Did you know there are 19 different museums within the Houston Museum District? Or that 11 of them are free, all the time? You may not be able to hit them all in one weekend, but every Houstonian should spend time getting to know our city's cultural heart.
As such, no part of town is more amenable to a staycation than the oak-shaded, densely-populated, highly walkable Museum District. Below, our suggestions for ditching your car and maximizing your weekend:
The Museum District Experience
There are surely plenty of Airbnbs in the area, but do this weekend really right and book a room at the Hotel Zaza. It's right in the middle of everything you'll be doing, offers amazing themed suites if you want to splash out, has a killer pool and spa, and boasts an in-house bar and restaurant with craft cocktails and locally-sourced ingredients. The Zaza even loans out bikes if you'd rather pedal your way around the district. Rates start at $243 per night.
4 p.m. Optional: Sneak away from work and check in to the hotel, then head to the Zaspa for a "Have No Mercy" deep tissue massage or a "Heavy Metal" mani-pedi that leaves your digits brushed with gold dust, woman.
7 p.m. The city's other best sushi restaurant, the low-profile MF Sushi, is a few short blocks away from the hotel. Book an omakase dinner with chef Chris Kinjo for a memorable meal that is every bit the equal of the art hanging in the nearby museums. Forgot to make reservations at all? The bustling bar also serves the full menu, and is amenable to walk-ins.
10 p.m. Head back to the Zaza for a nightcap at the cocktail bar; the "Made in the Shade" pairs Houstonian summer favorite Topo Chico with Woodford Reserve bourbon, pineapple juice and vanilla simple syrup.
8 a.m. Wake up with the sun (salutation) at Hermann Park, where free yoga classes are held every Saturday morning at 8:15 a.m. Didn't bring a mat? They've got extras they'll happily loan out.
9:15 a.m. On your way back to the hotel to freshen up, stroll through the meticulously manicured Centennial Gardens and scale the 30-foot grass-ringed ziggurat for a must-see view of the city as it wakes up for the day.
10 a.m. Refuel with brunch at Lucille's, chef Chris Williams's chic soul food spot with a smart, modern menu. Every meal here must, by law, begin with a basket of Williams's great-grandmother's famous chili biscuits; from there, we suggest the croissant French toast with spiked berries and the country Benedict topped with collard greens and a chicken-fried egg.
11:30 a.m. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has three of its most exciting exhibitions in recent memory running simultaneously through the summer: Ron Mueck's impressively life-like sculptures (through Aug. 13), the electrifying Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest and Worry Will Vanish (through Sep. 17) and the new "Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910–1950" (through Oct. 1) that takes up much of the Beck building's upper deck with Diego Riveras, Frida Kahlos, and much more.
1:30 p.m. It's the heat of the day, and the hotel has—like we said—a killer pool. Go get in it.
5 p.m. You've got an hour to explore the exhibits at the Contemporary Arts Museum before it closes, which is plenty of time for this compact, bi-level gallery. Upstairs is Atlas, Plural, Monumental, the first American exhibition from Paul Ramírez Jonas (through Aug. 6); up next on Aug. 19 is the ceramics-focused Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped. Downstairs is the best museum gift shop in the city, plus the comedic-minded A Better Yesterday (through Sep. 3).
6 p.m. Head to Dak & Bop for the crispiest Korean fried chicken this side of the Loop. Each basket of drumsticks is fried to order, which can take up to 45 minutes; we suggest relaxing over a creative cocktail like the "Cool Cloud Cucumber" with mint and Asian yogurt.
7:30 p.m. Call an Uber to take you right to the foot of the hill at Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park for an evening of free entertainment under the stars. You'll need tickets to sit close to the stage, but it's always open seating on the hill, which is divided into lawn chairs on the left and blankets on the right. Pippin runs through Jul. 16; the Houston Shakespeare Festival takes the stage Jul. 28 to Aug. 6; and the rest of the month sees Saturday night shows such as the 50th Anniversary Tribute to The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (Aug. 12), Incredible India (Aug. 19) and Godspell (Aug. 26).
9 a.m. Get your early morning zen with a walk across the bridges and waterfalls of the Japanese Garden in Hermann Park. Plants native to Japan anchor the quiet park, which is also home to families of turtles and koi fish and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
10 a.m. Head back to the hotel for a lavish Sunday brunch on the patio at the Monarch Bistro, which offers one of the city's best views: Mecom Fountain and the park beyond it. If you can tear yourself away from the people-watching, look for chef de cuisine Jonathan Wicks's smoked chicken chilaquiles with local farm eggs or old-fashioned buttermilk pancakes with sorghum butter.
Noon: If you haven't been to the Houston Museum of Natural Science in a few years, you'll be floored by the massive Morian Hall of Paleontology, where dinosaurs and other fossils are posed like giant action figures. Other new exhibits abound too, from the 600-piece McFerrin Fabergé Collection to an immersive Antarctic experience that should cool you down. Looking for souvenirs of your staycation? The HMNS also boasts one of the best (and certainly biggest) museum gift shops around.
2 p.m. Make your last museum stop the Lawndale Art Center to acquaint yourself with what Houston's own local talent has to offer. The Big Show is Lawndale's annual exhibition of new work by artists within a 100-mile radius of the gallery (through Aug. 12).
3 p.m. Head home, and start planning that next staycation.