Houston is the nation’s fourth largest city with 2.3 million people. It’s a multi-cultural melting pot. Part of the city’s magic is the neighborhoods. The Houston Museum District is a standout. It has 19 museums, which is one of the largest concentrations of cultural institutions in the U.S. It’s home to Rice University, the Houston Zoo, and Texas Medical Center. There are four walkable/bike-able zones in the Museum District’s nine square miles. Getting there is easy, it’s just southwest of downtown Houston, and about a 5–10-minute drive.

You don’t just get a cultural cornucopia, but nature too. The 445-acre Hermann Park has lakes and gardens, green spaces galore. As for the best things to do in Museum District, you also don’t want to miss the restaurants and cafes. You don’t want to go to Houston and not visit the Museum District.

Quick Answer Guide: 14 Best Things to Do in the Museum District

‌Top Things to Do in the Museum District of Houston‌

‌Best Things to Do During the Day in the Museum District‌

‌Best Things to Do Outdoors in the Museum District‌

‌Best Things to Do at Night in the Museum District‌

‌Free Things to Do in the Museum District‌

Top Things to Do in the Museum District of Houston

For arts and culture the Museum District is an embarrassment of riches. There is a museum for pretty much every interest. Then there are restaurants like Lucille’s, co-founded by executive chef Chris Williams, who was nominated in 2022 and 2023 for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur. He takes soul food to the next level. It’s so good you don’t need any other reason to come to the Museum District. Lucille’s is a definite must do in Museum District.

They say good things come in threes. For the top attractions in the Museum District, you have the museums, Lucille’s and the third is Hermann Park.

1. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

  • Perfect For:‌ Art lovers
  • Website:https://www.mfah.org
  • If You Go:‌ General admission is free on Thursdays. Children 12 and younger are always free. If you have the Houston CityPass, you can save 51% on admission to the museum.

In Texas, they do things big. MFAH is no exception. It is among the 10 largest art museums in the U.S., with a collection of nearly 70,000 works of art. Dine at one of two cafes. Browse two libraries, enjoy films, and lectures. On Friday evenings from 6-9 p.m. during the summer, all galleries and exhibitions are open in a private setting where you can have a cocktail, talk with a curator, and hear live music. There’s nothing ordinary about the gift shop with its prints, jewelry, toys, gifts, stationery, and more. It’s been called one of the most cleverly curated museum shops in the U.S. If you just want to peep in the store you don’t have to pay museum admission.

2. Houston Zoo

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  • Perfect For:‌ Family fun
  • Website:https://www.houstonzoo.org
  • If You Go:‌ Online reservations are required for all non-member guests. Tickets are not sold on-site at the zoo.

If you want an experience you’ll always remember, buy a ticket for a 45-minute animal encounter. It includes a 15-minute tour with the conservation education staff, and time with the zookeeper and meeting animals like an elephant, Galapagos tortoise, or giant anteater. A portion of each purchase goes toward protecting animals in the wild. The kids will also love the wildlife carousel. The 55-acre zoo is home to some 6,000 animals.

3. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

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  • Perfect For:‌ Hipster art crowd
  • Website:https://camh.org
  • If You Go:‌ Museum admission is free.

The "wow" effect starts even before you enter the museum. It’s housed in the infamous stainless-steel building designed by award-winning architect Gunnar Birkerts. At CAMH, expect to see the unexpected, the latest, cutting works from artists around the globe. Find your zen during self-guided meditation in the meditation room. Create your own piece of art from a bag of mixed media materials

Best Things to Do During the Day in the Museum District

This district is so walkable, you can find a parking spot and just stroll at your own pace. If it’s breakfast or brunch time, head to Mo’ Better Brews. The menu is 100% vegan. Here, it’s about coffee, vinyl, and vegan. Feast on smokey kale salad, pecan pie waffles, hot honey shrooms and grits, and southern classics with a vegan twist. Expect great music too much of it culled from a collection of albums.

You might also want to pop in the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum that tells the story of the African American men who helped to build the United States.

