Houston will surprise you, though you may have to move around to see why. Below is a sampling of well-known attractions paired with lesser known but equally interesting, inspiring, or fun spots only a short distance away. Some give us glimpses of local history, and others reflect evolving efforts to rethink how we inhabit places. Some may appear beautiful, while others appear jarring or provocative. The attractions below are organized based on their proximity to George R. Brown Convention Center (closest attractions first)
Shows or Performances in the Theater District (Downtown): the Ballet, the Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Symphony, plays at the Alley Theatre. Ticket prices can be quite reasonable. Nearby: The Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park (Downtown), 1100 Bagby St. (2-min. drive or 8-min. walk from Wortham Center): small local history museum and tours of nineteenth-century houses, cottages, and one church. Also nearby is Sundance Cinemas, 510 Texas Ave., 713-223-3456.
Ensemble Theatre (Midtown), 3535 Main St.: professional African American theater founded in 1976; said to be the largest and oldest of its kind in the U.S. Southwest. Nearby: Project Row Houses, 2521 Holman St. (5-min. drive from the Ensemble Theatre): shotgun houses turned into artistic venues and a non-profit community organization devoted to neighborhood revitalization; located in an economically distressed area.
The Museums in the Museum District: a fine arts museum, contemporary arts museum, natural sciences museum, children’s museum, health museum, Holocaust museum, and more, all clustered in a few blocks within walking distance of Hermann Park. Nearby: The Printing Museum, 1324 W. Clay St. (5-10 min. drive from the Museum District): appropriate for visitors interested in the history and culture of books.
Hermann Park, 6001 Fannin St.: large urban park with sculptures, fountains, an outdoor theater, a Japanese garden, and a pond with paddle boats, and the Houston Zoo, 6200 Hermann Park Dr., located in Hermann Park. Nearby: The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art and Smither Park, 2402 Munger St. (10-min. drive from Hermann Park): sprawling house-like structure commemorating one local resident’s love of the orange; folk art.
Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, 4501 Woodway Dr.: small education center for kids and a large natural area within Memorial Park, the largest park inside the 610 loop; well-maintained trails through swamplands and woods. Nearby: The Beer Can House, 222 Malone St. (5-min. drive from the Arboretum): aptly titled house-museum of one of Houston’s most beloved and eccentric residents; folk art.
Space Center Houston, 1601 Nasa Parkway, Houston, TX: A showcase of what Houston, also known as Space City, is best known for. Nearby: Kemah Boardwalk, 215 Kipp Ave., Kemah, TX (15-min. drive from Space Center): bayside carnival rides, a roller-coaster, restaurants and bars, shops, boat rides, and frequent live music; free admission to boardwalk; pay per ride.
OTHER CURIOSITIES, OR ADAPTING TO THE HOUSTON WEATHER
Like many of the places listed above, these sites show aspects of the city that one won’t find everywhere. They reflect how some Houstonians have adapted to the local weather. Although they are not all attractions per se, they are worth a look for the curious.
Downtown Tunnel System: underground tunnel system connecting many of Houston’s skyscrapers; includes some lunchtime eateries (blocks from George R. Brown Convention Center) Click here for a tunnel map.
Trolley Pub Houston, 2708 Bagby St.: traveling pub (2 miles from George R. Brown Convention Center)
Alabama Ice House, 1919 W. Alabama St.: outdoor but cooled bar (3.7 miles from George R. Brown Convention Center)
Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park, 2800 Post Oak Blvd.: large fountain structure; good cooling-off and picture-taking spot adjacent to the Galleria. The park is open every day from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (8 miles from George R. Brown Convention Center)
Visitors may pay to park in the visitors’ section of the Williams Tower parking deck on Waterwall Dr. However, it is common to see Galleria shoppers walking to the Waterwall, and most of the Galleria’s parking decks–found on McCue Rd., W. Alabama St., and Westheimer Rd.–are free.
