HOUSTON – A few miles southwest of downtown Houston’s towering high-rises, University Place is a wonderland of art and architecture.
Bound by Highway 59 to the north, Kirby Drive to the west, North Braeswood to the south and Main Street to the east, the area is nestled between the Museum District, Hermann Park, the Texas Medical Center and West U.
At the heart of Houston’s most popular destinations, University Place features posh restaurants and cafes, eclectic shops, and world-class museums. Whether you’ve got a few hours or an entire weekend, it’s a great area to explore.
That said, it’s not cheap. Yes, yes, University Place is expensive, it’s true. But, no fear. On any given day, you can explore one of the city’s most charming and storied districts without breaking the bank.
Here’s our shortlist of the neighborhood’s 15 best cultural offerings under $15 .
🍴 Dine + Drink
Some bucket list bistros, bar and cafes where you can dine and drink on the cheap.
There are plenty of places to read in Houston. This is one of my favorites — Croissant-Brioche.
Located in Rice Village, it’s a friendly, neighborhood place where locals linger, making quiet connections over coffee. The parking situation is less-than-ideal and it’s generally a bit crowded, but there’s a solid selection of magazines and newspapers strewn about, the pastries are large and sweet, and the cappuccinos -- served with a pinch of cinnamon and generous cloud of foamed milk -- are spectacular. In the display cases near the counter are fruit tarts, éclairs, Danishes, profiteroles, and mousse cakes. And in baskets behind the register are pillow-soft croissants and brioche buns, all made in house.
Devilishly good pastries notwithstanding, Croissant-Brioche’s best attribute is its ambiance; it’s got a sort of warm, easy-going atmosphere, a certain, dare I say, je ne sais quoi.
📍 2435 Rice Blvd., Houston, TX 77005
🥪 Local Foods
This cult-favorite counter concept needs no introduction.
Whatever you get, know you honest-to-goodness cannot go wrong. That said, I urge you to order the crispy chicken sandwich: Assembled with a more-is-more philosophy, the super-sized sub consists of roasted chicken breast, nut-seed crumble, crushed chips, romaine, tomato, provolone and a drizzling of buttermilk ranch sandwiched between an oh-so-dense and delicious pretzel bun.
At $15, it’s a bit over-budget per the parameters of this article, but it’s seriously worth the splurge and you can easily split it. I can’t eat the whole thing in a single sitting and trust me, I’ve tried plenty of times. Oh, and it comes with two sides or a cup of soup. My recs: The pozole, curried pickles, and the house-made chips. Other mouth-watering menu standouts include the twice-cooked fries ($7) and the massive Market Burger ($19, but big enough to split).
📍 2424 Dunstan Rd. #100, Houston, TX 77005
🍰 Common Bond
If incredible pastries is what you seek, look no further. Go to Common Bond. Seriously, no ifs ands or buts about it. Just go to Common Bond. Full disclosure, I’m hooked. Look, I don’t have any culinary credentials to speak of. I’m no pastry connoisseur. I’m just a sap with a sweet tooth, but I’d venture to say Common Bond serves some of the city’s best desserts. Their Turtle Brownie is a total triumph. I’ve eaten far too many of them and it’s actually infuriating how dang delicious they are. Anyway, I challenge you to name a tastier treat... I mean it. If there’s a pastry out there that’s actually better than Common Bond’s turtle brownie, I want to know what is and where I can go to get it. Sincerely, a serious sugar addict.
📍 2278 W Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX 77030
🍹 Under the Volcano
Want a good drink sans pricey pretension? Try Under The Volcano. A hub of the community since 1989, it’s an authentic establishment where people of all stripes go to let go. Good drinks, quality eats and an easy-going atmosphere. What more you could you ask for?
