Houston is cool — despite what your out-of-town friends think. In fact, GQ magazine recently even admitted as much, expressing some serious love for the city with the bold proclamation that “Houston is the new capital of southern cool.”
But, you already know this if you live, work, and play in the sprawling metropolis of Space City. The fourth largest city in the United States may not have Austin’s cliché “weird” factor, but it has so much more.
Here’s a reminder of a few of the many things you might take for granted — and a priority list of where you should take your out-of-town friends for some seriously cool fun.
Now, this list isn’t all of Houston’s most lauded landmarks and tourist hot spots, and that’s because there’s nothing like throwing in a few under-the-radar gems to make the biggest impression.
Where: The Brown Foundation, Inc. Plaza, 5101 Montrose Blvd.
Houston has its own “Chicago Bean” — the Cloud Column by Anish Kapoor (the same artist who is responsible for the Windy City’s) — and you and your friends can debate which one reigns supreme.
Where: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonet St. and 5601 Main St.
The MFAH is a must-see anyway, as it’s among the 10 largest art museums in the U.S. with more than 65,000 works. But, make sure you take your crew through the underground tunnel linking the Caroline Wiess Law Building and the Audrey Jones Beck Building on the main Sarofim Campus. Artist James Turrell has turned the walls into vessels for conducting light and color, with a raised walkway that gives you a surreal sense of walking (or floating) in space.
Where: 3700 Main St.
Get your live music fix at this famous destination (and sister to the Austin venue of the same name) for roots rock, rockabilly, Gulf Coast soul, and rock ‘n’ roll bands.
Where: 807 Taft St.
It’s the best of both foodie worlds at this dual-concept place that offers casual eating at Provisions with fine dining at The Pass. Whether you go for the relaxed menu of modernized classics at the former, or an adventurous, drink-paired five- or eight-course menu at the latter, it’s a win-win.
Where: 501 Crawford St.
Take everyone out to the ballgame to watch the Astros at Minute Maid Park. The place even has some history to up its game — it was built to accommodate the Union Station entryway that dates back to 1911.
Where: 1533 Sul Ross St.
The museum’s surrealist holdings — and the Dan Flavin installation in Richmond Hall — are reason enough for a visit. But, so are the rest of the 17,000-ish paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, and rare books on display. It’s considered one of the most important privately assembled collections of the 20th century.
Where: 924 Congress
Giving back is always a good thing — and OKRA (Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs) couldn’t agree more. For each drink purchased here, you receive a vote to cast for one of four local charities. The charity with the most votes at the end of the month gets the next month’s proceeds. What’s more, the place is housed in a historic building that was home to the Original Casino Saloon that dates back to 1882, and the original barrel vault ceilings are still intact.
Pro tip: ask the bartender about the “classic cocktails.”
Where: 1 NRG Park
From football to bull-riding to Beyonce, it’s all fair game at this impressive complex. The NRG Stadium is home to both the Houston Texans and the world-famous Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and the iconic NRG Astrodome hosts other major sports and entertainment performances. There’s always something to see.
Where: 310 Main St.
There are no pastries for the taking here — despite its name. But, that doesn’t matter because the real treats are the drinks. This authentic mezcaleria celebrates the rich and vibrant drinking culture of Mexico with their self-proclaimed best margaritas in Houston and one of the best agave spirit selections in the world. Oh, and you can tell your friends that the place was named after the 1838 conflict between Mexico and France — The Pastry War. Your trivia for the day — you’re welcome.
Where: 2000 Lyons Ave.
A trip to Texas' oldest craft brewery is kind of mandatory. Take a tour, then hang out at the beer garden and restaurant for a bite to eat with your fave brew — and a great scene with skyline views.
Where: 1510 Polk St.
Home to the Houston Rockets, this place is a slam dunk for a night out. As one of the largest arenas in the world, the venue also plays host to the nation’s top concerts and touring shows.
Where: 410 Bagby St. at Memorial Dr.
Truly an underwater adventure, this is no ordinary aquarium — and that’s what you’ll have to emphasize to your friends who may not want to spend a few hours with fish. And, that’s just fine, because there’s a Ferris wheel, rain forest, temple of white tigers, restaurants, and more in this six-acre entertainment and dining complex — in addition to the 500,000-gallon aquatic wonderland.
Where: 1500 Binz St.
If your friends happen to have any kids in tow, this museum is a playground for the mind with innovative learning experiences and other adventures. However, it is also in the Museum District, so you can escape to another nearby art hub if the gadgets and gizmos aren’t doing it for you here.
Where: One Monument Circle, La Porte
Safety in numbers! Take your friends sky high to the dizzying observation deck of this world’s tallest monument column — all in, it soars 567.31 feet into the air. The monument commemorates the battleground that became the birth of Texas independence, which is pretty epic in and of itself.
