Top 12 Day Trips from Houston

Last Updated on February 17, 2024 by Emily Johnson

As the largest city in Texas and fourth largest city in the United States, Houston has plenty to see and do within the city limits. However, Houston’s location near the Gulf of Mexico and its proximity to other popular Texan destinations also make it an ideal starting point for exciting day trips.

DestinationDistance from HoustonHighlights
Space Center Houston25 miles SENASA tours, space artifacts, interactive exhibits
Brazos Bend State Park1 hour SWWildlife, hiking, fishing, camping
George Ranch Historical Park30 milesLiving history museum, 19th century life
Galveston Island50 miles SEBeaches, Pleasure Pier, maritime museums
Schlitterbahn Galveston Waterpark50 milesWater rides, family attractions
Round Top Antiques Fair90 miles NWAntiques, vendors, seasonal events
The Kemah Boardwalk30 milesAmusements, dining, waterfront views
The San Jacinto Monument20 milesHistoric site, museum, observation deck
Six Flags Fiesta Texas3 hoursRoller coasters, family rides, water park
Moody Gardens50 milesAquarium, rainforest, educational exhibits
Washington on the Brazos150 milesHistoric independence site, museum

From historic towns steeped in Texas culture to beach getaways to family-friendly theme parks, there is something for everyone when getting out of Houston for the day. Just a short drive in almost any direction leads to museums, memorials, interactive learning, nature, and some of the state’s most beloved attractions.

Whether looking to learn about space exploration, discover seaside wildlife, or ride world-class roller coasters with the whole family, the areas near Houston deliver memorable adventures. Here are 12 of the top day trips from Houston that highlight the diversity of experiences available right outside this major metropolis.

Space Center Houston

Name and Location: Space Center Houston is the official visitor center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center located in Houston, TX.

History and Significance: Opened in 1992, it provides interactive learning and educational exhibits detailing NASA’s manned space flight program while highlighting the history and continuing work of the onsite Johnson Space Center’s space exploration.

What to Expect: Immersive attractions include mission simulators, touchable moon rocks, rocket park, behind-the-scenes tram tour of Johnson Space Center and one of four remaining Saturn V rockets ever built.

Visitor Information: Open daily excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Admission tickets start at $29.95 for adults. Combo tour packages available. Advance online ticketing recommended.

As the official visitor center for NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center located just 25 miles southeast of downtown Houston, Space Center Houston offers visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the United State’s human spaceflight program. Guests can tour NASA facilities to see historic mission control and get an up-close view of original spacecraft and equipment while learning about the innovative work happening today.

With over 400 space artifacts on display including flown spacecraft, Space Center Houston brings visitors nose-to-cone with pieces of space exploration history. In addition to housing one of the largest collections of space memorabilia, the center features interactive exhibits and unique attractions like rocket park where guests can snap photos with massive rockets. Visitors can even dine like an astronaut at the Space Food Lab Cafe where menu items were created for the International Space Station.

From anyone with an interest in science to aspiring astronauts, a day immersed in the past, present and future of space exploration at this top NASA attraction is both educational and inspiring.

Brazos Bend State Park

Name and Location: Brazos Bend State Park sits about 45 minutes southwest of downtown Houston encompassing almost 5,000 acres between the Brazos River and Oyster Creek near Sugar Land, TX.

History and Significance: Opened in 1984, its mix of bottomland forests, wetlands, lakes and prairies preserves indigenous ecosystems inhabited by a high concentration of wildlife, especially alligators visible from numerous vantage points.

What to Expect: Hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, fishing, wildlife observation and an interpretive nature center to learn about animals/plants sustained by recreational and educational activities promoting conservation.

Visitor Information: Park grounds open daily. $7 entrance fee per adult. Trails accessible during visitor center hours 8am-5pm. Peak season is April-September.

For a scenic outdoor getaway teeming with wildlife, Brazos Bend State Park offers a nature escape just an hour southwest of Houston. Situated on the Brazos River, the park encompasses almost 5,000 acres of lush scenery dotted with small lakes. Visitors come to hike and bike over 30 miles of trails, fish, camp, and observe native Texas plants and animals.

As a haven for wildlife including over 300 bird species, Brazos Bend gives nature lovers rare glimpses of creatures like alligators, river otters, and birds of prey in their natural habitats. Five scenic lakes attract a variety of waterfowl while the wooded terrain harbors terrestrial species. The best times to spot alligators sunbathing or even mating are the warmer months, making spring and summer ideal for wildlife viewing.

In addition to wildlife watching, highlighted activities at Brazos Bend include fishing, paddling, geocaching, bicycling, camping, picnicking and stargazing. With lakes, forests, meadows and wildlife galore just 50 miles from Houston, the state park offers an easily accessible nature escape.

