Houston is America’s fourth-largest city and is without a doubt one of the nation’s most cosmopolitan destinations. Although Houston is widely known for its contributions to space exploration, the city boasts world-class dining, a thriving art scene, numerous hotels, plenty of shopping opportunities, and an active nightlife as well.
Strolling through the Historic District or the high-rises of downtown, you’ll find a diverse city that’s full of energy. During your stay, you can enjoy one of Houston’s outstanding art performances or one of the 400 events hosted in the city each year. You can also catch a sports game — Houston prides itself on being a sports town, representing all major sports. No matter your interests, you’re bound to find something cool to do in this incredible city.
But beyond its main attractions, Houston is home to many hidden gems. If traveling off the well-worn path appeals to you, then we invite you to add these eight wonderful places in Houston to your itinerary.
1. Lankford Grocery & Market
How did a grocery store make it onto a list of hidden gems? It’s a valid question that I won’t blame you for asking. But there’s more to this ’40s-era establishment than meets the eye. Lankford Grocery & Market is actually a full working restaurant where you might just find the best burgers you’ve ever tasted. The place is run by Eydie Prior, who is also the head cook, and the restaurant’s homey environment and comfort food have locals coming back for seconds, thirds, and fourths. The restaurant’s decorations change with the seasons, and Prior cooks up breakfasts just as her mother used to. The restaurant, once owned by Prior’s parents, was a grocery store when it first opened in 1939. Over time, however, the comfort food the family served became the bigger attraction.
2. Moorehead’s Blueberry Farm
For some sweet family fun, check out this hidden berry paradise in Houston. Moorehead’s Blueberry Farm is the oldest pick-your-own blueberry farm in Texas — it’s been around since 1977 and is home to more than 20 varieties of blueberries on more than 20 acres of land. Moorehead’s is a family-owned and family-operated farm that is well worth visiting, especially if you’ve got little ones in tow. Don’t be shy — fill your bucket to the brim with fresh blueberries, and then whip up some amazing blueberry pancakes the next morning! The farm is located in Conroe, Texas, about 40 miles from downtown Houston. A trip to Moorehead’s would make a fun day excursion for the whole family.
3. Lucky Land Houston
Want to get a taste of China without having to fly across the globe? Houston is home to a fascinating Chinese culture museum that doesn’t require a lengthy journey to visit: Lucky Land, located just 20 minutes north of downtown. The 2-acre park showcases Chinese culture and history. At Lucky Land, you can see a large-scale replica of China’s Terracotta Army, a collection of terracotta statues depicting the warriors of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China; smaller replicas of traditional Chinese villages; beautiful Chinese gardens; a panda village; kung fu statues; and well-stocked koi fish ponds. Learn more about Chinese culture and make some wonderful memories at this tucked-away gem.
4. Orange Show Center For Visionary Art
The Orange Show, located in Houston’s East End neighborhood, was single-handedly built by Jeff McKissack, a postal worker, between 1956 and his death in 1980. According to the Orange Show’s website, “McKissack used common building materials and found objects — bricks, tiles, fencing, farm implements — to transform an East End lot into an architectural maze of walkways, balconies, arenas, and exhibits decorated with mosaics and brightly painted iron figures.” Each piece of the structure was hand-placed and hand-painted by McKissack. The outdoor 3,000-square-foot marvel is also home to an oasis, a wishing well, a pond, a stage, a museum, and a gift shop.
One of the most unique works of folk art in the country, McKissack’s creation celebrates the orange, the artist’s favorite fruit, and reminds visitors of all ages of the importance of hard work and good nutrition for health and longevity.
After McKissack’s death, the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art was founded by a group of local patrons who sought to keep McKissack’s vision alive and preserve the venue he built. Today, visitors can tour the Orange Show’s impressive art display, attend a concert, or participate in a creative art and preservation program. According to the website, “the Orange Show site is at the center of these programs, a living example of how individual vision can dramatically enrich community and culture.”
Before you leave Houston, be sure to appreciate this gem lovingly crafted by one of the city’s most creative residents.
5. Destination Mound Town
“Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.”
You may recall these lyrics from “Pure Imagination,” sung by Gene Wilder in the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory film. If that movie still tugs on your heartstrings and you’d like to have your own experience of Wonkatania, then the Destination Mound Town train tunnel is for you.
While there’s no boat manned by a crew of Oompa Loompas rowing steadily down a chocolate river, you’ll see mesmerizingly wacky mural art. The tunnel was created by Houston-based artist Trenton Doyle Hancock. A music-maker and dreamer, Hancock shares his pure imagination with the world. You’ll see fantastical landscapes filled with mythical animals and plants. As you pass through the tunnel, pay attention to the transitioning colors — from psychedelic colors in the daylight to deep black and blue during nightfall. This attraction is truly one of a kind.
6. Jerry Matheson Park
If you’re staying in northwest Houston and are looking for a way to entertain the children in your party, there’s a fun little park you should visit.
Just over 30 miles from downtown Houston in the town of Tomball, Texas, is Jerry Matheson Park, named for a former Tomball City Council member. Most locals, however, call it “the tire park” — the 10-acre park is home to an inventive interactive playground made of wood and dozens of tires in every configuration imaginable. Kids of all ages will enjoy the tire swings, tire bridges, tire climbing walls, and more. Parents and grandparents will appreciate that the playground features a section for toddlers and a nearby section for older children. Other fun attractions at the park include a swimming pool, a pee-wee baseball field, and four fenced-in tennis courts.
The best part? The park is rarely crowded — if you go at the right time, you might even have it to yourself. This is a space where the whole family can enjoy some fun in the sun.
7. Battleship Texas State Historic Site
Located less than an hour away from downtown Houston in La Porte, Texas, is the last remaining battleship that participated in both World War I and World War II. The old ship, the USS Texas, took part in several significant battles during both wars. Today, the ship serves as a museum and is docked in the Houston Ship Channel.
You can choose to take a guided tour or tour the ship on your own. On both tours, you’ll explore the mighty naval vessel — from the Flag Bridge, 60 feet above the water, to the engine room, 20 feet below the water — and learn about the men who lived there. You’ll also see the restored sleeping quarters and medical facilities, engine rooms, and guns. The guided tours, held from the fall through the spring, will give you a look at parts of the battleship that are closed to the public.
The ship is wheelchair-accessible and offers a gift shop full of souvenirs and snacks. After your tour, enjoy a picnic with the family at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site.
8. Willow Waterhole Greenway
Located between the Westbury and Willowbend neighborhoods in the southwest part of Houston is the beautiful Willow Waterhole Greenway. This space comprises 290 acres of ponds, walking trails, and lush coastal prairie. If you’re looking to get away from the bustle of H-Town for a bit, the Willow Waterhole Greenway is the perfect place to walk your furry companion (don’t forget the leash) or take a solitary stroll. The park is open from dawn until dusk, 365 days a year. Whether it’s biking, birding, lounging on the lawn, or picnicking you’re after, Willow Waterhole not only permits it, but encourages it. As you relish the final hours of your Houston vacation, toast to a trip well taken while enjoying the city’s horizon.
For more off-the-beaten-path fun in Houston, check out these 11 surprising things to do in the Space City.
*Updated August 2019 by Traneah Ford