Howdy, y’all! My name is Elizabeth Mule’, aka @hauntedskin on Instagram, and there is no place I love more than Houston, Texas. I’m the (self-proclaimed) city’s daycation queen, and I’m always up for an adventure right here at home!
I moved to Houston in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina claimed my original home city of New Orleans. Right away, I fell in love with my welcoming new home, especially Downtown HTX and its incredible architecture, the mix of culture, and amazing opportunities. To this day, whenever I see the city skyline, my heart fills with pride and joy, as if I had put the buildings up myself.
I have explored the city’s hot spots and hidden gems throughout the years and have mentally compiled a list of what I call “The Real Houston Experience.” After years of hoarding this list, I’m finally writing it down and sharing it so that you too can enjoy some of the best places in Houston!
I think it’s safe to say we’re all tired of being stuck inside and are ready to explore! One of the quirkiest places to visit is the imaginative Smither Park. This magical wonderland is straight out of a fairytale. Covered in detail-filled mosaic, this park is not only beautiful but showcases the artistic detail the creatives put into it.
I love visiting the park for a weekend picnic, then popping next door to The Orange Show to see the amazing outcomes of self-taught art. The park is home to a pavilion, bench swings, a meditation garden, and even an amphitheater! Admission is free, and the space is open daily from dawn until dusk.
With its bright colors, warm atmosphere, and incredible staff, Present Company is the perfect spot for an award-winning bite to eat and a unique drink! This 21 and up bar is like stepping into a tropical paradise, where the world’s worries just melt away. Located right in the middle of Montrose, trust me, you can’t miss them–just look for the giant disco ball!
This two-story bar features a living plant wall, tons of unique neon signs, themed event nights with matching drinks, and two delightful patio areas. They also feature daily happy hours and specials to fit any budget and taste preference.
Brunchy weekends, all-day happy hour Mondays, and pizza and wine special Wednesday, there is something special for every night of the week. You can usually find me there on Tuesdays for their incredible (and affordable) steak night!
A bridge? Really Elizabeth? You want me to go to a bridge? Yes, yes, I do. At night the bridges over highway 69 light up in different alternating colors and add a unique glow to the surrounding areas. Watch as the traffic passes under your feet or enjoy a very unique photo op.
I love to go there and listen to music while sipping hot chocolate when it’s nice and cold outside. While I spend time unwinding, the business of people coming and going is like the silence at the top of a mountain. It’s a great place to sit and take in the nightlife. Just don’t park on the bridge as traffic still needs to pass!
Heidi Vaughan Fine Art
This locally owned, female-run business is the primer gallery in Houston for fine art. Owner Heidi Vaughan and Gallery Director Megan Olivia Ebel are an absolute dream team. Working with over 20 local Texas artists, with shows changing every six weeks, this gallery transforms into an absolutely new experience with every opening.
You never know who you might run into or what you might see. Incredibly fabulous works from artists KAWS and Picasso have graced the walls of this gallery, as having local artists such as Alton DuLaney (The World’s Most Famous Giftwrap Artist!) and Susan Budge–the best ceramic artist in Houston (her work is in museums all over the country–including the Smithsonian!). HVFA is the perfect place to have your senses enlightened, even if you’re not up to date on your art knowledge.
Be sure to get on their mailing list because on random Saturday afternoons you can learn about the city’s best art while having great discussions with local artists! When those artist talks occur, they are the absolute highlight of my week! Heidi Vaughan Fine Art is located at 3510 Lake Street at Colquitt in Houston, Texas, in the Upper Kirby Gallery District.
Cockrell Butterfly Center
Ever wanted to visit the rainforest? Well, the closest you can come to in Houston is the Cockrell Butterfly Center in the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Be completely transported to what feels like another world as you observe thousands of different species of butterflies flying free through an enormous indoor rainforest enclosure.
Walking through this living habitat is an experience like no other in town. From the wild facts, a wide variety of beautiful insects, and the weird quizzes, there is something for everyone–young and old–to enjoy. It’s absolutely mesmerizing! It’s also a great place to go to wash out the winter blues. The center is open Monday–Sunday, and tickets can be purchased online or at the front desk of the Museum.
The Hobbit Cafe
This Lord of the Rings themed cafe is an absolute Houston Treasure. With their hobbit-sized portions, you won’t believe you’re not even thinking about Second Breakfast. I personally recommend their Caesar Burger.
Complimenting your meal with an adult beverage? Check out any of the various meads they have on hand. If you’re brave enough, be sure to try their Balrog burger! It’s a meal in itself!
Between the great staff and the cozy atmosphere, you’ll find yourself coming here again and again. Oh! And on weekends, they host a fantastic brunch that’s fit for a king! It’s truly a hidden gem, or dare I say it–ring?
Nestled in the heart of Upper Kirby, this restaurant staple has been beloved by locals for over 20 years! It’s right next to The Hobbit Cafe, so you can walk right next door to this lovely spot for a tasty adult beverage even if you’ve already eaten. Of course, once you see their menu, you will totally want to come here for dinner!
The fun dinosaur-themed atmosphere and lovely libations make it the perfect place to relax after a long day. The feel of fine dining and a homey atmosphere makes for a great date night or friendly get-together.
Dino’s Den has plenty of patio seating for those looking for a comfortable and friendly place that is safe to discover. You have to try their Monday steak night! Choose from a 12oz Ribeye or 8oz filet, with all the fixings of course! I can tell you from first-hand experience, their steaks are absolutely mouth-watering! I promise you, this is a Monday “Meating” you won’t ever want to miss!
Chef Leo is the owner of AMEXICUN (an American, Mexican, Cajun fusion culinary vision) and he will make sure to satisfy both your savory and bold taste buds. Cooked to perfection and preference, the balance of flavor completely delights. Remember, though, his creative steak night draws a crowd–so get there early before they sell out!
Are You Ready to Take on The Real Houston Experience?
These are my top six places to discover! I can’t wait to uncover more highlights to share. I could go on and on about this city, its wonders, and the feelings of childhood joy it brings. But I will leave you to discover these special staples…for now.