Houston is an amazing city, full of culture, sports, and amazing food. When we first moved to Houston, we were so excited to explore the city. Our weekends were filled with festivals, museums, sporting events, and ALL OF THE AMAZING FOOD! We were having a great time getting to know h-town, but it was seriously putting a dent in our wallets. So, I present to you, The Peterson’s Top 10 Free Things to do in Houston!
1. Hermann Park: We LOVE Hermann Park. Hermann Park is situated smack dab in between the museum district and the medical district. It is easily accessible from the light rail with two convenient stops at either end of the park. Hermann Park has several great walking/running trails, great playgrounds, a beautiful lake (free fishing for kids!), and really cool sculptures! Our favorite part of Hermann Park is definitely the gardens. The recently finished McGovern Garden is beautiful. We love purusing the herb and vegetable gardens. There are usually knowledgeable gardeners available to give you gardening tips and bites of the goods! If you’ve got a few bucks to spend, Hermann Park is home to the Houston Zoo (the gorillas are my fav!), there is a delicious cafe next to the lake, and you can purchase rides on the kid’s train or take a paddle boat out on the lake. You can almost always find ice cream carts and food trucks around the park, as well. If biking is your jam, be sure to check out the B-Cycle rental stations in and around the park. This is a great way to be sure to see everything Hermann Park has to offer. Hermann Park often hosts free events, especially in the spring and fall when Houston weather is at it’s best. From yoga to kite festivals, there is something for everyone. hermannpark.org
2. Miller Outdoor Theatre: So technically this outdoor theatre is located inside of Hermann Park, but we think it deserves its own post. Miller is a well run theatre that offers free events. Events range from music performances, ballets, plays, dance performances, and musicals. There are reserved covered seats, but the cool part is they are completely free! You just have to pick up tickets at Will Call the morning of the performance. Although there are free seats, we love to hang out on the hill. On the hill, seating is open, but they divide seating, lawn chairs on the left and blankets on the right. This makes for better viewing for everyone. Another great part of Miller is that they allow coolers. You can even bring alcohol, as long as it’s not in glass! We love packing a cooler with cheese, crackers, fruit, and wine! If you don’t want to be bogged down by a cooler, they have a concession stand. (Note: Photographs are not permitted during performances, so this photo is taken during a kite festival, but you can get an idea of the space and the covered stage area) MillerOutdoorTheatre.com
3. Gallery Furniture: Okay, this one is a little out of the ordinary, but it’s a fun free way to spend a rainy Saturday in Houston. First off, yes, Gallery Furniture is a furniture store. But, it’s a furniture store unlike all others. The original location on North Freeway is the one that has it all, but all locations are pretty amazing. You’ll start your adventure with a horse-drawn carriage ride from the parking lot to the front of the store, where you will be greeted by a variety of exotic birds. Inside the front doors, an employee will greeted you with your choice of Bluebell Ice Cream scoops! If you’re lucky, Mattress Mac (the man behind the store and the voice on all those commercials) will be sitting at the front desk with a big smile and trays of cake. To your left you will see the mattresses. These aren’t just any mattresses, but the jumping mattresses. About 9 mattresses are pushed together to create the ultimate bed for jumping! Go ahead, take off your shoes and get your jump on. Past the sofas, you will find the themed bathrooms (my favorite part). Take your pick and do your business in single bathrooms themed as Dr. Seuss, Selena, golf, and Chuck Norris… just to name a few. In the media room section, help yourself to fresh popcorn and in the dining room section, enjoy fresh cookies while you watch the monkeys. Yes, there are monkeys. And if you are still hungry, there is a FREE cafeteria featuring hamburgers and hotdogs. On your way out, be sure to grab a free hat and basketball. galleryfurniture.com
4. Houston Arboretum & Nature Center: This is the place to go to get your fix on the outdoors without leaving the city. Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is located in Memorial Park. In the middle of the busy city, you’ll find a little oasis dedicated to sustaining the natural ecosystem. It’s one place in the city where you’ll realize what Houston use to be before all the highrises and freeways went up. We love visiting the arboretum to get some exercise on the trails. There are two ponds with turtles and fish and plenty of benches with great views if you need a break. Be sure to pack water and bug spray, the mosquitos there mean business! Houstonarboretum.org
