The fourth most populous city in the United States, Houston is a sprawling metropolis known for its southern hospitality, coastal flair, and a culture that is truly unique to Texas. From shops and restaurants to museums and ballparks, there’s no shortage of fun to be had in the Bayou City!
Though the city spans a vast area (665 square miles to be exact!), many of Houston’s top attractions are centrally located near the downtown area. However, several must-see destinations, including NASA’s Space Center Houston and the San Jacinto Monument, are just a short drive from the city’s center.
From the bustling Theater District to the city’s Historic District, there is a bevy of 19th-century architecture to see, multiple world-renowned museums to visit, and a plethora of green spaces to enjoy along Buffalo Bayou.
If you’re in the mood for a night out, Houston is home to top-notch entertainment venues, fun nightclubs, upscale restaurants, and more to do around town. Plus, Houston’s hotels are some of the best in the country!
With so much to see and do in Houston, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled a list of the absolute best things to do in Houston for you. Stick to these fun and unique Houston bucket list recommendations, and you’ll definitely have an incredible time exploring this incredible part of the Lone Star State!
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15 cool and unique things to do in Houston
1. Go Wild at the Houston Zoo
Home to more than 6,000 animals and more than 900 species, a visit to the Houston Zoo is one of the top things to do in Houston. The 55-acre property boasts both indoor and outdoor animal exhibits, a children’s zoo, a water play park, animal encounters, a giant carousel, special event venues, and so much more!
The zoo is separated into 17 different exhibit areas, so it’s easy to pick and choose what you’d like to see. Explore bird habitats, a bug house, elephant habitat, a sea lion tank, a reptile house, and an aquarium with hundreds of creatures from under the sea.
In the African Forest area, you’ll find white rhinos, chimpanzees, zebras, and gorillas, all in tailor-made exhibits that mimic their natural habitats. For a truly unique experience, head to the Giraffe Feeding Platform, where you can hand-feed lettuce to the giraffes for a small fee.
You can bring your own food into the park or dine at one of the zoo’s casual dining establishments. At Twiga Café, you’ll find quick-service meals like sandwiches, salads, and chicken strips. Once you’ve seen all of the animals, head next door to Hermann Park, where you can enjoy a pedal boat ride on the pond or ride an open-air passenger train around the 445-acre urban park filled with statues, playgrounds, and botanical gardens.
2. Blast Off at Space Center Houston
When you visit Houston, you won’t have a problem here! Located in Clear Lake, just a short half-hour drive outside of the city center is NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and the visitor center known as Space Center Houston. Home to NASA’s mission control, research labs, and astronaut training programs, a tour of Space Center Houston is one of the best things to do in Houston.
Explore the permanent interactive exhibits including Starship Galley, Astronaut Gallery, Independence Plaza, Mission Mars, and the International Space Station Gallery. Be sure to also watch an educational film in one of the two auditoriums and see more than 400 historical space artifacts on display in the center’s main gallery.
Hop on a tram to ride through the vast property spanning 1,620 acres, as a tour guide explains NASA’s history and significance, pointing out different parts of the center’s operating facilities. For a truly out-of-this-world experience, take a look inside of the shuttle replica mounted on top of a historic shuttle carrier aircraft, the NASA 905.
Don’t miss the standout exhibit where you can touch real rocks from the moon and Mars. And before you leave, stop in the Space Center Houston gift shop to try real astronaut ice cream!
3. Journey Through the Museum of Natural Science
The Houston Museum of Natural Science is one of the most-visited museums in the country and one of the best things to do in Houston. With five floors to explore in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, there is no shortage of things to see here.
The renowned Cockerel Butterfly Center is the only spot in town where you can see hundreds of live butterflies fluttering around a realistic rainforest-style habitat. In the Morian Hall of Paleontology, giant dinosaur skeletons tower overhead, and immersive displays showcase prehistoric fossils.
One of the most fun things to do here is explore the Cabinet of Curiosities on the second floor and open drawers filled with collections of artifacts like seashells, bird eggs, and more. Animal lovers will enjoy both the Frensley/Graham Hall of African Wildlife and Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife.
