Houston Attractions

From the everyday to the esoteric, Houston attractions are sure to satisfy almost any curiosity. The Houston Space Center, Downtown Aquarium, Houston Zoo and surrounding parks offer family-friendly activities, and the Houston Museum District is sure to please even the most discerning art patron. Sports fans will marvel at the modernity of Minute Maid Park and Reliant Park, as well as the recently constructed Toyota Center. For those seeking attractions off the beaten path, Houston sights such as the Orange Show Monument and the National Museum of Funeral History will undoubtedly appease a desire for the unusual. Any way you slice it, Houston has something for everyone.
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Downtown Aquarium

410 Bagby Street, Houston, TX 77002; Tel. 713.223.FISH
Sea creatures of every shape and size are on view at the Downtown Aquarium. The Sunken Temple exhibit reveals the wonders of ancient Mayan culture and the underwater world, while a journey on the Shark Voyage gives you an intimate view of the ocean's most infamous predators. A great place for family fun, the aquarium also features outdoor attractions such as the 100-foot Diving Bell Ferris Wheel and the Dancing Fountains. Drink and dine at the Aquarium Restaurant or the Dive Lounge. And while there, make sure to check out the new white tigers exhibit.

Houston Zoo

1513 N. MacGregor, Houston, Texas 77030; Tel. 713.533.6500
Just minutes away from downtown, the Houston Zoo is tucked inside Hermann Park, home to a wealth of family friendly destinations. The zoo covers an expanse of 55 acres and is home to thousands of animals that represent more than 500 species, from winged creatures that fly free in the Tropical Bird House, to the slithering reptiles that constitute one of the nation's largest collections of venomous snakes. A zoo favorite is Blanco, an American Alligator whose white coloring makes him an extremely rare breed (there are only 14 others known to exist). If you need a chance to cool off from the humidity, take a spin on the newly added Wildlife Carousel, a covered ride that features a distinctive variety of animal-shaped figures, including native Texan icons like the armadillo. In keeping with their nationally recognized commitment to wildlife preservation, the Houston Zoo uses part of the nominal fee collected at this attraction to fund ongoing conservation projects.

Lynchburg Ferry

1001 South Lynchburg Road, Baytown, TX 77520; Tel. 281.424.3521
This historic ferry service played a vital role in Texas' fight for independence in 1836. Today, the Lynchburg Ferry provides transport for the Baytown area at no charge. Although short, (approximately 7-10 minutes depending on current and weather conditions) the ride is enjoyable and the scenery is beautiful, making the 10-mile drive from the city to the ferry dock well worth it. Once you've crossed the San Jacinto River, head over to the Baytown Nature Center or Houston Raceway Park, and spend the afternoon away from the bustle of the city. The ferry runs 7 days a week, but it's best to call ahead for the schedule.

Market Square Historic District

Bounded by Travis, Milam, Congress and Preston streets, Market Square has remained a geographic centerpiece of downtown Houston since the arrival of the Allen Brothers (the city's “founders”) more than 150 years ago. The streets are lined with fine examples of 19th Century architecture and a slew of entertainment venues, nightclubs and dining establishments that suit a variety of tastes. Nearly as old as the locale itself, La Carafe (813 Congress Street) offers a low-key, intimate setting and has an extensive wine list. If you're looking for a more raucous way to spend the evening, try Spy (112 Travis Street), a dance club catering to the 20- to 30-something crowd that features a variety of music and plenty of singles to flirt with. Market Square Park gives visitors the opportunity to get away from the noise and take a relaxing evening stroll.

Memorial Park

6501 Memorial, Houston, TX 77098
This popular spot is a must for locals who enjoy the outdoors. Spread over more than 1400 acres, Memorial Park offers a variety of activities and excursions including six miles of recreational trails along the bayou (perfect for biking or jogging) and the behemoth Memorial Park Golf Course. It's no secret that this is also a great place to see and be seen — particularly on the trails, where many can be found strutting, stretching and showing off their stuff. For those less interested in the spectacle, the park also offers tennis courts equipped for night play, a driving range and plenty of grassy plots to picnic or relax. The park has one restaurant that offers good food at affordable prices, as well as a juice shop stocked with power bars and nutritional drinks.

Menil Collection

1515 Sul Ross, Houston, Texas 77006; Tel. 713.525.9400
Shortly after their arrival to the United States in 1941, Dominique and John de Menil began to amass what would soon become one of the nation's most important collections of art. Decades later, the de Menils began to forge plans to create a permanent home for the collection, though the project came to a halt after John's death in 1973. Commissioning Italian architect Renzo Piano to design a space for the holdings, Dominique forged ahead with plans and the Menil Collection opened its doors to the public in 1987. The more than 15,000 works, as a whole, embody a uniquely eclectic selection of artwork that exemplify the de Menils' dedication to and interest in modernism, as well as their refusal to conform to traditional norms throughout their assemblage of this fine arts collection. Four major areas are represented: Antiquity, Byzantine and Medieval, Tribal and 20th Century Arts. Most notable in the Menil Collection are the holdings in surrealist art –- the most comprehensive collection in the museum –- that includes works by Salvador Dali, Man Ray and Pablo Picasso, amongst others.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

1001 Bissonnet Street, Houston, TX 77005; Tel. 713.639.7300 or 713.639.7310
With a collection of more than 45,000 works housed in a family of buildings that boast 300,000 square feet of space, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is the fifth largest museum in the country. Holdings include works that span from ancient to modern times and represent a vast array of mediums. Collections in French Impressionism, Italian Renaissance, decorative arts, and post-1945 paintings and sculpture are amongst its most significant holdings, and the Reinzi and Bayou Bend Collections (each on display in homes just a short distance from the museum's main campus) offer distinctive examples of decorative arts from the American and British traditions, respectively. The Modern and Contemporary exhibit includes an extensive collection of Texas art and is also home to key works by Abstract Expressionist artists. Most notable, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is the second largest repository of works by Jackson Pollock.

