Using your vacation time is an essential part of finding work-life balance, but you don’t have to go far to make the most of your time off. Whether you are planning home improvement projects, entertaining out-of-town visitors, or hope to do as little as possible, staycations are a great opportunity to seek out new experiences, explore your city and play tourist in your own town.
According to a U.S. Travel Association study, more than half of Americans failed to use all their vacation days. These workers gave up 658 million unused vacation days and 222 million of those days cannot be rolled over or exchanged for money. Multiple studies indicate that people who consistently use their vacation time report increased work productivity, higher job satisfaction, lower burn-out and stress levels.
Houston has world-class attractions, professional sports, museums, performance halls, and of course proximity to the coast, but longtime residents don’t always take advantage of what the city has to offer.
Here are a few Houston area attractions you may have never visited:
Smither Park, 2441 Munger St.
Perfect for a date night or a family picnic, Smither Park is a hidden gem that sparkles like the mosaics adorning the park’s 40-foot art wall. Nestled in a residential street near the University of Houston, the unique creative space opened in 2016. In addition to the must-see mosaics, the park features a fish-shaped amphitheater for live performances and movie nights, a throne begging for selfies, a skeleton table, a wine bottle-treetop pavilion, dragon bench swings, a coin tower and more. As artists continue to work on the park, you’ll see something new every time you visit. While you’re there, check out another iconic Houston folk art experience next door, The Orange Show Monument.
Beer Can House, 222 Malone
Named one of America’s top 50 roadside destinations by Time Magazine, the Beer Can House is a sight you’ll never forget. Lifelong Houstonian John Milkovisch covered his Washington Corridor/Memorial Park area home with more than 50,000 beer cans, complete with curtains of pull-tabs that hang from the porch and eves. Every Houstonian should see it at least once. Admission is $2 to visit the grounds; $5 for a private tour.
Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, 105 Sabine Street
Described as a modern archeological find, the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern is a 90-year-old, decommissioned underground City of Houston drinking water reservoir that has become one of the most unique attractions in Houston. Built in 1926, the Buffalo Bayou Cistern stored 15 million gallons of municipal drinking water for nearly 80 years until an irreparable leak prompted its closure in 2007. Now, the cistern has become a serene space to cool off and view various artistic light installations. Only six inches of water remain in the structure that stretches 87,500 square feet or the size of 1.5 football fields. The water’s reflection creates optical illusions of the 221 concrete columns. Read more about the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern in City Savvy. Admission varies between $5-$10 depending on special events, but Thursdays are free.
Sam Houston Park, 1000 Bagby
Just steps away from City Hall, Sam Houston Park was established in 1899 as the first official City of Houston park. The 20-acre park features gently rolling lawns and historical buildings dating back to a pre-Texas revolution cabin. Notably, the park also features a home built in 1870 by former slave and community leader Rev. Jack Yates. Attracting renewed attention to the park is “Open House,” a cottage transformed by artist duo Dan Havel and Dean Ruck. From the outside, the perrywinkle-colored home is polka-dotted with intentionally cut holes. Inside, the holes show views of downtown Houston and walls are collaged thousands of vintage Houston photographs. Admission is free to the park and to Open House. Visit the Houston Heritage Society for more information about events and tours.
Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, 3861 Caroline Street
The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to African-American military history. Visitors will learn about the historical impact of the Buffalo Soldiers and see artifacts dating back to the Revolutionary War. The museum also features historical memorabilia which detail the history of the brave men and women who overcame extreme adversity while fighting the great American wars.
Glenwood Cemetery, 2525 Washington Avenue
A cemetery might not top your list of tourist destinations, but Houstonians and visitors are often pleasantly surprised at the austere beauty of this spot just one mile from downtown Houston. Glenwood features 84 acres of gardens and statuary, one of Harris County’s oldest and largest Live Oak trees and is the historical resting place for some of Houston’s most influential residents. Watch this video to get more insight. Visitors are welcome Monday-Friday 8-5 p.m. Guided tours are available upon request.
Lake Houston Wilderness Park, 25840 Farm to Market 1485, New Caney, Texas
If you need to escape the city for some peace and quiet, just take a 30-minute drive north of downtown to Lake Wilderness Park. This 4,786-acre park in New Caney is the only Houston Parks and Recreation Department park where overnight camping is available. Make plans months in advance to reserve a lakeside cabin that accommodates up to six guests. Activities include hiking and biking on 20 miles of hike and bike trails, kayaking and horseback riding on 13 miles of equestrian trails. (Bring your own bikes, watercraft, and horses). Read more on the HPARD website.
BAPS Shri Swaninarayan Mandir (Hindu temple) 1150 Brand Lane, Stafford, Texas
Expand your cultural horizons by visiting the BAPS Shri Swaninarayan Mandir, a stunning Hindu temple in Stafford. The first of its kind in North America, the Mandir was constructed from more than 34,000 marble stones quarried in Turkey and Carrara, Italy. More than 2,000 traditional Indian artisans sculpted the pieces, which were shipped to the United States. The Mandir is available for public tours daily from 7:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m., but visitors to this sacred space are expected to adhere to a dress code – no tank tops, shorts or skirts shorter than knee length. You must remove your shoes before entering the Mandir.
Brazos Bend State Park, 21901 FM 762, Needville, Texas
Take a walk on the wild side at Brazos Bend State Park in Needville. Brazos Bend boasts many attractions, but the large population of American alligators are the headliners of this 4,897-acre park. Visitors have also seen more than 270 species of birds, 21 species of reptiles and amphibians and 23 species of mammals, including bobcat, white-tailed deer, raccoon, gray fox, and feral hog.Take advantage of more than 21 miles of hiking and biking trails and six different fishing lakes. Learn More on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.
Lone Star Flight Museum, 11551 Aerospace Ave.
It’s fitting that the Lone Star Flight Museum, dedicated to the history of Texas aviation, relocated to Ellington Airport the year of its centennial anniversary. The museum features more than 40 restored aircraft including a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, North American T-6 Texan and an anti-tank helicopter. Visitors can see 1500 artifacts, interactive exhibits and simulators. Flight experiences, private events, camps and birthday parties are also available.
Visit our City Nights page to learn more about employee discounts to Astros games, Wet ‘n’ Wild Splash Town, the Museum of Natural Science, B Cycle and more.