Taking up the entire fourth floor of the museum is the Wiess Energy Hall, which boasts interactive exhibits with a bevy of STEM-related innovations to learn about. Be sure to catch a nature-inspired film at the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, Houston’s first 3D IMAX experience.
4. Visit the Wondrous Waterwall
Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park is one of the top things to see in Houston. Stand in front of the iconic 64-foot-tall waterwall and look up as water rushes straight down, spraying onlookers with a fine mist. It’s actually quite refreshing on a hot summer day and a can’t-miss photo opportunity when you’re in town.
The wall itself is a semi-circular design with a surface made from beautiful black obsidian aggregate. A whopping 11,000 gallons of water topples over the peak of the waterwall every minute!
Located in the city’s Uptown district, the vast park area around the waterwall is covered in a grand canopy of 186 live oak trees, so it’s a great place to have a picnic or take a rest between visits to nearby shops and museums. The site of countless marriage proposals and photoshoots, a stop at this iconic Houston spot is a truly magical experience!
5. Take Center Stage at the Hobby Center
Houston has a robust Theater District with a variety of live performance venues that spans an area roughly 17 city blocks in size. But, there is truly no better place to see live theater in the city than at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.
Throughout the year, the theater hosts a number of Broadway show traveling tours through a partnership called Broadway at the Hobby Center. Depending on when you visit, you can expect to see award-winning performances of hit shows like Hamilton, Fiddler on the Roof, Hello Dolly, and more. Tickets to major events tend to sell out months in advance, so be sure to plan ahead if you want to snag seats for one of the more popular shows.
Built in 2002, the facility boasts a beautiful, modern exterior, with an interior 3,150-seat traditional-style theater that rivals even the most historic halls on Broadway. The view from the theater’s balcony and mezzanine levels are some of the best for show-goers who want to take in every detail of the magnificent sets and Broadway-caliber performances.
6. Shop ’Til You Drop at The Galleria
No trip to Houston is complete without a stop at The Galleria. They say everything is bigger in Texas, and this 2.48-million-square-foot shopping center – the largest in the state and fourth-largest in the country – is no exception. There are more than 400 stores to browse, two high-rise hotels, and plenty of restaurants and bars to enjoy at this Houston bucket list destination.
If you’re looking for high-end shopping, The Galleria is home to premier luxury shops like Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Gucci, Chanel, and more. Anchor department stores spanning multiple stories include Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue. There’s also a huge ice skating rink located on the mall’s bottom level.
It’s easy to spend an entire day exploring all that The Galleria has to offer. Stay at either The Westin Oaks or Westin Galleria Hotel, and you won’t have to go far for fantastic shopping and dining.
When you get hungry, head to the food court, where you’ll find typical mall-style fare, specialty offerings like sushi served on a carousel conveyor and quick-service chain restaurants like Chipotle and LaMadeline. For a sit-down, fine dining experience, head to Fig & Olive or Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House.
7. Rope and Ride at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
Each spring, hundreds of thousands of people head to Houston to attend the Houston Livestock Show And Rodeo. Also called RodeoHouston, the event is the largest livestock exhibition and rodeo in the world and has taken place every year since 1932. One of the most unique things to do in Houston, there are so many things to see and do at this three-week-long event!
Held at Houston’s NRG Park, the whole thing kicks off with the four-day-long World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, where world-renowned chefs go head-to-head to see who can impress the judges with the tastiest barbecued brisket, sausage, and more. Gather inside the canopied tents each night of the rodeo’s cook-off to dance to live country music and taste some of the best barbecue around.
Ride rides and play games at RodeoHouston’s carnival, eat unique treats like fried Oreos and roasted turkey legs, and shop for Western attire and trinkets from local vendors. Attend a live horse auction, browse a variety of livestock exhibits, visit the petting zoo to get up-close-and-personal with the animals, and definitely don’t miss the calf scramble!
Each night, watch real cowboys rope and ride during rodeo events like calf roping and barrel racing before enjoying superstar performances from top musical acts like George Strait and Beyoncé.