Where: 900-110 blocks of Main Street
Stroll the square, if for no other reasons than to see the ever-changing works of Art Blocks like the Trumpet Flower sculpture, Sky Dance (Houston’s largest mural), and Main Street marquee as well as other Crayola treatments of this downtown corridor.
Where: 1500 McKinney St.
The urban greenspace is pretty magical in its own right, what with canopies of trees, lush landscaping, Kinder Lake, art installations, and more. But, the free daily activities — from fitness and yoga classes to outdoor movies, concerts and entertainment, and other signature events — are what really makes it a must-go.
“Houston Is Inspired” Mural
Where: 313 Travis St.
At least one graffiti photo opp is required with out-of-towners, so it might as well be this mural that was created especially for H-Town by street artist GONZO247.
Where: 5404 Telephone Rd.
We all know it doesn’t look like much, but looks can be deceiving. This place has been turning out sweet and savory kolaches since 1956 — and you just have to have your friends experience them.
Where: River Oaks, 1835 W. Alabama; Rice Village, 2521 University Blvd.
Chocolate is always the right answer. And, you’ll need your friends by your side so you can order several different desserts at this decadent “bar” — starting with a gigantic slice of Uncle Daryl’s four-layer chocolate cake with mousse, toffee bits, and chocolate chips. Bring on the sugar coma.
Where: 27700 Katy Fwy., Katy
Car wash or kaleidoscope experience? Both, at the Buc-ee’s in Katy that boasts the world’s longest carwash (225 feet, to be precise). Regardless, the mega-convenience chain is pretty much a must-stop for your friends — especially those who are road-tripping it to Houston.
Where: Le Méridien Houston Downtown, 1121 Walker St.
Grab a drink at Oxbow7’s rooftop lounge perched 23 stories up. With that cocktail comes stellar 360-degree sunset and skyline views of downtown. Cheers to that.
Where: 4444 Westheimer Rd.
Rose-shaped Italian gelato is the best kind of bouquet. We think your friends will agree — especially with the exotically decadent flavors of the moment served up here.
Where: 301 Milam
Hot Body by Broadway workouts, cool outdoor movies, chill jam sessions, and even blanket bingo … what more could you want? You can do any and all of the above with the park’s free event programming, or just have a picnic with your friends.
Where: 288 Lake
It’s stand up paddle boarding with a twist — literally. Downward dog on the water during BIG SUP’s two-hour classes that are designed for all levels and include 30 minutes of on-land instruction, 15 minutes of paddle time, and 75 minutes of SUP yoga.
Where: 1601 E. NASA Pkwy.
Play astronaut for the day — no moon suit required — at this gateway to the NASA Johnson Space Center and Houston's first Smithsonian Affiliate museum. From Mission Control to Mission Mars and so much more, this place inspires wonder with more than 400 things to see and do.
Where: 22306 Aldine Westfield Rd., Humble
Get out of city limits at this oasis of serenity and nature along Cypress Creek. Filled with 300 acres of hiking trails, expansive gardens, and native and cultivated plants, it’s a lush place to go au naturel.
Where: Marriott Marquis Houston, 1777 Walker St.
Proving that everything really is bigger in Texas — even the pool — is the Marriott Marquis hotel and its “lazy river.” Make your friends stay here rather than Airbnb (or camping out at your place), then you all can take advantage of the pool scene.
Where: 3422 Allen Pkwy.
This place is #brunchgoals. The food is on point, and so is the vibe. The glass treehouse dining room overlooks Buffalo Bayou Park, creating a magical setting for weekend brunch.
Where: Multiple locations
Yogis and non-yogis will nama-stay for a beer because the after-yoga brews are worth the sweat sesh. Yoga & Hops held its first class at 8th Wonder Brewery in May 2014 — and, now, the classes pop up at breweries all around town.
Where: 215 Kipp Ave., Kemah
It’s all fun and games at this coastal theme park that’s worth the short road trip for the kitschy, old-school amusement park rides alone. The people watching are not bad, either. And, if you want something besides cotton candy and carnival food, there are plenty of restaurants for post-roller-coaster feasting.
Where: 6102 Hermann Park Dr.
The main reason you want to ride the train is to see artist Trenton Doyle Hancock’s handiwork. He has transformed the interior walls of the train tunnel into a fantastical landscape populated with creatures both real and imagined.
Where: 200 N. Elm St., Tomball
Sweet and smoky flavors swirl together at this place that makes rustic chocolate and urban barbecue. It’s been heralded among the top ten barbecue joints in Texas Monthly. So, you know it’s going to be next-level good. Sure, it’s a few minutes outside H-Town, but the distance is a small sacrifice for this decadence.