Space Center Houston is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city.

Houston's Most Popular Attractions

The city of Houston is a big destination in Texas, but it doesn’t seem to get much mention outside of vague notions of cowboy hats. Yet Houston is the site of NASA’s hub for human spaceflight. It’s a city where the precipitous number of museums have banded together to form the Houston Museum District. It’s a place where the rodeo raises money to send kids to college. Houston is uniquely Texan, but it’s also a lot more than the stereotypical image that calls to mind. Here are some things to do when you visit.

Space Center Houston

As in, "Houston, we have a problem." Space Center Houston is the visitor center of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, NASA's center for human spaceflight. Artifacts are on display from moon rocks to actual pieces of space hardware like a Saturn V rocket and the Apollo 17 command module. There are also mockups, including one of Skylab and a full-scale mockup of the shuttlecraft from the original Star Trek. Several movies about the space program are on display at special theaters in the facility, and an interactive show called "Living in Space" combines projection mapping with live performance to illustrate daily life on the ISS. Special events include "Meet an Astronaut Friday" and the 4-hour "Level 9 Tour," which costs extra, but gives a much more in-depth look at the facility.

Houston Museum of Natural Science

The Houston Museum of Natural Science has a wide range of permanent exhibits, including the Hall of Ancient Egypt, the Lester & Sue Smith Gem Vault, and halls on other topics from gems, to wildlife, to chemistry, energy, and paleontology. There are numerous exhibits on wildlife, both local and global, and a booth where you can record a weather update with local meteorologist Chita Johnson. (Or at least, a recording of her.) Special exhibits include a traveling exhibit from the Spy Museum, gemstone carvings, and more.

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

The Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show runs from late February to mid-May, and there's a lot more to it than mere steer ropin'. From the World's Champion Bar-B-Que Contest to the parade to nightly concerts that have drawn everyone from Selena to Selena Gomez, the Rodeo draws millions of people to Houston each year and raises millions of dollars for the children of Texas. The Rodeo does occasionally host other events throughout the year, like November's wine competition. It's worth checking before you come to town to see whether the Houston Rodeo has anything happening.

The Galleria Houston

Shopping malls aren't typically a big, exciting tourist destination, but the Galleria is something else. The largest mall in Texas covers some 3 million square feet of space and sees 35 million visitors a year, making it one of the most-visited attractions in the Houston area. In addition to department stores like Macy's and Neiman Marcus, there is a ring of upscale shopping centers that have sprung up around the Galleria. If shopping's your thing, you're going to love it. If shopping's not your thing, try the ice skating rink below the mall's atrium.

Buffalo Bayou

The Bayou is a long, slow river running from Katy to Galveston Bay, and Houston was founded on its banks. The Buffalo Bayou Park is in the middle of a major overhaul, restoring 160 acres around the bayou, and creating even more beautiful spaces where the river runs through the city. It's already beautiful, though, as you can attest should you choose to hike the trails or canoe down the river.