The holidays are hectic. Social hangovers are real, family hangovers are real, regular hangovers are extremely real, and financial hangovers are totally a thing. While recuperating from the holiday rush, everyone should spend at least one full day in pajamas, abandon all diet plans, and find something to do that is free or at least super cheap. Of course, a huge, bubbling city like Houston is full of hidden, free gems to experience while you and your wallet recover.
More and more, Houston is drawing international attention for its arts and culture scene. With one of the largest museum districts in the country, some of Houston’s museums and galleries are actually free all the time. A known favorite of Beyonce’s, The Menil Collection is a world-class Houston museum and institution with a collection that boasts anything from the hottest modern art all the way to prehistoric antiquities. Making art accessible is vital to the Menil’s mission, so no admission is charged and all public programs are free.
Another artistic heavy-hitter with a mission to make art accessible to all is The Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston. The CAMH is a on-collecting institution dedicated to presenting the best and most exciting international, national, and regional art of our time — and all admission is free.
Other notable Houston institutions that are always free include Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, Lawndale Art Center, Diverseworks, Asia Society Texas Center, Rothko Chapel, The Jung Center of Houston, and Moody Center for the Arts.
Houston Museum of Natural Science is free on Thursdays from 6 PM - 9 PM, Houston Museum of Fine Arts is free on Thursdays from 10 AM - 9 PM, and Houston Zoo also offers free admissions on the first Tuesday of each month, September through May, from noon until closing.
If you’re looking to get a bit more active to break out of your holiday food coma, Houston’s relatively mild winters make for the perfect days spent outdoors. Explore the Japanese Zen Garden tucked away on its own little island in Hermann Park. Also in Hermann Park is Miller Outdoor Theatre, a free, open-air stage featuring live music, plays, and multicultural events year-round.
Houston Arboretum and Nature Center spans 155 acres in Memorial Park with five miles of trails, a Discovery Room with interactive exhibits and activities and the Nature Shop filled with items for nature lovers of all ages, and a Wildlife Garden covered in native flora and fauna.
Walk, bike, or run along the trails of Buffalo Bayou while taking in the sights of expertly-curated public art installations and passing by some of Houston’s oldest, most historic sites. Buffalo Bayou itself is where Houston was founded in 1836, so the entire park is basically hallowed Houston ground.
No Houston experience is complete without a stop at nearby Spotts Park. Home to the Waugh Bridge bat colony that takes its scenic flight every sundown, there is something weirdly romantic about watching a massive cloud of sky-puppies emerge into pink, cotton-candy skies across the downtown skyline.