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Get a printable copy of all 100 entries of the Houston Bucket List by clicking here.
When friends who aren't from Houston ask what there is to do here, it isn't always easy to come up with a clear answer. Houston is, after all, a place to live and not necessarily a tourist destination. But while I was amassing a list culled from the staff at the Houston Press, online crowdsourcing, comments left on blog posts and my own knowledge of the city, it became clear that there is more to do in Houston than I think people realize. As a friend from a small town once told me, "If you can't find something to do in Houston, you aren't trying hard enough."
The result is the Houston Bucket List, 100 things to do in Houston before you die. While curating the list, I crafted rules to control the number of options. Whatever the thing or activity, it must occur within 30 miles of City Hall (which excluded Galveston, the Texas Renaissance Festival and a handful of other iconic things to do in the area), and it must either be unique to our city or at least have a twist that is all Houston.
Growing up in Houston, I often found the lure of other cities and faraway adventures to be far more interesting than those in my backyard. But as I've gotten older and seen many other places, I've come to the conclusion that Houston is one of the most interesting cities on the planet. Much of it, however, is not the flashy extravagance of other locales. What makes us fascinating is buried below the surface — sometimes, like the downtown tunnels, literally. Hopefully this list will make you want to do some digging of your own.
THE TOP TEN:
Ride the Hermann Park Train
While I was contemplating the weight of the decision to crown a single activity as the No. 1 item on the Houston Bucket List, it struck me that riding the Hermann Park train was nearly a no-brainer. Children and adults love it. It has been around for seemingly forever. It can serve as actual transportation now that it has stops, including ones near the METRORail and the Texas Medical Center. Most important, it's fun.
For more than 50 years, the train has been a fixture in this beautiful urban park. After a renovation in 2008 that included the lake, stops were added along the ride, which winds through the park, around the lake, past Miller Outdoor Theatre and to the southern edge of the Medical Center.
It's a joy no parent can deny his child and no adult should deny himself. If a ride on the Hermann Park train is not quintessential Houston, I'm not sure I know what is.
Make Out Upstairs at Marfreless
This spring, the dream was dead. Marfreless, the quiet speakeasy hidden in the back of the River Oaks Shopping Center behind a purple door and under a stairwell, was closing along with its infamous upstairs red room. If you're an adult who has lived in Houston for more than a few years, you should be aware of the makeout lounge where dates have been caught drinking and getting to first base (and beyond) for many years now. My fiancée and I both admitted we had been in that lounge — but not together — then we never spoke of it again.
But as if Cupid himself had plunged an arrow deep into the heart of Houston, a miracle happened, and it was announced that Marfreless would rise again this summer. Hearts swooned and young lovers added this time-honored Houston tradition back to their bucket lists, an item so important that it made our top ten.
Go People-Watching at the Galleria During the Holidays
It's a mall. It's chaos. The parking is more confusing than the labyrinth Daedalus used to imprison the Minotaur. But there are few other places in Houston more festive during the holidays than the Galleria. From the massive Christmas tree on the ice-skating rink to the line out the door of the Apple Store, it's crazy and sparkly and filled with joy...until someone tries to steal your parking space.
If you panic in crowds, this might be your living hell, but if you can stand it, soak in the yuletide joy and fa la la la la your happy self from Macy's to Nordstrom and back. Do what we do: Use one of the lesser-known parking lots — we can't tell you which one or we'd have to kill you — and grab a window seat at the Daily Grill. Have a holiday cocktail, listen to jazz music, and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the Christmas rush in style.
Watch the Bats Fly Off Into the Night from the Waugh Street Bridge
There's something both haunting and amazing about watching 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats swirl out from under the Waugh Street bridge every night at dusk as they head out to eat their weight in mosquitoes (bless their hearts). The first time I ever saw the long, dotted-black trail across the sky over Allen Parkway, I thought it was a bird migration. Turns out it was just suppertime for the largest colony of year-round bat-bridge residents in the state. (Austin's bat colony is about five times the size, but it migrates south for the winter.)