Published Jul 14, 2021 by Maggie Martin
Houston is the second most affordable major city in the country with living costs nearly 27% below the average of the nation’s most populous metros. Combine world-class restaurants, vast amounts of green space and a world-renowned arts and culture scene and you get a dynamic quality of life at a fraction of the price of other world-class cities.
Houstonians who are on a budget, or who simply want to leave the wallet at home, don’t have to look far for inexpensive - or even free - activities. Here are some ways to explore Houston without breaking the bank.
Visit a Museum
Houston is home to one of the largest collections of top-rated museums in the nation with 19 museums housed within the Houston Museum District. Several offer free admission year-round, including Rothko Chapel, The Menil Collection and Lawndale Art Center. Other museums Houstonians can visit at no cost include the Houston Museum of African American Culture, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston Center for Photography, and the Art Car Museum.
Additional museums offer free admission during specific dates and times. These include the Children’s Museum of Houston with Free Family Night every Thursday, 5 - 8 p.m.; the Houston Museum of Natural Science with Free Thursdays for permanent exhibits and special exhibit halls only, 5 - 8 p.m.; the Houston Zoo with Free Tuesdays offering daytime admission to the Houston Zoo once a month from open until closing; and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston with Free Thursdays, courtesy of Shell Oil Company (note that ticketed exhibitions separate from general admission remain ticketed on Thursdays.)
Explore Houston Parks
Of course, some of the most popular - and free - amenities Houston has to offer are within our parks and green spaces. And with over 360 parks and 200+ green spaces within the City of Houston alone, Houstonians have plenty to choose from, including Buffalo Bayou Park, Memorial Park and Levy Park.
In addition to hiking and biking, other free options include visiting the McGovern Centennial Gardens and Japanese Garden at Hermann Park, where visitors can also take in a family-friendly outdoor performance at Miller Outdoor Theatre; viewing the public art at Discovery Green, which also features free and inexpensive events, including exercise classes, Bank of America Screen on the Green and Flea by Night; and grabbing some friends to play baseball, soccer, tennis or basketball at Keith-Wiess Park in East Aldine.
Enjoy a Gourmet Meal
Houston has hundreds of restaurants to choose from at every price point. For those looking to enjoy a multi-course meal at a more budget-friendly price, Houston Restaurant Weeks, which runs from August 1 through September 6 this year, offers prix fixe menus ranging from $20 to $49 with brunch, lunch and dinner options. Houstonians can have a world-class culinary experience at an affordable price with dishes ranging from sticky ribs at Grace's in River Oaks to salmon tartare at Weights and Measures in Midtown.
Diners who participate are also giving back to the community. As an annual fundraiser for the Houston Food Bank, HRW donates $1 to $5 from each meal purchased at participating restaurants. Since Cleverley Stone founded Houston Restaurant Weeks in 2003, the event has raised over $16.6 million for the Houston Food Bank.
Climb Aboard a Train
Riding the Hermann Park Railroad is a popular - and affordable - activity within Hermann Park. The two-mile, 16-minute journey around the park costs just $3.75 per person for adults and children one year and older.
For Houstonians who want to ride a train for free, Houston Area Live Steamers in Northwest Houston offer free rides on their track on the third Saturday of each month from March through November.
Train enthusiasts looking for more of a historical experience can stop by the Rosenberg Railroad Museum located about 35 miles southwest from downtown Houston. Tickets are $7.50 for adults and $5 for children.