33 Actually Cool Things to Do in Houston This Summer
Drink on a barge, bet on turtles, hit the beach, and more.
Welp, it seems like our summer weather started a bit early this year. No worries, though, as us locals have perfected the art of having fun despite the sweat. And local or not, you can too. All it takes is a little change of perspective, a lot of deodorant, and cool things like floating bars, free outdoor concerts, and patio bars with misting fans. Whether you’ve lived here all your life or are in town for five minutes, here are 33 fun things to do in Houston, both in the sun or completely out of it and in some AC, this summer.
Whether you’re in the mood to unwind or wind up, the 12 acre Lago Mar lagoon has something for you. The man-made lagoon sports white beaches, crystal clear waters, and extras from kayaking, sailing, and bumper boats to resort-style lounge areas, a swim-up bar, and floating obstacle course. Tickets start at $15.
Bayside breezes and real deal waterfront views are on deck at Barge 295, the only Texas bar that floats on a barge. The fun-loving spot boasts two levels of patios, grub from chargrilled oysters and fried shrimp to sky-high nachos, a full bar to show off Texas booze and brews from local distilleries and breweries, as well as cool events like live music and steak night.
Hit a summer festival worth its weight in sweat
Ninety percent humidity or not, the show must go on, as these summertime festivals prove. Summer 2022’s lineup of fun includes Wine & Food Week (June 6-12), Pride Houston (June 25), Freedom Over Texas (July 4), Comicpalooza (July 15-17), Houston Brewsology Beer Fest (July 23), Houston Restaurant Weeks (August 1-Labor Day), and Galveston Island Wine Festival (to return in August), to name a few.
In the Houston summertime, Thursday eves are made for one thing and only thing only: Cheering on tiny, adorable turtles as they race out a ring at Little Woody’s Midtown. Bucket Babes, a Turtle MC, prizes, and a rowdy race are all part of the Turtle Racing fun. As is wagering a bucket of beer on the most ridiculously named turtle against your buds.
The beaches of Galveston Island are a worthwhile visit year-round, but there’s something special about digging your toes in the sand in the summertime. Plus, it’s most likely really, really hot out right now, and despite the fact that they’re not exactly crystal clear, taking a dip in those Gulf waters will help keep things cool.
The open-air Miller Outdoor Theatre is one of the city's crown jewels, offering a summertime lineup of performances and exciting stage productions—think live jazz, ballet, Motown concerts, and musical theater—that are absolutely cool and one of the best free things to do in Houston. Show up early with a blanket, some boxed wine, and a spread of local cheeses to have yourself a picnic on the lawn, or score one of the covered seats by reserving a free ticket.
Fact: Pinching, twisting, and conquering a big ol’ pile of mudbugs is a Houston rite of passage (as is sucking the head dry), and though it’s nearing the end of peak season, there’s still time to get your hands dirty. Our favorite Cajun mudbug boils around town include BB’s Tex-Orleans, Boil House, and Crawfish Shack, while Viet-Cajun joints Crawfish & Noodles, Cajun Kitchen, and Crawfish Cafe are total musts, too.
Over at the epic new Post Houston (which rocks a food hall, concert venue, and rooftop with bodacious views of the Houston skyline), Soy Pinoy is doing something special to better acquaint folks with Filipino cuisine, offering a new menu in collaborations with Top Chef and James Beard Award-winner Paul Qui (owner of Soy Pinoy) and James Beard Award-winner Tom Cunanan, who’s gained high praise for his modern riffs on Filipino cooking. Experience it all by digging into family-style Kamayan (“by hand”) platters, piled high with lechon, chicken insalal, sisig, oxtail, and lumpia, or made Dampa-style with whole fish, calamari adobo, fried shrimp, and tuna and shrimp ceviche.
Take yourself out to the ballgame
Snag a seat behind home plate or up in the bleachers at Minute Maid Park all season long to cheer on the ‘Stros whilst taking down a Texas-sized, fully loaded Chopped Barbecue Baked Potato (or these other awesome ballpark eats). Or skip the steep ticket prices and post up at a top area sports bar for ultimate game day shenanigans.
Craft a swoon-worthy smorgasbord at a food hall
We mentioned the Kamayan at Post Houston. You’ll also want to head there to taste things like the Ceviche Bar at Andes Cafe, Homeland Curries and Jollof Jambalaya from ChòpnBlọk, Live Razor Clams and Lobster and Smoked Salmon Snitters at Golfstrømmen, and Omakase at East Side King. Over at the ever-expanding Railway Heights Market, you can go big on juicy Double Cheeseburgers at Peaky Grinders, plump, aggressively-spiced Gulf Shrimp and 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. Last but not least, downtown’s Finn Hall has now fully reopened, featuring a cocktail bar and brand-new outdoor patio plus vendors like Pho Binh, Pizza Zquare, Yong, and so much more.
Show your love for homegrown art
Washington Avenue & Theatre District
We all know how hard hit restaurants and bars have been throughout this never-ending 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.
