Welcome toFifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Houston? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Houston?”
Houston is famous for many things: Moon landings. Oil and gas production. Miles of intertwining interstates. Bayous. Beyoncé. But another famous thing about Houston is its ability to surprise and delight visitors from all over the world. Because it’s not an easy-to-define destination, it also has the advantage of harder-to-define expectations, which leads to unexpected treasures everywhere you turn (just please use a blinker). Here are a few options you should consider right now when visiting the fourth largest city — and growing — in the United States.
You’re here for Tex-Mex and margaritas
Cheese, beans, meat, tortillas, pico de gallo, salsa and cilantro in various combinations make for some of the biggest, best and — be careful — literally hottest plates in all of Texas. Also margaritas because, well, they’re margaritas.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and in the same way, Ninfa’s is the mother of fajitas. Ninfa Laurenzo began grilling skirt steak as a means to help her family’s struggling tortilla factory after the death of her husband in 1969, and the rest, they say, is history.
From namesake Lucille Smith’s legacy in culinary innovation from the 1940s to the 2020 meeting between George Floyd’s family and then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, Lucille’s is as full of history as it is Southern charm. Come for the high-energy brunch and don’t forget their famous chili biscuits.
Come for the H-Town Pils on tap at the beer garden and restaurant, stay for the pizza and skyline views. There’s plenty of outdoor seating, but do yourself a favor and check out the six “chapels” inside, adorned with murals from six local artists.
A local brewpub on the outskirts of Houston with a family-friendly vibe is the place to go for low-key pints with kids in tow. Fun facts: Owners Andrew and Michelle Mitcham are the town’s former mayor and current council member, respectively.
A vast wonderland of diverse cultures, this southwestern section of Houston is home to Asiatown and the Mahatma Gandhi District. You’ll find food from across the Asian continent in a wide range of establishments, plus bargain shopping on Harwin Drive.
The two are different neighborhoods with completely different vibes, but easily accessible from one another via ride share, car or the Houston METRORail.
East End: Stroll the Navigation Esplanade on Sundays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for the farmers market. Listen to the bells toll at Our Lady of Guadalupe, founded in 1911 as the first Mexican-American church in Houston. Enjoy fajitas at the original Ninfa’s and get your pinball fix at Cidercade.
EaDo (short for East of Downtown): Nightlife is the draw here in the form of bar hopping and live performances at venues like Warehouse Live (concerts) or The Secret Group (comedy). However, when the sun is up, check out the area’s murals, where you’re sure to find plenty of Instagram-worthy backdrops.
Aptly named, this region near Rice University is home to 18 museums as well as the Houston Zoo and plenty of meticulously manicured parks. Walk it, bike it, ride the METRORail or hop on the Hermann Park train, but don’t skip this part of town if this is your first time here.
There’s no catchall term to describe this cultural campus, but here are things you should know about it: 1. It’s an adaptive reuse project bringing new life into the former Barbara Jordan Post Office. 2. It’s 550,000 square feet! 3. It’s opening in slow but steady phases as of November 2021. 4. When completed fully, it will house a food hall, co-working and traditional office space, retail, immersive art experiences, a performance venue, a rooftop park with multiple gardens, event space and more yet to be announced.
Accidental artist Jeff McKissack’s homage to his favorite fruit is now a folk-art monument and Houston landmark celebrating the creativity and joy of expression in all its quirky, wonderful forms. Next door is Smither Park, a mosaic-filled space featuring the work of over 300 individuals.
Head south on I-45 until you hit the Gulf of Mexico. While you’re there, walk the Seawall, visit one of the three still-sailing tall ships in the world, The Elissa at the Texas Seaport Museum and shop to your touristy heart’s content along the historic section of shops known as The Strand.
With 37 miles of trails, camping options, wildlife viewing opportunities, fishing and more, it’s an easy drive for a daylong or overnight excursion. Don’t feed the alligators, but do bring picnic supplies.
Is it a convenience store? Is it a gas station? Is it…something more? All of the above. Known for their cheeky billboards touting spotless bathrooms, visitors also get a kick out of their buck-toothed mascot, huge snack selection, road-trip-ready prepared foods and one-of-a-kind merch.
For over 30 years, the city has thrown the coolest, quirkiest party where artists of all kinds literally parade their car canvases through town, honking, smiling, waving and livin’ life as life should be lived. Check for exact dates, but plan for April.