7 Under-The-Radar Houston Vacation Spots Worth Visiting

The city of Bayou is the largest city in Texas and the southern United States, covering a vast area of ​​665 square miles. And thanks to its large size, there is no shortage of activities and entertainment.

While famous attractions like Space Center Houston and Minute Maid Park are worth visiting on a Houston vacation, there is also an endless array of lesser-known and equally entertaining attractions. Visitors can float down a Texas-shaped lazy river or tour a European-style castle, all within a 70-mile drive from downtown.

From unique hotels to historic educational sites, keep reading for seven under-the-radar destinations in Houston perfect for day trips or weekend getaways.

Texas-shaped lazy river at the Marriot Marquis Houston

Distance from Downtown Houston: 1 thousand

The downtown Marriott Marquis Houston hotel is home to the world’s largest rooftop lazy river shaped like the Lone Star State. In addition to the lazy river, the hotel’s expansive sixth-floor Altitude Rooftop & Pool houses an infinity pool and hot tub lined with lounge chairs and cabanas. It’s also a great place to sip a sunset cocktail while taking in the panoramic view of downtown. The best part? The lazy river is open year round and heated to 80 degrees during the winter months.

Two boys floating down a lazy river.

Kali9/Getty Images

There’s also a wide range of poolside programming, including live music and Texas Winter Nights, a collection of bright, interactive displays with selfie stations along the lazy river that runs from November to early January. While the hotel itself is worth a stay for the amenities alone, day passes are available Monday through Thursday for adults.

Find it: 1777 Walker St., Houston, TX 77010; 713-654-1777

George Observatory, Brazos Bend State Park

Distance from Downtown Houston: 47 miles

This satellite facility of the Houston Museum of Natural Science opened in 1989 and is located in the roughly 5,000-acre Brazos Bend State Park that borders the Brazos River. Every Saturday evening, the observatory opens its doors to the public for stargazing. Join their astronomers on deck for real-time telescope camera feeds and a laser tour of the night sky. Experts are even on hand to guide visitors who bring their own telescope or binoculars.

George Observatory, Brazos Bend State Park

George Observatory, Brazos Bend State Park

Melissa M. via Yelp

George Observatory has three domed telescopes and is home to one of the largest telescopes in the United States that is regularly open to the public, the 36-inch Gueymard Research Telescope. The facility also hosts a series of special events throughout the year, including telescope lessons, Family Space Day, and Rocket Days, where kids build and launch water rockets. Be sure to book in advance as tickets sell out quickly. And consider upgrading your experience by spending the night or weekend under the stars at one of the state park campsites.

Find it: 5555 Hermann Park Drive, Houston, TX77030; 713-639-4629

Newman’s Castle

Distance from Downtown Houston: 69 miles

Bellville is home to a castle with a moat and a working 3,200 pound drawbridge. A trip to Europe in his early twenties inspired Mike Newman, the owner of nearby Newman’s Bakery, to build his own fortress. Although the castle is Newman’s home, it is open to the public six days a week for tours including lunch.

Newman's Castle

Newman’s Castle

Jake H. via Yelp

One of the most impressive facts about the castle is that Newman built it himself in eight years with just one assistant. The structure includes five round corner turrets, a courtyard, a central tower with a view of the surrounding landscape and a perimeter wall. Advance reservations are recommended and all tours take place at the bakery. Be sure to spend some time exploring the town of Bellville after visiting the castle. It is home to the historic 1896 Austin County Jail, which is also open for tours.

Find it: 504 E. Main St., Bellville, TX 77418; 979-865-9804

1940 Air Terminal Museum

Distance from downtown Houston: 10 miles

This art deco building once housed Houston Municipal Airport and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The structure served both airlines and passengers from September 1940 until the spring of 1955. Currently it functions as a museum with exhibits spread over two wings – the north wing is filled with galleries showcasing the history of the Houston Aviation and the timeline of commercial airlines such as Braniff Airways and Continental Airlines. The South Wing explores the early days of aviation beginning with the first flight to Texas for Women Airforce Service Pilots, who flew military aircraft for training and ferry flights.

1940 Air Terminal Museum

1940 Air Terminal Museum

Melissa M. via yelp

A Hawker 129 business jet is on permanent display at the site of the former international terminal that once served Mexico, Central America and Cuba. The jet was transformed into a colorful public art project in 2019 and painted by muralist GONZO247. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday.

Find it: 8325 Travelair St., Houston, TX 77061; 713-454-1940

Goat Yoga and Brunch at Woodlands Resort

Distance from Downtown Houston: 32 miles

This peaceful Texas Piney Woods resort offers a relaxing weekend from Houston with its Goats & Good Nights package that includes goat yoga and brunch for two. The package is typically offered twice a month and includes one night’s accommodation, two goat yoga sessions, and a $50 food and beverage credit.

goat yoga

goat yoga

Steven Harrie/Getty Images/iStockphoto

After brunch, enjoy the resort’s amenities — their forest oasis includes a 1,005-foot-long lazy river and water park. Additionally, there are two swimming pools and three hot tubs. Looking for other ways to keep busy here? Hikers will find over 200 miles of trails on the property and golfers will find a championship course perfect for a day on the links.

Find it: 2301 North Millbend Drive, The Woodlands, TX, 77380; 281-367-1100

San Jacinto Battlefield Bike Tour

Distance from Downtown Houston: 22 miles

Texas gained independence on this 1,300-acre site in April 1936 when General Sam Houston’s army defeated the forces of General Antonio López de Santa Anna. The site, known as the San Jacinto Battlefield State Historic Site, now houses the San Jacinto History Museum and the 567-foot-tall San Jacinto Monument, which towers over a reflecting pool, built to celebrate both the victory and the sacrifice of the troops.

A cyclist riding on a trail.

A cyclist riding on a trail.

FreezeFrames/Getty Images/iStockphoto

One of the most unique ways to visit the Birthplace of Texas is to take a free guided bike tour on the second Saturday of the month in March and April. The paved route is mostly flat with two small hills and is suitable for all experience levels. Visitors must bring their own bikes and water. For those who want to cycle without a guide, they can take advantage of the Cycling Saturday events. The site opens two hours earlier, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., on the second Saturday of the month for cyclists who want to ride their bikes without worrying about cars. Unlike bike tours, these cycling events take place every month except November.

Find it: 3523 Independence Parkway South, La Porte, TX 77571; 281-479-2431

Lake Sheldon State Park

Distance from Downtown Houston: 25 miles

Located on the edge of Lake Sheldon, Sheldon Lake State Park is the site of a series of fish-breeding ponds that have been returned to the wild through sustainable resource management. The park is a privileged place for observing wildlife, from birds to alligators. The 1,200 acre Lake Sheldon is also a great fishing spot where people can fish without a license. And two of the park’s fishing ponds are also open for fishing and release only.

Lake Sheldon State Park

Lake Sheldon State Park

Sam T. via Yelp

Climb the steps to the top of the 82-foot John Jacob Observation Tower for photo-worthy views of the lake, restored prairie, and downtown Houston skyline. Check the park calendar for a list of ranger-led events, including a series of themed guided hikes.

Find it: 14140 Garrett Road, Houston, TX 77044; 281-456-2800

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