George Ranch Historical Park

Name and Location: George Ranch Historical Park is located approximately 30 miles southwest of Houston in Richmond, TX occupying a site first settled in 1824.

History and Significance: A living history museum spanning over 20 buildings authentically restored across its 400+ acres tells the generations-long story of four families instrumental in settling Texas via costumed interpreters and historical reenactments.

What to Expect: Self-guided tours, cattle work demonstrations, historical homes, barns and buildings to wander through providing immersive insight into the days of early Texan pioneers, cowboys and Indian tribes through preserved structures and narratives.

Visitor Information: Open Wednesday-Sunday year-round for historical tours, reenactments and special events. Ticket prices $12+ per guest. Season passes available.

History comes alive at George Ranch Historical Park which recreates 19th century life on a Texas agricultural estate. Located in Richmond just 30 miles from Houston, the living history museum spans over 480 acres including farmland, pastures and woodlands that reflect what the land was like when it operated as a working ranch.

Costumed interpreters demonstrate daily activities from the 1830s, 1870s and the 1890s allowing visitors to immerse themselves in three distinct time periods at this expansive complex. From gardening with heritage seeds in the kitchen garden to riding horses along the trail, engaging presentations and demonstrations illustrate the evolution of frontier Texas.

Popular living history attractions include the 1830s Jones Stock Farm focused on cattle ranching, the 1870s Davis Victorian Complex centered around a lavish 22-room mansion, and the 1890s Ryon Prairie homestead depicting humble settler life. Special events year-round feature additional elements like reenactments, heirloom crop planting, hands-on activities, and skills presentations from blacksmithing to open-hearth cooking that spotlight various facets of the ranch’s heritage.

Galveston Island

Name and Location: Galveston Island is a beach town community located about 50 miles southeast of Houston along the Gulf Coast barrier islands in the Atlantic making up one of Texas’ earliest port settlements.

History and Significance: Galveston developed rich cultural traditions centered around shipping, cuisine and tourism that influence its architecture, entertainment options and economic drivers today including its 32 miles beachfront, Victorian-era neighborhoods, dining, museums and amusements.

What to Expect: Beachgoing, historical attractions conveying coastal heritage like the Grand 1894 Opera House, Moody Mansion, Bishop’s Palace, tall ship Elissa, restaurants specializing in fresh Gulf seafood, Victorian bed and breakfasts and a vibrant entertainment scene.

Visitor Information: Easy driving access from Houston with options for day trips or multi-night stays on the island. Year-round draw, but peak seasons run late spring through summer.

Located 50 miles southeast of Houston along the upper Texas Gulf coast, Galveston Island makes for a classic beach getaway. The 32 mile long barrier island boasts diverse landscapes from the Seawall urban oceanfront dotted with major attractions to the protected beaches, parks and preserves of Galveston Island State Park on the western end.

In the main tourist zone near downtown Galveston, beachgoers bask on the free public beaches or stay active with water sports center rentals for jet skis, surfboards, parasails and more. Popular attractions like the 117 year old Galveston Pleasure Pier offer rides and midway games right on the coast while the tall ship ELISSA and the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum give a glimpse into Galveston’s maritime culture.

The island’s east end near Stewart Beach draws vacationers with beachfront hotels and resort amenities. Meanwhile, the state park situated on the quieter west end appeals to nature lovers who relax on open stretches of sand backed by coastal prairie or explore secluded hiking and biking trails. From swimming and sandcastle building to coastal heritage and amusements, Galveston Island hits the sweet spot for family fun, historic sites and scenic shorelines.

Schlitterbahn Galveston Waterpark

Name and Location: Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark is a 33-acre water park with rides, slides, pools and coasters located in Galveston, TX overlooking Offats Bayou near the Gulf of Mexico.

History and Significance: Opened in 2006 to critical acclaim after success of the original New Braunfels Schlitterbahn site founded in 1979 by the Henry family, the Galveston Schlitterbahn location helped propel their emerging brand into one of the world’s top waterpark destinations.

What to Expect: Over 40 rides ranging from mild to extreme across the coastal-themed park pleasing crowds with pools, slides, rivers, hot tubs, beaches, wave pools, uphill water coasters like Blastenhoff, lounge bars, private cabanas, special events and onsite accommodations options.

Visitor Information: Season runs late March thru September. Ticket prices vary by date with multi-park passes available. Book tickets and passes online in advance. Cabana and resort reservations also available.

