Houston bucket list: The things every Houston resident should do before they die (or move)

A list of Houston musts

Houston (Pixabay)

Going full-on cowboy at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, gawking in wonder at the monument to recycling that is The Beer Can House, sipping a Ninfarita marg at the Original Ninfa’s...and a bunch of other Houston-centric things.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are the things that every Houston resident should do before they die (or move).

Visit the San Jacinto Monument

San Jacinto Monument (Copyright 2012 San Jacinto Museum of History)

A good chunk of native Houstonians visited the San Jacinto Monument on at least one of their school field trips and, honestly, it’s bigger than Houston. It’s kind of a Texas essential so if you haven’t seen it yet, you’d really better skedaddle on down and soon. Located on the Houston Ship Channel, the San Jacinto Monument is a 567.31-foot-high obelisk celebrating Sam Houston’s victory over Santa Anna in 1826 and honoring all those who fought to win Texas its independence. Fun fact: As you likely know, everything’s bigger in Texas, and the San Jacinto Monument is no exception: The monument is the tallest masonry column in the world and it’s more than 12 feet taller that the Washington Monument .

Swim in the Texas-shaped lazy river and pool at Marriott Marquis Houston

OK, this lazy river isn’t just Texas-sized -- it’s Texas-shaped! And nothing says state pride quite like swimming in a body of water made in the image of your beloved state. Marriott Marquis Houston’s winding, Texas-shaped swimming pool has captured the hearts of many Houstonians suffering through the Lone Star State’s triple-digit summer temps. And worry not Houston residents: There’s no need to book a room at the Marriott Marquis just to take a dip in the world’s only rooftop, Texas-shaped lazy river. Day passes are available for purchase.

Feed the giraffes at the Houston Zoo

‘Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!’ This is when you can finally go back to the Houston Zoo

Irrefutable fact: Giraffes are awesome and so is the Houston Zoo. The Houston Zoo is among the most-visited zoos in the country and one of the most-attended attractions in the Houston area. There’s lots to see and tons of animals to interact with, including some adorable aforementioned giraffes. The 55-acre zoo is nestled in Hermann Park, so once you’re finished gawking in wonder at the thousands of animals on display, you can continue the fun in the park. Ride the rails of the park’s miniature train, hop on a paddle boat and mosey through the pond, ascend the massive Mound and the McGovern Centennial Gardens or take a peaceful stroll through the Japanese Garden. Pro tip: For some adorable animal interactions outside the zoo, pack a snack for the ducks waddling around the park. You’re bound to make lots of feathered friends and maybe even a couple tree-climbing acquaintances.

Celebrate the holiday season with a shopping spree at the Christmas extravaganza that is the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market

Deck out in your cutest holiday garb and usher in the Christmas season at this massive Houston shopping event held annually at the NRG Center. The Nutcracker Market features hundreds of merchants peddling the holiday decor, gourmet foods, novelty knickknacks, apparel and gifts you didn’t realize you needed, but will soon come to realize you cannot live without. Bonus: Your shopping spree benefits the the Houston Ballet and its Academy’s scholarship programs. Not much of a spendthrift? Trust us -- The people-watching alone is reason enough to go.

Hop aboard the The Downtown Aquarium train and take a ride through a 200,000-gallon shark tank

Downtown Aquarium Shark Train (Downtown Aquarium)

Feeling adventurous? Hop aboard the C.P. Huntington train and take a ride through a 200,000-gallon shark tank packed with the ocean’s most majestic predator. The attraction combines trains and and sharks. Who could resist? And anyway, the aquarium is practically a Houston rite of passage so why not experience it from a train?

Ascend the 30-foot mound at McGovern Centennial Gardens

The Mount at McGovern Centennial Gardens in Houston's Museum District is seen July 19, 2019.

For the Houston natives who’ve never gotten a chance to experience an actual hill before, we recommend the 30-foot mound in the middle of Hermann Park. Gorgeous views of the lush McGovern Centennial Gardens await you at the apex of this iconic and Insta-worthy Houston enticement.

Ride the rails through Hermann Park on the Hermann Park Railroad

Hermann Park Railroad (Hermann Park)

Ride the rails through one of Houston’s most beloved parks. This train takes a 2-mile, 18-minute journey through one of Houston’s most beloved parks. The train departs from Kinder Station every 25 to 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Take a round-trip adventure through the park or stop at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Rice University or the Buddy Carruth Playground for All Children. Adults must accompany kids 12 years old and younger.

Gawk in wonder at the monument to recycling that is The Beer Can House

Austin talks a mighty big game about keeping it weird, but we’d go as far as to say Houston’s plenty weird -- and quite possibly weirder than the Capitol City. Austin, you can talk the talk but Houston walks the walk. Case in point: The Beer Can House, Houston’s famous monument to recycling. The home is adorned with some 50,000 beer cans. Started in 1968 as a project for its late owner, the house has become one of the city’s most recognizable folk art icons. The Beer Can House, now open for tours, is quite a sight to behold and it’s a Houston must.

