12 Suburbs Near Houston You Should Absolutely Visit
Buckle up for lakefront escapes, underrated dining hubs, historic frontier towns, and so much more.
At this point, everybody should know just how cool the city of Houston truly is, but one thing we often get knocked for is our massive urban sprawl. Well, what if we told you that the sprawl can actually be pretty cool, too? Because it is. Turns out, the Big H is surrounded by a bunch of little H’s, each with their own distinctive identity—we’re talking flourishing Asiatowns, remote waterfront neighborhoods ripe with Gulf Oyster shacks and sunset cruises, and nearby suburbs stocked with surprisingly exciting restaurant and bar scenes that may have you second guessing resigning that Metro Midtown lease. Here are the 12 coolest Houston suburbs to round out your weekend road trip calendar.
Distance from Downtown: 25 minutes
Think you’ve made a lot of headway eating your way through Houston? You actually haven’t if you’ve never visited Houston’s Chinatown—aka Asiatown, aka the sprawling stretch of strip malls and highway off Bellaire Boulevard by Beltway 8. Those strip malls are important, by the way, because they happen to house some of the best restaurants in the city. Our top Chinatown picks include Viet-Cajun heavy hitter Crawfish & Noodles (for which chef-owner Trong Nguyen earned a James Beard Award nomination), Taiwanese noodle shop San Dong Noodle House, late-night Viet-Chinese haunt Tan Tan, quintessential crispy pork- and duck-slinger Wing Kee, and a whole bunch more.
Garden Oaks-Oak Forest, Texas
Distance from Downtown: 20 minutes
With a nickname like GOOF, you’d think this neighborhood gets little respect. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, as the just-outside-the-inner-loop ‘hood is quite popular these days. It’s the land of family-friendly restaurants and watering holes, with kiddo- and pup-welcoming highlights including Cottonwood, Wakefield Crowbar, and relative newcomers D'Alba and Millie’s Kitchen (not to mention the soon-to-arrive Grease Monkey Cantina in the old Petrol space). Beer nerds should hit up Brash Brewing, Great Heights Brewing Company, and Walking Stick Brewing Co, barbecue enthusiasts will want to spend some time gnawing down ribs at Gatlin’s, locals can snag Texas-made rye whiskey, gin, and vodka at William Price Distilling Company, and those looking to avoid the elementary school scene can seek solace at classic dive Sassafras.
Distance from Downtown: 30 minutes
Hop heads will want to make a pit stop at this south-of-the-city suburb, where both Bakfish Brewing and Vallenson’s Brewing Company come correct with fruity, crisp, and devilishly bitter suds plus sweet patios on which to sip them. Once you’re properly quenched, counterbalance those brews by visiting one of the badass restaurants in chef Ronnie Killen’s local empire. Take your pick from Brisket Tamale and Pork Belly Al Pastor at Killen’s TMX, Dry-aged Ribeye and Lobster Pasta at Killen’s Steakhouse, Wagyu Burgers and Crinkle Cut Fries at Killen’s Burgers, and hoards of smoked meat goodness (plus a killer Banana Pudding) at Killen’s Barbecue. Or skip all of that and go for a half-pound Doughnut Burger at local staple Peña’s Donut Heaven or Seafood Loud Packs at Lotus Seafood. Buttress your trip with a little culture at the beautifully ornate Sri Meenakshi Temple, a replica of the Sree Meenakshi Temple in Southern India’s Madurai.
Spring Branch, Texas
Distance from Downtown: 20 minutes
Don’t be fooled by its strip mall-heavy atmosphere, this nearby locale is popping off as one of today’s hottest markets, blending old and new and becoming—dare we say it—kinda cool in the process. Foodies will want to check out longtime standbys including real deal Mexican hole-in-the-wall El Hidalguense, traditional Thai kitchen Vieng Thai, Korean favorites Bon Ga Korean Restaurant, Korean Noodle House, Korea Garden Restaurant, and fried chicken joint The ToreOre in Korean grocer Super H Mart. Speaking of barbecue, the Branch has become home to one of the city’s finest smokeshacks, Feges BBQ, where the hardest part of your day will be deciding between Whole Hog and Brisket Burnt Ends (just kidding—get both). Beer fans should hit up self-pour craft beer and wine concept Shoot the Moon, neighborhood hangouts The Branch and Lazy Oaks Beer Garden, and hometown brewer gone big time, Karbach Brewing Co. The area is also home to a chef’s table experience Degust and comedy venue Improv Houston, where local and big name acts come through on a mission to make you LYFAO.
Drive from Downtown: 35 minutes
There was a time where this just west of Houston suburb was just that, a suburb. Peaceful, maybe a tad boring, but with a pretty cool historic train depot, if you’re into that kind of thing. Enter: Katy Asian Town, a fresh-faced, 15.5-acre center in northeast Katy that opened a few years back. It’s a boomtown of hot new Asian restaurants, from Malaysian street food favorite Phat Eatery, to Japanese cream puff connoisseur Beard Papa’s, to pocket-sized Korean corn dog specialist Chung Chun Rice Corn Dog, and to Chung Wang BBQ, a Chinese barbecue spot with crispy duck, roast pig, and offal. While you’re in town, you’ll want to quench your thirst at No Label Brewing Co., too.
