Houston Bucket List -- 100 Things to Do in Houston Before You Die: Saddle Up, Cowboy

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.

Some Houstonians embrace their cowboy heritage -- perhaps a little more than they should -- while others shun it like the plague. It can be both a blessing and a curse in a town that is often synonymous with such things even if you almost never see a guy walking around downtown on a Wednesday in a 10-gallon hat. In our fourth installment of the Houston Bucket List, we tip our hats of the non-cowboy variety to our uneasy acceptance of the days when Main Street was a dirt road and instead of slanted car parking, there were hitches for your horse.

Attend the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (and Carnival)

Visiting the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in all its grand spectacle is a sensory experience, somehow blending an amusement park (so tantalizingly close to where a real one used to be), a live concert, a food festival, a zoo and, well, a rodeo. It literally engages every sense. See people crazy enough to strap themselves to the backs of pissed off bulls. Smell the mix of barbecue, funnel cakes and manure. Listen to the booming bass of country bands rumbling behind thin vinyl tent walls. Taste a fried candy bar -- twice if you decide to eat it before getting on a carnival ride that spins you in circles. Feel the warm fur of a baby animal in a petting zoo.

In all honesty, the concerts most nights are anticlimactic. The real action is along the midway, inside the livestock portion of the show or during the, you know, actual rodeo. This is the place where, at least for a few days out of the year, you can let your inner cowpoke out for a mosey. Strap on your Ropers and stroll around in a big felt hat. No one will blink twice.

Nine More (in no particular order)

Brush up on your Houston and Texas history at Houston Public Library's Julia Ideson Building. Certain places in our city, where architecture has been preserved instead of torn down, hold a kind of mystique because they are so unique. This is certainly true of the HPL's Julia Ideson Building, which sits adjacent to the downtown library and across the street from City Hall. In addition to its extensive collection of Texas history books, it has the largest photo archive in the city, where you can find just about any historic photo of Houston you want.

Take a picture with a David Adickes statue. The iconic Beatles statues and presidents' heads from artist David Adickes are ideal public art for Houston. They aren't stuffy and they are truly public, along freeways and sitting in oversized yards. And if you're going to live in Houston for any period of time, you probably need to get a picture taken next to one of them because they really are quintessentially Houston.

Float down Buffalo Bayou in a canoe or kayak or pontoon boat. It's not exactly the Rhine, as the Allen Brothers depicted it in magazine ads selling the city all those years ago, but the bayou that inspired a brilliant book of black and white photography from local photographer Geoff Winningham is a pretty fascinating thing to see close up. You'll be surprised at how unique the view of the city is from this vantage point.

Take the Saint Arnold and Karbach brewery tours. I love factory tours. There is something about seeing the inner workings and machinery of a big commercial facility that reminds me of being a kid. Fortunately, we not only have two good tours, they include beer! Both Saint Arnold and Karbach offer tours of their facilities complete with samplings of their wares.

Go to the largest quilt festival in the world. You might be surprised to learn that the biggest tribute to quilting in the world happens every fall here in Houston with the International Quilt Festival. In fact, the show began here and is now the largest in the world, drawing enthusiasts from across the globe. If you think quilts are just boring-looking ways to keep warm at your grandma's house, you haven't seen some of the incredible works of art and historic blankets this festival boasts every year.

Go ice skating at Discovery Green. It seems counterintuitive to ice-skate outside in Houston, even in winter, when daytime temperatures can often hover in the 70s, occasionally the 80s. But the visitors to the popular outdoor rink at Discovery Green -- open during the Christmas holidays -- don't seem to care. Every once in a while, you get a magically cold night and it feels as if you're gliding along a frozen lake a thousand miles north of here.

Drive over the ship channel and Fred Hartman bridges at night. The height and the eerie golden glow -- never mind the occasional stack flare -- make driving over these two bridges after dark like getting a glimpse of a set from Blade Runner. Make sure you're a passenger when doing your gawking because it's a long way down if you aren't paying attention.

Visit Glenwood Cemetery and look for Howard Hughes's grave. Oddly, one of the most beautiful parks in the city is a cemetery. The hilly, oak tree-lined grounds of Glenwood would make a great place for a picnic if it weren't a graveyard. The large acreage sandwiched in between Washington Avenue and Memorial Drive along the curve in Buffalo Bayou is where some of Houston's richest and most famous are laid to rest, including the reclusive Hughes.

Go to the Wednesday night blues jam at the Big Easy. Houston's ties to blues music are strong, and the venerable Big Easy on Kirby is one of the best places to see musicians work their stuff. But Wednesday nights are a particularly unique time to visit as up-and-comers mix onstage with mainstays of the blues scene. As you might imagine, it can be hit-or-miss, but when it hits, it's something to hear.

Watch a Joel Osteen sermon in person at Lakewood Church. Houston has some of the biggest religious congregations in the entire United States, and whether or not you subscribe to Osteen's particular brand of mega-church Christianity, he is a dynamic presence on the stage, commanding the lectern before huge crowds every Sunday inside the old Compaq Center Summit, where the Houston Rockets once hoisted championship trophies. Now, instead of roaring throngs of basketball fans, there is the power of positive Jesus. Like it or not, Lakewood is as Houston as the Orange Show. Can I get an amen?

Previous Bucket Lists

Fly Away Home

Christmas in July

The Introduction

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke