Despite being the 4th largest city in the United States, Houston is massively underrated – and not well known! When I booked a last-minute trip to the Houston area for a #NASASocial in early 2017, I decided to tack on two extra days to explore the city. I diligently searched Google and Pinterest, looking for travel guides… and found none!
If you’re headed to Houston and are looking for what to do, I’m here to help! Here’s a city guide to Houston, including what to see and do on a two-day trip (or longer, if you have the time!).
A Houston Overview
As I mentioned, 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.
Houston has been a city since the early 19th century and has grown surprisingly well in the areas of heavy industry, shipping, and aerospace. Located within close reach to the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is able to be a major Southern city – but is also at risk of hurricanes which make regular and sometimes devastating landfall.
I visited Houston in February 2017 as part of a #NASASocial event complimenting Super Bowl LI. During that time, I tried to pack in as much of Houston’s best experiences as possible and was lucky to enjoy the great weather. If you’re considering a trip to Houston, February is a good time of year; the weather and temperatures are both good, but it’s not too hot during the day to discourage exploring the city.
Read on to learn about everything I experienced in Houston, and what I’d recommend you enjoy during your trip.
The Top Sights of Houston
While I break down each of the great sights and things to do in Houston below, you can take the fast track and check out all of my recommendations in this video:
If you can believe it, Discovery Green is one of Houston’s most popular sights. It’s also the only one I haven’t seen with my own eyes!
This urban green space was at the top of my list, but I visited during the week leading up to the Super Bowl in 2017. Discovery Green was the heart of the Super Bowl Experience, and I couldn’t get access to visit (or take pictures without a whole load of NFL stuff in the picture).
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.
1500 McKinney St, Houston, TX 77010
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 (see below!).
If you’re looking for great views of the Houston skyline, Buffalo Bayou Park is also the place to go.
1800 Allen Pkwy & Memorial Drive, Houston, TX 77019
As you can see of the above photos, Houston is a surprisingly colorful city. Throughout the downtown area, I was constantly jumping in and out of my car to take pictures of the amazing murals and pieces across various buildings. Houstonia Magazine has an amazing piece exploring the history of street art and how it has spread throughout Houston.
Other Cool Sights in Houston
The sights in Houston I’ve mentioned so far are all pretty well-known and “traditional;” the rest of the locations on this list are less conventional but part of what gives Houston such a distinctive flavor.
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!).
222 Malone St, Houston, TX 77007
Proudly heralded as the 8th wonder of the world, the Astrodome has had a long and storied past as a sports and events venue. While the Astrodome is no longer open to the public, this Houston icon is now on the Register of Historic Places. There’s also a massive revitalization project that will begin in late 2018 and end by 2020. It’s worth at least driving by to see this piece of Houston heritage.
NRG Pkwy, Houston, TX 77054
Museum of Natural Science
I love a good museum of history and/or natural science – and I was shocked 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.
5555 Hermann Park Dr., Houston, Texas 77030
Johnson Space Center & Space Center Houston
As you saw in my in-depth post about deeply exploring Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston, this is one of 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.
2101 E NASA Pkwy, Houston, TX 77058
The Waugh Drive Bat Colony
Unfortunately, the bat colony that lives under the Waugh Drive Bridge was heavily impacted by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 – but the good news is that the colony will likely recover over the next few years.
Before Hurricane Harvey, as many as 250,000 bats lived under the Waugh Drive Bridge. Each evening at sunset they would stream from their homes in a massive cloud, turning the dusky sky even darker as they went out in search of food.
Though the experience will, unfortunately, be not as impactful while the colony recovers from many bats which were killed in the hurricane, it’s still amazing to see these Houston residents take flight every night.
Pro-tip: Waugh Drive Bridge is located within Buffalo Bayou Park, so if you time your explorations right, you can watch the bats come out for the evening during your time in the Park.
Waterwall is a beautiful piece of public art in west Houston at the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park. A small urban park surrounded by a mall and several office buildings. The beautiful waterfall and green space are perfect for a lunch break.
Waterwall Dr, Houston, TX 77056
Located in the heart of the Rice University campus, the 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.
Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion, Houston, TX 77005
Travel Resources for Visiting Houston
If you want to see all of these sights and more, here are a couple additional resources to help you make it happen.
The Houston CityPass is by far the best way to see as many of these sights as possible. The pass includes access to Space Center Houston, the Downtown Aquarium, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the Houston Zoo or Museum of Fine Arts, and Kemah Boardwalk or Children’s Museum of Houston. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is!
CityPass is $52 for children and $62 for adults. Click here to book your CityPass
Where to Stay in Houston
Need a place to stay in Houston in between days of adventuring?
- The Hotel Icon is right downtown, all luxury and modern elements. From $169/night. Book on Booking.com
- I stayed at the Four Seasons Houston during my second trip to Houston in July 2019. From $244/night. Book on Booking.com
- If you prefer a bit more historic in your hotels, The Lancaster is currently being refurbished but will reopen before the end of 2018. From $169/night. Book on Booking.com
- While I didn’t stay in downtown Houston during my trip (I stayed on the south side closer to Johnson), here are a few Airbnb in the heart of the city that caught my eye:
Headed to Houston and still have questions? Hit me up in the comments!