The Houston Press is presenting a series of posts leading up to a feature story in the print edition of the 100 Things to Do in Houston Before You Die. Each blog post contains one of our top 10 bucket list items along with nine others in the top 100. To narrow our list, we chose only items unique to Houston -- or items to which Houston provides a unique twist -- and everything on the list must be in or occur within 30 miles of downtown Houston (so, nothing from Galveston, for example). We welcome your suggestions in the comment section.
For our third installment of the Houston Bucket List, we turn to nature. Despite the fact that Houston has no mountains or major rivers (bayous don't count), isn't on some pristine coastline, and is brutally hot and humid about four months out of the year, there is a lot to do outside. Once you get used to the heat, you shrug it off and go about your business.
People don't realize how lush of a city it is until you get up above the canopy and look down. Even the 2011 drought couldn't destroy that. But we also have a lot of critters in and around the city, particularly around the bayous. Like the people here, they are residents of Houston too and, in cases like the next in our top ten, quite often more interesting.
Watch the Bats Fly Off Into the Night from the Waugh Street Bridge
There is something both haunting and amazing about watching 250,000 Mexican free tail 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's just evening supper 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.)
As Buffalo Bayou has been developed, the city wisely took advantage of this natural attraction, building an observation deck alongside the bridge for visitors to observe as the tiny, mosquito-eating badasses take wing all at once. Standing silently on the bridge -- bats don't like loud noises -- you can hear the rush of wings as they take their leave. I've never been there when they return in the morning, but it must be equally as fascinating. For a closer look, ride or walk under the bridge during the day, but watch out for guano.
Nine More (in no particular order)
See Little Joe Washington perform. Little Joe Washington is a living legend and a wonderful eccentric, both as a musician and a person. He's had a few health issues the last couple years, but when he is performing, he's still electric. The beloved bike-riding bluesman is a must see for any music fan.
Visit Allen's Landing. The literal birthplace of Houston where the huckster Allen Brothers staked their claim to the city along Buffalo Bayou just off Commerce Street is a piece of history every Houstonian should visit. It reminds us our city was built on equal parts perseverance, ingenuity and bullshit.
Go bar-hopping in Market Square. It used to be that all you needed was the oldest bar in Texas (La Carafe) and the strongest drink in Texas (Warren's), but now there are numerous other options harkening back to the early '70s when Market Square was jumping every weekend...like it is now.
Stand inside a James Turrell art display. The vibrant light displays created by artist James Turrell are both beautiful and playful. The tunnel that joins the two wings of the Museum of Fine Arts is a wonderful, colorful dream world, and his other works, like the one on the Rice campus, are fascinating.
Let a butterfly land on you at the Cockrell Butterfly Museum. With hundreds of species of butterflies from all over the world, it's easy to get an up-close look at them inside the giant glass terrarium at the Museum of Natural Science, and they can get a look at you as well.
Visit the observation decks of the JP Morgan Chase Building and Williams Tower. I really don't like being up high, but the view from the observation decks of both buildings (I still want to call Williams "Transco") is stunning and gives you a hint at the deep green beauty an "ugly" city like Houston displays.
Sit in the balcony for a show at Fitzgerald's. What was once a blues venue years ago has surged over the last few years under new ownership and there is really no place better to watch a show upstairs than from the creaky old balcony.
Run the Rice Loop or the Memorial Park loop. Okay, maybe walk, and for God's sake don't do it at 2 p.m. during the summer, but the lovely walk under the oak tree-covered streets on the edge of Rice University or alongside the pine trees in Memorial Park is a refreshing three miles, and you can't beat the people-watching.
Go to a Friday midnight classic film screening at River Oaks. Houston's old venerable movie house in River Oaks keeps on churning out the classic films on Friday nights. Catching a John Hughes flick on a tiny screen is pretty damn awesome, particularly if you grew up watching his films in the theater.
Previous Bucket Lists
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.