office building north of downtown. Inside, the collection is both eclectic and comprehensive. Is it foolish to want to see such a collection, or would only a fool would not want to see it? You decide.
- Celebrating the Lives and Deaths of the Popes — new $2 million exhibit includes an exact reproduction of the coffin used for the last three popes that have died, plus an actual Popemobile.a features many antique hearses and various kinds of coffins. Notable, also, are the exhibits featuring interesting tidbits about the funerals of famous people, Popes, and national heroes.
- Thanks for the Memories — this popular exhibit examines the funerals of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, and Frank Sinatra. It includes authentic memorabilia.
- History of Embalming — delves into the fascinating history of embalming from ancient Egypt to until the work of Dr. Thomas Holmes during Civil War times. The exhibit displays tools and equipment used in the mummification process.
17. Beer Can House
Beer Can House proves that drinking beer can be productive — because, if you use the cans to cover and decorate your house, you create art. Along with the Orange Show and the Art Car Museum, Houston’s Beer Can House is a healthy slice of Americana and a quirky diversion from normal culture.
John Milkovisch is the genius behind the art. He was a retired upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, and he began his project in 1968. Every part of the beer cans were used to make curtains, wind chimes, siding, etc. It is estimated that John and his friends drank 50,000 cans of beer over a 20 year period in order to provide the core material for his art. When visitors stopped by to observe the house, he would often invite them to have a beer with him. John died in 1988, and his wife Mary welcomed visitors into the home until her death in 2002. After her death, the Orange Show Foundation provided funding to restore the home and open it up to the public again.
Either observe the front of the house from the street, or pay the small admission fee for a chance to take a peek inside and see the video presentation. Guided tours are also available — read more here (Photo by Clem)
18. The Orange Show
The Orange Show is a quirky celebration of one man’s favorite fruit. Spoiler alert — his favorite fruit is the orange. Jefferson Davis McKissack, a Houston postal worker, built his folk art exhibit over many years using everyday discarded objects as his building material. McKissak began work in 1956 and opened his 3,000 square foot monument to the public in 1979. He expected large crowds to want to see his extravaganza and learn about his theories on nutrition, hard work and the benefits of eating oranges. When the crowds failed to materialize, however, he became disappointed and withdrawn. He died seven months later in 1980. Upon his death, a diverse group of patrons set up a foundation to maintain and operate The Orange Show for future generations.
These days the art project is much more popular. The maze-like design features an oasis, a wishing well, a pond, a stage, a museum, a gift shop, and several upper decks. Materials used vary from concrete, brick, and steel to old metal pieces, tiles, wheels, mannequins, and statuettes. Visitors to The Orange Show will learn the history of the beloved orange and possibly see some live music in the small amphitheater. Visitors are also likely to come away happier, better, and more inspired — read more here (Photo by Ed Schipul)
See our list of the 49 best things to do in Houston here.