Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Houston Right Now
Fun still exists. We promise.
It’s kind of hard to explore all the cool things Houston has to offer these days. Hard, but not impossible. Enter this fresh take on our “Actually Cool” lineup, which zips through seasonal activities and al fresco opportunities you can partake in from a safe social distance (because Houston’s never really that cold), virtual and at-home experiences (brunch from bed, anyone?), and other fun things that will at the very least keep you distracted while we all get through this:
Fireside s’mores, Irish coffees, and plates from spiced frites to chicken liver mousse are all a part of the après ski-style experience at patio pop-up The Chalet at Rosie Cannonball. So is the Donna Meagle Special, which takes a bottle o’ Krug and pairs it with a dozen beautiful oysters. The space operates on a walk-in basis (but they will accept socially distanced large party reservations of up to 12 people or full buyouts of the space).
… or your lack of ice skating skills. Either way, The Ice at Discovery Green is back for another season now through the end of January. This year, you’ll need to secure a specified time slot in advance of hitting the rink. Check out Friday DJ nights, Cheap Skate Mondays, and Skating with Santa.
Cheers the holidays at a pop-up cocktail bar$-$$$
Heights & Downtown
The halls are decked at two holiday-inspired pop-up cocktail bars this year. In the Heights, Miracle at Johnny’s has taken over Johnny’s Gold Brick with kitschy decor and serious cocktails (reserve a time slot online). And the Jingled Up experience will be open in Downtown through the end of December in old BirdDog Saint (buy tickets online).
Get back into the patio groove$-$$
Seems like it’s at least kind of okay to be socializing outdoors now, with proper distancing of course. So there’s no time like the present to remember why we all love living in Houston so much: its plethora of patios (most of which are now heated). Some of our current favorites include spunky Mexican-American haunt Monkey’s Tail, super chill craft beer garden Axelrad, even chiller old school spot West Alabama Ice House, Truck Yard, a bonafide adult playground that rocks a ferris wheel you may be able to ride again one sweet day, and King’s BierHaus, which is has that glühwein we speak of.
Snag hyper seasonal produce at a local farmers market$-$$
Urban Harvest’s legendary Saturday farmers market is a really, really good place to start, but so is urban farm Finca Tres Robles, where you can drive through and get a “plow” produce basket, pastured eggs, ground sausage and beef, raw honey, and pint of ice cream (we’re sure you can Chopped yourself a dinner out of that, right?). Or the Hope Farms market, which runs on Saturday mornings and has goods from rainbow beets and seasonal squash to locally made fresh egg pasta (it’s operating as a drive-thru and has an order ahead option, too).
Have no shame in your Holiday beer game$-$$
Since we all have some extra time on our hands these days, it’s the perfect opportunity to track seasonal releases and hunt down some local favorites, including Saint Arnold Christmas Ale, Eureka Heights Holly Jolly Jorts, Buff Brew’s Gingerbread Stout, and Karbach’s Yule Shoot Your Eye Out.
Memorial Park’s freshest green space is ready and waiting for you. Located in the southeast pocket, the Clay Family Eastern Glades has reclaimed 100 acres of previously inaccessible parkland. Now, you’ll find serene trails, wetlands with sunset views, native tree-lined nooks and crannies, and a grassy central lawn that makes a choice spot for naps and picnics.
This local jewel reopened to the public in the fall, with reservations open 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 can all use a little zen right now); and if you’re hanging out in its greenspace, be sure to park yourself at least 6 feet away from others. Though it’s free, donations are welcomed, too.
Every Wednesday, King's BierHaus offers guests a complimentary glass of its famous wintry drink, glühwein, a blend of red wine, brandy, cinnamon, and cloves served hot. Try that, or go for other boozy seasonals like spiced hot chocolate, Berlin eggnog, and we are actually in Houston and not Vienna, the pomegranate citrus margarita.