National Museum of Funeral History

415 Barren Springs Drive, Houston, TX 77090; Tel. 281.876.3063
It goes without saying that this destination is one of a kind. Opened in 1992, the National Museum of Funeral History has dedicated itself to the history and heritage of the undertaker. Sure, it's a little creepy, but that only complements the experience of discovering the some of the secrets of this relatively esoteric industry. Where else could you find an exhibit dedicated to Dr. Thomas Holmes, Civil War embalmer or a collection of vehicles specially designed to deliver the departed to their final resting place? The Museum of Funeral History's collection of artifacts, instruments and the like includes items from all over the world, and installations like the 1900s Casket Factory provide a historical perspective of the funeral industry. Not to be missed at the Museum of Funeral History is the collection of “fantasy coffins” from Ghana that depict the personality, social status or occupation of the deceased. The assemblage includes caskets in the shape of a chicken, fish and automobile, amongst others.

Space Center Houston

1601 NASA Road 1, Houston, TX 77058; Tel. 281.244.2100
Space Center Houston is about as close as you can get to the moon without actually going there. Through a combination of live presentations, film and a large collection of artifacts, visitors to the Houston Space Center learn everything there is to know about the history of human space travel. Exhibits like the Living in Space simulate the challenges presented to astronauts when they attempt to perform everyday tasks like bathing in microgravity, while the tram tour takes visitors behind closed doors to catch a glimpse of the action at the nearby NASA Johnson Space Center. Also on view at the Houston space facility are large collections of artifacts and equipment including spacesuits, flight capsules and moon rocks. True space enthusiasts may enjoy Space Center Houston's Level 9 Tour where they are personally escorted on a exploration of NASA's control and training facilities such as the Space Environment Simulation Lab and the new Mission Control Center.

The Galleria

5085 Westheimer Rd., Suite 4850, Houston, TX 77056; Tel. 713.622.0663
The designers of this retail behemoth took to heart the notion that everything's bigger in Texas. One of the largest shopping malls in the nation, The Houston Galleria is more like a miniature city than a place to shop for just the right get-up for a night on the town. The mall houses an indoor skating rink, two hotels and 2.4 million square feet of shops, in addition to office buildings, theaters and restaurants. If you're on a retail mission, chances are you'll find it here. The 375 stores include high-end clothing and accessory stores like Lord & Taylor, Gucci and Armani, as well as more budget-friendly splurge spots like Abercrombie and Eddie Bauer. Also on hand are shops featuring electronics, home furnishings, books and music, toys and much more. If you're not up for a buying binge, The Galleria also houses a selection of sit-down restaurants, as well as cushy leather seating inside the mall on which visitors can perch and people-watch.

The Health Museum

1515 Hermann Drive, Houston, TX 77004
Providing the ultimate journey—inside you—it lets guests explore giant sculptures of human organs, including a brain, ribs and even teeth, at the Amazing Body Pavilion. That's just one of the exhibits and hands-on activities at the museum, which has many programs in Spanish and ranks as one of the most visited health museums in the country. New permanent exhibits include: Mindball—a new relaxation game for two where the player that maintains the most calm and relaxed state wins by pushing the Mindball toward their opponent; the Amazing Imaging Machine gives users a look inside the body at X-Rays, Gamma Rays or MRI; and the Adjustable Eye, a giant model of en eyeball that allows visitors to see how their eye lens operates and how the eye focuses. Free family Thursday hours are 2-5 p.m.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science

One Hermann Circle Drive, Houston, TX 77030; Tel. 713.639.4629
Giant dinosaurs, precious gems and ancient Egyptian artifacts are all on display at The Houston Museum of Natural Science, one of Houston's most popular attractions for locals and tourists alike. Exhibition halls dedicated to the natural sciences include video, interactive and traditional installations that inform and educate museum goers about the wild beasts of the African continent, the ancient traditions of Egypt and the diverse cultures of Native American tribes. The Strake Hall of Malacology gives a rare glance into the living of invertebrates and includes a sizeable collection of shells, as well as live creatures. Another highlight is Foucault's Pendulum –- first exhibited at the World's Fair in Paris –- that physically demonstrates the rotation of the Earth. Some of the finest gems stones in the world can be found in the Museum of Natural Science's Cullen Hall, where more than 750 precious specimens are housed.

The Orange Show Monument

2401 Munger Street, Houston, Texas 77023; Tel. 713.926.6368
Described as a “folk-art environment,” The Orange Show Monument's whimsical design is difficult to classify. But if carnival showboats made out of found objects like wooden wheels and tractor seats ever existed, this would be a meticulously crafted rendition. Judging from the outside, it comes as no surprise that while exploring this outdoor oddity visitors encounter things like a beardless Santa Claus figure, mannequins and handmade signs with fruit-friendly aphorisms such as, “Clown found happiness by drinking cold fresh orange juice every day.” It took more than twenty years for the late Jefferson Davis McKissack to construct this homage to the orange, his favorite fruit, and the end result is a unique, albeit bizarre architectural novelty that consists of a series of mazes, a wishing well and frog pond amongst other features, making it clear why The Orange Show Monument remains one of the most important examples of American folk art to date.
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