Downtown Houston is an eclectic mix of commercial properties, high rise offices, and green spaces. Covering just under two square miles in the very heart of the city, it’s where skyscrapers rise above the spread of Houston itself like a cluster of massive stalagmites.
Houston was founded on the banks of Buffalo Bayou which cuts through the upper part of the downtown district. But don’t worry, there’s much more to do in Downtown Houston than fishing for catfish. Explore the streets of Downtown by double-decker bus or view DT’s numerous graffiti artworks on a Segway. Drop into a church for a beer or fill up on Tex-Mex while watching a basketball game.
Not everything Downtown Houston has to offer is on the surface; there’s almost as much going on underground as there is above it. So check out these fifteen best things to do in Downtown Houston to find out what is happening and where.
1. Double Decker Bus Tour
Climb up the stairs to the top deck of an open-topped double-decker London bus and ride around Downtown plus the rest of Houston to see all the major sights.
The hop-on-hop-off service has three pick up points in Downtown Houston. One at Market Square Park, another at Houston City Hall Visitor Center and one on Bagby Street in DT’s Theater district.
The big red bus’s full loop tour takes around ninety minutes. Do it all in one go or get off then get back on when it comes back around an hour and a half later. Ding ding! All aboard!
2. Downtown Houston Tunnel System
Once you’ve seen DT Houston at street level, head down into the Downtown Houston Tunnel System and explore what lies twenty feet beneath. It’s a surreal subterranean world which interlinks over ninety blocks.
Wander through the six-mile-long labyrinth of brightly illuminated walkways full of retail outlets and food courts with cafes and restaurants.
The tunnels are easily accessed via escalators and signposted stairs at pavement level. Download a tunnel map before you go as finding your way around can be confusing.
3. Heritage Society Museum
The Heritage Society Museum is in the Sam Houston Park off Lamar Street in Downtown Houston. More of a village within the city than a museum, here the exhibits are a collection of historic buildings which stand within ten acres of landscaped grounds.
Dwarfed by the skyscrapers surrounding them, the restored premises include the oldest building still standing in the city, one of the first with an interior kitchen and a timber church built in the late 1800’s. All contain antique furnishings and artifacts from bygone days showing how Houston’s first residents lived.
Strolling around the Heritage Society Museum and the gardened grounds is like being caught in a genuine Downtown Houston time capsule.
4. The Church of Beer
The St Arnold brewery company, named after a European saint, is the oldest craft beer brewery in the state of Texas and where better to sample their products than in Downtown Houston in an unusual and church-ified atmosphere.
Take a tour of the brewery premises then enter through the huge double doors of the restaurant pavilion. The interior is decked with wooden arches across the high ceiling, stained glass windows, and antique religious art. While it might not be a real church, it’s a place for real beer worshippers.
Sit in one of the alcove chapels decorated with vibrant murals by local artists and sip a one-time brew from the divine series or a more down to earth, year-round produced draft. They serve great food too, and there are fantastic views of DT Houston from the beer garden.
5. Discovery Green
Discovery Green, a twelve-acre public park in Downtown Houston is as much a social hub as it is a park. The park has a one-acre lake, fountain and two promenades, one lined with oak trees and the other offering three-hundred and sixty-degree views of DT Houston.
The park holds weekly festivals and events ranging from dance to film presentations to dramatic works in the amphitheater. Enjoy the park ambiance by night and dine at either of the park’s two classy restaurants The Grove or the Lake House. If you are there over a weekend, The Lake House also serves a scrumptious Sunday brunch.
6. Hobby Center For Performing Arts
The Hobby Center For Performing Arts is an ultra-modern, theater on Bagby Street in Downtown Houston.
Split into two separate auditoriums, the Sarofim Hall and the Zilkha Hall; the theater has a total seating capacity for over three thousand. The Hobby Center’s major showpieces are the sixty-foot glass windows, with incredible DT Houston views, in the three-story high foyer area.
The theater hosts dramatic performances, diverse musical concerts, and Broadway spectaculars. There is an in-house restaurant, the Diana American Grill, named after the theater’s patron and serving traditional grill room food, plus a bistro in the lobby for drinks before the show begins.
7. Houston Police Museum
The Houston Police Museum on Downtown’s Travis Street is in the lobby of the Houston Police headquarters.
