Get a Taste of These Texas Cities
Houston has been called the next great global city, the most diverse large city in the U.S. and one of America’s best places to live. These accolades rightly draw curiosity, but with the Houston area’s world-unto-itself vibe, a visit can feel, well, daunting even to a return visitor. There’s just so much to see and experience—the art and theater scenes, an Old West town, lakeside fishing, a tasty lineup of global eats, aerospace exhibits, laid-back beaches, live music, wine trails and wooded hiking paths. Where do you begin?
Don’t fret—to get you started we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite day trip options with things to do, places to see and spots to dine in and around Houston.
Houston might be best known for its rodeo, energy industries and ties to NASA, but don't overlook its love for the arts, loads of green space and award-winning culinary scene.
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After New York City, Houston is second in the nation for total theater seats, and that abundant performance space attracts the world's most sought-after events. Head to the 17-block area that makes up the Theater District to see classic or contemporary plays, touring Broadway shows, opera, ballet, comedy, symphony and music of all genres.
In the next few months alone, you could score tickets for Hamilton (Feb. 22 - March 20, 2022); The Little Mermaid (Dec. 7-22, 2021); comedian and host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah (Nov. 6); or Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra (Jan. 28, 2022).
Nearby, Miller Outdoor Theatre hosts free alfresco shows from March-October. Bring your lawn chairs, a serape and a picnic (yes, booze is fine; just avoid glass containers) for a casual night under the stars. We've got our eyes on the Houston Jazz Festival they're hosting this year (Sept. 18).
With the Houston area's 10,000 restaurants (representing cuisines from 70+ countries and domestic regions), it can be overwhelming to pick the perfect dinner spot. We recommend starting with at least one of the city's 14 James Beard semi-finalists in 2020.
Pondicheri (James Beard finalist for best chef in Texas) serves non-traditional authentic Indian food; try their butter chicken, which is smothered in tomato and garam masala curry and served with a side of turmeric rice.
Sit on the airy, stylish patio at Squable (the European-American spot nominated for best new restaurant in the US) and order the Scorpio Season cocktail—made with rum, melons, lemon, basil, honey and sumac—to drink and the Greek-style gigante beans with parsley pesto, roasted olives and fried feta to eat.
For Mexican food, hit up the Oaxacan joint Xochi (owner Tracy Vaught was nominated for best restauranteur) and try the slow-braised pork shank in tomatillo-milpero sauce (Chamorro de Puerco en Salsa Verde).
Made up of four cities (Kemah, League City, Nassau Bay and Seabrook), the Bay Area is home to NASA, the Kemah boardwalk and the US's third-largest pleasure boating community. It's located about 30 minutes' drive from Downtown Houston.
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The first word transmitted from the surface of the moon was "Houston" (followed by "the Eagle has landed.") The recipient of Neil Armstrong's message—the Johnson Space Center—continues to serve as home to Mission Control and astronaut training today.
Space nerds and the space-curious alike can witness said training, see spacesuits and space crafts, touch authentic moon and Mars rocks, and even take a backstage tour of NASA when visiting Space Center Houston (the official visitor center of NASA, a Smithsonian affiliate and a nonprofit space museum).
The Bay Area's Kemah Boardwalk is loaded with restaurants, amusement rides and shops overlooking Galveston Bay. Take a spin on the 65-foot-tall Ferris Wheel and then go to nearby Eculent for another thrilling experience.
Eculent's chef, David Skinner, has been called a modern-day Willy Wonka for his innovative, whimsical approach to food. He turns classic cuisine on its head by playing in molecular gastronomy—think an entire Caesar salad in a single leaf which is "grown" on a ceramic tree, French Onion soup made into a BonBon, or a dish that emulates the forest floor (with edible moss, escargot, truffle and mushroom).
An hours-long meal at Eculent begins with a tour of the onsite food lab and follows with a carefully choreographed multi-course dinner. What's on the menu depends on the season and ingredient availability from local farms. People travel from all over the country to dine here, so be sure to set up a reservation well in advance.
If you're not able to secure a reservation at Eculent or have younger kiddos in tow, try Outriggers Taco Truck in Kemah for a casual bite. We're partial to the blackened shrimp taco with mango, but their marinated chicken and spicy ground beef tacos are equally delightful.