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.
From mouthwatering food to the great outdoors, Texas is a vacation destination unto itself. Breathtakingly diverse landscapes, like Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas, offer a natural respite for outdoor enthusiasts while the San Antonio River Walk is a 15-mile oasis for the urban explorer. No matter your interests, the Lone Star State is waiting to be explored, so, plan accordingly.
Kick back with a cold one at a boozy arcade
We love Houston, but man, it can get 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, seasonal riffs slathered in spiced cinnamon and butterscotch notes, wines on tap, and, perhaps most importantly, glorious, glorious air conditioning. Admission runs $10 for the day or $15 for a monthly membership. You can also up your game at Palace Social, a reincarnation of the much-beloved Palace Bowling Lanes.
Welcome live music into your summer
You can not let the summer pass without hitting up a live concert at a local standbys. There’s crowd-drawing haunts like Warehouse Live, The Continental Club, and the sprawling indoor-outdoor spot White Oak 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.
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.
Take advantage of Market Square Park’s markets, movie screenings, and bingo nights
Market Square Park’s ever-popular free outdoor markets, movie screenings, and $10 Blanket Bingo nights continue this summer, with the lineup including A Raisin in the Sun, The Road to River Revival Music Fest 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.
Continue to make the most of Houston's patios, despite the season
Patio season is basically year-round here—yes, even during scorched earth season known as the Houston summer (shade, misting fans, and ice cold drinks help with that). 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.
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.
This local jewel is open to the public, with reservations available for 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 these days), plus its charming, oak-shaded green space. Admission is free, but donations are more than welcome.
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 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 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.
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 Downtown Houston. Wander along the winding hiking and cycling paths and you’ll be rewarded with grassy plateaus framed by trees, kayak rentals, massive dog and skate parks, picnic spots, and pavilions perfect for woodsy activities and live entertainment. There’s also plenty of cool art installations that add an extra layer of vivacity to this already exhilarating landmark, from the blooming Dandelion Fountain to Monumental Moments, six-foot-four-tall sculptures stationed along the curved Kinder Footpath.
We’re guessing your four-legged companions have provided you with some much-needed emotional support over the past two years and change, so show them some love by letting them run free with other pups 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 sip on excellent craft brews while watching your lil’ guy let loose). And if you want to bring your pup to a straight-up bar, Barkley’s Midtown sports saucy comfort foods, drinks, and an off-leash dog park, to boot.
Some of Houston’s greatest local suds spots are going big this summer. Pop by top purveyors like Eureka Heights, 8th Wonder, Ingenious Brewing Company, No Label, Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company, and Saint Arnold to quench your springtime thirst in style.
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.
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-, cheesy birria-, 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.)
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.
The entire restaurant industry has struggled amid the 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 saucy dumplings, noodles and flavorful pork buns, and vegetarian joints to ramen, crawfish, and pho.
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.
One of the many reasons Houston’s dining scene totally rules is its sheer proximity to the Gulf Coast, which 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, char-grilled oysters, and palate cleansing salads cluttered with clams and divine cheeses. Local darling Eugene’s Gulf Coast Kitchen has shrimp, oysters, and local fish galore (not to mention a damn good and rather meaty Dark Roux Gumbo). And if you’re up for a bit of a drive, head down to San Leon for a blissful, bayside bivalve experience at Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House.
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, the sleek 10-foot-tall Midtown letters anchored in Bagby Park, the technicolored “Houston is…” installation—which stems from underground art veteran Gonzo247—plastered in Market Square, the vivid “Greetings from Houston” portrait cascading down the side of Gelazzi, a quaint Italian gelato spot on White Oak, Westheimer’s own Biscuit Paint Wall, the fan favorite We Love Houston Sign, the breathtaking Synchronicity of Color boxes in Discovery Green, and all the eccentric jewels gracing Arts District Houston.
Our JBA-winning chefs and restaurants continue to prove their worth, even amid the tougher-than-usual dining climate. Justin Yu is back with all new dishes (but rest assured the Tomato Toast remains) and an excellent roster of wine at Theodore Rex; Hugo Ortega recently added street food specialist Urbe to his impressive column of Mexican-style stunners Hugo’s, Caracol, and Xochi; Chris Shepherd’s upscale riffs on classic comforts are on full display at Underbelly Hospitality’s various culinary offerings, including Georgia James Tavern and hot newcomer Wild Oats; Irma Galvan’s namesake Mexican haunt Irma’s is a homestyle classic; and Robert Del Grande, who won in 1992, continues to impress with Texas-influenced American eats at the storied The Annie Cafe and Bar. Just this year, the JBA nominated over a dozen Houston-area finalists, including Lucille’s Hospitality Group’s Chris Williams in the Outstanding Restaurateur category and Christine Ha and Tony J. Nguyen (Xin Chào), Quy Hoang (Blood Bros. BBQ), Kaiser Lashkari (Himalaya Restaurant), Felipe Riccio (March), and more for Best Chef: Texas.