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Houston might be one of the most surprising destinations I’ve visited recently. It’s a huge city, home to over two million people… but it’s not a popular tourist destination in the same way as other big cities like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago are. I’m always surprised by this, because I personally have loved Houston each time I’ve visited!
Houston has been a city worth visiting since the early 19th century and has grown surprisingly in the areas of heavy industry, medicine, and aerospace. Located within close reach to the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is able to be a major Southern city with good access to the water at Galveston if you have an extra couple of days to explore the area.
But in this post, I’ll share my advice for visiting Houston – Space City – itself. As you know, I love space and Houston has plenty of activities related to it… and much more that’s completely unrelated to space, too! If you’re headed to Houston and are looking for what to do, I’m here to help. Here’s a city guide for America’s 4th largest city, including what to see and do for 3 days in Houston.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Coahuiltecan, Karankawa, Sana, and Ishak (Atakapa) peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the people who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published in May 2018, and was updated most recently in September 2022.
On my second trip to Houston, I was hosted by Visit Houston as part of the Apollo 50th Anniversary.
Houston Travel Tips
After two trips in the last three years – one in February and one in July – I can safely say that anytime is a good time to visit Houston. It can be rainy in the autumn or spring or hot and humid in the summer, but there’s AC everywhere, and most of the best things to do in Houston are indoors anyway!
Before we jump into my suggested three-day Houston itinerary, here are a few quick travel tips to help you plan your trip.
When to Visit Houston
As you might guess for a city in Texas, Houston tends to be hot at certain times of the year – and can get quite muggy and humid due to the proximity of the Gulf. Unless you love that heat and humidity, you might want to plan your Houston trip during other times of the year.
In general, the best times to visit Houston are February to April and October to November, in the transition seasons between cooler winter months and the hot, humid summer. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that Houston can occasionally receive hurricane weather depending on the storm trajectories across the Gulf, so keep that in mind if you’re planning a visit during hurricane season in the autumn.
What to Pack for Houston
Given that info about when to visit, you might wonder what to pack for Houston. In short, I usually pack the same clothing I wear in the spring and autumn in the rest of the Midwest, since Houston’s shoulder seasons have very similar weather. Generally, the average high temperatures during these months will be between the mid-60s (F) to mid-70s, so that might mean shorts or trousers depending on where you call home – or it might mean tank tops or a sweater!
My best advice is to just check the forecast right before your trip. If it’s looking like a warm window, you can pack warmer travel essentials. Check out my weekend packing list for specific advice on what I recommend and pack on almost all of my trips.
As you’ll see, a big portion of this post is dedicated to helping you decide what to do in Houston. But all these attractions can get spendy if you decide you want to do more than one or two of them. How can you save? With the Houston CityPass!
The Houston CityPass is by far the best way to see many of the city’s best sights at a reasonable price; it’s especially great for family travelers. The pass includes access to Space Center Houston, plus your choice of four other major attractions: the Downtown Aquarium, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Zoo, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Kemah Boardwalk, or the Children’s Museum of Houston. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is! Click here to buy your Houston CityPass.
The Best Things to See & Do in Houston
As you plan your three-day trip to Houston, it helps to know the most popular things to do – and some of my own favorites thrown in for fun! (You’re warned – my favorites are a bit weird: bats and funerals!)
Discovery Green is one of Houston’s most popular sights. If you want to experience some outdoors in the heart of Houston, you can walk around the almost 12-acre park along paths, or rent a kayak to paddle around the small lake. It’s a must-see sight and at the top of everyone’s list – but you don’t need to spend a ton of time there, and it’s centrally located so super easy to visit.
Buffalo Bayou Park
Located just west of the downtown core, Buffalo Bayou Park is a beautiful 124-acre park with running and cycling trails, and a peacefully slow-moving river. This park is perfect for a walk, filled with public art including sculptures, and even a few hundred thousand bats, the Waugh Drive Bat Colony.
If you’re looking for great views of the Houston skyline, Buffalo Bayou Park is also the place to go.
Houston is a surprisingly colorful city. Across most of Houston’s neighborhoods, you can find pockets of street art, but the best by far is the East End. Get ready for insanely iconic and eye-popping murals on every inch of almost every building.
This is a cool spot to spend an hour or two one day if you want to get some really interesting selfies!
The Houston Museum of Natural Science
I love a good museum of history and/or natural science – and I was shocked by how much I loved the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
A historic building in its own right, the museum was founded in 1909 and has exhibits from around the world. I particularly enjoyed the Egyptology exhibit and one about native peoples in the Amazon. I had never seen an exhibit about Amazonia before, and it was one of the most interesting. There’s also a planetarium, butterfly pavilion, and large screen for IMAX-format movies.
It’s definitely family-friendly, but I’m confident curious adults will love visiting too.
Skyspace at Rice University
Located in the heart of the Rice University campus, James Turrell’s Skyspace is partially a space for displaying art — and partially a piece of public art in its own right. Used for incredible musical experiences, you can also enjoy watching the sunset or a view across the campus at any time of day.
Beer Can House
Lest you forget you’re in Texas, the Beer Can House is a home in the Rice Military neighborhood that has become an unusual public attraction. You can now take a guided tour to learn more about how the house was built – and how many cans it took to cover the entire house (spoiler: it took twenty years from 1968–1988 and over 50,000 Texas Pride beer cans!).
Johnson Space Center & Space Center Houston
Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston are my favorite experiences in Houston. Many people know Houston for its space heritage, and this is the best way to experience it first-hand.
If you’ve seen basically any famous space movie and want the chance to see the hard work NASA is doing every day – including building technology we use in our everyday lives –, spending the day at Johnson (and opting for the VIP tour) is a must.
The National Museum of Funeral History
Admittedly, the National Museum of Funeral History is a pretty obscure recommendation – and it’s a way out of town, so it’s almost better to do it on your way to the airport if that makes sense… but I went here on my last trip and it was just too unusual and interesting not to recommend.
First of all, this museum is way bigger than you’d expect, with a handful of wildly fascinating exhibits: famous deaths, the history of hearses, funerals around the world, the history of embalming… and some special exhibits from time to time! Instead of being creepy or weird, the National Museum of Funeral History is educational and normalizes what happens after death. Seriously, must do if you’re up for that sort of thing.
3 Days in Houston: A Weekend Itinerary
Okay, with all those ideas swirling around in your brain, it’s time to plan your weekend itinerary for Houston. Since you’ve made it this far, I assume you want my suggestions, so here’s how I would spend three days in Houston as a first-timer.
Day 1 – Downtown Houston’s Sights
On your first day in Houston, start out seeing the city’s most popular sights: wandering the city streets, exploring Discover Green, taking in some of the street art, and going for a long walk in Buffalo Bayou Park. I’d do it in just that order.
Make your way to Discovery Green, the epicenter for many of the city’s biggest events (like when Houston hosted the Super Bowl during my first trip – or the Apollo 50th anniversary on my second visit). Take a leisurely stroll or boat on the lake. Lunch at The Grove with a view out over the park.
In the afternoon, you could catch an Uber over to the East End to see street art, or head straight for Buffalo Bayou Park for a long walk. If you time it right, you can enjoy some of the public art in the park, and see the bats come out at sundown before or after dinner at Flora.
Day 2 – NASA Day: “Houston, Do You Copy?”
If you decide to visit Houston to learn about NASA history, I recommend giving a full day to enjoy all that Space Center Houston and Johnson Space Center have to offer.
Show up early and make your way through the Starship Gallery to visit Independence Plaza first – the space shuttle gets really toasty and crowded as the day goes on. There are other exhibits and shows to explore when you need to come in and cool off, before taking a VIP tour of Johnson Space Center.
The exact things you’ll see on the VIP tour can vary, so I won’t go into specifics, but yes it’s worth every penny to get to see what’s really going on at NASA nowadays.
In the evening, stop for dinner at Frenchie’s Italian Restaurant on NASA Parkway. The walls are adorned with NASA photos and memorabilia, which makes it a perfect end for a day of space experiences.
Day 3 – Day at the Museums
All Night at the Museum jokes aside, Houston is home to some pretty fantastic museums and it’s worth spending a day at 1-2 of them – even if you don’t consider yourself a huge museum person (I don’t.)
I recommend you start in the morning at the Houston Museum of Natural History before all of the field trips arrive. You can plan to see a planetarium show, explore the exhibits, and get lost among the collections – from gemstones to Instagram-worthy art installations.
After lunch, there are several options. More conventional museum-goers might choose to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, which is included in your Houston CityPass. If you’re a fan of more off-beat options, the National Museum of Funeral History is a must. It’s weirdly interesting to learn about the history of hearses or the deaths of famous people.
Follow up dinner with a nightcap at Neil’s Bahr to cap off an epic 3 days in Houston!
Where to Stay in Houston
Need a place to stay in Houston in between days of adventuring? Here are my best suggestions:
- The Hotel Icon is right downtown, all luxury and modern elements. From $221/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- I stayed at the Four Seasons Houston during my second trip to Houston in July 2019. From $525/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- If you prefer a bit more history in your hotels, The Lancaster was refurbished in 2018 but still has historic charm. From $263/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- While I didn’t stay in downtown Houston during my trip (I stayed on the south side closer to Johnson), here is a vacation rental in the heart of the city that caught my eye:
Now you have a good sense of planning a short few days or weekend trip to Houston. Still have questions about how to make the most of your time in Houston and the best things to do? Let me know in the comments below!