📍 2349 Bissonnet St., Houston, TX 77005
Been there, done that? Okay, but how about all these?: Insomnia Cookies 🍪(Order Oatmeal Chocolate Walnut), Flower & Cream🍦(My favorite flavors: Toffee Coffee Cake and Kahlúa & Cookies), Brown Bag Deli 🥪 (Oh-so-satisfying sack lunches), The Owl 🦉, The Chocolate Bar 🍫 (The ice cream is dangerously delicious)
There are several cultural attractions in and around University Place with very agreeable admission fees. How does $0 sound to you?
☀️ James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” at Rice University
Artist James Turrell created the Skyspace installation in 2012 to honor Rice University’s centennial. The soaring structure features a light show that projects onto the ceiling during sunrise and sunset. The structure is open and available to the public throughout the day. Though a public art installation, the space feels intimate and special.
The “Twilight Epiphany” light sequence can be viewed every day at sunrise and sunset. The sunrise light sequence begins approximately 40 minutes before sunrise. The sunset light sequence begins about 10 minutes before sunset. Each sequence lasts approximately 40 minutes. Daily sunrise and sunset times can be found here.
📍 Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion, Houston, TX 77005
🌳 Cullen Sculpture Garden
An oasis of art and nature, the MFAH’s Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden features masterworks of 20th- and 21st-century sculpture by artists including Louise Bourgeois, Pietro Consagra, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Auguste Rodin, and David Smith. The garden is free and open to the public.
📍 Montrose Boulevard at Bissonnet Street, Houston, TX 77006
🐻 Jim Love’s “Portable Trojan Bear” at Hermann Park
Located in Hermann Park, “Portable Trojan Bear” is inspired by the Trojan Horse used by the Greeks to enter the city of Troy in the Trojan War. It was the first public commission for Texas artist Jim Love.
Completed in 1974, “Portable Trojan Bear” was originally displayed at the intersection of Montrose and Bissonnet across from the MFAH. It was moved to Hermann Park in 1984. The beloved piece was restored in 1999 and again in 2009.
📍 6001 Fannin St., Houston, TX 77030
🖼️ Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
This longstanding Houston institution is a non-collecting museum dedicated to presenting the “best and most exciting international, national, and regional art of our time. Founded in 1948, “the museum prides itself on presenting new art and documenting its role in modern life through exhibitions, lectures, original publications, and a variety of educational programs and events.” Museum admission is free.
📍 5216 Montrose Blvd., Houston, TX 77006
🌷 Hermann Park’s gardens
Hermann Park’s crown jewel, McGovern Centennial Gardens, boasts a gorgeous lawn bookended on one end by a fountain and on the other by a waterfall flowing down the side of a thirty-foot mount. The perpetually green expanse at the center of the park is an ideal spot to set down a blanket and stare up at the sky, crack open a good book or enjoy a picnic.
A short walk west of McGovern Centennial Gardens, Hermann Park’s other resident garden offers a serenity not always on offer at McGovern Centennial. The tranquil Japanese Garden features waterfalls, a winding stream, Koi pond, tea house, stone pathways and carefully manicured blooms. The entrance to the Japanese Garden is near the Pioneer Memorial obelisk in the heart of the park. The garden is often overlooked by park visitors flocking to the area to see the Sam Houston monument, iconic reflection pool and the obelisk that are among the park’s most identifiable landmarks.
📍 6001 Fannin St, Houston, TX 77030
🎭 Miller Outdoor Theatre
A beloved cultural treasure since 1923, Miller Outdoor Theatre is a cherished gathering place where generations of Houstonians have enjoyed films, plays, dance and musical performances. The Miller’s eight-month season of professional entertainment is said to be the largest “always free” program in the U.S. Classical music, jazz, dance, ballet, Shakespeare, musical theatre, popular concert artists, and films are among the quality offerings presented by the event venue.