4. Burke Baker Planetarium

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Get ready for the thrill of flying through the universe. For sure there’s plenty of adventure with shows like Death of Dinosaurs for a Jurassic Park experience, Expedition Reef for immersion on an oceanic safari, and Cosmic Collisions where you’ll be mesmerized by planet altering explosions. Get ready for the thrill of flying through the universe. Do include the planetarium among your places to visit in Museum District.

5. Children’s Museum Houston

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  • Perfect For:‌ Families
  • Website:https://www.cmhouston.org
  • If You Go:‌ Save 49% on admission with the Houston CityPASS. The museum is free on Thursday from 5-8 p.m.

For sure, one of the best things to do in Museum District is to go to the Children’s Museum of Houston. Browse 14 galleries of America’s top children’s museum. Check the events calendar for poetry readings, open mic performances, workshops, and interactive experiences. The Kids’ Hall showcases traveling art and culture exhibits from around the world. The Power Science Lab for those 8+ is a hands-on chemical wet lab where they can conduct experiments. Plan to spend a few hours as your kids won’t want to leave.

6. Cockrell Butterfly Center

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  • Perfect For:‌ Nature lovers
  • Website:https://www.hmns.org/cockrell-butterfly-center
  • If You Go:‌ Stroller and wagons are not allowed in the butterfly center because they pose an escape risk for butterflies. No worries though if you have a stroller, there is a place to park it at the center’s entrance.

What to do in Museum District? One answer is to go to the Cockrell Butterfly Center. You might forget that you’re in the heart of the city once you enter the Rainforest Conservatory, three stories of glass around a 50-foot waterfall. You’ll feel more like you’re in a rainforest in South America with all the exotic greenery and more than 1,500 butterflies from around the world aflutter. While you can’t touch the butterflies, plants, or other wildlife, photography and videography are allowed. However, with the Butterfly Flight School you can release a newly hatched butterfly for its entry into the rainforest conservatory.

7. Houston Museum of African American Culture

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  • Perfect for:‌ History and culture
  • Website:https://hmaac.org
  • If You Go:‌ The museum is open Thursday through Saturday and admission is free.

Through exhibits, screenings, films, panel discussions, and lectures explore the African American experience. View permanent exhibits like The Jazz Church of Houston, dedicated to collecting and sharing the city’s jazz history and the Stairwell of Memory that pays homage to victims of police brutality.

Best Things to Do Outdoors in the Museum District

Another place that is among the best things to do in Museum District is Hermann Park. There’s big fun to be had on these 445 acres. Spend time in the Japanese Garden, at the Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Reflection Pool, the Houston Zoo, McGovern Lake, on the golf course, or meandering along the Hawkins Sculpture Walk. Hop on the railroad, or in a pedal boat. And that’s just some of the stuff you can do. When you’re ready for a bite, the park’s Ginger Kale restaurant is the spot for salads, sandwiches, among other dishes.

8. Hermann Park Golf Course

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This is the only driving range inside the Loop and it’s on more than three acres of land. With the oak trees and elegant greenery, you’ll lose that city vibe. Exhale, enjoy your game. Afterward, head to the clubhouse for lunch. Hermann Park is at the center of many activities in Museum District.

9. Barnaby’s Cafe

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  • Perfect For:‌ Foodies looking for a pet-friendly restaurant
  • Website:https://barnabyscafe.com/museum.html
  • If You Go:‌ Do not put your dog on the table, in your lap or on a chair per health department rules.

This is the spot for you and your pooch. Dine on the patio. Take your pick of a varied menu -- burgers, salads, sandwiches, bbq chicken breast, to ribs, steak, salmon, and pork chops. For your best friend there’s a complimentary bowl of water, choice of ground beef, chicken, or scrambled eggs over brown rice.

10. Holocaust Museum Houston

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  • Perfect for:‌ History
  • Website:https://hmh.org
  • If You Go:‌ The museum is free on Thursdays from 2 – 8 p.m.

Prepare yourself for what may be an emotional visit. This dark period in history is captured vividly at the Holocaust Museum Houston. The museum tells the stories of the Holocaust with the hopes that wisdom learned from atrocities of the past will lead to a better future. The museum also features traveling exhibits like "The Negro Motorist Green Book" developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services and Candacy Taylor that sheds light on the reality of safe travel for African Americans during the mid-century. This one of the most unique places to visit in Museum District.

