I moved to a suburb of Houston during the pandemic. It was an interesting time to move. So many attractions were closed, restaurants open for take-out only, no live entertainment. I met neighbors because I walk my dog, but other than that I had very little contact with the outside world. I know my story is no different from what you all (y’all) experienced.
I researched things to do in Houston during the lockdown, and once things began to open up, I started to explore. The sprawling metropolitan area (called Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land Metropolitan area) covers an area larger than New Jersey. And Houston’s 2.3 million people are diverse, with 145 spoken languages and 90 countries having consular representation.
I received two complimentary CityPASS tickets (each valued at $64) to use for up to five attractions as noted on its website. It was a hassle-free ticket I downloaded to my phone. All opinions are my own.
Here are eight fantastic things that I’ve done so far in Houston:
1. Tour Space Center Houston
Of all the attractions in Houston, I was most excited about seeing this one. The space race was something we talked about at home since my dad was a hydraulic engineer who worked on the Apollo program. I remember my mom turning on the TV for one of the launches so we could see why dad had been working so much.
Even if you do not have these same memories, my guess is that you remember the highs and the lows of the space program — Neil Armstrong’s televised moonwalk, photos of earth from space, the collective joy when Apollo 13 splashed down safely, and the shock and despair with space shuttles Challenger and Columbia.
Space Center Houston takes visitors through this history. You can tour the Skylab trainer, one of the shuttles, see the astronaut training center, mission control, and rockets. It is one of eight places in the world where you can touch a moon rock, now worn smooth by countless hands.
The highlight was attending a lecture by one of the astronauts. You can also have breakfast with an astronaut in a smaller group setting.
Pro Tip: I used my digital CityPASS for this attraction. You will still need to make reservations for a timed entry. Three different tram tours take visitors to the astronaut training center, mission control, or the rockets. Stop by the visitor information desk or download the Houston Space Center app to your phone to get a free tram boarding pass. The app will alert you when it’s time to board.
The facility is ADA accessible. I would plan a minimum of 4 hours for your visit but you could easily spend an entire day here.
2. Learn About The Natural World
The Museum of Natural Science has an amazing collection of permanent exhibits that run the gamut from dinosaurs and fossils, including polished fossilized tree trunk slices, on the first floor to the end product of their demise, petroleum, on the fourth floor. The fourth floor shows the process of oil drilling and renewable energy sources.
On the floors between, you’ll see exhibits of Texas wildlife based on the ecosystem, a fabulous seashell exhibit, and a collection of rocks, gemstones, and jewelry pieces that will make you swoon.
Pro Tip: I used the CityPASS for this admission, GetYourGuide offers museum tour tickets as well. The building is ADA accessible. Plan to spend 3 or 4 hours here.
3. Take A Tunnel Tour
Beneath Houston’s downtown, about eight miles of tunnels cover 95 city blocks. The Astroville Tunnel Tour covers the history, architecture, and even some sports trivia as you walk in air-conditioned comfort for about a mile. You pop up to ground level in notable buildings, like the award-winning Pennzoil building, Houston’s original skyscraper (the Niels-Esperson building), and the Art Deco JP Morgan Chase building with frescoes that illustrate the six flags that flew over Texas.
Pro Tip: Buy your discount tickets in advance through GetYourGuide. If you need an ADA-accessible tour, contact Astroville Tours.
4. Visit A Museum
The Museum of Fine Arts is located in Houston’s Museum District in several buildings connected by underground passages that are themselves works of art. Spanning centuries and the globe, the permanent exhibit has about 70,000 works of art from six continents.
Given the size of the collection, pick up a map at the entrance that details the art in each building to focus the visit on the art you prefer whether it is contemporary, European, or Meso-American to name a few.
Be sure to see the tunnel to the Nancy and Rich Kinder building with its rainbow of neon lights.
The Museum of Fine Arts also has two house and garden museums in the River Oaks neighborhood rather than in the museum district. The Rienzi displays a collection of European decorative arts in a 1950s mansion. The Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens has a collection of American decorative arts within a stately mansion.