The 32 miles of sandy beaches may bring you to Galveston, but there's so much more here to explore—like historic architecture, stylish boutiques and an eclectic art scene. Galveston is located about an hour from Downtown Houston.
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In the 1880s, Galveston was one of the richest cities in the world (per capita). The Victorian building-lined Strand Street was bustling with so much commerce that it earned the nickname Wall Street of the South. The opulence of that era is still on display throughout Galveston's historic downtown. One can't-miss example is Bishop’s Palace—a castle built in the late-1800s and considered by the American Insitute of Architects to be one of the most important buildings in the U.S.
Meander the artsy Postoffice District for the city's best display of colorful storefronts and 19th-century architecture which today are filled with art galleries, antique shops, stylish boutiques and coffee shops.
Downtown is also where you'll find annual events, like Island Oktoberfest (Oct. 22-24) and the country's third-largest Mardi Gras (Feb. 18 - March 1, 2022).
Why have a single seafood dinner when you could taste an entire festival full of shrimp gumbo? Galveston Island Shrimp Festival (Sept. 24-25) has a seafood cookoff, gumbo tasting (with samples from 100+ cooks), a parade, fun run and live music.
If you miss the festival, take a stroll along Galveston's famed Seawall Blvd—at 10 miles in length, the longest continuous sidewalk in the country—and stop by BLVD for dinner. Start with a cup of The Jobber with gumbo, shrimp, crab, andouille sausage served over rice and have the filet mignon or blackened red snapper for a main dish.
Located on the coast an hour's drive south of Downtown Houston, Brazosport is a family- and budget-friendly destination made up of five cities (Clute, Freeport, Lake Jackson, Quintana and Surfside Beach).
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In Brazosport, you'll find waterfront fun and attractions like historical and natural science museums; an aquarium and the world's largest redfish hatchery at Sea Center Texas; and a 76-foot-tall statue of Stephen F. Austin (who is nicknamed the Father of Texas).
If you're looking for a bit of adventure after hours of lazing on Surfside Beach, paddle out on a kayak in nearby Christmas Bay where the oyster reefs and salt marsh are ideal to spot birds or go fishing. Or for a tranquil trek, take a canoe or kayak on Buffalo Camp Bayou at Wilderness Park where lush plant life, trees and wildlife lead to the Brazos River.
All that paddling will work up a mighty appetite. Head to Swamp Shack in Lake Jackson for a Cajun meal. The menu features the usual fixins, like etouffee, jambalaya, red beans and rice. Be sure to try the alligator kickers and boudin balls.
Drive 30 minutes north from Downtown Houston to The Woodlands where you'll find picturesque forested trails and some of the best restaurants, shopping and events in the Houston area.
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Begin a day with the family in The Woodlands by navigating a thrilling three-level obstacle course set among the trees at Texas TreeVentures. If you're looking for a quieter start, hike or bike ride along a portion of the town's 220+ miles of trails. At the George Mitchell Nature Preserve, the 2-mile trail loop is a serene option with only moderate foot traffic.
George P. Mitchell (the namesake of the nature preserve) began developing The Woodlands in the 1970s as a master-planned community. One of his primary intents was to build a residential community while preserving the forest and other natural resources in the 27,000-acre area. He considered The Woodlands his "most satisfying achievement."
See more of the master plan in action during an afternoon shopping at open-air Market Street, where both luxury global brands and local boutiques have outposts. In the center of the Market Street complex, there's a grassy area called Central Park that frequently hosts live music events.
You can't very well talk about live events in The Woodlands without mentioning the outdoor Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion (yes, same Mitchell; Cynthia was George's wife) which hosts top acts, including upcoming shows by Hall and Oates (Sept. 26), The Doobie Brothers (Oct. 21) and the Jonas Brothers (Oct. 23).
The best dining in The Woodlands happens outdoors and along the water. Check out the spots along The Woodlands Waterway or one of the excellent spots on Lake Woodlands. Between the two, you'll find cuisine spanning from classic comfort to BBQ, Mexican to Italian and South African to Chinese.
About 20 minutes north of The Woodlands (that's 50 minutes from Downtown Houston), Conroe offers escape among towering pine trees and a 22,000-acre lake, but it's also one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. with a charming downtown bursting with breweries, a couple of theatres, art galleries and shopping.