Best Things to Do at Night in the Museum District

Once the sun goes down that doesn't mean activities in Museum District end. Thursday night is a great time to be in the neighborhood. Most of the museums are free on Thursday evenings. During the summer, on Friday nights, cool off with a cocktail, hear live music and browse the art at Summer Nights at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Café Leonelli in the museum is open for Happy Hour from 4-8 p.m.

Hotel ZaZa Museum District is a top choice for a memorable evening. It’s Monarch restaurant and terrace is a beauty. You’ll feel like royalty between the excellent service, sophisticated setting, views of the Mecom Fountain and Museum of Fine Arts, and the creative cuisine like crispy sesame pork belly tacos or a chicken-fried wagyu steak po’boy, and the craftiest of craft cocktails. There’s a DJ on Saturdays.

Another happening spot is UnWine for great wines, cured meats and cheeses, salads, quesadilla style tapas, oven baked sandwiches and more at this wine bar. Catch jazz, spoken word, or karaoke on the upstairs deck.

11. Japanese Gardens

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  • Perfect For:‌ Garden geeks
  • Website:https://www.hermannpark.org/poi/24
  • If You Go:‌ The entrance to the Japanese Garden is near the Pioneer Memorial obelisk just off Molly Ann Smith Plaza near the Heart of the Park. Look for parking Lot A that’s just off Sam Houston Monument circle. It has the best proximity to the garden.

Get ready to ooh and ahh. The setting is something special with cascading waterfalls, bridges, Japanese maples, cherry trees, a traditional teahouse, and more. This is a piece of paradise. The garden was designed by legendary landscape architect Ken Nakajima. The rocks, wood, flowing water, and plants make for quiet calm. Wander the paths and enjoy the peace.

12. Rothko Chapel

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  • Perfect For:‌ A spiritual, contemplative atmosphere
  • Website:https://www.rothkochapel.org
  • If You Go:‌ Maintain a distance of at least two feet from the works of art. Taking photos and using technology is prohibited.

Meditate if you feel inspired to do so. Take in the 14 murals and sculptures like the "Broken Obelisk" that rises above reflecting pool on the plaza that is dedicated to The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Browse the permanent collection of holy books and spiritual texts.

Free Things to Do in the Museum District

Events at the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park are always free. Enjoy a variety of performances, from chamber music, dance, jazz, R&B, mariachi, opera, Festival Chicana, reggae, children’s theater, and more. Check to see what’s going on at the Miller Outdoor Theatre while you’re in town.

The Menil Collection is a must-do in Museum District. There are five buildings with more than15,000 works, prints, drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs, and rare books, from prehistoric times to the present – antiquities, Byzantine and Medieval, Tribal, and the Twentieth Century.

13. Asia Society Texas

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  • Perfect For:‌ All things Asian culture
  • Website:https://asiasociety.org/texas
  • If You Go:‌ The Society’s Java Lave Café is a must. The Ahi Poke Bowl and Hanoi Egg Coffee are much beloved.

This 40,000 square-foot center was designed by famed Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi who is lauded for his renovation and expansion of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. You’ll get total immersion in Asian culture, like the permanent Explore Asia exhibit that showcases five Asian countries. Programming includes events like jazz-funk bassist Richie Goods and vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu performances, AsiaFest, a community festival, and more.

14. Bodegas Taco Shop

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  • Perfect For:‌ Authentic Mexican food
  • Website:https://bodegastacoshop.com
  • If You Go:‌ This is also a good place to hang out on Friday or Saturday night when they are open until midnight.

If you work up an appetite walking around all the museums, Bodegas should be your next stop. It’s likely nearby, as seven of the city’s top museums are within a block of the restaurant. You’re in for a treat, whether you choose fish tacos, Mexican pizza, fajitas, burritos, or a burger royal. The real buzz though is about the award-winning margaritas. There’s also a patio for outdoor dining.

For sure you’ll cheat yourself if you don’t make your way to the Museum District. With the museums you’ll be inspired, educated, stimulated. Combine that with the nature of Hermann Park, whether you pedal boat, go to the zoo, or stroll the Japanese Garden, and you’ve got a vacay to remember.