Houston 101

Houston Bucket List Part 7 - Bats, Buffalo Soldiers and Buc’ee’s

Seeing a mass of Mexican free tailed bats fly out from under Waugh Bridge at dusk is either amazing or terrifying or both.
Seeing a mass of Mexican free tailed bats fly out from under Waugh Bridge at dusk is either amazing or terrifying or both. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr
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 6
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

Watch the bats spiral from under the Waugh Street Bat Bridge. [CLASSIC]

Much like the much-hyped Congress Street bridge bats in Austin, Houston has its own thriving colony of Mexican free tails. The difference is ours never migrate and show themselves every night at dusk. There's even a landing for people to watch them as they come buzzing out from under the bridge off to eat their weight in mosquitos. We should really be thanking them.

Visit America's largest port on the Port of Houston Boat Tour. [CLASSIC]

You might think that riding in a boat through the Ship Channel sounds a little weird, but it's honestly fascinating. The boat tour managed by the Port of Houston is also a difficult ticket. You need to book pretty far in advance. It gives you a close up look at one of the busiest ports in the country and one of the true backbones of our city's thriving energy economy.

Hang on the hill for a show at Miller Outdoor Theatre. [CLASSIC]

You might wonder what exactly free shows at an amphitheater in Hermann Park could offer. Well, in addition to plays and musicals for all ages, there are a ton of music performances that range from Latin music and symphonic to classic rock like America, which recently were in town. Sitting on the hill with a snack and bottle of wine (we strongly recommend insulated wine bottles to keep that stuff cold) is absolutely lovely after the sun sets, even in summer.

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The monument to oranges built by a mailman is Houston kind of weird.The stage at The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art.
Behold the power of the orange at the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. [CLASSIC]

Whenever we see a Keep Austin Weird bumper sticker, we think, "Yeah, but have you been to the Orange Show?" This monument to the humble citrus fruit built by a postal worker is one of the most odd things you'll find in H-Town, tucked back into a south side neighborhood. Besides the spectacle of it all, they host a ton of events there including concerts and art performances.

Getcha some fried chicken at Frenchy's. [CLASSIC]

Houston has become a food mecca, a place where people travel to to indulge in the culinary exploits of local chefs. So, there is no shortage of great fried chicken, but why not go for one of the original classics at Frenchy's. The original with its humble metal awning and window service may be gone (it moved a few blocks down the street a couple years ago), but that killer chicken that has been around since the '60s for sure isn't.

Get dressed up for Halloween on lower Westheimer. [CLASSIC]

The annual night of debauchery and insane costumes is not only fun for people who actually enjoy playing dress up but also for those of us who prefer the people watching. We sort of wish they would move Pride Month to October so it could be all capped off with an October 31 bacchanal. What fun!

Use the facilities at Buc’ee’s. [CLASSIC]

Insert "everything is big in Texas" joke here. The insanely large gas stations that advertise their spectacular bathrooms on interstate billboards scattered across the state really are pretty incredible. The bathrooms are immaculate and have doors and walls to the floor (as it should be). Plus, their food is really, really good. We're not kidding. There is an entire TikTok trend dedicated to stopping at the now famous gas stations that are always packed no matter which one you visit.

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The Renaissance Festival is like Game of Thrones cosplay in the woods.
Photo by Tracey Makwakwa
Lift up your spirts and the Texas Renaissance Festival. [CLASSIC]

Another opportunity for grown ups to get into costume comes at the Ren Fest (as it is nicknamed) north of Houston every October and November. Deep in the woods in a rather serene setting, the massive fairgrounds are home to medieval games, shows and wares. It's also home to plenty of fried food and alcohol. If you want to brave it and stay in one of the campgrounds with the other "rennies," you'll see even more than the shows inside the festival.

Take in history at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum and the Houston Museum of African American Culture. [CLASSIC]

Houston has a long, storied tradition of important and historic black leaders, artists and influencers. Some of the most important stories on their lives and what some artists in the African American community are doing today can be found at these two beautiful museums, just blocks from one another. Buffalo Soldiers refers to America's fighting black men and women who served in the military throughout our nation's history. And the Museum of African American Culture showcases important works of black artists. They both deserve your time and attention.

Enjoy catching some beads closer to home during Galveston Mardi Gras. [CLASSIC]

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a blast, no doubt. But if you feel like reveling in the same traditions that spurred the celebration but doing it closer to home, consider Galveston's version. It has grown dramatically since its inception and celebrates many of our local traditions alongside the classics. It's raucous and fun and all the things you know about New Orleans, but only an hour drive. Get reservations early though because hotels fill up even if it isn't beach weather yet.
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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