San Leon, Texas
Drive from Downtown: 50 minutes
Gilhooley’s. Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House. Topwater Grill. These are just a few of the jewels sittin’ pretty in this quiet bayside town, where time seems to stand still and the oysters are as fresh as they come. You’ll want to visit them all, of course, starting your Tour de Oyster with the famous Oysters Gilhooley, char-grilled oysters-on-the-half-shell absolutely dripping in garlic butter and crusty parmesan. Get out on Galveston Bay and bring your catch of the day to Topwater Grill, where they’ll fry it, grill it, or etouffee-it as you suck down oysters and shrimp cocktails. Then there’s Pier 6, the latest and greatest addition to the ramshackle town, backed by Texas Gulf oyster guy Raz Halili of his family’s Prestige Oysters and the uber talented chef Joe Cervantez, formerly of Brennan’s. The duo dreamed up a modern, fresh space with water views and the freshest oysters around. Grab a swing seat on the patio, catch the sunset, and slurp up ice cold Gulf oysters with hot sauce and mignonette, crab gratin stuffed oysters, and grilled oysters with habanero butter. Those looking to stay overnight can stay in one of the restaurant’s newly renovated Airbnbs.
Drive from Downtown: 35 minutes
This master planned exurb sits north of Houston off I-45, and while you may know it for housing a bunch of people that work at Exxon and Chevron Phillips, it’s also kind of a rad place to hangout. That’s thanks to the Woodlands Waterway district, which rocks an amphitheatre for live concerts and tours (The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion), open greenspace, a landscape of retail shopping and dining off Market Street, a lakefront restaurant row over at Hughes Landing, and fun stuff like, a water taxi, and kayak launch. Nature enthusiasts can also get grounded at the epic 1,800-acre George Mitchell Nature Preserve, which rocks over 220 miles of eye-pleasing hike and bike trails.
Distance from Downtown: 45 minutes
Lake Conroe is not the only reason to venture this far north of Houston (there are breweries like Southern Star and B-52, weekend getaway Margaritaville, and a really cute, century-old Downtown, too), but it’s a really, really good one. The 22,000-acre lake rocks 157 miles of shoreline, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and water sports opportunities, and, most importantly, party boats. You can (and should) rent a six-person floating tiki bar this summer, whether it’s for a “Tequila Sunrise” session, a “5 O'Clock Somewhere” happy hour, or a Real Estate Tour—because, hey, sounds like a good idea.
Drive from Downtown: 40 minutes
What if we told you there was a place that made both bean-to-bar chocolate and ace barbecue (some of the best in Texas, by the way). And what if we told you that place was just a short drive from Houston? You’d want to go there, right? Well, you can! Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue puts out things like pastrami beef ribs, snappy chile relleno sausage links, and scratch-made chocolate bread pudding over in the Old Town Tomball. Also in Old Town Tomball, a wonderland of boutiques and antique shops, a rain-or-shine farmers market, old-timey bakeries and cafes, and plenty of Texas charm.
Clear Lake, Texas
Drive from Downtown: 30 minutes
Yep, this Bay Area town is the home of the NASA Johnson Space Center, which we find to be a pretty legit reason to visit, given that it trains astronauts, houses mission control, has a bunch of rocket ships, and is responsible for space exploration, and all. Do nerd out there, then get to know the area for its other extraordinary features, mainly taking a boat or jetski out onto the lake itself, checking out the nearby, East Coast-style Kemah Boardwalk on the other side of the lake, getting some nature-fueled steps in at Armand Bayou Nature Center, and finishing up your day with banh mi and fresh crafts at Vietnamese suds-house Nobi Public House.
Distance from Downtown: 40 minutes
Just southwest of Houston in Fort Bend County, this sleepy town got its start as one of the first 19 cities incorporated by the Republic of Texas way back in 1837. It’s come a long way since then (though those looking to get in on the area’s storied history can window shop beautifully preserved homes or pay a visit to the Fort Bend Museum and the 1824 George Ranch Historical Park, which follows four generations of one Texas family). There’s a hot new wine experience, for starters—Messina Hof Harvest Green Winery & Kitchen sports both a garden-to-table restaurant and posh tasting room. Then there’s Harlem Road Texas BBQ, sitting on the outskirts of town and slow-smoking its meats over vintage oak wine staves. And don't forget Galvan's BBQ, a family-owned smokehouse known for its superlative housemade sausage. Afterward, feel real Texan with a stop into the Lone Star Saloon in historic Downtown or Scotty’s Saloon, set inside the old Booth Trading Post.
Distance from Downtown: 30 minutes
Imagine a quaint, old German settler’s town, then imagine that town having some of the best barbecue in the city. That’s what you’re getting in Old Town Spring, plus a bunch of antique stores and local boutiques, a saloon set in an old jailhouse, a hand-formed burger joint, and the ideal spot for live music and in-season crawfish. Bonus points if you visit Spring around Halloween, when ghost tours offer both a glimpse into the Western landscape's haunted past and a pretty good scare.