For a powerful reminder of the atrocities of war, visit the Holocaust Museum Houston. It was built to preserve the past and educate visitors about the Holocaust and genocide the world over.
Take the time to watch the videos of Holocaust survivors recalling their experiences during World War II and read the diaries written by children in war-torn countries, past and present. The Butterfly Loft, a sculpture containing 500 butterflies, memorializes the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust.
The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum takes visitors through the history of Black soldiers. Because of their tenacity and fearlessness on the battlefield during the Indian Wars, Cheyenne warriors named Black soldiers that were part of the U.S. Cavalry “Buffalo Soldiers.” This museum showcases their accomplishments, milestones toward equality, involvement in each of the U.S. wars, and their tremendous contribution to NASA’s missions.
Pro Tip: Many museums have free admission on Thursdays. Visit the Museum District website for a comprehensive list of museums in the area and details on the hours for free admission.
5. Check Out The Wildlife
The Houston Zoo, like the Museum of Natural Science, is in downtown Houston’s Hermann Park. The world-class zoo has the animals you expect — lions, tigers, elephants, gorillas, and bears. I found the meerkats to be quite entertaining as they were definitely on duty guarding their colony.
The zoo has several animal encounters that are especially fun if you’re visiting with grandchildren, like feeding the giraffes.
Pro Tip: The zoo is wheelchair accessible and has plenty of picnic tables and benches. Concessions serve beer on tap.
6. Get A Bird Photo That’s In Focus
This may seem like an odd thing to include in an article, but for all of you fellow photographers who are frustrated by taking photographs of birds and would love to finally get an amazing shot in focus, here is your chance.
Usually once a month, the Houston Audubon Raptor and Education Center invites photographers to a raptor photography shoot in which Mary Anne Weber, the center’s education director, introduces you to the resident raptors — owls, kites, hawks, and a turkey vulture named Ekalaka.
7. Enjoy An Outdoor Space
Enjoy a stroll through Hermann Park’s Japanese Garden with its koi ponds, pavilions, and wooden bridges. Statuesque blue herons add to the ambiance. It’s located between the Houston Zoo and the Museum of Natural Science and is truly an oasis.
Buffalo Bayou meanders through Houston and has walking trails, great lawns, fountains, and sculptures to enjoy. Downtown skyscrapers provide a dramatic backdrop. For a unique perspective, take a Buffalo Bayou twilight boat tour where you’ll see the bayou’s wildlife and the city lights.
With more than 1,400 acres, Memorial Park is one of the largest urban parks in the nation. In addition to tennis courts, a municipal golf course, and picnic areas, the park has nature trails for walking and biking. You can download a map from the website.
8. Explore Houston’s Diverse Food Scene
With 145 different languages spoken in Houston, you can bet on a diverse food scene. I have barely scratched the surface but promise you I will continue my restaurant research long after this article is published.
Here are a few restaurants to try:
Kasra Persian Grill has two locations, one on the trendy shopping street, Westheimer and another near Space Center Houston. I had the gheymeh (yellow split peas, lemon, and fried eggplant in a spicy tomato sauce) and it was heavenly. They serve kabobs, hummus, and lentil soup, too.
I checked out SouthernQ BBQ in north Houston after a visit to a favorite museum, the National Museum of Funeral History. The restaurant deserves every rave review it gets and is my go-to for barbecue. Throw caution to the wind and enjoy the sides and a dessert.
Fadi’s Eatery is a buffet-style restaurant near the Holocaust Museum. I chose a combination plate they dished up — four choices made with fresh ingredients and cooked to perfection.
If you take a tunnel tour, you’ll see Flip ‘n Patties. It serves Filipino street food, akaushi (Japanese wagyu) burgers, and hand-cut, loaded fries.
Star Pizza has three locations that serve New York and Chicago-style pizza. You can opt for the healthy whole wheat crust, veggie personal pizza, or the cowbell with brisket and barbecue sauce.
Finally, if you like trying the best culinary treats Houston has to offer, consider the Culinary Food Tour of Downtown Houston!
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