iPic River Oaks Theater, 4444 Westheimer Rd.: luxury cinema with restaurant and bar (8 miles from the George R. Brown Convention Center)
CHEAP AND/OR CONVENIENT OUTINGS
On Thursdays, many of the museums in the Houston Museum District are free either all day or during selected hours. As of January 2016, this was the case for the following museums, all a short walk from the Museum District Station on the METRORail’s Red Line:
- The Houston Museum of Fine Arts (1001 Bissonnet St., 713-639-7300): free 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. on Thursdays
- Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (5216 Montrose Blvd., 713-284-8250): free 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. on Thursdays
- Houston Museum of Natural Science (5555 Hermann Park Dr., 713-639-4629): free 2 – 5 p.m. (permanent exhibits only) on Thursdays
- The Health Museum (1515 Hermann Dr., 713-521-1515): free 2 – 7 p.m. on Thursdays
- Children’s Museum of Houston (1500 Binz St., 713-522-1138): free 5 – 8 p.m. on Thursdays
- Holocaust Museum Houston (5401 Caroline St., 713-942-8000): free 2 – 5 p.m. on Thursdays
- The Jung Center (5200 Montrose Blvd., 713-524-8253): free 9 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Note: the Jung Center consists primarily of a small gallery and a gift shop.
The following museums are always free, though they accept donations:
- Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose Blvd., 713-284-8250
- The Jung Center, 5200 Montrose Blvd., 713-524-8253. Note: the Jung Center consists primarily of a small gallery and a gift shop.
For a full listing of museums in the area, including other museums that are either always free or free on all or part of Thursdays, visit the website of the Houston Museum District.
Remember, a one-way ticket for the METRORail costs $1.25 and may be purchased with cash or a credit card at any METRORail station. METRORail riders abide by an honor system in which occasionally an officer will check tickets and fine those riders without one.
Visitors who wish to remain downtown can stop by the upscale bowling alley Lucky Strike, 1201 San Jacinto St., 713-343-3300, just a short walk west of the Hilton Americas-Houston. For a more historical experience, visit Sam Houston Park, 1000 Bagby St. (the west end of downtown), which contains houses and other structures from Houston’s mid-nineteenth-century past. Visitors may enter the park for free. Paid tours of selected historical structures are provided by the Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park, 1100 Bagby St., 713-655-1912, about four blocks southwest of Sundance Cinemas.
Within walking distance of the Hilton Americas – Houston and the George R. Brown Convention Center are two major stadiums:
These venues host additional events as well. For example, the NCAA Final Four will be held Sat., April 2, and Mon., April 4, 2016, at NRG Stadium.
GALVESTON ISLAND: ONE HOUR SOUTHEAST ON I-45
Galveston, population 50,000, is a barrier island one-hour’s drive from downtown Houston; just head southeast on I-45 (a.k.a. the Gulf Freeway). Popular before Houston’s founding, Galveston is filled with streets and structures affording a look at the Gulf Coast’s nineteenth-century past. In recent decades, the city endured many a hurricane and tropical storm, but now it is back and an important link to the area’s settlement and natural environs.
Popular Galveston attractions include the following:
The Strand Historic District: downtown area filled with shops and restaurants near where cruise ships dock; has a New Orleans flavor; centered on Strand St., but also see the art galleries and local stores along Post Office St.
Tours of Historic Homes: Bishop’s Palace (1402 Broadway Ave. J) and the Moody Mansion (2618 Broadway Ave. J) are among the large, historic homes turned museums worth visiting for architecture and antique lovers
Beach: along the southern and eastern ends of the island (opposite the Strand Historic District); metered parking along Seawall Blvd.; restaurant and bars offering good views include The Spot (3204 Seawall Blvd), and see the LGBT-friendly bar The Sandbox (3102 Seawall Blvd.)
Pleasure Pier, 2501 Seawall Blvd.): Galveston’s newest attraction, featuring a roller-coaster and carnival rides
Moody Gardens: (1 Hope Blvd.): linked pyramids containing an aquarium, a mini-rainforest, 3-D and 4-D theaters, traveling exhibits, and more; great for children