Things to do in Houston

Houston Museums: 16 of Our Favorite Museums for Art, History, and More

Discover that history in the Museum District, where these gems are waiting for you anmake the passage nlp firdnd your family to visit.

In a city defined by its rich history and the resilience of its inhabitants, a wide range of activities awaits. Discover everything from cultural explorations to modern adventures among the things to do in Houston.

Art Museums

Artistry is in everything we do — the ordinary and the extraordinary. These museums pay respect to something we cherish: creativity and limitless expression.

1. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

It’s easy to miss Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum, a hidden gem much like the diverse art galleries in Houston. At a glance, the museum's exterior might seem unassuming, but as you step into the grand foyer, you're welcomed into a world of artistic expression, free of admission fees. As you whoosh into the grand foyer, you make the happy discovery that there are no admission fees.

Enter the main hall, and you'll be faced with a vast collection of modern takes. Eclectic expressions of suburban society, haphazardly yet intentionally placed components of a greater whole, and blends of color that deliberately strike chords in the hearts of the masses sit, waiting to be taken in. 

2. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

In contrast to the Contemporary Arts Museum, you can’t miss Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. This regal art hall was built in stages, starting in 1917 and reaching its current eight-year renovation plan.

Every architectural style that’s been current for the last century has been present, from the haughty neo-classicism of the original structure to the deconstructionism of the Glassell School of Art, completed in 1974.

Like the walls outside, the art exhibits inside are a hodgepodge of styles and tendencies, from stark naturalism to the abstract of modern paintings. There’s statuary and multimedia work, presentations on local artists, and a large exhibit by Kehinde Wiley, a name known for the creation of President Obama's official portrait.

The effect is as poetic as it is mischievous, like Mauro, the clown at the heart of our show, Corteo.

Photographer: Adrian N

3. The Menil Collection

If someone passed you a sketchpad and charcoal pencil and gave you five minutes to sketch a restful suburban art gallery, your drawing might look like The Menil Collection gallery in Montrose. It’s a low-slung crib with clean lines and a serene color palette that seems to always have a cool breeze blowing across the campus. 

The Menil Foundation got its start in the ‘50s, when oil money was used to buy up practically the whole neighborhood. The idea seems to have been to slowly develop a whole section of Houston into a high-end arts and culture district.

The plan had unmatched success, and now the campus hosts the main gallery, a school of sketch drawing, several cafes, and some relaxing out-of-the-way hiding spots under trees where you can have a picnic.

The atmosphere at Menil induces a mood, one you’ll be familiar with if you’ve been to our performance of Cirque du Soleil Crystal: everything icy blue and serene, a studied leisure, and beautiful people working in hushed rooms where they study ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform and abstract expressionist splatter paints from the mid-20th century.

Research drives the institution, but it’s open for free to anyone who’d like to drift in and hit their quota of cool for the day. Don’t leave until you’ve seen the Renaissance oil on canvas by Giuseppe Arcimboldi, who made a career out of the wonderful and weird in European myth.

Photographer: Jon Bilous

4. Art Car Museum

Houston's Art Car Museum bears a unique exterior, a punk-style mishmash of rounded spikes and bulging silver. Like many things in life, there’s more to this museum than meets the eye.

Sneak in through the fence, which may be just for show, and you’ll plunge into a seemingly endless hangar building. All around you is an eye-twisting calico of fine oil paintings and gnarly restored cars tipped on end and painted like Jolly Ranchers.

Some exhibits are classic cars lovingly restored until you can practically hear their engines purring. Others are deliberately left rusty and adorned with paraphernalia of all kinds.

Remember, this is a gallery, not a garage, so one of the world’s most eye-catching collections of oil-on-canvas originals is slung across every wall. The effect is eye-twisting. Cast your eyes up the wall and behold a sensitive still life of nature, then trip over a crankshaft from an old school bus somebody tricked out. 

5. Rothko Chapel

Mark Rothko was a brilliant 20th century artist who commanded canvas and color into exuberant depictions of life and feeling. More than anything, he pioneered the concept of art as a spiritual and religious experience.

In contrast to the religious themes and spiritual subject matter of past artistic eras, Rothko converted the form of the art itself into an experience. By entirely eliminating the subject matter, he made art out of the color and form itself.

The aptly named Rothko Chapel is a quiet, restful place where the spirit can refresh itself in the cool shade of old-growth lime trees. We love this place for its tranquility, which invites the visitor to look inward, toward the unseen that Mark Rothko spent his short life chasing.

6. Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens — Museum of Fine Arts

A staple of the American South is a massive home fixated upon rolling ornamental lawns. Houston took this classic abode, drew the eye to the entrance with Greek columns, and evolved it into the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens. 

This graceful homage to architecture past is served with fine art and some of the most impressive American furnishings, silver, ceramics, and paintings in the world.

You can lose yourself on the 14-acre campus, like how the lead character, The Innocent, loses himself in a dreamworld and finds himself at last in KOOZA, part of our 2024 touring schedule that you can’t miss.

Photographer: Adrian N

Science and Education Museums

Curiosity is a driving force behind the modern world. From the atoms we're composed of to the vast expanse of planets, stars, and galaxies, everything we know was discovered because someone was curious. These museums are a testament to that curiosity and, hopefully, a catalyst for curiosity to come. 

7. Houston Museum of Natural Science

The skies above us are filled with light, and the ground underfoot is packed with life from ages past. A miniscule amount of it has been dug up and put on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Bring the kids and the spouse, bring your friends and yourself. This museum runs the gamut from displays of dinosaurs and wooly mammoths to rare gems and even rarer Fabergé eggs. Group packages are available, and life-changing wonder is always in the cards here.