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The best days in Conroe are spent whiling away the hours on the waters of Lake Conroe. Bass fishers come here to hook a trophy fish (the catch rates are said to be high), but the lake isn't solely for reelers. Rent a speedboat, pontoon, party barge or Jet Ski from one of the many rental companies in the area and try to spot the Lake Conroe Lighthouse on the southeast side of the lake.
If you'd rather enjoy the water from the shore, head to Lake Conroe Park where there's swimming access, BBQ pits and picnic tables.
After a long day on or beside the water, head downtown to the Red Brick Tavern for a local craft brew, upscale pub food and live music many nights of the week. Order the pistachio-crusted chicken, meatloaf with collard greens or a pizza.
Further north, about an hour and 15 minutes from Downtown Houston, is Huntsville. Sam Houston is a big deal here... literally, there’s a 77-foot-tall statue of the first (and third) president of the Republic of Texas. (You may recall, this is slightly taller than the Stephen F. Austin statue, as was the case with the real-life men.) There are many landmarks named for the leader of the Texas Revolution in these parts, too, including the Sam Houston National Forest and Sam Houston State University.
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Spend an afternoon perusing the vintage, antique and clothing shops on the downtown square. And then, if you have an interest in the macabre, visit the Texas Prison Museum where you'll see "Old Sparky"—the decommissioned electric chair where 361 prisoners were executed from 1924 to 1964.
For something a little lighter, check out vineyards and tasting rooms on the Sam Houston Wine Trail, which boasts eight wineries produced by local makers; two of the tasting rooms (Teysha Vineyard and Froggy Wines) are located in Huntsville.
Make time for an indulgent, down-home meal at City Hall Café & Pie Bar. Order the award-winning chicken fried steak smothered in gravy with a side of homestyle green beans and mashed potatoes. For dessert, try the blackberry cobbler or the vinegar pecan mini pie.
Baytown is located 30 minutes east of Downtown Houston among the scenic waterways that once witnessed the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. This is also where you'll find the area's largest motorsport facility—Houston Raceway Park—which hosts races and festivals throughout the year.
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Wildlife enthusiasts and birders should visit the Baytown Nature Center—a 500-acre peninsula intersecting three different bays—which is home to 317 species of birds and was designated a nationally important bird area by The American Bird Conservancy. You can take a guided daytime hike with a naturalist to learn about the area's plant and animal life or join a full moon hike to visit the nocturnal habitats home to owls, raccoons and possums.
To meet more area animals, head to Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Center where the 9,000-square-foot exhibit hall features a working honeybee hive; fresh and saltwater aquariums with inhabitants from local bays and estuaries; and a baby alligator exhibit. The center offers free admission.
Don't miss the breakfast tacos at hole-in-the-wall C&D Grocery, a locally owned taqueria that rebuilt after a devastating fire in 2018. Go for the egg taco with ham or a chorizo and potato taco.
Beaumont is an hour-and-a-half drive east of Downtown Houston, near the Texas-Louisiana border. It's the site of the world's first major oil discovery. Visitors come here today for a look back at oil history and for nature experiences including fishing, hunting, birding and alligator interactions.
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The birth of the modern petroleum industry began in Beaumont on a salt dome hill called Spindletop. In 1901, roughnecks struck the world's first gusher, which spewed more than 100 feet above ground from a depth of 1,139 feet below it. Once the well was capped, oilers pulled approximately 100,000 barrels of oil per day from this site, quickly eclipsing the mere 800,000 or so barrels from the entire state the previous year. Nearby Gladys City (founded less than 10 years prior to the 1901 gusher) quickly became a bustling town where roughnecks working the wells lived.
In the 70s, a replica of Gladys City Boomtown was created across the highway from its original location. The Old West town has a post office, saloon, general store, a print shop and a replica gusher (this one spews water). While taking a step back in time, you might see re-enactments of the oil boom or the occasional shootout.
Another popular attraction here is Gator Country Adventure Park which houses 450 rescued alligators (including Big Tex, the largest alligator ever caught alive). Visitors have the opportunity to hold a baby alligator and interact with some of the park's rescued mammals (like donkeys, goats, and hedgehogs).
Tia Juanita's Fish Camp offers a unique blend of Mexican and Cajun foods, like their popular boudin quesadillas. You'll find traditional versions of both cuisines too, including shrimp and grits, fish tacos and enchiladas. Dine on the great covered patio where there's a small stage that hosts live music.