The Houston Police memorabilia, collected over several decades, includes a helicopter suspended from the ceiling, a vintage auto shot through with bullet holes and antique highway patrol motorcycles. There is also a memorial wall dedicated to Houston’s fallen officers.
Make sure you’re carrying ID with you when you go, you’ll need it to get in.
8. Bayou Place
Fulfill all your dining and entertainment needs under one roof at the Bayou Place complex in the Theater district of Downtown Houston.
Take in a movie with dinner at the AMC Dine-In, a classic burger at the Hard Rock Cafe or sushi at the Blue Fish. Follow with a concert or show at the Revention Center or the Ballroom, then relax on the outdoor patio of the Wine Cellar under the nighttime lights of Downtown Houston.
Bayou Place is one of Downtown’s liveliest social hubs and perfect for a weekend night out.
9. Houston Graffiti & Street Art By Segway
Ride a Segway around the streets of Downtown Houston and discover over two hundred individual murals created by the best aerosol artists in Texas.
Start out in Graffiti Park on Leeland Street, a parking lot surrounded by buildings daubed with gigantic, colorful artworks. There you’ll master maneuvering the Segway, before taking to the cycle lanes and traffic free alleyways of DT to discover just how active DT Houston’s street art scene is.
You’ll soon see, graffiti is everywhere in Downtown Houston.
10. Toyota Center
The Toyota Center is an indoor sport and event venue in Downtown Houston and the home base of the Houston Rockets basketball team who draw crowds large enough to fill the twenty thousand seat arena to capacity.
The center often hosts big-name music concerts by groups like the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, and Justin Beiber. There are various dining options at the arena which include a chef’s buffet in the Red and White Bistro, pizzas at any of the ten Pizza Huts, burgers from over twenty-five stands and countless other food and drink concessions.
Wherever you’re seated, you won’t go hungry at a Rockets basketball game in Downtown Houston.
11. Houston Escape Rooms
Put your nerves to the test in an adrenaline-charged, one hour challenge at the Houston Escape Rooms on Jackson Street in Downtown Houston.
Get locked in, then attempt to solve the mystery of grandma’s hidden treasure, agent Mo’s abduction or sink enemy ships in a naval mission before the time runs out or suffer the consequences.
The suite of escape rooms will make you think, puzzle and ultimately panic as the clock ticks away. Have fun!
12. Pappasito’s Cantina
Downtown Houston’s favorite fayre is Tex-Mex, and there’s no better place to get a genuine plateful than at Pappasito’s Cantina on Lamar Street.
Enter the restaurant under the Las Vegas-worthy Pappasito neon sign and walk into the more homely atmosphere of a Mexican cantina. Choose a pre-dinner Margarita from their ten variations of the cocktail, then tuck into some quesadillas, guacamole or shrimp ceviche followed by tasty tacos or Pappasito’s house specialty, fajitas.
Eating authentic Tex-Mex is one of the best reasons for visiting Downtown Houston, so don’t skip it.
13. Rec Room
The Rec Room is a small, intimate theater on Jackson Street in Downtown Houston which presents experimental dramatic and musical works.
The performances are presented to audiences of just thirty people. Entrance and seating are allocated on a first come first served basis so get there early. Spontaneous acts take place in the Rec Room bar too which could be anything from a stand-up comedian to a mini bar concert.
The Rec Room is diverse and definitely entertaining.
14. The Dirt Bar
Downtown Houston likes to rock the night, and they do it at the Dirt Bar on Caroline Street. While low lighting adds to the dive bar atmosphere, don’t be fooled, this is a place frequented by Houston’s music celebs.
Heavy rock songs pound out of the internet-connected jukebox, gothic chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and the bar is stocked to the top with a huge variety of bottles. There are cocktails like Black Mule on the drinks menu, though don’t expect it to be served in a glass – they come in mini metal buckets.
If tattoos, piercings and heavy metal aren’t your thing – choose a different bar.
15. Downtown Historical Bike Tour
Head just outside of Downtown to join the cycle tour on Buffalo Bayou’s Sabine Street. Get equipped with two wheels, and a helmet then pedal back to Downtown with your guide.
Get the low-down on DT Houston history as you peddle past all the major sights, take a turn by the bayou and the city’s founding point, Allan’s Landing, before heading back to Buffalo Bayou for an unhurried tour of the park.
The cycle tours last between two to three hours depending on your cycling skills and how many times you stop for a rest to enjoy the beautiful views of Bayou City.