8. Space Center Houston

Houston, we have a problem... You haven’t been to the Space Center yet, and you’re missing out on something wondrous. Exhibits at Space Center Houston walk you through NASA’s storied past, from the first beeping metal balls humanity launched into low orbit to the moon landings and beyond.

You can even touch a moon rock here, which is an educational experience unique to our modern era of space exploration.

Photographer: MRoald

9. The Health Museum

Live, laugh, and love. Modern medicine maybe can’t help with that last one (yet), but the first two depend on what kind of health we’re in. The Health Museum is an exuberant celebration of the history of medicine. The exhibits sweep visitors along on a grand tour of humanity’s quest for healthier lives through medical science.

You can visit the museum and see the chilling early days of medicine, when pre-modern physicians cast horoscopes and cured the lues with leeches. Moving along, we see the emergence of medicine as a science, followed by the triumphant rise of modern genetics and the amazing frontiers of current research.

10. Children's Museum of Houston

It can be hard to get kids interested in a museum, but an immersive and interactive exhibit might just do it. There’s so much stuff to do at the Children’s Museum of Houston, and no group of happy, hyperactive children could possibly play with it all on a single visit.

Learn new things the fun way with hands-on exhibits and seasonally scheduled activities that include secret agent spy games, complete with laser motion sensors to sneak around, and project workshops for the future engineers among us.

This all reminds us of the Seeker and his cabinet of wild curiosities, which you and the kids can see at our performance of KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities. This performance is all about awakening curiosity, learning new things, and coming alive to the thrill of humor and poetry.

11. National Museum of Funeral History

At the opposite end of the corporeal realm from the Health Museum is that other inevitability of life: death. This natural part of life is fascinating, especially when we found out about the National Museum of Funeral History. Here, secreted away in a hidden gem of a garage, we can run our hands over the artifacts of our ancestors’ most somber ceremonies.

See the exhibits of the ancient world, including Egypt, which made a high art out of funerary rites, to the modern era of hearses and moving family tributes. There’s even a funeral carriage in the old European style that was pulled by a coach-and-four harness.

Cultural and History Museums

They say ignorance is bliss, but we say ignorance is to remiss. The history of the world and the culture of its microcosms are as fascinating as the building blocks of the universe of itself, and these museums are a gargantuan stepping stone on the path to enlightenment. 

12. Houston Museum of African American Culture

The great state of Texas has a wealth of African American history. Come to the Houston Museum of African American Culture and explore its rich tapestry.

Special exhibitions celebrate the special history of African Americans in Houston, from the early days of the Lone Star Republic to the Great Migration and beyond, to the social and cultural contributions in a book of hidden history that’s still being written today.

13. Holocaust Museum Houston

Forgive, but never forget. These have been the famous words of healing for Holocaust survivors since the liberation of the concentration camps at the end of World War II. The Holocaust Museum Houston lives by this dictum today with an interactive series of exhibits about one of the darkest chapters in human history.

The contrast can give you whiplash. Arrive at the handsome museum building on a bright Texas morning, when the air is fresh and sweet, and children are playing in the streets. Then, step inside this monument and see for yourself how low civilization can stoop in a world without love.

After the educational programs and hushed whispers in the remembrance center, step back out into the light and honor those lost with a lifetime of memories.

14. Czech Center Museum Houston

Discovering the lesser-known gems of Texas’ cultural landscape can be a wild adventure. A migration of Czechs started flowing into the territory almost as soon as the dust had settled from the Mexican War. They’re still here, living in a unique culture you can’t find anywhere else in the world, even in Europe.

The Czech Center Museum in Houston is a celebration of this community. Thrilling exhibits show off the arts and crafts of an early farm colony made up of religious refugees who found free air under Texas’ big, bright stars. The learning experiences continue, wending their way forward through history to the struggles of maintaining a small ethnic identity in modern Texas.

15. Buffalo Soldiers National Museum

Part of the state's history is the post-Civil War army that garrisoned the unforgiving wilderness west (and a bit east) of the Pecos. Buffalo Soldiers were central to the expansion of the Old West. These few men, part of the tiny U.S. Army of the 1870s, blazed trails, manned remote garrisons, and rescued settlers in peril from bandits, raids, and the elements.

Discover the amazing history of America’s first African American fighting men at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum.

16. San Jacinto Museum of History

Texas wasn’t always a state, and it wasn’t always part of Mexico, either. Between the two was an epic struggle for independence marked by heroism, sacrifice, and the best qualities of the American frontier.

History moved fast in 1836, when the Texas independence faction won the decisive battle of their war at San Jacinto, marking the climax of the fight for freedom and paving the way to full independence.

The San Jacinto Museum of History commemorates this victory, and it strives to tell the story of the battle from both sides. You can wander around this museum all day, learn something new around every corner, and leave wanting more of the amazing story of how history sometimes turns on a single 18-minute fight between armies.

Photographer: Droneandy

Houston, Beautiful Houston

Can you believe the spell Houston weaves over its visitors? Beyond its captivating museums, the city also boasts some of the best parks in Houston, blending art, culture, and natural beauty. You're welcome in this city of history, and we welcome you to join us at a Houston performance of wonder. 

What may seem like magic as you stare open-mouthed at the stage is merely an expert blend of art, science, and history, put together and flawlessly executed by our performers. 

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