5. Menil Collection: It’s a shocker that this beautifully curated, private art collection is free to the public. The Menil Collection is tucked away at the edge of the museum District in the eclectic Montrose neighborhood. In the Menil Collection, you will find pieces from Picasso, Frida Kahlo, and Diego Rivera (just to name a few) in the permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibits, meaning there is always something new to see at Menil. The museum itself is beautifully designed, with sky lights and large windows, highlighting pieces with natural light. Another important thing to note about the Menil Collection is that Houston native, Beyonce frequents the museum. If it’s good enough for Bey, it’s good enough for me #beyhive menil.org
6. Houston Wing Commemorative Air Force: This Houston gem is not well known and is a little off the beaten path, but well worth the visit! The Houston Wing is located at the West Houston Airport, which is pretty cool in itself because you’ll get a close up look at private jets and smaller planes taking off and landing. The Houston Wing museum is located in one of the hangers and is only open on the 1st and 3rd Saturday from 10am-3pm. In the museum you’ll see really cool airforce artifacts and maybe even get the chance to meet a WWII Pilot. The museum is pretty cool, but the real magic is outside, where aircraft from WWII are on display. There is usually a friendly staff member excited to give you the rundown on the aircraft, which were used to train WWII pilots. Their fleet is small, but it’s a fun way to get up close with history! houstonwings.org
7. Discovery Green: Discovery Green is a park in the heart of downtown Houston and you can almost always be sure there is something going on at the park. Some events require admission, but if you’re lucky you’ll find some amazing free events! First off, this is a very family friendly park. On hot summer days you’ll find families having picnics, playing in the splash pad, and kicking around a soccer ball on the grassy field. There are often really cool art installations in the park and those are always free. We’ve seen some seriously cool exhibits in the park, like dancers performing on giant flowers floating in the lake (who thinks of this stuff?!). Be sure to check out their calendar for yoga, family events, concerts, and more! discoverygreen.com
8. Buffalo Bayou Park: I could seriously write a whole post on Buffalo Bayou, so I’ll try to keep it short here. Buffalo Bayou is a beautiful park that runs along the Buffalo Bayou. Various bike and jogging paths connect gardens, the coolest playground ever, a sand volleyball court, fountains, dog parks, and unique sculptures. Even in the heat of the summer, you can find so many people out enjoying the all the park has to offer. For a few bucks, you can rent a B-Cycle and really explore the park in its entirety. If you’re willing to dish out a little more, visit the Cistern or rent a kayak for a view from the bayou. Be sure to check out the views of the Houston skyline from the Sabine St. bridge! buffalobayou.org
9. Sam Houston Boat Tour: This boat tour isn’t your typical boat tour, but I highly recommend it. When I first moved to Houston I had no idea how important the Port of Houston is to the Houston economy. This free boat tour will take you up and down the ship channel, giving you an up close view of the port. The narrated boat ride is 90 minutes round trip and really helped me to understand what goes on in the super busy port. Don’t get too excited here, the Houston Port is not the prettiest sight, but the tour is extremely informative and it’s kind of cool to see the large cargo vessels. You must make reservations ahead of time and the dates book up quickly, so make sure to book your tour as soon as you can! portofhouston.com
10. Sky Space at Rice University: The James Turrell Skyspace is a permanent art installation on the Rice University campus. The installation is a two story structure that holds 120 people. There are seats around the edge with a giant opening in the center of the ceiling. Before both sunset and sunrise, LED lights create a lighting display that complements the sunrise or sunset. Our pictures don’t do it justice, it is a beautiful interaction of art and the natural world and is one not to miss! skyspace.rice.edu
What are your favorite free things to do in Houston? Have you tried any on the list? Let me know below!