8. Catch an Astros Game at Minute Maid Park
Home to the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros, Minute Maid Park is an iconic Houston landmark that is worth a visit for any sports fan. Built in 2000, the ballpark boasts one of Major League Baseball’s few retractable roofs, so you can enjoy watching baseball no matter what the weather’s like outside.
The site of a former train station called Union Station, much of the original architecture has been integrated into the park’s structure, and it’s just stunning to see. Within the building’s main concourse are the clubhouse, multiple cafes, a team store, and executive office spaces. An homage to the building’s history, a life-sized model train is located toward the top of the stadium, where a conductor blasts the horn after each home run.
No matter how you feel about the home team, the stadium alone is well worth a visit. Daily tours are held in the off-season, where you can get a behind-the-scenes look at the locker rooms, see the press box, marvel at the luxury suites, and visit the dugouts. The venue also hosts various concerts and events throughout the year.
Not a baseball fan? Houston is also home to three other professional sports teams – NBA’s Houston Rockets, NFL’s Houston Texans, and MLS’s Houston Dynamo – each with their own spectacular stadium to visit when you’re in town.
9. Sip a Brew (Or Two!) at Saint Arnold Brewing Company
This destination brewery in the heart of the Bayou City is one of the best places to visit in Houston. The city is home to a top-notch craft beer scene, boasting nationally recognized brands and niche microbreweries. But if you only have time for one, Saint Arnold Brewing Company is a must-do thing in Houston!
At Texas’ oldest craft brewery, you’ll find both a family-friendly restaurant and beer garden with a more upscale bar-style experience. The brewery’s recently renovated outdoor space is the perfect spot to relax with friends and enjoy a handcrafted beer.
Located in the heart of downtown, it’s a beloved spot of locals but also a draw for visitors from far and wide. Choose from an array of craft brews with a Texas twist like the refreshingly outdoorsy Lawnmower, the hometown-style lager aptly named H-Town Pils, and a hoppy American IPA called Art Car after the city’s annual Art Car Parade.
On the restaurant’s menu, you’ll find classic pub food like hot wings, soft pretzels with house mustard, and four different varieties of French fries. True to their bayou roots, the menu also boasts local favorites like Cajun boudin balls and a crawfish roll sandwich.
10. Attend a Pop-Up Event at Discovery Green
The 12-acre public park known as Discovery Green is one of the best outdoor spaces in Houston. Here, you’ll find an expansive space filled with a sprawling, well-manicured lawn where you can spread out and really enjoy the great outdoors surrounded by the high-rise buildings of Houston’s skyline.
Depending on what time of year you visit, you can hear local bands at outdoor music festivals, shop at open-air flea markets, attend outdoor fitness classes, see eclectic art shows, and more. In the winter, Discovery Green is home to the city’s only outdoor ice rink.
Dine at The Grove, an eco-friendly culinary hot spot with a rooftop garden where you can eat local fare and upscale cuisine with plenty of Gulf Coast flair. For a more casual dining experience, pack a picnic or head to The Lake House for made-to-order street tacos, signature salads, and juicy burgers.
Admission to the park is free, as are the majority of events held on-site, but the best place to park is a paid parking garage located below the park.
11. Tour Historic Rice University
Some of the most beautiful architecture in the city of Houston can be found on the campus of Rice University. The private university is home to approximately 7,000 students and is the perfect spot to immerse yourself in Houston’s culture.
The 300-acre, tree-lined campus is a gorgeous place to explore on foot and marvel at more than 70 historic buildings. There is plenty to see and do around campus, but a quick stop by the visitor’s center when you first arrive can help you plan your visit. There are even several guided tour options to choose from.
While you’re on campus, catch a stage performance by the Rice Visual and Dramatic Arts department or view modern art installations at the Moody Center for the Arts. Then, stroll through the beautiful Lynn R. Lowery Arboretum or catch a baseball, basketball, or football game and cheer on one of the Rice Owls star sports teams.
