Houston Museum District

Houston Museum District is concentrated along the southern edge of Downtown Houston, and is considered one of the finest cultural districts in the United States. Eighteen different institutions provide things to do in the Museum District in addition to the activities available at a number of other important city attractions. There are four metro stations serving this cultural area and a number of Houston Museum District hotels provide accommodations of all sorts.

One of the Houston Museum District hotels that is within walking distance of most of the attractions is the new Hotel Zaza, one of the best boutique luxury hotels in the downtown area. It is located just a couple blocks north of Hermann Park, which is the Houston Museum District focal point. The anchor of Hermann Park is the Houston Zoo, one of the eighteen member institutions. Also in the park is the Museum of Natural Science, which rivals the Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Other than visiting these two prestigious organizations, things to do in the Museum District that involve Hermann Park include renting pedal boats on the lagoon, picnicking, hiking, jogging, and even an 18-hole golf course. You can also enjoy tours on the park railroad or stroll through the serene Japanese Garden with its waterfalls, bridges, and decorative trees and flowers. There is a playground with equipment for children of all ages, an eight-acre lake with recreational fishing, a beautiful reflecting pool, and the Pioneer Memorial Log House Museum that chronicles the history of the city and state. There is a plaza with shopping, and a café and dining terrace. For free outdoor events and concerts, there is the Miller Outdoor Theatre.

Speaking of free, many of the things to do in the Museum District are free. All of the eighteen museums and other cultural institutions have free admission days, and eleven of them are free all the time. Among the free venues is the The Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum. It is an intimate modern chapel housing the only existing intact such frescoes in North or South America. The original apse and dome were stolen from a thirteenth-century chapel on Cyprus during occupation by Turkey in the 1980s. Their restoration was approved by the Cyprus branch of the Greek Orthodox Church, which owns them and has allowed for their long-term loan to the museum. Restoration of the frescoes was done by the Menil Collection, which has another museum in the district full of nearly 16,000 extraordinary paintings, sculptures, and decorative pieces from around the world—all collected by philanthropists John and Dominque de Menil from the 1940s to 1987 when the museum was opened. This is one of the most important privately assembled collections in the twentieth century.

Also free at all times are: the Contemporary Arts Museum, the Holocaust Museum, the Center got Contemporary Craft, Center for Photography, Lawndale Art Center, the Carl Jung Center, and the Rice University Art Gallery (the only university museum in the United States dedicated to commissioning site-specific installation art). Houston Museum District institutions that charge admission (but have free days and hours) include the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, dedicated to the history of African-American soldier regiments who were first formed in the Civil War. The last Buffalo Soldier Regiment to serve in war before integration of the armed forces was the 24th Infantry during the Korean War. The prestigious Children's Museum has free admission on Thursday evenings. The Health Museum is free on Thursday afternoons, as are the Weather Museum, Museum of Natural Science, and Museum of Fine Arts. The Houston Zoo has free admission on Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day, Columbus Day, New Years Day, and the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Many of the Houston Museum District hotels will offer vacation packages that include tickets to the surrounding museums, and you can also find discounts with the Houston CityPass and the Houston Entertainment Book.

Image: Greater Houston CVB, Hugh Hargrave

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