Hidden Houston

The 10 Best Ways to Entertain Yourself for Free Around Town

A real insider knows that fun doesn't come with a price tag—especially in a city like Houston.

By Katharine Shilcutt October 24, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Sam Houston Boat Tours

Image: Angela Harris

A real insider knows how to make the most out of Houston even when on a budget. Below, our 10 favorite terrifically fun, totally free, family-friendly activities around town:

Outdoor Movie Nights

No matter where you are, there’s likely a free outdoor movie screening this weekend near you: Market Square Park and GreenStreet downtown, CityCentre out west, LaCenterra and Central Green Park in Katy, town squares in both Pearland and Sugar Land, even Tomball Depot. Hit up their Facebook pages and websites to find out what’s playing soon.

Sam Houston Boat Tour

Everything is free here: the 90-minute tour of the Port of Houston and Ship Channel, the parking, even the beverages on-board. Be warned: You must make reservations, and often weeks in advance.

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Hermann Park in the Museum District, looking towards the Texas Medical Center

Image: Peter Molick

The Museum District

Sure, the MFAH doesn’t charge on Thursdays—but there are 10 museums in our massive district that are always free: Asia Society Texas, Contemporary Arts Museum, DiverseWorks, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, Houston Center for Photography, The Jung Center, Lawndale Art Center, The Menil Collection, Rice University Art Gallery and Rothko Chapel.

Discovery Green

Though you can no longer play Pokémon Go here (the park asked the game’s makers to remove all gyms and lures this summer), there are still plenty of other free ways to have fun at the downtown park, from gratis yoga and Zumba classes to language lessons and young writers’ workshops—and, of course, plenty of no-cost concerts and movie nights year-round.

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The bats begin emerging from under the Waugh St. bridge each evening around dusk.

Image: Eric Kayne

Waugh Drive Bridge Bat Colony

Every evening at dusk, 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats swarm out from under the busy Montrose bridge to consume around two-and-a-half tons of insects. Every first, third and fourth Friday evening, Texas Parks & Wildlife staff and Houston Bat Project volunteers provide 20-minute presentations on the spectacle before the bats take flight.

Galveston-Bolivar Ferry

What’s better than swimming with dolphins? Watching them jump and play alongside the ferry to Bolivar Peninsula from the comfort of a boat deck. It’s a short trip—18 minutes, covering nearly three miles—but this famous ferry runs all day long, and no one’s telling you how many times you can ride.

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A great egret enjoying a fish lunch at Armand Bayou Nature Center

Image: Shutterstock

Armand Bayou Nature Center

Every first and third Sunday is free at this lush nature preserve in Clear Lake, where five miles of hiking trails traverse prairie, forest and bayou terrain. If the ever-present alligators and snakes seem a little scary, check out the gardens or the historic 19th-century Martyn farmhouse instead.

HPD Mounted Patrol Barn

Drop in for a visit with the HPD’s heroic horses between noon and 2 p.m. during the week, or schedule a weekend visit by calling ahead. Bring along apples and carrots to feed your new friends—but remember: two treats per horse.

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Visit the meerkats at the Houston Zoo

Image: Shutterstock

Houston Zoo

Houstonians of a certain age will remember a time when our zoo was always free. Those days are long gone, but it does offer open admission the first Tuesday of every month from 2 p.m. to close.

Houston Greeters

More than just a way to ride the light rail for free, this service, for visitors and residents alike, will pair you with a Houstonian for a few hours to show you, well, whatever you’re interested in: arts and culture, history, food, sports—name the topic, and a Houston Greeter is ready to guide you. 

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