If you get hungry, stop by Little Kitchen HTX at the Brochstein Pavilion, a bustling social hub that’s the perfect spot for students to mingle with visitors and community members. The weekly rotating menu features locally sourced ingredients and boasts healthy dishes like cauliflower tacos, curried chicken, and a black bean portobello cheeseburger.
12. See a Show Under the Stars at Miller Outdoor Theatre
Of all of the city’s performing arts and events venues, Miller Outdoor Theatre is one of the most unique places to visit in Houston. Located on 7.5 acres of land in Hermann Park, the open-air theater offers a one-of-a-kind experience.
See professional-caliber performances by local acting and dancing troupes take center stage. All of the performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre are free and open to the public, but certain shows will require tickets reserved in advance. Whether you want to listen to classical music, see a lively jazz dance ensemble, see a children’s theater performance, enjoy Shakespeare, or see a viewing of a classic film, you can do it all here.
Located under the covered seating area directly in front of the stage are 6,205 stadium-style seats. You can also grab some lawn chairs or bring a blanket to sit on if you want to cozy up underneath the stars and sit on the grassy hillside area behind the main seating area.
13. See Historic Works of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston
For a dose of true culture in the Houston area, head to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. With a vast collection of nearly 70,000 works of art from all over the world, you can see everything from paintings and sculptures to ancient art, drawings, photography, and more.
The 12th-largest museum in the world by gallery space, it can be hard to know where to begin. To help make sure you hit all the high points, there are several types of gallery tours and guided talks offered at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. With a solid mix of traveling and permanent exhibits, there is just so much to see here.
You can find a variety of iconic art on display, including works from Picasso, photography by Georgia O’Keeffe, and much more. One of the top areas to explore is the Bayou Bend Collection, filled with American decorative art and paintings on permanent display inside of a historic home on the museum property.
Spend some time outdoors in the gorgeous Cullen Sculpture Garden, where more than 25 works from the museum’s collection are on display. If you get hungry, the MFA Cafe offers Italian-inspired cuisine and has a European-style coffee bar to enjoy as well.
14. Marvel at Houston’s Iconic Murals
The thriving Houston art scene is alive and well, as evidenced by the city’s many murals. The street art is plastered on the side of historic buildings throughout the city, and a tour of these murals is one of the most fun things to do in Houston!
Using the handy Houston Mural Map, you can plan a route that will take you through different parts of town. Each mural offers a unique backdrop to take stunning photos or simply just enjoy viewing the works of art.
Some murals capture the true spirit of Space City with slogans like “Don’t Mess with Texas,” while others immortalize city icons with classic catchphrases like newscaster Marvin Zindler’s “Slime in the Ice Machine.” Pose in front of “Angel Wings” on Harrisburg Boulevard for an unforgettable (and Insta-worthy!) snapshot.
Satisfy your sweet tooth and snap a pic of a funky mural at Voodoo Doughnut on Washington Avenue. Gaze at glorious creatures on the outside of the African Elephant Houston Museum at Hermann Park, or immerse yourself in the landscape of Wild Wonderland on Travis Avenue.
15. Experience History at the San Jacinto Monument
Texans love to celebrate their history, and there’s no better place in Houston to do just that than at the San Jacinto Monument. This historic landmark stands a stunning 570 feet tall, 265 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty!
The structure is made mostly from limestone, and etched onto the outside of the monument’s walls are battle scenes and a written synopsis of The Battle of San Jacinto, during which Texas won its independence from Mexico. Situated alongside Houston’s Ship Channel, the battlefield site spans 455 acres and is also home to the USS Texas Battleship.
Inside the monument is a historical museum filled with artifacts like cannonballs, uniforms, and swords, as well as displays where you can learn even more about the 1836 battle. Watch a half-hour film called Texas Forever and then take an elevator ride to the top of the monument for a spectacular view of the surrounding area.
The rolling hills of the surrounding battleground historic site boast plenty of spots for a picnic lunch, and Juan Seguin Memorial Park is nearby where your kids can let off some steam. After your visit to the monument, grab a bite to eat at the Monument Inn restaurant and enjoy fresh-caught gulf coast seafood.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Houston. What’s your favorite thing to do in Space City?
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