Houston 101

Houston Bucket List Part 6 - Go Fishing, Go Walking and Go Texan

This Houston Arboretum is the magic of nature in the heart of the city.
This Houston Arboretum is the magic of nature in the heart of the city. Photo courtesy of Manuel Reuter
Twice in the last decade, we at the Houston Press have compiled our list of the 100 things every Houstonian must do. The first list was nearly 10 years ago and limited to a very small radius around the city (30 miles). In 2017, we expanded it to include distances slightly farther away — up to 100 miles — given at how much is so close to us. How can we exclude the Gulf of Mexico?

In 2022, many things have changed and some remain the same. If you are familiar with these lists, you'll probably see a few old favorites. They are classics for a reason. We'll point them out as we go along. If not, now you can take a look at all the stuff you need to do in the coming weeks and months. We'll be releasing these 10 at a time over the next couple months, so enjoy and (cue Jurassic Park music) welcome to the Houston Bucket List, 2022 edition.


Houston Bucket List Part 5
Houston Bucket List Part 4
Houston Bucket List Part 3
Houston Bucket List Part 2
Houston Bucket List Part 1

Take a beautiful nature walk at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. [CLASSIC]

If you have never been to the Arboretum, you are in for a treat. Even in summer, nearly every trail in the 155-acre serene urban forest is shaded. Honestly, without the low hum of the nearby West Loop, you would quickly forget you were just a couple miles from the center of the fourth largest city in America. You can wander for hours along their well-maintained trails and catch glimpses of plenty of wildlife from birds and insects to reptiles like snakes and turtles. When you see the hordes of turtles swim up to you when they see you approaching the turtle pond, you'll wish you could feed them (you cannot). They also have tons of programs for kids and adults and, if you are really lucky, you'll hear about when they bring in goats to clear the property. It is a sight.

Pick up a succulent...or 20 at Cactus King.

Imagine a hippie artist met a landscaper who loved the desert and they set up a ramshackle outpost on the side of the North Freeway not far from where Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale once had a bunch of tents and furniture on the side of the road. Welcome to Cactus King, one of the weirdest, coolest and most fun places for a plant nerd in Houston. Literally steps from I-45 North at the Shepherd curve is a dusty, mostly open space absolutely brimming over with plants built for the heat. Every kind of cactus and succulent, it would seem, is represented. More impressive, many of the plants are nearly fully matured, making transplanting and care even easier. Plus, there is the 30-foot metal cactus sculpture with the face on it too. But, be sure to bring cash. They don't take cards.

Go fishing. [CLASSIC]

Texas is absolutely littered with fishing holes, small and large, and with our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, you have nearly your pick of fish to catch. Fish for big drum and bull reds under the bridge in Kemah or trout in the surf in Galveston. Go for crappie and black bass in Lake Conroe or white bass and stripers below the damn at Lake Houston. Find just about any small lake and grab some blue catfish or panfish galore. We are blessed with some of the best fishing in the world be it from a boat, a kayak or on a pier of the bank. Get out there and enjoy.

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Taking a canoe down Buffalo Bayou is a lot cooler than you think.
Photo by Jeff Balke
Canoe Buffalo Bayou and/or Armand Bayou. [CLASSIC]

It's worth noting that these are two very different experiences, but they are both so outstanding, they deserve equal representation. Buffalo Bayou has several put in spots, but for the less experienced, there are guides that will put you in just west of the West Loop and scoop you out downtown. If you are feeling frisky, paddle down to the Waugh Street bridge at dusk and watch the bats fly from a very unique angle.

Armand Bayou is a far more wild place, away from the buzz of downtown Houston and its tangle of freeways. There are moments you feel like you are way out in the middle of nowhere. This is a great spot for fishing, particularly in the spring when the water is more brackish and fish come to spawn. You may even spot a gator or two, but just keep paddling and you'll be fine.

Be a good folkie and see some music at Anderson Fair. [CLASSIC]

If you have never heard of Anderson Fair, cue up For the Sake of the Song on a streaming platform and get a load of some of Houston's incredible music history born at a tiny little spot in the Montrose. The documentary lays out in detail the influence of the folk scene, particularly in the late '60s and early '70s when legendary artists like Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, Townes Van Zandt, Robert Earl Keen, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett were regulars. Anderson Fair still serves up local and traveling singer songwriters on a regular basis in the most intimate setting in Houston.

Eat fajitas at Ninfa's. [CLASSIC]

The battle over who invented the classic Tex Mex staple of meat grilled over an open flame rages on, but we say it was Mama Ninfa, probably in her kitchen in the original Ninfa's on Navigation. It has drawn locals, celebs and out of town visitors for decades to sample some of the best fajitas in the land. Whether Mama herself actually came up with the fajita isn't really all that important. It only matters that hers are still some of the best and the spot where it happens is legend.

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Nothing like Go Texan Day to get into rodeo season.
Photo by Doogie Roux
See the trail riders on Go Texan Day. [CLASSIC]

Imagine someone in Houston on a business trip in late February driving around town in their rental car trying to avoid traffic and figure out just where they hell they are in this massive sprawling metropolis. They thought Houston was the oil patch cowboys they heard about, but that must be another part of Texas because they haven't seen anyone sporting boots since they got here. Then, suddenly, traffic stops and a parade of horse-drawn stagecoaches and cowboys and girls of all varieties rolls on by. Welcome to Go Texan Day, friend.

It's a uniquely Houston spectacle and not only provides fun watching but an excuse to dust off the ropers and the old felt hat for a change. We may not don them often, but when we do, yee haw.

See an international soccer match. [CLASSIC]

The Dynamo remains one of the most fun sports experiences in town, but thanks to a wildly diverse city that is dominated by the Latinx community, there is a rabid fanbase for all things soccer, which often means international (particularly Latin American) matches. And if you hadn't been paying attention, Houston is one of the U.S. host cities for the 2026 World Cup. Football (the American version) remains king in Texas, but there is a growing love of futbol, especially in Houston and, as a result, matches make for raucous affairs.

Take a unique tour and get up close with some animals at the Houston Zoo.

Last summer, we had one of the most unique and interesting experiences: a cheetah walk at the Houston Zoo. We strolled around the grounds of the zoo with one of their cheetahs, which are regularly taken for walks prior to the zoo opening. It was an incredible time to watch this gorgeous big cat walk around in the open (on a leash, of course). But, if cats aren't your thing, the zoo has a number of different animal encounters from seal lions and gorillas to elephants and river otters. The zoo staff is so amazingly knowledgeable, it is not just fun, but truly a learning experience. It's also helps to raise money to protect these animals in the wild. Win win!

Get your barbecue on.

Note that we did not say where because there are SO many good places, you can't really go wrong. OK, a few include Killen's, Corkscrew, Gatlin's, Feges, Blood Brothers, Pinkerton's, Burns and on and on. There's even an annual barbecue festival and, of course, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo cookoff. The point is that there are so many great places to get cue in Houston, you have no excuse not to try some.
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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