Actually Cool Things to Do in Houston this Fall

Huzzah!

Well, we finally did it: We’ve made it to Houston patio season. After a grueling, sweat-fueled summer, it’s high time we all enjoy the promising weather and gradually cooling temperatures. And, better yet, we’ve made it super easy for you by putting together this stacked and refreshed list of actually cool things to do around the city.

Immerse yourself in the season at an autumnal festival, hit Houston’s finest al fresco bars harder than you ever have before, and go ahead and embrace your inner basic bae with a devilishly spiced, perfectly chilled pumpkin beer. Whether you’re a longtime local or just popping in for a quick visit, here’s how to make the most of your time in Houston this fall.

Smorgasbord
Photo courtesy of Smorgasbord

Craft an epic smorgasbord at Houston’s coolest new food hall

Juicy double cheeseburgers at Peaky Grinders. Plump, aggressively-spiced Gulf Shrimp & Grits at Heads n Tails. Masala Tots and Cashew Fig Shakes from Samosa Haus. And Drunken Pho's Bone Marrow, Oxtail, and Pho flavor shots. Those are just some of the awesome things you’ll find at the new, two-story food hall, Railway Heights Market. There’s a whole lot to explore (including arts and retail vendors and soon-to-come openings like a beer garden, coffee bar, dog park, and farmers market), so you best get to it.

Galveston Island Wild Texas Shrimp Festival
Galveston Island Wild Texas Shrimp Festival

Hit a fall festival

Fall is easily the best time to enjoy the great outdoors in Houston, which is why fall festivals are so abundant. This season, you can load up on the Gulf’s finest shrimp gumbo at Galveston Island Shrimp Festival (September 24 - 25), go Greek and get the souvlaki sweats at The Original Greek Festival (October 7 - 9), jam out to zydeco and bayou rock at the Conroe Catfish Festival (October 8 - 10), help support all things local at the Bayou City Art Festival (October 9 - 10), celebrate Latinx culture at the East End Street Fest (October 16), smash unlimited tacos under the downtown skyline at Tacolandia (October 16), change into lederhosen and crush a bunch of German beers under that same skyline at Oktoberfest (October 22 - 23), and eat allllllll the foods at the epic Menu of Menus (November 2).

Texas Renaissance Festival
Texas Renaissance Festival

Have the ultimate people-watching experience at RenFest

Every year, the Texas Renaissance Festival enchants the small Texas town of Todd Mission, and every year, the festival—not to mention the folks that show up to the festival—do not disappoint. Join the fun and live out your cosplay fantasies, or just show up to gnaw on a giant turkey leg and have a damn good time (did we mention there’s a new public flogging booth, this year?). Opening weekend is October 9 and the excitement runs through November 28.

8th Wonder Distillery
8th Wonder Distillery

Liven up your Tuesday with jazz and booze

We hear jazz pairs quite nicely with artisanal spirits, so it’s a good thing 8th Wonder Distillery launched a dope new Tuesday night music series featuring eclectic lineups of the city’s best classical and jazz players in its tasting room. Acclaimed new classical ensemble the Monarch Chamber Players is scheduled for a residency, with shows on October 5, November 11, and December 7. The beat drops at 7 pm and there’s no cover to attend, though donations to the musicians are, of course, always welcome.

Sawyer Yards
Sawyer Yards

Show your love for homegrown art

We all know how hard hit restaurants and bars have been during this pandemic, but the arts community has been facing equally hard times. Houston’s theater companies, musicians, and artists are primed and ready to share their talents, so now’s the time to visit Theater District favorites like the Alley Theatre, Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony, Stages, TUTS, and more. Or shoot over to Arts District Houston, where you’ll find over 300 studios and artists camped out at creative hub Sawyer Yards.

Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company
Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company

Have absolutely no shame in your pumpkin beer game

Being basic is not a crime, and we’re pretty sure the new pumpkin beer releases in Houston will prove that fact yet again. Stalk out releases like Saint Arnold’s Pumpkinator, Buff Brew’s Pumpkin Spice Latte, and CyGourd from Southern Star. If you won’t touch the beloved gourd, at least sample all the awesome autumnal seasonals from Houston top craft breweries (here’s where to start).

George Observatory
George Observatory

Go stargazing at George Observatory

Brazos Bend State Park
The stars at night are legit “big and bright” if you head deep in the heart of the historic George Observatory, a satellite facility in the Houston Museum of Natural Science that recently re-emerged after a two-year facelift. On Saturday nights, the deck is open for your star-viewing pleasure, with real-time camera feeds from the observatory’s monster telescopes (you can also bring your own telescopes and binoculars). Snag the required advance tickets for $10 a pop.

