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15+ Fun and Free Things to Do in Houston

Although many travelers may imaging honky-tonks, cowboy boots, ranchers, rodeos, livestock and gushing oil wells when they think of Houston, there is much more to the city. There are tons of amazing activities around Houston that can save you money while you travel. And the good news is many of them are free!


1. McGovern Centennial Gardens

Where: Hermann Park, 1500 Hermann Dr, Houston, TX 77004
Tickets: Always Free 

This blooming with crape myrtles alley at McGovern Gardens is what we accidentally came across on our way to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, thanks to the detour we took to find the parking. Crape myrtles start blooming in the spring and continue to flower throughout all summer.

What's more? The eight-acre gardens have way more places to enjoy. Garden rooms are lined up along a central lawn and hold more than 50 species of trees, hedge shrubs, perennial bulbs, and all-time favorite azaleas. Truly, you could spend the best part of the day there and still come back the next. The views are even sweeter if visiting early in the morning when there are fewer people.

McGovern Centennial Gardens


2. Dillidiidae By Sharon Engelstein

Where: Hermann Park, 1503 Fannin St, Houston, TX 77030
Tickets: Always free

Located in Hermann Park, the urban park with numerous free things to see and do, these quirky organic forms are something that would belong to Dr. Seuss's book.

Dillidiidae By Sharon Engelstein, Houston


3. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

Where: 5216 Montrose Blvd, Houston, TX 77006
Tickets: Always free

An art lover's happy place that displays those larger-than-life installations and provocative exhibits. The place keeps up with the evolution of both the contemporary art and the international artist community while provoking its visitors to ponder, "What makes this work of art to be museum-worthy?"

The installation "Flow" by Jae Ko is one of my all-time favorites. The artist used one ton of recycled paper to recreate the melting glaciers in the Arctic.

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

4. Houston Bean: Cloud Column

Where: Outside Glassell School of Art in Houston
Tickets: Always Free

Houston has now its own bean made of stainless steel. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston installed the sculpture Cloud Column outside The Glassell School of Art in Houston. The work created by Anish Kapoor is 32 feet tall and weighs 27,000 pounds.

Houston Bean: Cloud Column in Houston

Cloud Column in Houston


5. The Glassell School of Art

The Glassell School of Art in Houston


6. Houston Museum of Natural Science

Where: 5555 Hermann Park Dr., Houston, TX 77030
Tickets: Free Thursdays, 6–9 p.m.

A perfect place to get lost in the museum’s hallways for hours while appreciating the beauty of the natural world.

Houston Museum of Natural Science's Hallway

“Moon” by Luke Jerram. This stunning 23 feet in diameter installation of the moon suspends from the ceiling in Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. Hall, between the first and second floors. It's so gigantic that it's worth visiting it. Accurate NASA imagery of the moon features 8 miles of the moon’s ground. The installation is part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing.

Houston Museum of Natural Science's The Moon Installation

7. Houston Zoo

Where: 5555 Hermann Park Dr., Houston, TX 77030
Tickets: Free on the first Tuesday of each month, September through May, from noon until closing

Walk across 50-plus acres of the animal kingdom. 8,000 animals of all sorts inhabit the grounds of the Houston Zoo in Hermann Park. Hang out with our animal kin, if only for a day. 

Houston Zoo

Quick tip, if you visit the Houston Zoo during the holidays, you can also enjoy its Christmas display. Normally, to experience Zoo Lights you have to purchase a separate entry ticket. But if you enter on a free Tuesday before the zoo closes at 4 p.m., the lights won't be on, but you still can enjoy the larger-than-life holiday installations.

Zoo Lights, Houston


8. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Where: 5555 Hermann Park Dr., Houston, TX 77030
Tickets: Free Thursdays

Get ready to turn your head from one side to the other for hours on end as you walk through numerous halls and tucked away passageways. The museum's permanent art collection covers more than 6,000 years of history and about 63,000 art works from across the world. It is the perfect antidote to the cowboy culture and country-western scenes Houston and Texas are famous for.  

