Buffalo Bayou Park
Buffalo Bayou Park | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Buffalo Bayou Park | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Events

Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Houston Right Now

All social distancing approved.

Houston continues to dip its toes into the reopening phase, but it still feels kind of hard to explore all the cool things Houston has to offer. Hard, but not impossible. So we’re bringing you a fresh take on our usual “Actually Cool” lineup, zipping through virtual and at-home experiences, offering more seasonal activities and al fresco opportunities you can partake in from a safe social distance, and covering all the really, really incredible food and drink you can still procure (because at its core, Houston is still a really, really incredible place to eat and drink).

Go wine tasting from your couch, or from a patio

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At-home (or not)
While it’s a beautiful time of year to wine hop around the vineyards in Texas Hill Country, that likely ain’t happening this year. But Messina Hof is inviting y’all to schedule private, one-on-one tastings with one of its tasting room managers, and in town, Montrose Cheese & Wine rocks both a monthly wine club membership and open-air patio space if you want to pop some bottles on premise.

Catch live music and feel almost normal again

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Houston
Bars and concert venues aren’t open just yet, but there are restaurant/bar hybrids that are open and rocking live music (following the appropriate safety protocols, including reduced capacity and distancing). Eat and drink to live tunes at cowboy rock spot The Rustic in Downtown or at its new location in Uptown Park; or practice your toe-tapping at Montrose patio and Mexican gastropub La Grange, which will be hosting local musicians weekly.

Snap a selfie in front of Discovery Green’s latest pop-up art installation

Free
Downtown
Precisely 126 oversized playing cards are intricately stacked for the super cool “House of Cards” art installation in Discovery Green, where they’ll be open for your viewing pleasure through October 11. Each features different pieces of artwork, and by night, the entire structure is lit up to create the illusion of the house of cards rising, collapsing, and being rebuilt. Visitors must wear masks, and reservations are required for high-attendance times on weekends.

Get back into the patio groove

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Houston
Seems like it’s at least kind of okay to be outdoors now, with proper social 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. Some of our current favorites include the Amalfi Coast-inspired Spritz Patio pop-up at Rosie Cannonball, the wine and cheese-fueled space at sibling establishment Montrose Cheese & Wine, the expansive yard brats and biers party spot King’s BierHaus, and the patio at spunky Mexican-American haunt Monkey’s Tail

Snag hyper seasonal produce at a local farmers market

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Houston
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 pumpkin beer game

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Houston
Since we all have some extra time on our hands these days, it’s the perfect opportunity to track releases and hunt down some local favorites, including Saint Arnold Pumpkinator (typically unveiled on the ides of October) and Buff Brew’s Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Explore the new 100-acre Eastern Glades project

Free
Memorial Park
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.

Cheer on the ‘Stros and score food & drink deals

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Houston
Maybe you’re ready to put on some pants and watch baseball somewhere that isn’t your living room. If so, then you’re in luck, because these local restaurants and gastro pubs are offering food and beverage specials during Astros games all season long. At Montrose craft beer hall The Hay Merchant, all beers are half-price when the ‘Stros are up; Monkey’s Tail has dollar dog night on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during games; The Original Ninfa’s sports $10 Astros Margaritas during games at both locations; Loch Bar wants to give you 7th inning stretch shots, a $10 “Bregman Burger Special,” $4 Crawford Bock drafts, and free Hoof shots for those seated at the bar top for every Astros home run; and Wakefield Crowbar is a homerun with things like $20 Crawford Bock buckets and $9 Tex-Mex Two Steps (a Bock and a Hornitos Shot combo) from first pitch to last out.

Rewrite the series finale of Game of Thrones at Texas Ren Fest

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Todd Mission
The open-air Texas Renaissance Festival is returning this fall, with reduced ticket sales (available only in advance) and epic themed weekends including Oktoberfest (October 3-4), Pirate Adventure (October 24-25), and Barbarian Invasion (November 14-15), among others. The bonkers fantasy weekends run from October 3 through November 29; and as always, you can expect live music and shows, shoppes and costumes, mead and ale, feasts fit for a king, and some ace people-watching opportunities.

Feges BBQ
Feges BBQ | Robert Jacob Lerma

Have an epic cookout and eat your weight in BBQ

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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, at its pop-up at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market on Saturdays, and over by the Spring Branch Village Shopping Center (home to its second location set to open in 2021) on Sundays.

Go old-school at a drive-in movie theater

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Arts District Houston
While it awaits its re-opening in BLVD Place, the Rooftop Cinema Club is going retro over in Sawyer Yards, offering film fanatics a super cool, contact-less drive-in movie experience. Look out for films from the classic Friday to the blockbuster Jumanji: Next Level. Cost is $28-$35 per vehicle, regardless of occupancy, and you can tack on concessions from Rooftop Cinema, food and drinks from their partner, Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co., or bring your own goodies.

Nama-stay away from others with a sunrise yoga sesh 

Free
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.

Cook like a local chef

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At-home
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

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Houston
The current state of affairs may have canceled your usual weekend brewery hopping plans, but it hasn’t canceled your right to great beer. Some of Houston’s greatest local suds spots are making it easy to snag their brews while avoiding the grocery store crowds (a few of which are running some pretty convenient beer to-go drive thrus, too). Pop by Eureka Heights, 8th Wonder, Ingenious Brewing Company, No Label, or pop in Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company and Saint Arnold, both of which have on-premise restaurants open with fresh taps. Before you head anywhere, though, your best bet is to check social media for the latest updates on how you can procure the suds.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership
Buffalo Bayou Partnership | Jonnu Singleton/SWA Group

Take a hike

Free
Houston
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 

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Houston
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.

Help save local art

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Virtual
Usually taking place every fall and spring, the excellent Bayou City Art Festival will be taking its excellence virtual this season, running an online art auction from October 5-11, plus cool things like virtual performances, art projects, creative activities, and more. You can support by shopping from your favorite artists, discovering new artists to follow, and donating to help keep local art thriving.

Dish Society
Dish Society | Kimberly Park

Brunch, and brunch hard

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Houston
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 can’t (and shan’t) be brunching with your usual crew of 10+ of your rowdiest friends, you can still do brunch justice by 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 dine-in (if and only if you can do so responsibly).

Explore Chinatown’s to-go and dine-in options

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Chinatown 
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.

See bats at the Waugh Bridge

Free
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, 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.

Montrose Cheese & Wine
Montrose Cheese & Wine | Julie Soefer Photography

Pretend you’re out in wine country

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Houston
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.

Rent a B-cycle

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Houston
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

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Houston
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.

Explore Buffalo Bayou Park

Free
Downtown
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 hopping

Free
Houston
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

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Houston
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 is currently dishing out fantastic to-go eats at Hugo’s and Backstreet Cafe (both of which are also now open for dine-in), and Caracol is back now, too. 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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Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who is stoked to get actually outside this fall since she’s been A/C hopping since spring. Follow her al fresco voyage on IG @brookiefafa or on Twitter @BrookeViggiano.