Miller Outdoor Theatre
Miller Outdoor Theatre

Take a picnic to the stage

Museum District
We missed it last year, but the open-air Miller Outdoor Theatre has finally reopened, putting on a season of lively stage productions—think: live jazz, ballet, and musical theater—that are absolutely cool and absolutely free. Show up early with a blanket, some boxed wine, and a spread of local cheeses and have yourself a merry little picnic on the lawn or score one of the covered seats by reserving a ticket ahead of time.

The Palace Social
The Palace Social

Kick back with a cold one at a boozy arcade

We love Houston, but it DAMN, is it ever hot. Duck out of the sun for a few hours by hitting up the Cidercade off Canal. There, you’ll find over 275 arcade games, a whopping 48 hard ciders, kombuchas, seltzers, and wines on tap, and, perhaps most importantly, glorious, glorious air-conditioning. Admission runs 10 bucks for the day or 15 for a monthly membership. You can also up your game at newish spots like Palace Social (reincarnation of the much-beloved Palace Bowling Lanes) and classic arcade bar EightyTwo over in EaDo.

White Oak Music Hall
White Oak Music Hall

Welcome live music back into your life

Houston
Concert venues have begun to open back up, including local standbys like Warehouse Live, The Continental Club, and the sprawling indoor-outdoor spot White Oak Music Hall. You can also go acoustic at AvantGarden, get into the divey vibe at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar or Last Concert Cafe, and check out country lineups at The Rustic. Or make your very own live music with some questionable singing at Midtown favorite Glitter Karaoke.

Underground Creamery
Underground Creamery

Get the scoop on Houston’s most coveted ice cream

Montrose
You’ll have to be good at solving riddles, and stay glued to your IG account on release day, but if you do EVERYTHING right, you may be able to get your hands on a slew of dope-ass pints from local ice cream star Underground Creamery. The pop-up teases its new releases (including a mystery flavor) on its IG mostly every week, then gives you an approximate time of day via a coded riddle when you can purchase your pints online. If you’re one of the lucky ones to score some sugar, you can pick up your purchase that weekend at its pop-up location in Montrose.

IrinaK/Shutterstock

See bats spiral out of the Waugh Bridge

Montrose
True story: when the Waugh Bridge was built, no one realized it was the perfect structure to host a whole bunch of Mexican free-tailed bats. Well, apparently it was, because locals started noticing a bat colony around ‘99. Before Hurricane Harvey and this winter’s devastating ice storm, the bridge hosted about 300,000 of the little guys, and though some sadly didn’t make it through the storms, the colony remains intact. Today, you’ll find the bats hanging tight until they spiral out from the bridge’s crevices on warm nights around sunset. Head to the viewing platform and you may just catch a bat show, which never fails to both fascinate and creep the hell out of anyone you bring along.

Topgolf
Topgolf

Flex your skills at Topgolf

Katy, Webster, Spring
Smacking golf balls at colored targets, dominating life-size Connect Four, and drinking a decent amount of beer are just some of the top notch activities you can get into at this interactive golfing megaplex. You don’t even have to let the fact that it’s outside-the-Loop keep you away from the good times, as there are always rideshare options on hand to help if you’re planning to, er, drink and drive.

Discovery Green
Discovery Green

Take advantage of Market Square Park’s Movie and Bingo Nights

Downtown
Market Square Park’s ever-popular free outdoor movie screenings and $10 Blanket Bingo nights continue this fall, with the lineup including Silver Linings Playbook, Death Becomes Her, Poltergeist, and more. BYO lawn chairs, blankets, and picnic delights. (Note: Outside booze is not allowed, but beer and wine are available for purchase along with gyros and more from Niko Niko’s.) As an alternative, check out the movie nights over at Discovery Green.

Truck Yard Houston
Truck Yard Houston

Continue to make the most of patio season

Patio season is basically year-round in Houston, but it’s especially lit in the fall (and shade, misting fans, and ice cold drinks are always there for you when the weather runs warm). Some of our current favorites include spunky Mexican-American haunt Monkey’s Tail, super chill craft beer garden Axelrad, even chiller old school dive West Alabama Ice House, Truck Yard, a bonafide adult playground with an actual Ferris wheel, and King’s BierHaus’ sprawling biergarten. Go forth and imbibe.

