Houston Bucket List 2017: Helping, Homers and the Holidays

Asian elephants at the Houston Zoo.
Asian elephants at the Houston Zoo.
Houston Press
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Back in 2013, we put together Houston’s first Bucket List. We’ve heard from a lot of you who have pinned the list to your refrigerators or tucked it away in a folder so you might take a crack at all 100. We hope you made it through your list because a lot has changed in four years in Houston.

Four years later, it's time for a new, revised edition complete with new attractions (or sadly closed old ones) and expanded to include a wider area. In our first bucket list, we limited ourselves to 30 square miles from City Hall. This time, we’ve expanded that to 100 miles, which covers places like Galveston. It seemed to us that our entire area is ripe for the list making.

For the next few weeks, we’ll be unveiling 90 of the 100 essential things to do in and around the Bayou City. Our top 10 will appear in an upcoming issue along with a full, printable list much like last year, so stay tuned.

Our first installment included marathons, mega churches and two stepping. Our second batch took us to Galveston for the first time and late-night grocery shopping. Next up was diversity and birds (and the diversity of birds). Finally, we got into some art and bingo. On Tuesday, our fifth post included gators, roller derby and Halloween. What's next, you ask? Well, today we have lots of flesh, some for eating, some for conserving and some others still for sharing.

Indulge in barbecue or a burger or a steak at the Killen’s restaurants.

Ronnie Killen has made quite a name for himself as a Texas barbecue restaurateur despite starting his career as a pastry chef. His restaurants now include Killen’s Steakhouse, Killen’s Barbeque and Killen’s Burgers, all in Pearland. Most recently he opened Killen’s STQ, his first offering in Houston. The meat’s the thing at all four establishments, but don’t miss the unreal side dishes and desserts. As crazy as it sounds, you could dine on just those and not even miss being a carnivore…but, seriously, eat the meat too.

Visit Space Center Houston.

It’s a bit of a cliché, but any kid who grew up here has made at least one trek to NASA in Clear Lake in his or her lifetime, right? Sure, we didn’t get a space shuttle (we’re still bitter about that one) and that idiotic one liner about Houston having a problem (which wasn’t even right in the movie, but we digress…) haunts us. But it could be argued that NASA is Houston’s greatest achievement and it is worth at least one visit for the history alone. Plus, kids love it.

Volunteer for the Houston Food Bank.

Houston is one of the most philanthropic cities in America thanks at least in part to the wealth afforded us through the oil boom. But we enjoy getting our hands dirty as much as making our wallets lighter when it comes to helping a good cause, and few charities are more important than the Houston Food Bank. There are plenty of ways to help feed Houston’s hungry, and the food bank makes it easy. You can give food and money, of course, but try giving some of your time every once in a while. You’ll feel better about yourself, we promise. 

Visit the grave of Howard Hughes at Glenwood Cemetery.

It seems an historical irony that the noted businessman and obsessive-compulsive recluse would choose to be buried in a spot so public. Yet he remains entombed at Glenwood Cemetery, which also happens to be one of the most beautiful spots in town. The massive overhanging oaks and undulating roads through what feels more like a park than a graveyard rest alongside Buffalo Bayou. Come to think of it, if you are going to choose a final resting spot, this is probably a damn fine choice.

Buy fresh seafood at Rose’s in Kemah.

Living about an hour from the Gulf of Mexico offers pluses and minuses. On the minus side is that whole hurricane thing. But the plus is fresh seafood. If you don’t feel like a drive all the way to Galveston, but still want something right off the water, try Rose’s in Kemah. Tucked nearly underneath the Highway 146 bridge, Rose’s has a wide variety of freshly caught and frozen seafood, and will often have live crabs and crawfish when they're in season. The staff will slice it and divide it however you want. Pro tip: Get a bunch of shrimp divided in one-pound bags for freezing.

Asian elephants at the Houston Zoo.
Asian elephants at the Houston Zoo.
Houston Press

Learn about conservation at the Houston Zoo.

For some, zoos are nothing more than prisons for animals that should be free. In certain cases, that isn’t far off. But the Houston Zoo is, happily, a completely different story. Working with conservationists across the globe, the zoo has been able to assist in the increase in wildlife and preserve habitat for numerous species of animals. It also happens to be the second most visited zoo in the country after the famed San Diego facility. So, next time you want to take your kids some place that will make them ooh and ahh, you can feel good about taking them to the zoo. It’s fun and doing real good for our planet.

Catch one of the annual UH/Rice baseball games.

We may not be a hotbed of college sports, but the baseball teams at both Rice and University of Houston are worth seeing. Both are typically pretty good – Rice in particular – and that has fostered quite the rivalry. Though they are no longer in the same conference, the squads play each other multiple times per year during the regular season as part of the Silver Glove series and at the Houston Baseball Classic each spring. It doesn’t hurt that both Reckling (Rice) and Schroeder (UH) are first-class ballparks.

Hit the Airline flea markets on Sunday.

One of the great wonders of a city that covers more than 600 square miles is the radical diversity spread across that expanse. As a result, visiting different parts of town can be like going to other countries. Take the flea markets on Airline Drive east of I-45. On Sundays they are packed with kids munching on churros while parents are sifting through spice bins and electronics kiosks. In the background is the sound of norteño music and street vendors. It’s a pretty incredible site and the food is often outstanding.

Get your skate on at the North Houston Skate Park.

For decades, skateboarders were a nuisance to office parks and downtown sidewalks. In skaters’ defense, they had no safe place to ride. Then came skate parks. In Houston, we happen to have the largest in the country. Built in 2014, this massive swath of concrete just off the North Freeway near Greenspoint has enough bowls and runs to satisfy even the most dedicated board enthusiast.

Drive through Prestonwood Forest to see crazy holiday light displays.

In the movie Christmas Vacation, Chevy Chase tortured himself and his family in search of an old-fashioned family Christmas complete with more lights than the local power grid should be able to support. Well, Clark Griswold ain’t got nothing on Prestonwood Forest. The northwest Houston suburb does the holidays like no other with massive lighting displays covering the entire neighborhood that inspire wonder (and a lot of traffic) every December.

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