MFAH, Houston

By Ron Mueck


9. Children's Museum of Houston

Where: 1500 Binz St, Houston, TX 77004
Tickets: Free Thursdays

The kids' place has all that every exhausted parent is yearning for: tons of self-engaged activities kids can get busy with for hours on end. For the little ones, up to the age of 3, there's a baby-proof playground on the top floor. With the rainbow-stripe arches on the first floor, you don’t even have to go look for a spot to take a perfect family photo.

The Hallway in Children's Museum of Houston


10. Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park

Where: 2800 Post Oak Blvd, Houston, TX 77056
Tickets: Always Free

Simply known as Water Wall, this crescent-shaped towering fountain pours down 11,000 gallons of water per minute, causing a refreshing blanket of mist. In turn it creates the perfect ambiance to not only observe but also breathe in the spectacular view.

Located in the heart of Uptown Houston, this dramatic water display is a must-see in Houston.

Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park in Houston

Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park in Houston


11. Discovery Green

Where: 1500 McKinney St.
Tickets: Always Free

This urban park located in the heart of downtown Houston is for people of all ages and walks of life. There is no shortage of things to do: ever-changing art installations, kayak rides, Zumba classes, yoga, flea markets, and lots of other free special events the pubic can always participate in. The options are literally endless! Picnics, lawn chairs, blankets, and dogs are all welcome to the park.

And the beautiful old oaks provide so much desired shade along the promenade on a scorching hot day in Houston.

Discovery Green, Houston

Discovery Green, Houston



12. John P. McGovern Playground

Where: 1500 McKinney St.

Located at Discovery Green, this brand-new urban playground deserves its own mention. The play area hosts the coolest play structures, bright colors, and open spaces to just run free. Our favorite thing, though, was a climbing hill that the kids could climb up and roll down from for hours. Happiness is often found in simple things.

John P. McGovern Playground at Discovery Green



13. Levy Park

Where: 3801 Eastside St, Houston, TX 77098
Tickets: Always Free

One of the coolest parks in town to visit if traveling with kids. This green space features a softball field, an interactive playground, a splash pad, tunnels, a community garden, a dog park, a golf course, food trucks, art and game carts, book and magazine stands.  A vibrant corner with plenty of special events every day, from free yoga to Zumba to children's Bingo.

Levy Park in Houston

Levy Park in Houston



14. Evelyn's Park Conservancy

Where: 4400 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77401

There's a new, fully-renovated urban park in town. Located in the heart of Houston, Evelyn's Park is a gorgeous oasis in the city. Bursting with imaginative play spaces, many natural play elements, climbing structures, balancing logs, large mounds, tunnels, hill slides, a splash pad, and a giant bird play sculpture, this park is one of the best places in Houston to make memories with kids.


Evelyn's Park Conservancy




15. Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

Where: 4501 Woodway Dr, Houston, TX 77024
Tickets: Trails and playground are free.
Parking is free on Thursdays and $5 per vehicle all other days.

The Houston Arboretum has the best-kept secret in town – a nature-inspired, brand new playground "Nature Playscape." It's an oasis of wild beauty right in the heart of the city's probably busiest area. Every nature and fun-loving family with kids of all ages will have their fair share of adventure there.

A new playground is not your average play space. Unlike a traditional playground, this one was designed to blend into and enhance its environment. Nature play at its best.

Houston Arboretum & Nature Center


Winding trails take you to different play sections from the rope bridge to a variety of sandboxes, to tree stumps, to a bamboo climber, and many others. Plenty of logs to sit on and shaded areas is a nice bonus if visiting in the Houston summer.

Houston Arboretum & Nature Center


Many stations invite kids to make up their own games and explore away the nature around them, dirt-digging, bug hunting, and water pumping included.