The Houston Farmers Market
The Houston Farmers Market

Snag hyper seasonal produce at a farmers market

If you’re looking for local eats, both Urban Harvest’s legendary Saturday farmers market and the newly refreshed Houston Farmers Market are great places to start, as is urban farm Finca Tres Robles, where you can collect fresh harvests directly from the fields. Hope Farms market, which runs on Saturday mornings, boasts everything from rainbow beets and seasonal squash to fresh egg pasta. The Heights Mercantile Farmers Market, taking place on the second and fourth Sundays each month right off Yale, similarly holds its own.

Memorial Park Conservancy eastern glades
Memorial Park Conservancy

Explore the 100-acre Eastern Glades project

Memorial Park’s latest green addition is ready and waiting (with upgrades still to come). Stashed away in the park’s southeast pocket, the Clay Family Eastern Glades has reclaimed 100 acres of previously inaccessible landscape. You’ll find serene trails, wetlands with sunset views, native tree-lined nooks and crannies, and a grassy central lawn ideal for lazy afternoon sunbathing sessions.

The Menil Collection
The Menil Collection

Visit the always-stunning Menil Campus

This local jewel reopened to the public last fall with reservations available for free timed entry. Hit the art museum for one of the best collections in town, complete with new exhibitions and Insta-worthy standbys like the Dan Flavin installation and the spiritual Rothko Chapel (because we could all use a little zen right now), plus its charming, oak-shaded green space. Admission is free, but donations are more than welcome.

Tongue-Cut Sparrow
Tongue-Cut Sparrow

Reserve a seat for an intimate cocktail experience

After temporarily shuttering its tiny Downtown locale during the pandemic, the talented folks behind the pine at high-class cocktailery Tongue-Cut Sparrow (easily one of the best drink slingers in Houston) have reimagined their showstopping tipple procession in the old Penny Quarter space off Westheimer. Reservations are live on Resy, and walk-ins are welcome if space allows.

Rooftop Cinema Club
Rooftop Cinema Club

Go old-school at a drive-in movie theater, or hit a rooftop for movies with a view

One silver lining of the past year was the resurgence of drive-in movies. Check out pop-up Moonstruck (which rocks views of the Downtown skyline) over in EaDo and the OG Showboat Drive-In in Hockley. Or go for an updated al fresco experience over at the newly reopened Rooftop Cinema Club in Uptown (where you won’t need your car, outside of getting yourself there).

Feges BBQ
Feges BBQ

Eat your weight in BBQ 

This city’s barbecue game has come a long way in recent years, and it’s finally getting the attention it deserves. So you should probably pay attention, too—and you can do so by getting your ‘cue on at as many local barbecue joints as your stomach will allow. Our top picks (straight from the mouths of Houston’s finest pitmasters) include Blood Bros. BBQ, Corkscrew, Feges BBQ, Harlem Road, and more.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership
Buffalo Bayou Partnership

Explore Buffalo Bayou Park

Stretching from Shepherd to Sabine between Allen Parkway and Memorial, Buffalo Bayou Park is the crown jewel of Houston’s green spaces. Wander along the winding hiking and cycling paths and you’ll be rewarded with grassy plateaus framed by trees, kayak rentals, a giant dog park and skate park, picnic spots and pavilions, and plenty of cool art installations like the Dandelion fountain and Monumental Moments, six four-foot-tall sculptures stationed along the Kinder Footpath.

puppies
Lunja/Shutterstock

Spend some QT with your best pal (AKA your dog)

We’re guessing your four-legged companions have provided you with some much-needed emotional support over the past year and change, so show them some love by letting them run free with other doggos at one of the city’s top-rated dog parks. Go big at Buffalo Bayou Park’s Johnny Steele Dog Park or treat Fido to a roster of smaller, more secluded spots like Ervan Chew Park in the Montrose, TC Jester Dog Park in the GOOF-area, and EaDog Park in EaDo (this one’s right near 8th Wonder Brewery, where you can snag excellent craft brews to enjoy while you watch the lil’ guy let loose). And if you want to bring your pup to a straight-up bar, Barkley’s Midtown sports food, drink, and an off-leash dog park.

8th Wonder Brewery
8th Wonder Brewery

Pull off a brewery Triple Crown

Some of Houston’s greatest local suds spots are making it easy to visit safely (or snag their brews to-go). Pop by top purveyors like Eureka Heights, 8th Wonder, Ingenious Brewing Company, No Label, Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company, and Saint Arnold to quench your summertime thirst in style.

two friends hike
Crisp0022/Shutterstock

Take a hike

Some say Houston’s not the prettiest city, and to that we say, “Ok, you’re probably right.” But we do have some pretty picturesque hikes and running trails. Lace up and break a sweat on one of the most beautiful runs in Houston, including but not limited to the winding hike and bike trails of Buffalo Bayou Park, the even more discreet Yolanda Black Navarro Buffalo Bend Nature Park, and the 1,700-acre George Mitchell Nature Preserve. If you don’t mind venturing a bit further out, you’ll also want to check out these amazing hikes near Houston.