📍 6000 Hermann Park Dr., Houston, TX 77030
Want even more suggestions? Okay! Here you go: Rice University Moody Center For The Arts 🎨 (FREE), Houston Center for Contemporary Craft 🧶 (FREE), The Hermann Park Railroad 🚂 ($3.75 per person), The Hermann Park pedal boats 🦆 ($13 per boat for 30 minutes), Lawndale Art Center 🖼️ (FREE)
In University Place, a host of eclectic boutiques, gift shops and bookstores offer antique treasures and Texas-made gifts on the cheap. Fellow spendthrifts, visit these locales for good-quality goods sold at guilt-free prices.
📖 Brazos Bookstore
If new, sleek books are what you seek, proceed to Brazos Bookstore at 2421 Bissonnet Street. It’s a sweet, tidy shop that stocks a carefully curated selection of contemporary and classic literature, poetry, art and architecture monographs, and the like. The mood inside is always serenely calm. The shelves here are meticulously ordered and the books, thoughtfully displayed. The staff is soft-spoken, knowledgeable and quite discerning.
Though the inventory here is is somewhat limited, I’ve never walked away with less than two new books in hand. The thing is, there’s no filler here. Every single title seems like a worthy prospect.
It’s worth noting that Brazos Bookstore opened back in 1974, primarily as an art and architecture bookshop. It is the hub for Houston’s literary scene. Through the years, it has hosted dozens of literary heavyweights, including the likes of Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, and Molly Ivins. Back in the day, Larry McMurtry, Edward Albee and Donald Barthelme were regulars.
📍 2421 Bissonnet St., Houston, TX 77005
🔎 Murder by the Book
If you’re hunting for clues and diversions, make your way to Murder by the Book, the city’s oldest independent purveyor of mystery literature.
Opened in 1980, the independent bookstore on Bissonnet Street near Kirby markets itself as “one of the nation’s oldest and largest mystery specialty bookstores.” Step inside, take a look around, and you’re inclined to believe them. There are books everywhere. The store stocks over 25,000 books -- new and used, hardbacks and paperbacks, first editions, collectibles, mystery magazines, and more. It’s gloriously niche and and a real thrill to browse.
📍 2342 Bissonnet St, Houston, TX 77005
🫖 British Isles
British Isles, which opened in 1993 in Houston’s Rice Village, is quaint, kitsch and offers a multitude of charming wares from across the pond – collectibles, casual and formal dinnerware, crystal, toiletries, home décor, toys, cards, and a massive array of imported groceries, including tea, biscuits, chocolate, marmalades and other tempting treats sure to please British expats and Anglophiles alike.
📍 2366 Rice Blvd., Houston, TX 77005
🦖 HMNS Museum Store
The expertly curated gift shop at the Houston Museum of Natural Science does not disappoint. Its products are so diverse, it’s a destination unto itself. Here, ancient fossils and precious gemstones are sold alongside roasted crickets, available in an assortment of flavors like orange Creamsicle, mango habanero, and white cheddar, and plushies shaped like planets. Shoppers with exotic tastes will love the large selection of Tahitian pearl jewelry and expensive keepsake boxes carved from rare Desert Ironwood sourced from the Sonoran Desert, while goofballs like myself will take way too much pleasure in items like this pastasaurus pasta serving spoon.
📍 5555 Hermann Park Dr., Houston, TX 77030
💌 Anvil Cards
No matter how heartfelt the words, it will always mean more to read them in a card than in a text, email or social media post. Rather than browsing the card aisle of a pharmacy chain or big-box store, try Anvil Cards, a local greeting card shop on the corner of Bissonnet Street and Morningside Drive. Here, you’re sure to find something special for your special someone. Anvil carries hundreds of card designs, some original works and designs from local Houston artists, and others from some of the best independent card shops and letterpress card studios in the country.
📍 2356 Bissonnet St., Houston, TX 77005
Good people of University Place and beyond, what would you add? This list is by no means comprehensive and I’m grateful for recommendations. What University Place destinations do you frequent for affordable eats and fun? Drop your recommendations in the comment section or in my inbox and I may include them in a future update to this article.
For affordable fun in a neighborhood nearby, browse our bucket list of the 15 essential Montrose experiences under $15.