Houston’s 11 Best Free Museums to Visit This Fall
Houston is home to many terrific things, but the city’s ever-expanding eye for the cultural arts has become a huge source of pride for locals. There’s such an impressive range of world-class museums that it’s easy to invest one weekend brushing up on your knowledge of medieval artifacts, then get lost in the universe of plant history on another. Whether you’re looking to gush over some gorgeous exhibitions with your partner, kids, or friends, here are 11 free museums in Houston that you’ll constantly want to revisit throughout the fall.
The Menil Collection
Free hours: Wed - Sun, 11 am - 7 pm
Notes: Over on the 30-acre Menil Campus lies one of Houston’s most prized art collections, featuring glorious exhibitions from the Byzantine and Medieval worlds, tribal cultures, antiquity, and the 20th century. A trip here is always free, which is the foundation of Menil’s core mission, but donations are suggested. Also always free? The Live Oak-shaded park surrounding the gallery, and the four other sleek buildings perched on campus: the Cy Twombly Gallery, Dan Flavin Installation, Byzantine Fresco Chapel, and Menil Drawing Institute.
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
Free hours: Wed, Fri, and Sat, 11 am - 6 pm; Thurs, 11 am - 9 pm; and Sun, 12 to 6 pm
Notes: Founded in 1948, this innovative art museum is always fresh, eclectic, and free (though donations are expected). Visit the venue and get a glimpse at the best international, national, and regional art of our time through exhibitions, lectures, educational seminars, and fundraising events. The venue has a plethora of upcoming displays on the horizon, such as a riveting portrait piece from African artist Amoako Boafo, an architectural-inspired exhibition, and more.
Museum of Fine Arts Houston
Free hours: Thurs, 11 am - 9 pm
Notes: Boasting nearly 70,000 pieces of artwork, this ravishing venue is the perfect go-to when looking to admire diverse exhibitions. It boasts Eric Barnes’ iconic The Sugar Shack painting and Michael Sachs’ visual collection, along with an impressive selection of European art. Plus, as a sweet topper, the museum charges no entrance fees on Thursdays. In addition to the free hours, there are also other intriguing activities to do at MFAH, such as dining at their French-inspired bistro, Le Jardinier, or cruising through their stunning Cullen Sculpture Garden, which is always open to the public at no cost.
Free hours: Free daytime admission typically falls on the first Tuesday of each month, September through May, from open to close; in January, the second Tuesday is free.
Notes: Is a zoo a museum? Well not exactly, but Houston’s sprawling zoo is something of an exuberant, artistic piece… but with live animals, of course. For nearly 10 decades (interestingly, the venue celebrated their 100th anniversary this past April), the Houston Zoo has committed to redefining what a zoo can be, such as sporting “beautiful and immersive habitats, compelling guest experiences, and an unyielding commitment to saving wildlife.”
Houston Center for Photography
Free hours: Wed, Thurs, Sat, and Sun, 11 am - 7 pm; Fri, 11 am - 5 pm
Notes: Hit HCP’s free galleries (donations are always appreciated), where you’ll find some truly fine works of contemporary photography that will have you second-guessing every Insta you’ve shared of your favorite brunch cocktail and high-rise buildings. If you experience FOMO and want to up your skills, the art venue also offers over 300 photography classes and workshops year-round, though you’ll have to shell out some cash for those.
Moody Center for the Arts
Free hours: Tues through Sat, 10 am - 5 pm
Dubbed as a “creative catalyst,” this Rice University-born institution is striking in its own right, donning bold geometric shapes and a sleek, contemporary design. The center serves as an experimental platform for creative thinking and original expression, with a library of exhibits and rotating installations open for free public viewing.
Project Row Houses
Free hours: Wed - Sun, noon to 5 pm
Notes: While this row of restored shotgun houses-turned-community-based art studios are totally free to check out, donating cash to help further the space’s impressive roster of projects is definitely worth the cost. Tucked away in the historic Third Ward district, which is one of the Bayou City’s oldest African American neighborhoods, the community platform shines a spotlight on cultural identity and its impact on the urban landscape.
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
Free hours: Tue through Sat, 10 am - 5 pm
Notes: There’s no better way to frolic in the city’s Museum District without visiting this unique craft space. Adorned with pieces made of clay, fiber, glass, metal, wood, and recycled materials, fawning over these items are totally free; however, purchasing said trinkets from the gift shop is the opposite. Add HCCC to your fall itinerary and get the full scoop of the creative process, see the living connection between how plant materials are grown and used in the Craft Garden, and see the Resident Artist Hall to explore its artist studios.
Houston Museum of African American Culture
Free hours: Thurs through Sat, 11 am - 6 pm
Notes: Serving as another artistic gem in the Museum District, this education-driven museum encourages visitors to explore the culture of Africans and African Americans in Houston. While it does focus on the city itself, exhibits stretch throughout the state of Texas, to the southwest and the larger African Diaspora. Strengthen your knowledge by dissecting pieces that focus on everything from Black Feminism to the Impact of Legacies. Or, join a group tour, which are self-guided and hold a maximum of 15 guests per tour.
Children's Museum of Houston
Free hours: Thurs, 5 pm - 8 pm
Notes: Bring your mini-me to see who can hit the Power Play playground harder at this imaginative children’s wonderland. Youthful minds can also crack codes in the Secret Spy Game, geek out on science experiments at the Genius Station, and hit the ropes at the Challenge Course. Also, slide through for Family Night on Thursdays when you can get in for free between 5 - 8 pm—your creative kiddo will thank you.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
Free hours: Thurs, 2 - 5 pm
Notes: Helmed as one of the city’s most popular museums, HMNS houses some pretty gnarly collections, such as the Burke Baker Planetarium, Wortham GIANT Screen Theatre, the gorgeous Cockrell Butterfly Center, and permanent exhibit areas that cover everything from astronomy and space science to paleontology and wildlife. Permanent exhibits are free to explore on Thursday afternoons, so you can save your hard-earned cash while indulging in Houston’s finest venue.
Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who is highly considering moving to the ‘burbs right now. Convince her to stay in the city (or not) on IG @brookiefafa or on Twitter @brookeviggiano.