8 (Mostly Free) Ways to Make it a Vacation:
Of course being part of the largest egalitarian event of the year is reason enough to get to Houston this August! But invite your besties, your book club, or your bowling league to come a little early or linger later and enjoy these Houston gems.
1) Pack a picnic and plant yourself on a patch of grass at the Miller Outdoor Theater to catch a free performance by groups like Houston Grand Opera, Dance of Asian America, Festival Chicano or HITS Theater. Houston’s most vibrant arts organizations perform here, under a wide open Texas sky!
2) Speaking of that wide open Texas sky, experience it like you’ve never before. American artist James Turrell designed Twilight Epiphany Skyspace as the 73rd in a series of installations around the country built to alter the viewer’s perception of the sky. Illuminated in changing colors complementing the natural light, this giant sculpture appears almost hovering. Hit the space when Rice’s Shepherd School of Music is contributing live and electronic performances or to view light shows at sunrise and sunset. Free: The way you’ll feel and the cost of the experience.
3) If art is your thing, don’t miss the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, free on Thursdays. Among the 10 largest art museums in the US, featured this year in Bloomberg’s “Where to Go in 2019,” MFAH is wrapping up a $450 million expansion. View over 65,000 works of art spanning 6000 years including significant Italian Renaissance, African-American art, and Texas painting collections. There’s also a Thursday happy hour featuring exhibition-inspired cocktails and a visiting food truck.
4) If, after sitting through a long (but rewarding) weekend of (amazing) speakers, your body is itching to move, rent a bike, a canoe, or kayak and explore Buffalo Bayou. The 52-mile slow-moving waterway snakes through an urban ecosystem supporting dozens of native species of flora and fauna and adjoins over 10 parks and a host of other amenities, including Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, Buffalo Bayou ArtPark, a dog park, and The Water Works.
5) Experience the Waugh Drive Bat Colony. After dusk each night, hundreds of thousands of bats have been known to emerge from under the bridge. Arrive about half an hour before sunset to claim your spot and to be sure the bats don’t surprise you with an early flight. Observers may witness a whirling vortex of Mexican free-tailed bats, but also the hawks, falcons, and night herons that accompany them. The August conference is at the end of baby bat season and the young bats may be taking their first flights, rapidly beating their wings, sometimes mistaken for large butterflies.
6) If window-shopping a quaint, Victorian neighborhood is more your speed, stroll 19th Street in Houston Heights. Browse the folk art gallery, scour the local antique and vintage stores, and dig through the vinyl at an old-school record and CD shop. Don’t forget a self-guided architectural tour along Heights Boulevard, known for Victorian mansions, bungalows and other historic buildings like the Italian Renaissance styled Houston Public Library, Heights Branch.
7) Who doesn’t like free, live music? Houston is home to a variety of venues where you can witness music being made on any given day of the week. Songwriter Sunday at Dean’s Downtown, Monday Nite Jazz Jam at Café 4212, Troubadour Tuesdays at Cottonwood, and consider the offerings at Nightingale Room, Last Concert Café, or Discovery Green for all the other nights of the week.
8) Eat well!
Texas is virtually synonymous with beef. Choose from a dazzling array of dining options to experience the sizzle and sear of a steakhouse. According to Houstonia magazine, check out Taste of Texas for kitsch, Pappas Bros. for swanky, Steak 48 for glitz and glam, or Doris Metropolitan for a Mediterranean twist.
If BBQ is more your thing, Burns Original BBQ is not far from the conference hotel and is Anthony Bourdain-approved. Also in the area is CorkScrew BBQ which has an offering called The Whole Hog, because why stop short? Personally, I’ve got my eyes on Tejas Chocolate Craftory. Texas Monthly listed it as one of the state’s essential barbeque joints but also--as the name would suggest—there are craft chocolates.
Houston is also home to a vibrant Vietnamese food scene. HoustonPress recommends the banh mi (a Vietnamese sandwich) at Cali Sandwich, Pho Binh for pho (a savory, satisfying soup), and the bo bay mon (a seven course, family-style meal featuring—of course—beef) at Saigon Pagolac.
Niko Niko’s gyros, kolaches (Original Kolache Shoppe), the fried chicken at Himalaya Restaurant, and a Viet-Cajun crawfish boil (try Crawfish & Noodles or Cajun Kitchen), and the cacao e pepe at Coltivare Pizza & Garden are also well-known Houston favorites.