Embark on a DIY taco crawl

Have some extra time on your hands? Spend it wisely by setting out on a gut-busting taco crawl. Start with chorizo y huevo-loaded breakfast tacos, then move onto chicharron-, al pastor-, and carne asada-kissed numbers via the most important tacos in Houston. By the end, you’ll finally be able to proclaim your H-town taco allegiances. (And for more tortilla-fueled inspo, check out our list of Houston’s tastiest Mexican restaurants.)

Dish Society
Dish Society | Kimberly Park

Brunch, and brunch hard

Second only to inviting yourself over to the home of literally anyone you know with a pool, a Houstonian’s favorite leisurely weekend activity is definitely brunch. Don’t know where to start? We’ve got you covered with a lineup of all things boozy and Benny, from luxe Creole fine dining to Mexican brunch fare done right.

Mala Sichuan Bistro
Mala Sichuan Bistro | Photo by Heng Chen

Explore Chinatown one bite at a time 

The entire restaurant industry is continuing to struggle against the ongoing pandemic, but Houston’s treasured Chinatown started seeing steep declines in business earlier than most. Now’s a great time to show your support by feasting your way through all the neighborhood has to offer, from dumplings, noodles, and vegetarian joints to ramen, crawfish, and pho.

Houston BCycle
Houston BCycle

Rent a BCycle

One of the best ways to get to know a city is by biking it, and if you don’t have wheels of your own, you can always hit up one of BCycle's 80+ (and counting) stations to rent yourself a shiny new ride. It’ll run you $3 per 30 minutes, or you can go full-on Tour de Houston and sign up for the $13 monthly membership, which will unlock unlimited 60-minute trips for the entire month. All in-use bike stations have posted signs reminding riders to wash hands before and after riding and wear gloves if they can, and strict disinfecting and sanitizing protocols remain in place.

1751 Sea and Bar
1751 Sea and Bar

Gorge yourself on seafood

One of the many reasons Houston’s dining scene totally rocks is its sheer proximity to the Gulf Coast, which in turn means we have some badass local seafood. 1751 Sea and Bar serves its goods raw, smoked, preserved, cured, wood-grilled, or covered in butter, while Caracol is where you want to go for coastal Mexican cuisine and char-grilled oysters. Local darling Eugene’s Gulf Coast Kitchen has shrimp, oysters, and local fish galore (not to mention a damn good Dark Roux Gumbo). And if you’re up for a bit of a drive, head down to San Leon for a blissful, bayside oyster experience at Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House.

Midtown Houston
Midtown Houston

Go mural hopping 

Get your selfie fix in front of some of the city’s coolest local art attractions by embarking on a mural crawl. Stops include but are not limited to Market Square’s “Houston is...” mural, the Biscuit Paint Wall on Westheimer, the We <3 Houston Sign, the 10-foot tall Midtown letters in Bagby Park, the “Greetings from Houston” wall on White Oak, Synchronicity of Color in Discovery Green, Downtown’s Art Blocks, and all the cool stuff to see over in the Arts District Houston.

URBE
URBE

Discover why we take home so many James Beard Awards

Our JBA-winning chefs and restaurants continue to prove their worth, even amid the tougher-than-usual dining climate. Over at game-changing New American bistro Theodore Rex, Justin Yu is back with all new dishes, but rest assured he’s still keeping the fan-favorite tomato toast around. (Yu’s partnership with neighborhood spot Squable might have something to do with it ranking as one of the best restaurants in town.) Elsewhere, chef Hugo Ortega’s just added street food specialist Urbe to his lineup of popular Mexican stunners Hugo’s, Caracol, and Xochi, while chef Chris Shepherd’s upscale riffs on classic comforts are on full display at Underbelly Hospitality’s various culinary offerings, including hot newcomer Georgia James Tavern. Irma Galvan’s namesake Mexican haunt Irma’s remains a homestyle classic and Robert Del Grande, who won in 1992, continues to impress with Texas-influenced American cuisine at the storied The Annie Cafe and Bar.

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Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who will apparently be doing A LOT this summer. Follow her journey through the hottest months on IG @brookiefafa or on Twitter @BrookeViggiano.