16 Cool Things to Do in Houston This Winter
From ice skating and s’mores over the fire to Mardi Gras and rodeo, we've got you covered.
We’re right smack in the middle of the fleeting period of time that is not Houston’s hellscape of a summer, meaning if you’re going to get off the couch and do something cool in Houston, now is a damn good time to do it. We’ve got local landmarks that just seem to get better as the years go by, wintertime festivals to hit up, seasonal flavors to savor (including CBD-infused fine dining), and true-to-Houston experiences to, well, experience. Whether you’ve lived here all your life or are in town for five minutes, here are the things you gotta do this winter.
Every year at Discovery Green, the Kinder Lake model boat basin morphs into a wintertime ice skating destination. And every year, its siren song beckons you and whoever you rope into coming with you to show off your subpar skating skills. You can do so at public skating sessions now through January 29 for $17 a person, skate rentals included (or try a Cheap Skate Mondays for discounted $8 tickets).
Eclectic Midtown wine bar 13 Celsius—one of the finest wine bars in the city—offers a cozy delight that is too good to pass up in the wintertime. The DIY S'mores come with chocolate, graham crackers, marshmallows, and tasty bits, plus fire, so you can get the perfect mallow scorch. Share them (or don’t) on the patio or inside the moody European-style enoteca as you work your way through rockstar sommelier Adele Corrigan’s thoughtful 450-plus library of curated and cared for wines.
Outside of that one super devastating freeze, winter doesn’t typically get too cold here in Houston, meaning the lineup of festivals and events runs strong throughout the season. January welcomes back fan favorites including the Chevron Houston Marathon (January 15), Hops ‘n Hot Sauce Festival (January 21), and Yaga’s Chili Quest & Beer Fest (January 21). In February, there’s no place you’d rather be than Saint Arnold Brewery’s One Pot Showdown (February 5), except of course Mardi Gras Galveston (February 10 - 21) and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s kickoff event, the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest (February 23 - 25). And in March, you’ve got that epic Rodeo complete with nightly live concerts from superstar musicians pretty much taking over the entire city (February 28 - March 19). Get your boots ready.
Berg Hospitality’s recently opened 50-seat lounge, Emilia's Havana, is one of the hottest tickets in town. Tucked away in a former storage closet next to The Annie Café & Bar, the discreet club whisks guests back to 1950s Havana for a sultry night of Cuban-inspired cocktails from Cuba Libres to Hemingways, small plates like Duck Cubanos, King Crab Croquettas, and Papas & Caviar, and live “bossa nova style” music by its house band. Seating times run from 7:30 - 10 pm and 10:30 pm - 12:30 am every Wednesday - Saturday (a house DJ spins tunes from 12:30 am - 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays, too). All rezzies are charged a $50 per person entertainment fee; and the second seating includes a food and beverage minimum of $100/person.
CBD may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to fine dining… Or maybe it is. Either way, fans of the stress relieving compound will probably want to make their way over to the new Wild Montrose, part coffee shop, part dispensary, and part cocktail bar with the added pizzazz of high-end plates and tapas infused with CBD or THC if you so desire. Go for Boutique Oysters of the Week, Thai Style Whole Fish, and Cast Iron Seared Bavette with Cabernet Pan Sauce.
Not many tourist attractions are actually worthy of your time, but this totally rad light and sound installation most definitely is. Sittin’ pretty right next to the Shepherd School of Music on the Rice University campus, the acoustically engineered masterpiece, which is designed to host musical performances, is dubbed “Twilight Epiphany” thanks to a trippy LED light sequence. It projects onto and through the structure’s open knife-edge roof just before sunrise and at sunset. Money isn’t needed and neither are reservations, just walk up and take an open seat.
Show your love for homegrown art
Washington Avenue & Theatre District
After a rough few years, Houston’s theater companies, musicians, and artists have been spreading the love and resharing their talents with the world. 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.
Brazos Bend State Park
The stars at night are legit “big and bright” if you head deep in the heart of Brazos Bend State Park, where you’ll find the historic George Observatory, a satellite facility of the Houston Museum of Natural Science that recently re-emerged after a two-year facelift. On Saturday evenings, 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.
Bring live music into your life
Nothing gives you energy like a live concert at one of Houston’s local standbys. There’s crowd-drawing haunts like Warehouse Live, The Continental Club, and the sprawling indoor-outdoor spot White Oak Music Hall, super cool 713 Music Hall, acoustic-kissed AvantGarden, dive vibe Dan Electro's Guitar Bar, underground music venue Last Concert Cafe, and country-lovin’ patio bar The Rustic. Or you could just make your very own live music with some questionable singing at Midtown favorite Glitter Karaoke.
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 2021’s devastating ice storm, the bridge sheltered about 300,000 of the little guys, and though some sadly didn’t make it, a bulk of 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 (especially if you’re visiting around Halloween).
Unlock the glory of patio season
Patio season is basically year-round here, including the wintertime, when it’s either a little bit cold or pretty freaking cold but still warm enough to be outside with a heater. Some of our favorite al-fresco watering holes include spunky Mexican-American haunt Monkey’s Tail, super chill craft beer garden Axelrad, even chiller old school dive West Alabama Ice House, King’s BierHaus’ sprawling biergarten, and Truck Yard, a bonafide adult playground with an actual Ferris wheel. Not to mention our rooftop bars and al fresco restaurant spaces. Go forth and imbibe.
This local jewel is always free and always open to the public, with reservations available for timed entry if you’d like to plan ahead. 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 these days), plus its charming, oak-shaded green space. Though admission is free, donations are more than welcome.
People have been craving nostalgic experiences, and drive-in movies have become today’s comeback kid. 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 at the super cool Rooftop Cinema Club in Uptown (where you won’t need your car, outside of getting yourself there).
This city’s barbecue game has officially proven its worth, garnering national attention and being just plain delicious. You should probably pay it some 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, Khói Barbecue, Truth, and more.
Stretching from Shepherd to Sabine between Allen Parkway and Memorial, Buffalo Bayou Park is one of the best places to take in the views of the city skyline. Wander along the winding hiking and cycling paths and you’ll be rewarded with grassy plateaus framed by trees, massive dog and skate parks, picnic spots and kayak opportunities, and pavilions perfect for al fresco activities and live entertainment. There’s also plenty of cool art installations that add an extra layer of vivacity to the already exhilarating landmark, from the blooming Dandelion Fountain to Monumental Moments, six-foot-four-tall sculptures stationed along the curved Kinder Footpath. Plus, a colossal Underground Cistern that looks like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
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.