Reserve a seat for an intimate cocktail experience$$-$$$
High-class cocktailery Tongue-Cut Sparrow can’t currently operate out of its tiny space Downtown, so it moved shop and reimagined the formal drinking experience in the old Penny Quarter space off Westheimer. Reservations are live on Resy, and walk-ins are welcome if space is open. Also just opened is MARCH, the fine dining concept from Goodnight Hospitality, which was supposed to open just as the pandemic hit. Though the restaurant portion isn’t open quite just yet, its lounge is here for an epic tasting of drinks, snacks, and sweets for a $48 ticket reservation (available via Resy).
Greenway (& pop-up locations)
Pork ribs by the rack. Five-pound briskets. Smoked, pulled chicken. Links on links of sausage. It’s all chilled, vacuum sealed, ready-to-heat, and available for preorder from one of Houston’s finest BBQ joints (and there are quarts of braised collards, sweet potato-banana mash, and loaded potato salad, too). For the time being, Feges BBQ will be dishing out the bulk BBQ at its Greenway Plaza location on weekdays (in addition to its limited lunch menu) and at its weekend pop-ups at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market on Saturdays and Heights Mercantile Farmers Market on the second and fourth Sundays.
Ending its run at the Sawyer Yards pop-up drive-in, Rooftop Cinema Club is now taking its retro movie experience over to EaDo, set in the former Space City Shows space. Look out for hits from the Home Alone and Love Actually to Spider-Man: Far from Home. Cost is $28-$35 per vehicle, regardless of occupancy, and you can tack on concessions, food, and beverages from Rooftop Cinema Club or local food trucks The Burger Joint and El Patio.
Nama-stay away from others with a sunrise yoga seshFree
Buffalo Bayou Park
Imagine this: It’s early morning, before the sun and your fellow Houstonians rise. You wipe off your wine mouth from last night’s driveway happy hour and get your bottom over to Buffalo Bayou Park, where you can set your yoga mat down for a responsible, socially distant yoga sesh under the Houston skyline. If you need guidance, several Houston workout studios have online workout classes available for streaming, including Black Swan Yoga, DEFINE Body & Mind, and BIG Power Yoga.
One of the reasons Houston is so cool is its culinary community, and the open, collaborative nature of our local chefs is a huge part of that. While we’re all doing our best to stay home, a bunch of top chefs are sharing recipes that will take you on a culinary tour of Houston from your kitchen. Visit Houston has curated a fantastic list, providing the instructions to make a pretty rockstar dinner out of dishes like chef Hugo Ortega’s flautas de pollo, Coltivare chef Ryan Pera’s Gulf snapper, and Fluff Bake Bar sugar fair and pastry chef Rebecca Masson’s strawberry pie. Need more inspiration? Brisket U’s got virtual classes that’ll get your pitmaster game goin; Underbelly Hospitality has been putting out a series of fun virtual events; and you can also work your way through mastermind and ace chef Chris Shepherd’s cookbook, Cook Like A Local (which was nominated for a James Beard Award earlier this year, NBD).
Pull off a brewery Triple Crown, by taking out or dining in$-$$$
The current state of affairs may have canceled your usual weekend plans, but it hasn’t canceled your right to great beer. Some of Houston’s greatest local suds spots are making it easy to visit safely or snag their brews to-go. Pop by Eureka Heights, 8th Wonder, Ingenious Brewing Company, No Label, Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company, and Saint Arnold. Before you head anywhere, your best bet is to check social media for the latest updates on how you can procure the suds.
Take a hikeFree
Some say Houston’s not the prettiest city, and to that we say, “Ok, you’re probably right.” But we DO have some pretty picturesque hikes and running trails. Lace up and break a sweat on one of the most beautiful runs in Houston, including but not limited to the winding hike and bike trails of Buffalo Bayou Park, the even more discreet Buffalo Bend Nature Park, and the 1,700-acre George Mitchell Nature Preserve. If you don’t mind venturing a bit further out, you’ll also want to check out these amazing hikes near Houston.
Go on a DIY takeout taco crawl$-$$
Have some extra time on your hands these days? Spend it wisely by embarking on a takeout taco crawl. Start with chorizo y huevo-loaded breakfast tacos one day, 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.
