Houston may be known as a food haven, but it has spent the past few years broadening its appeal. While still an oil-industry town, America’s fourth-largest city has invested heavily in arts and culture and its outdoor spaces. Undoubtedly, NASA is a draw for visitors, but so are its food halls, galleries, and boutiques. Houston prides itself on inclusivity, and that extends to what it has to offer travelers: Sports fans, museum buffs, and barbecue fanatics will all feel welcome here.
Greet the day with a walk or jog in beautiful Memorial Park, one of America’s largest urban green spaces. It’s mostly unmanicured, so you'll be able to get your wilderness fix among native wetlands and pine-hardwood forests.
Freshen up at the polished Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston—opened by Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta—and then head across town for brunch at Brennan’s of Houston, a fine-dining staple since 1967. The menu is a love letter to the owner’s New Orleans roots, with dishes like snapping turtle soup and crawfish and eggs migas, best paired with a smoked Bloody Mary.
Drive five minutes to the Menil Collection in the Museum District and mull the proportions of Andy Warhol’s Big Campbell’s Soup Can in the Renzo Piano–designed building. Next, stop into the nondenominational Rothko Chapel, a windowless octagon surrounded by 14 Mark Rothko paintings that’s a treat for both architecture and art buffs.
From that meditative space, head to Verdine, a plant-based restaurant in the Heights with cheerful periwinkle banquettes and excellent slow-cooked jackfruit carnitas. Laze away the rest of the afternoon in the beer garden at Saint Arnold Brewing Company, which helped jumpstart Texas’s craft beer movement when it opened in 1994.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find better Tex-Mex food than what’s on offer at the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. The restaurant started as a side business for a now-closed tortilla factory, though handmade flour tortillas still form the base for favorites like Gulf shrimp and blue crab enchiladas and steak fajitas. Don’t skimp on the unassuming queso asado, featuring panela cheese baked in a wood oven with chiles toreados (blistered peppers), avocado, and tomato.
Top the evening off under a canopy of blown-glass flowers at the bar of the Post Oak’s Bloom & Bee. The Monarch, made with Earl Grey–infused Tito’s vodka and fresh lemon juice, balanced by Giffard apricot liqueur, makes for an excellent nightcap.
In a city with more than 10,000 restaurants, no two breakfasts should be alike. Brave the line at the Breakfast Klub, which serves everything from wings and waffles to catfish and grits. From here, it’s a short ride (or a leisurely half-hour stroll) to Hermann Park and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Get your dinosaur fix in the two-story-tall Morian Hall of Paleontology, where you will find one of the most complete Triceratops skeletons ever discovered.
No visit to Texas is complete without a visit to a hallowed BBQ joint, so treat yourself to Truth BBQ on Heights Boulevard. The counter-service pitstop serves classic smoked meats (brisket, turkey, jalapeño cheddar sausage) with decadent sides like creamy mac and cheese and corn pudding.
Continue driving about 10 minutes north to The Heights and shop for Coronado bison leather duffels and super-soft “Houston” graphic T-shirts at Manready Mercantile. The store houses the city’s first candle bar, where owner Travis Weaver or his staff sometimes give lessons on how to make your own custom candle in a whiskey glass. While you’re in the neighborhood, walk down to Heights Mercantile, an urban market district where some of the shops occupy restored 1920s Sears Craftsman bungalows.
Make a reservation for dinner at MAD River Oaks, where chef Luis Roger serves modern takes on Spanish tapas, with an expansive menu that features tuna tartare with piquillo pepper sorbet and a hearty grilled sandwich with Majorcan sobrasada sausage and sheep’s milk cheese.
At Lankford Grocery & Market in Montrose, the vintage Coca-Cola signs and plastic tablecloths will take you to a different era. It’s not terribly fancy (it was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives), but you’ll love the hearty Tex Mex–influenced breakfasts like chilaquiles and tostadas.
From here, it’s about a 40-minute drive to Space Center Houston. The Smithsonian-affiliated museum serves as the visitor center for NASA Johnson Space Center, home to Mission Control and astronaut training, and exhibit highlights include a flown SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Apollo 17 command module.
Drive back into town for lunch at Coltivare for pizzas with toppings like shrimp, fennel, Fresno chilies, and tarragon pesto. The backyard garden is a fantastic spot to kick back with a classic cocktail or an IPA.
Before dinner, head to the Rice University campus to take in James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace, an LED light show that enhances the natural beauty of the sunrise or sunset as you gaze at the sky through a square aperture. Book a free advanced reservation online, and then arrive 10 minutes before sunset to enjoy the 45-minute light sequence. While on campus, explore some of Rice’s other public artworks, including two Surrealist-inspired sculptures by James Surls.
Dinner tonight is at one of Houston’s many fantastic Indian restaurants, Pondicheri, where chef and co-owner Anita Jaisinghani serves treats like a green dosa made with pumpkin seed chutney and avocado masala.
Finish your trip with a nightcap at La Carafe, located in the city’s oldest commercial building still in use. Built in 1847, it was modernized into a wine bar in 1950. With its dim lights and a jukebox filled with songs from Carole King to Edith Piaf, there’s no better place to bid adieu to the city.