Outdoor markets, warmly lit downtowns, cozy restaurants, cheerful locals... there is something special about American…
There are so many unique things to do in Houston, it’s almost impossible to narrow them down! This is a city where urban energy brings people together, food comes in multiple languages, and a desire to remain curious has fostered a culture like no other. It’s so special, it launched “Places to Love” many moons ago!
Located in southeast Texas, you might be surprised to learn that Houston is not only the biggest and most diverse city in the state, it’s also one of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities in the entire country. They do say everything is bigger in Texas, and Houston specifically has adopted the motto, “The City with No Limits.” In this one city of nearly 7 million people, they have 145 languages spoken, over 150 museums, 20 recreational parks, over 10,000 restaurants to choose from, and around 204 days of sunshine.
Houston has managed to combine the best of all the cultures it’s welcomed since its founding back in 1837. Add these recommendations to any itinerary to really see this melting pot of a city!
Unique Things to do in Houston
1. Imagine What It’s Like to Be an Astronaut at the Space Center Houston
“Houston, we have a problem…” That is, we do if you skip visiting Space Center Houston during your trip! Of all the unique cultures that make up the identity of this city, you probably won’t find NASA in too many other places.
Ever since 1965, when NASA’s Mission Control Center moved here from Cape Canaveral in Florida, space exploration has become an integral part of Houston’s identity. Today, the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center still manages flight control for the U.S. human space program, and Space Center Houston opened in 1992 to educate and celebrate all we have achieved and still hope to achieve.
This giant complex houses over 400 space artifacts, exhibits, and interactive experiences so anyone can come and learn more about this incredible universe our world is just one small part of. See moon rocks and lunar samples up close; learn more about the International Space Station, and see the very flight suits famous astronauts through the decades have worn. It’s truly an out-of-this-world experience.
2. Feel as Though You’ve Been Transported to India at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
One of the most truly unique things to do in Houston is to visit the breathtaking BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a massive open-air Hindu temple right in Texas. The minute you see the intricate architecture, carved from Italian marble and Turkish limestone, you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported somewhere like Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh.
In fact, over three thousand craftsmen around India contributed to this temple since, after all, you can’t exactly call up any local contractor to build a Hindu temple. These artisans came from families where the skills needed to create such masterpieces are passed down within families from generation to generation, making the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir a truly special place in the city.
When you visit, there are a number of things to do if you’re curious about the temple and Hinduism in general. Check out the exhibit on understanding Hinduism and wander around the mandir with an audio guide to learn more about what you’re seeing. Keep in mind, as this is a religious place, you’ll want to dress modestly!
3. Visit Freedmen’s Town and Learn More About Houston’s First Heritage District
Freedmen’s Town, as Zion Escobar, P.E., the Executive Director of the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy (HFTC), puts it, is the “personification of what happened after Juneteenth.”
As Houston’s first heritage district, Freedmen’s Town was founded in 1865 as one of the many communities formed after slaves were freed following the Civil War. Many former enslaved people from around Texas and Louisiana settled here, finding a safe harbor amidst the post-war uncertainty, racism, and discrimination. In fact, if you look at the very bricks laid down in the streets, they’re not just a random design. They’re designed to give directional cues to new arrivals, letting them know where to find safety.
Much of Freedmen’s Town’s success is thanks to John Henry (Jack) Yates, a former slave who became an ordained Baptist minister. He understood the need for family and solidarity and encouraged his newfound community to own property and make this place their own. At its height, the town was home to over 400 businesses, and today some 40 structures are still preserved.
You can visit some of these landmarks, including the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. When you visit, you might just meet Jacqueline Bostic-McElroy, Esq., the great-great-granddaughter of Jack Yates and the wife of Antioch’s current minister, Reverend Art McElroy. Sit in the very pews ex-slaves hand-carved themselves and marvel at all the history and community built in this one church.
4. Enjoy the Food & Drink Scene
As I mentioned above, Houston is home to over 10,000 restaurants. And if there’s one thing Texas is known for, it’s its love of good food. In fact, Ziggy, one of the founders of Kenny & Ziggy’s, has made it his personal mission that no one walks out of his New York deli feeling hungry.
Yes, you read that right – a New York deli in Houston.
Ziggy himself hails from the Lower East Side of NYC and brought his experience running an authentic Jewish deli down to Houston where it’s become not just a local favorite but a national favorite as well. Try the Fiddler on the Roof of Your Mouth sandwich and prepare to unhinge your jaw to fit it all in!
For something more classically Texan, feast upon the dishes served by Blood Bros BBQ. The restaurant was founded by two biological brothers, Robin and Terry Wong, and their best friend from high school, Quy Hoang. Not only is Blood Bros BBQ popular, but it’s also one of the most respected barbecue spots in the city, which says a lot for a state that might just take its meat more seriously than its sports.
After mastering the classic dishes, the brothers began experimenting with various Asian influences, specifically their own Chinese and Vietnamese backgrounds. Come with your eating pants and try dishes like brisket fried rice or smoked turkey banh mi to see why Houstonians love this spot so much!
If you’re looking to just grab a drink, head over to the White Rhino Patio and Cocktail Bar. Not only do they serve up some delicious mixes, but every aspect of their business also focuses on sustainability and eco-friendliness. The very building you’re drinking in is painted with a special mineral paint that can literally filter the air. Get a glass of water and know it’s been made from the humidity Texas is famous for via a reverse osmosis water generator. Oh, and that patio outside? It’s made from the very glass bottles that were used to make your cocktail! The bar has a bottle crusher onsite that turns glass bottles back into their natural sand state, which they use on their patio. When they have extra, they give it to local glass blowers or create sandbags to donate towards storm protection. And if all of that isn’t enough, a portion of their profits go towards saving the rhinos, hence the name.
With thousands of restaurants and bars to choose from, you really can’t go wrong eating out in Houston.
5. Get Custom-Made Skates at Daisies & Pancakes
Awaken your inner child at the Black-owned skate shop, Daisies & Pancakes, with your own custom-made skates! Seriously, I squealed when I saw how founder and owner, Brandi Myasia, turned a pair of my sneakers into the skates I’d always wanted as a girl. Myasia’s goal is to represent the intersectionality of sneaker hype and skate life.
Ahead of your trip, head to the Daisies & Pancakes website and use the Build Your Sk8 and a pair of sneakers you already own. You’ll pick the plate and the wheels, and Myasia will turn them into your own custom-made skates.
When you visit Houston, pick them up and head over to the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark in Buffalo Bayou Park to put your new skates to work!
And there you have it, all the unique things to do in Houston, a city itself that is one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited. This Texan gem allows us to learn what we’re not taught in school, invites us to enter and appreciate sacred places, savor food born out of a true melting pot of cultures, and meet people with passion that could fill a galaxy. That’s why I’ll always say yes to coming back to this city!
If you want to see more unique things to do in Houston and what else we got up on our visit, check out our Houston episode of Season 5’s “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love”! And if you want to see the episode that started it all, check out our Houston episode of Season 1’s “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love”!