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 brunch. While you shouldn’t exactly be brunching with your usual crew of 10+ of your rowdiest friends, you can still do brunch justice by dining in with a smaller crowd or ordering it to-go. Don’t know where to start? We got you covered with a lineup of all things boozy and benny, available for pickup, delivery, and responsible dine-in.
Explore Chinatown’s to-go and dine-in options
The entire restaurant industry is hurting right now, including Houston’s Chinatown which started seeing steep declines in business super early on in the crisis. Now’s a great time to continue showing your support to the community by dining in or calling in to-go orders at your go-to dumpling spot, noodle purveyor, vegetarian joint, ramen bar, crawfish stop, and pho shop.
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, the bridge hosted about 300,000 of the little guys, and though some didn’t make it through the devastating storm, the colony remains. 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.
Pretend you’re out in wine country$-$$$
It might not be Napa, or even Fredericksburg, but Houston’s got some solid options for the wine-obsessed. You won’t miss the inhouse sipping when you order curbside and delivery from spots like Montrose Cheese & Wine (which also offers fine cheeses and charcuteries that make for the perfect picnic opportunity, too) and Light Years Natural Wine Shop and Bar in Montrose, and micro-winery Houston Winery and the stellar Mutiny Wine Room over in the Heights.
One of the best ways to get to know a city is by biking it, and if you don’t have a bike of your own, you can hit up one of B-cycle's 80+ (and counting) stations to rent a bike. It’ll run you $3 per 30 minutes, or you can go full-on Tour de Houston and sign up for the $13 monthly membership, which will unlock unlimited 60-minute trips for the entire month (or more like the entire weekend for your visitors). All in-use bike stations have posted signs reminding riders to wash hands before and after riding and wear gloves if they can, and strict disinfecting and sanitizing protocols are in place.
Go big on seafood$$$
One of the reasons Houston totally rocks is its proximity to the Gulf Coast, which in turn means we have some pretty badass local seafood. Over at Brennan's of Houston, the Gulf Fish Pontchartrain comes with a blanket of crispy Louisiana oysters, jumbo lump crab, shrimp, and Creole butter; and the Texas shrimp & grits are pretty much legendary. 1751 Sea and Bar serves its goods raw, smoked, preserved, cured, wood-grilled, and covered in butter; Caracol is where you want to go for coastal Mexican and char-grilled oysters; and local darling Goode Company Seafood has Gulf oysters, campechana, seafood gumbo and po-boys, and grilled red snapper, all available for dine-in or carryout.
Stretching from Shepherd to Sabine between Allen Parkway and Memorial, Buffalo Bayou Park is the Crown Jewel of Houston’s greenspaces. Take a walk along the winding hike and bike paths and you’ll find grassy plateaus framed by trees, bike, and kayak rentals, a giant dog park and skate park (that are currently closed, but you can still walk by ‘em), picnic spots and pavilions, and plenty of cool art installations -- from the Dandelion fountain to the six 4-foot-tall “Monumental Moments” sculptures along the Kinder Footpath. Just be sure to respect the 6-feet-away rule.
Go mural hoppingFree
You can kill at least a couple of hours Insta-storying yourself in front of some of the city’s coolest local art attractions. 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 over in the Arts District Houston.
See why we win James Beard awards$$-$$$
Our JBA-winning chefs and restaurants continue to prove their worth even in the current dining climate. Over at his game-changing new American bistro, Theodore Rex, Justin Yu has reopened the dining room at limited capacity and continued the popular to-go service; and his partnership in neighborhood spot Squable might have something to do with the reason it’s one of the best restaurants in town at this very moment. Chef Hugo Ortega has reopened all three of his popular Mexican stunners, Hugo’s, Caracol, and Xochi. Chef Chris Shepherd’s upscale, diverse riff on classic comfort foods are showcased through Underbelly Hospitality’s various offerings. Irma Galvan’s namesake spot fresh, homestyle Mexican haunt Irma’s continues to be an American classic; and Robert Del Grande, who won in 1992, continues to impress with dine-in and takeout at The Annie Cafe and Bar.
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