Houston Arboretum & Nature Center



16. Moody Center for The Arts - Rice University

Where: 6100 Main Street, MS-480, Houston, TX 77005
Tickets: Always Free

Located on the campus of Rice University, this newly-built gallery is a work of art in itself. A bold contemporary design, geometric shapes, and ever-changing exhibits make it worth the trip for everyone who appreciates design and architecture. The gallery is focused on experimental artworks, group collaborations, performance, and art exhibitions as well as serves as a teaching platform.  


17. EaDo

Where: East Downtown, between 45-N and 59-E, by Downtown Houston
Tickets: Always Free

Houston is full of diversity, culture and Texas-sized murals. EaDo (East Downtown) has some of the insta-worthy murals that can give Wynwood in Miami a run for its money. Make your way to the We Love Houston sign (2305and start exploring.

We Love Houston Sign on Polk St. in Downtown Houston


18. Present Company

Where: 1318 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006

The coolest patio bar in the middle of Montrose with the Palm Spring vibes is a perfect place to take those pictures for the 'gram.

Present Company, Houston
Present Company, Houston


19. Smither Park

Where: 2441 Munger St, Houston, TX 77023
Tickets: Always Free

One man's trash is another man's treasure. This cannot be more true for this amazing place. This is not a  standard recreational area by any stretch of the imagination.  A sprawling urban space in the Houston's Southeast displays elaborate artworks made of mostly recycled materials – broken ceramic, bottle caps, tiles, and seashells. The commitment to recycling is both eco-amazing and powerful. The cherry on top –– each Saturday starting at 10 a.m. you can watch the artists in action!

And yes, you can give your feet a break and relax on these swings.

Smither Park, Houston

Smither Park, Houston


20.  McDonald's Apollo Astronaut Statue in Nassau Bay

Where: 1320 E NASA Pkwy, Nassau Bay, TX 77058
Tickets: Pictures with the astronaut are free, regardless of whether or not you are dining at McDonald's. 

Houston, we got this well-known landmark, the Apollo Astronaut, back. Located across from the Space Center Houston in front of McDonald's in Nassau Bay, this larger-than-life photo op will make your dining experience out-of-this-world.

McDonald's Apollo Astronaut Statue in Nassau Bay



21. The Kemah Boardwalk

Where: 215 Kipp Ave, Kemah, TX 77565
Tickets: There's no entry ticket. You can either pay for individual rides or get the All Day Ride Pass. 

A place where you can slow down and stay awhile. A 60-acre theme park in Kemah 20 miles South of Downtown Houston is the best getaway for a weary traveler to unwind, sip a cocktail or two, or test the limit of your vocal cords on one of those gut-wrenching rides. Braving the 73-foot tall looping coaster will stretch one's courage to soaring heights. Scratch that. A 96' tall wooden coaster –– The Boardwalk Bullet is not for the faint of heart. It has the most number of track crossovers ever designed into a wooden coaster – 42 total. The next twist comes before you know it. Unlike the Pleasure Pier in Galveston, the Kemah Boardwalk doesn't charge to walk around.

Kemah Boardwalk, TX
Kemah Boardwalk



22. Yachty Gras Boat Parade in Kemah

Where: 215 Kipp Ave, Kemah, TX 77565
Tickets: Free

Yachty Gras is the biggest Mardi Gras boat party in the US that takes place in the days leading up to Lent. Dozens of lavishly decorated boats sail through the Clear Creek channel and down the Kemah Boardwalk, with crews throwing beads to the crowds along the way. The event is free for spectators. But make sure to arrive early to get a parking spot and avoid traffic. 

Yachty Gras Boat Parade in Kemah

Yachty Gras Boat Parade in Kemah



23. Baytown's Umbrella Alley 

 Where: 124 W Texas Ave, Baytown, TX 77520
Tickets: Always Free

If you are en route to the Space Center Houston or Kemah Boardwalk, you may also stop by this colorful umbrella installation in Baytown. The umbrella street is a nice break on a blazing hot day. Framed by graffiti on both sides, this is an amazing sight to revive those Mary Poppins moments and reach for the camera. 

The Umbrella Alley in Baytown, TX
Umbrella Alley in Baytown, TX

24. Friendswood Fairy Trail

Where: Stevenson Park, 1100 S Friendswood Dr, Friendswood, TX 77546

The Friendswood Fairy Trail is a free whimsical outdoor activity for kids and everything you need to bring the magic of the fairies and trolls to life.

The trail has many tiny hidden houses blended into their surroundings throughout Stevenson Park.

Some magical residences are easy to spot while others stretch your imagination (and neck) to locate them but they all are well worth the search.

So what's behind all those beautifully carved tiny doors? Some mighty fairies and trolls. They keep watch over the park and care for the environment. To help you find them, there's a stand with free maps that mark locations of the houses and tell the stories behind each character.  

The trail is nothing if not pure fun to help kids enjoy the great outdoors year-round. So grab your family and kids, and go on an adventure.  

Friendswood Fairy Trail in Stevenson Park, Houston

The Friendswood Fairy Trail in Stevenson Park, Houston


25. Galveston Island

Okay. Okay. It's not actually in Houston, but the Galveston island is worth a day trip and it's only a 40-minute drive south from Downtown Houston. The island has plenty of free land-based activities for a budget-savvy traveler than its Gulf’s water: 10+ Free Things To Do In Galveston, Texas.

Soak up some sun at the beach, stroll the Strand, strike a pose in front of the picture-perfect Galveston postcard mural, and satisfy your sweet tooth at the old-school La King's Confectionery.

Galveston Beach, TX

Galveston Island, TX


26. Sam Houston Statue

Where: 7600 TX-75, Huntsville, TX 77340

The colossal monument towers above the treetops along Interstate 45 in Huntsville. You can admire the sight while heading I-45 North, the statue can be seen miles ahead, or stop by the Sam Houston Statue Visitor Center to learn more about the first president of the Republic of Texas.

Sam Houston Statue


27.  Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: Trail Rides and Downtown Rodeo Parade

Rodeo Houston is a signature event that returns to Houston every year in early spring. It can get very costly if attending the carnival grounds or rodeo activities at NRG Stadium, but it doesn't have to be.

In the days leading up to the rodeo, thousands of trail riders on horseback and covered wagons from across Texas and Louisiana surge into Houston to partake in the annual Downtown Rodeo Parade and the following world's largest rodeo.

You can watch the riders along the streets or attend an annual rodeo parade in downtown Houston at no cost. Just be ready to brave the traffic and crowds. Everything to know about the Trail Rides and Downtown Rodeo Parade is here.


28. Bluebonnets in Houston

The beautiful state flower blooms every Spring in Texas. The greatest views are along Texas highways, but there are some good displays in and around Houston too. Buffalo Bayou, Memorial Park, and Hermann Park have bluebonnet patches across their property as well as other family-friendly activities to enjoy the great outdoors while hunting for the Texas native wildflower.


29. River Oaks Christmas Lights

Where: Along River Oaks Blvd, Houston, TX 77019
Tickets: Free 

If you're visiting Houston around the best time of year, you won't be disappointed to walk around River Oaks, an affluent neighborhood that goes all out with its Christmas displays. Larger-than-life holiday installations adorn the front yards of lavish mansions, and millions of twinkling lights drip from the majestic oaks. River Oaks Christmas displays are one for the books. To beat the rush for available parking and avoid the traffic, plan on traveling out there in the early part of the evening

Here's a helpful source: River Oaks Christmas Lights 

River Oaks Christmas Lights

Houston: River Oaks Christmas Lights

Houston: River Oaks Christmas Lights

Also check out 12 Free Things to Do Near Space Center Houston During The Holidays.


Have you been to Houston before? What did you enjoy most?

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1. 15+ Best Things to Do In Galveston During The Holidays 
2. Kemah Boardwalk is a Fun-Packed Mecca for Family Getaway
3. 10+ Free Things To Do In Galveston, Texas 
4. Wonder Waffle in Baybrook Mall, Friendswood 
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