Ten of Houston’s Most Unique Attractions
By: Jody T. Morse
Visitors to the Houston area are likely to be familiar with the traditionally popular places to visit in Houston, Texas. An amazing zoo, museums galore, and the downtown aquarium restaurant are among the well-known stops to make in the Bayou City. While incredible and worthy of such publicity, some notable, but lesser-known locations are hiding throughout the city. These ten attractions include educational elements, kid-friendly locations, bizarre sights, and unusual locales. The country’s fourth largest city has something to dazzle and intrigue just about every visitor. So dive in and explore a different side of Houston!
*These exhibits and attractions are listed in no particular order.
Art Car Museum
For those who have never before heard the term, an “art car” by definition is simply a car decorated as an art piece. The predecessors to this art form can be traced back to the 1960s and ‘70s, with peace signs painted on Volkswagen busses or the customized, psychedelic cars driven my Lennon and Joplin. Located in the Heights neighborhood a few miles from downtown proper, the Art Car Museum is unlike any other. Nicknamed the “Garage Mahal,” it houses the best-of-the-best, for which Houston is well known. Visitors will learn about the history of the art car movement and the people that made this dream a reality.
Buffalo Soldiers Museum
If looking for a more historical and educational experience, then consider the Buffalo Soldier Museum. The only institution in America focused solely on preserving the legacy of African-American soldiers, the gallery was established in 2000 by Captain Paul J. Matthews, a Vietnam Veteran and African American Military historian. While the term “Buffalo Soldiers” originally paid tribute to the soldiers of the 10th cavalry in the late 1800s, the museum highlights, and shares the stories of African-American military veterans throughout the ages.
National Museum of Funeral History
Possibly a bit on the macabre side of things, the theme of this museum is quite out of the norm. Visitors can take a tour of caskets and coffins while learning about the funeral rituals for Popes, Presidents, and other famous figures. While maintaining a sense of respect and compassion, this facility makes answering the question, “what happens when we die” a bit lighter and intriguing in all the right ways.
The Orange Show Monument
Named for the creator’s favorite fruit, one that he associated with longevity and hard work, local postman Jeff McKissack spent the last 24 years of his life constructing this architectural maze, complete with balconies, arenas and walkways. After his death in 1980, Houstonians came together to preserve his unique art as well as his vision. Established in the 1980s, the Orange Show Foundation also oversees other unusual Houston sites and works to preserve tangible and accessible creative displays.
If some of the tourist stops on this list seem to be other-worldly, the Rothko Chapel would be their antithesis, a place for silent restoration of the spirit. Mark Rothko was a mid-century painter, widely known for his later works, rectangular images and use of dark tones and red hues. Rothko himself was heavily involved in the architectural design of the building as well as the murals within. He used primarily purples, maroons, and blacks, and the darkness of the space likely speaks to his mood at the end of his life. It is a must-visit for those wanting to mix a touch of soul-seeking in with their sight-seeing.
Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park
Houston’s Galleria area is a hub for high-end shopping, elegant restaurants, and high-end hotels. There in the midst of all of the hub-bub, next to the Williams Tower, is a 64-foot fountain that circulates 11,000 gallons of water every minute. This is a hotspot for locals to propose as well as celebrate other special moments. There is not a dedicated website for this unique attraction but the hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, there is no admission, and the address is 2800 Post Oak Boulevard, Houston, TX 77056. Pop by for a picnic after a day of shopping and relaxation!
James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace
Located on the campus of Rice University, this architectural installment is as rare as it is beautiful. While it is architecturally enticing, its primary purpose is musical, serving as both a laboratory and performance space due to its acoustics. Best visited at sunrise or sunset, the edifice is set up to perform visual light shows, in addition to outdoor music, and creates colorfully mesmerizing displays. Free to the public and open according to University timings, this stop on a journey of Houston appeals to visitors both young and old.
Donovan Park, located in Houston’s historic Heights district, is a child’s paradise! Almost entirely constructed from wood, this playground sparks imagination while appealing to artistic minds. Castles, forts, a stationary train, and more, this park is entirely fenced for safety and open from dawn to dusk daily. A site to be experienced, rather than merely seen; the address is 700 Heights Boulevard, Houston, TX 77007.
When Stephanie Smither’s husband, John, passed away, she turned to visionary artist and builder, Dan Phillips; together they created a memorial for John in the up-and-coming East End, where the Orange Foundation’s visions seem to thrive. The park contains some of the usual recreational elements, such as swings, and amphitheater, and plenty of space for traditional gatherings like weddings or parties. However, what sets Smither Park apart is its artistic elements. Visitors may catch a glimpse of some art in action, as local artists gather to continue to mosaic work on even more surfaces throughout the area. Smither Park is a delightful work-in-progress, constantly growing and changing so that every visit brings new joys!
The Beer Can House
Last but definitely not least, is a Houston icon: the Beer Can House. Not a brewery, although the name may be deceiving, the Beer Can House is a former residence that has been covered completely in over 50,000 aluminum cans. Over 18 years, beginning in 1968, John Milkovisch began siding his house in the cans. Milkovisch considered this endeavor both decorative and practical. With garlands of cans hung to and fro, this site is unequivocally fascinating. Be sure to download the guide prior to your visit. Like the Art Car Museum, and Smither Park, the Orange Foundation is proud to call the Beer Can House one of its own.