Sprawling over six hundred square miles, Houston can be a bit overwhelming for the first time visitor, especially when its paired with its infamous Texas-sized humidity. Despite the endless suburbs that surround this city though, the tight downtown core holds plenty of attractions that will retain the attention of the discerning cultural traveler.
The entrenched oil wealth of this prosperous Texan city ensures artistic assets that contain some of the rarest, oldest and most expensive pieces in the USA, while more modern points of interest will impress with state of the art attractions that will educate and entertain those that walk through their doors.
Despite the conservative bent that is present in this metropolis, indie artists also have a voice here, as many trendy restaurants, bars and museums can be found if you seek them. As such, don’t get frustrated in traffic in this expansive city, as the time it will take to get across town to Houston’s charms will be well worth the effort.
A definite starting point for any culture hound exploring Texas’ Gulf Coast metropolis should be the Museum of Fine Arts – Houston. Being one of the largest museums of its kind in the United States, it has plenty of room for its expansive collection of art from all over the world.
These works span over 6,000 years of history, and they include paintings from the Italian Renaissance, French impressionist works, and golden artifacts from the Pre-Columbian era from Central and South America.
A dark but necessary place for visitors to check out in Houston’s Museum District is the Holocaust Museum. Built to remind locals and visitors of the dangers and consequences of prejudice and blind hatred, this institution profiles the systemic persecution and genocide practices against European Jews by the Nazis in World War II.
This museum also dedicates a fair amount of attention to Operation Texas, a secret effort spearheaded by congressman and future President Lyndon Johnson to sneak fleeing Jews into the United States by way of Cuba, Mexico and South America.
If you need a bit of a spiritual pickup after the depressing nature of the Holocaust, the quirky ArtCar Museum should do the trick nicely. While this place allows a forum for outsider art that would never have a chance of getting into a fine arts institution, the ArtCar focuses on old vehicles turned into pieces de resistance, just as its name would suggest.
From low-riders to wild paint jobs on cars like VW beetles to the outright bizarre (like a high heel on a motorbike frame, or a parade float-like build on the body of a VW Rabbit (Spoiler Alert: it’s of a massive rabbit, with countless rabbit figurines on the hood … yeah), the ArtCar Museum will surely be a highlight of your visit to Houston.
Those that have looked to the sky at night and have wondered what else was out there will likely find Space Center Houston to be a highlight of their visit to this city. Space capsules, lunar rovers, and a reconstruction of the Space Shuttle Independence will get your stay off off to a roaring start.
An exhibit that sheds light into daily life on the International Space Station will appeal to many as well, and tours of the nearby Johnson Space Center, where US space operations are coordinated are also available, so try to get on one if you have the time while you are here.
With Houston being a short distance away from the Gulf of Mexico, it makes sense that the Downtown Aquarium is an excellent place to learn more about the marine species that troll its waters.
This aquatic zoological facility also has a Louisiana Swamp exhibit that profiles the species that populate its swamps, and in a break from the focus of the animals of the deep, there is an enclosure that houses rare white tigers for your viewing pleasure.
Finally, if the weather in Houston is in a cooperative mood when you are in the area, pack a picnic lunch and head to Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park. The centerpiece attraction here is a massive waterwall that celebrities have been married in front of, and concerts periodically play here with this fountain as their killer backdrop. Even if you only have sandwiches and lemonade (sadly, alcoholic beverages are prohibited in this park) as your main accompaniment to the view, it will be a lunch well spent.