Amass a small collection of beads at the state’s largest Mardi Gras celebration, Mardi Gras! Galveston

Mardi Gras! Galveston 2019 (Courtesy of Mardi Gras! Galveston 2019)

Come Fat Tuesday, get into the Mardi Gras spirit with a trip to Galveston, the site of the third largest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States: Mardi Gras! Galveston. Prepare to amass a budding collection of beads at this parade-packed extravaganza.

Explore infinity and beyond at Space Center Houston

Tap into the city’s rich history of space travel and play astronaut for the day at Space Center Houston. The facility boasts hundreds of space artifacts, the world’s largest collection of moon rocks and opportunities to get behind-the-scenes glimpses of the NASA Johnson Space Center. It is one of Houston’s top attractions and the area’s No. 1 attraction for international visitors. Texans come from all over the state just to visit it so why shouldn’t you visit at least once?

Grab a cold one at the state’s oldest craft brewery

Leslie Roades, left, and David Schmitz drink beer at the Saint Arnold Brewing Company, Friday, June 26, 2020, in Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday that he is shutting bars back down and scaling back restaurant capacity to 50%, in response to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Beer lovers, grab a cold one at the state’s oldest craft brewery! Founded in 1994, Saint Arnold Brewing proudly proclaims itself to be the oldest craft-brewery in the Lone Star State. Rest-assured, whatever brew you settle on, whether you grab one of brewery’s 15 year-round beers or a seasonal beer on tap, know you’ve made a good choice.

Go full-on cowboy at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

AERIALS: Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo prep underway at NRG Stadium

Do we even need to explain why this one’s on the list? No, we don’t, but we will give it a go anyway. A thing you should know about Houston: It’s gaga over the rodeo. Like head-over-cowboy-boot-heels in love. And most Houston natives cross this particular item off their bucket list as youngsters. Many go time and time again. And honestly, the rodeo is a Texas tradition and a rite of passage. So if you’ve never been to a rodeo, you’d better mosey on down to the NRG Center come March. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo proudly proclaims itself as the largest in the world, so if you were ever going to go to one, this is the one to set your sights on. In summary: Bust out your finest boots and fringe come March and prepare to go full-on cowboy at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Who doesn’t love carnival rides, petting zoos, mutton bustin’ and eating fried concoctions on a stick?

Enjoy Houston’s most famous Margarita, the Ninfarita at the Original Ninfa’s

Frozen or on the rocks, it’s a Houston must, at least for those of use over the age of 21, that it is. Why? Here’s a couple of reasons: The restaurant has been a Houston institution for over 40 years and its margaritas regularly land on “best of” lists.

Go to town on a heavenly slice of pie at House of Pies. And, maybe score some breakfast too.

House of Pies

House of Pies -- It’s where breakfast food aficionados and Houstonians battling late night cravings go to score some diner food and glorious, glorious pie. The 24-hour diner and bakery, originally founded as a franchise by Al Lapin Jr. , the same entrepreneur who started IHOP, has been a Houston institution for decades. OK, it goes without saying -- but, we’re going to say it anyway -- if, actually when, you visit House of Pies, you’ve got to order at least one slice of pie. It’s an unwritten law of the the universe and a tasty one at that. House of Pies reps a perpetually stocked dessert case packed with an assortment of pies including but definitely not limited to Texas Pecan, Bayou Goo, Bavarian Banana, French Blackbottom, Coconut Cream, Cherry, German Chocolate, Blueberry, Dutch Apple and more.

Gawk at some amazing cars at the Houston Art Car Parade

Here’s another essential Houston experience so unusual, dare we say weird, that it gives Austin a run for its money. The annual art and auto extravaganza rides through town each Spring, leaving packs of astonished onlookers in its wake. The parade, considered the largest of its kind in the world (What can we say? Everything’s bigger in Texas), features a string of cars transformed into crazy creations like a triceratops, a plane, a ship and even a giant chicken. It’s incredible to behold.

Take a subterranean tour of the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern

Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern is a former underground drinking water reservoir built in 1926. It’s filled with concrete columns and sometimes features art installations. Flat out, it’s a pretty cool sight.

Grub out Czech-style at The Original Kolache Shoppe

Photo: The Original Kolache Shoppe/Yelp (Photo: The Original Kolache Shoppe/Yelp)

This unassuming bakery in southeast Houston has proved its staying power. Opened in 1956, The Original Kolache Shoppe serves up savory and sugary treats galore: Notable mentions include klobasniky, sweet kolaches and Texas-sized croissants. This is a Houston essential, so if you’re one of the unfortunate souls yet to make the pilgrimage to this iconic Houston eatery, we’d suggest you get cracking, and feasting, ASAP.


What would you add to this list? What would you take off this list? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team in 2019. When she’s not hard at work in the KPRC 2 newsroom, you can find Bri drinking away her hard earned wages at JuiceLand, running around Hermann Park, listening to crime podcasts or ransacking the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble.