Vicki Powers, a native Texan, is founder and writer of www.houstononthecheap.com, a site dedicated to sharing deals, discounts, and freebies for Houston entertainment, restaurants, and family fun. She also writes frequently about business and technology for national publications as a freelance journalist.
One of the great things about living in a city this size is that there are plenty of free things to do in Houston. Here are some Houston free things that'll allow you to have fun with your friends and family without spending big bucks.
1. Cruise Houston Ship Channel
Houston Ship Channel
Sam Houston Boat Tours are a free, 90-minute cruise aboard the Port of Houston Authority’s public charter boat. This 95-foot vessel holds 100 passengers. Reservations are required for this free boat tour. Scheduled tours are 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Sunday and Thursday offer just the 2:30 p.m. tour. Call 713-670-2416 between 10 and 4 p.m. to make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance.
Port of Houston Authority
111 East Loop North, 77029
2. Watch Bat Colony at Sunset
More than 250,000 Mexican Free-Tailed bats live under and emerge each night from the Waugh Drive Bridge at sunset – unless it’s rainy or foggy, of course. Although Austin’s Congress Bridge is known for its huge bat colony, I just recently learned of this one closer to home! This bat colony inhabits the Waugh Drive Bridge over Buffalo Bayou between Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway. Kids are fascinated by bats, so this is certainly fun, free entertainment! Free parking is available along Allen Parkway and Spotts Park.
Waugh Drive Bridge
Between Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway
Houston is blessed to have an incredible museum district with 17 museums within a 1.5 mile radius. Thursday is the magic day for free admission to many of Houston’s museums. Read more about the Museum District and the dates and times of free entry at the links below.
4. Play at Discovery Green
Downtown Houston is home to a unique outdoor green space dubbed Discovery Green. With a schedule comprising all kinds of free weekly events – Pilates in the Park, Thursdays Rock, and Sundays in the Park concerts – as well as loads of special events including a winter ice rink , Discovery Green is a winner in free entertainment. The venue offers fountains, restaurants, dog run, and a playground.
5. Skate to your Heart’s Content
Jamail Skatepark is a fabulous new public skatepark near downtown Houston with 30,000 sq. ft of fun. Skaters of all levels are encouraged to work on their tricks – or learn how to just stay balanced. In the summer, kids ages 6-17 can take advantage of free skateboard classes as well. Helmets are required.
103 Sabine Street, 77007
6. Oogle at the Water Wall
Houston Water Wall
The horseshoe-shaped water wall near Williams Tower in the Uptown District is a sight to behold. At 64 stories high, the rushing water fountain is certainly worth a visit. It’s especially beautiful at night with the lights shining on the unique sculpture in operation since 1985. The urban waterfall is open daily from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Drought conditions may affect the waterfall’s operation.
Williams Water Wall
2800 S. Post Oak Blvd, 77056
7. Engage in Cultural Music and Dance
Miller Outdoor Theater
Miller Outdoor Theatre is a rare outdoor amphitheater situated in Hermann Park near the Houston Zoo. For 80+ years, it has offered Houstonians every single dance, theater, or ensemble performance for free. Miller Outdoor features lots of cultural events and performances each weekend.
Miller Outdoor Theatre
100 Concert Drive, 77030
Sims Bayou Nature Center
Outdoor spots promoting nature fun and education are great choices for free family entertainment. The Houston area is home to two such venues -- Houston Arboretum & Nature Center and Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Gardens (Humble). The Houston Arboretum (4501 Woodway, 77024) features a 155-acre nature preserve with five miles of walking trails, a Discovery Room with hands-on activities, and lots of special programs and classes. Mercer Arboretum (22306 Aldine Westfield Rd., Humble, 77338) features 300 acres of East Texas Piney Woods along Cypress Creek. Sights include a beaver pond at the Endangered Species garden, trails, visitors’ center, playground, and special educational events.
Nature Discovery Center
Nature Discovery Center is a little-known gem for free science-related activities. It offers a variety of kids’ science activities geared to toddlers through elementary and up. Discovery Rooms feature interactive exhibits and 23 Discovery boxes — modeled after the Smithsonian — for hands-on learning. Topics are targeted to specific age groups and entice children to explore topics such as shells, critters, snakes, seeds, minerals, birds, and animal teeth. The Center is housed in the Old Henshaw home on four acres in Bellaire. Wednesdays feature Nature Story Time and Craft at 4 p.m. for preschoolers ages 2 to 5. Nature Discovery Center is open Tuesday through Sunday, 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Art Car Museum
What more can you say about Houston’s Art Car Museum? This collection of eclectic, unusual, and creative cars is all about fun. If you’ve missed Houston’s classic Art Car Parade in the spring, you’ll catch a glimpse of it here. It also features innovative art throughout the museum, so it’s not just about cars. The Art Car Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Art Car Museum
140 Heights, 77007