Considered the premiere waterpark in Texas, Schlitterbahn Galveston promises an unforgettable summer splash for thrill seekers and families alike. Located right on Galveston Island just 50 miles from Houston, the massive waterpark stretches over 70 acres featuring rides, slides, lagoons, and coastal views.

Unique water coasters like the six-story Blastenhoff drop ride get the adrenaline pumping while younger kids delight in pint-sized attractions like Kristal Bay wave pool and the Treerhaus family play fortress. Covered group seating areas give families a spot to unwind together between adventures in the water.

When it comes to rides, Schlitterbahn Galveston has something for everyone with over 40 water attractions. From the speedy slides of The Falls to the 1,000ft long lazy river, there’s no shortage of aquatic excitement across this expansive park. And with amenities like cabana rentals, poolside bars and on-site dining, it’s easy to make a day of enjoying the premier thrills and spills in Texas.

Round Top Antiques Fair

Name and Location: The sprawling Round Top Antiques Fair inhabits open fields and warehouses along Texas Highway 237 an hour east of Houston with two annual semi-annual shows.

History and Significance: Inaugurated in 1968, the original folk art and antiques fair blossomed over five decades into a twice yearly phenomenon drawing dealers and buyers from around the world flocking to rural Round Top for rare artifacts, housewares, textiles and Americana centered around a dynamic spring and fall schedule.

What to Expect: Miles of temporary indoor and open air markets featuring antiques dealers, interior designers and collectors converged to trade an eclectic array of antique furniture, architectural salvage and distinctive vintage goods across the fields and towns shuttling visitors during intense weeks of hunting treasures.

Visitor Information: Semiannual 9-day show runs in March/April and again in September/October. Ticket prices vary by weekend. Hours: 8am-5pm.

Twice a year, the small town of Round Top located just 90 miles northwest of Houston transforms into a world-class antiques destination for shoppers seeking rare finds. Drawing dealers and buyers globally, the semiannual Round Top Antiques Fair founded in 1968 now draws enormous crowds to its tented city full of distinctive antiques showcased by over 650 vendors. The spring and fall events run for about a month each allowing plenty of time to browse booths bursting with coveted antiques.

From high-end jewelry to historic Texan artifacts, European furnishings to Hollywood costumes and props, vendors bring one-of-a-kind pieces that make for an intriguing day of treasure hunting. In addition to antiques, Round Top Antique Fair has expanded to include contemporary decorative arts, architectural salvage, ethnic crafts, garden ornaments, folk art, paintings and all types of vintage goods. The sprawling tented fields feel like a vibrant open-air bazaar filled to the brim with rare items not found elsewhere.

Aside from world-class antiquing, part of Round Top’s allure comes from the quaint small town charm and beautiful pastoral landscape in this region of Texas known as rolling Antique Alley. Just an hour and a half from Houston, a day trip to the Round Top phenomenon feels like stepping into an exciting bygone era with discoveries waiting around every corner.

The Kemah Boardwalk

Name and Location: The Kemah Boardwalk is a 60-acre dining/amusement complex located 20 miles southeast of downtown Houston along the shores of Galveston Bay in the city of Kemah, TX.

History and Significance: Founded in 2001, The Kemah Boardwalk development transformed a waterfront strip known for seafood restaurants and boat marinas into a centralized hub showcasing rides, arcades, shops, midway games and chain restaurants with views across the Seabrook-Kemah waterway attracting nearly 3 million visitors annually.

What to Expect: A pedestrian boardwalk setting housing amusement park rides like the Boardwalk Bullet wooden roller coaster, Texas Star Ferris Wheel and Rock N’ Surf ride alongside less thrilling options, free daily live music, upscale/casual dining, program events and annual fireworks festivals framed by privileged views overlooking Galveston Bay waters.

Visitor Information: Hours vary by attraction, but most open late morning to late evenings on weekends. Parking fees apply to use facilities. Wristbands available for ride packages.

Located right on Galveston Bay just 30 miles from Houston, the Kemah Boardwalk entertainment complex offers seaside fun the whole family can enjoy. This lively 60 acre waterfront amusement park provides picturesque views with its restaurants, shops, amusements and attractions perched right above the bay. Visitors strolling the wooden boardwalk soak in vistas of decorated paddlewheel boats docked in the glittering waters below as they explore an array of activities.

From adrenaline pumping rides like the Boardwalk Bullet roller coaster to casual cruising on the double-decker Boardwalk Beast boat, there’s no shortage of family-friendly entertainment. Other top attractions include the iconic Texas Star Flyer swing ride soaring 166 feet over the bay at 65 mph as well as midway games, interactive art installations, mini golf and a classic carousel.

The Boardwalk also offers one of the best seats in town to take in Kemah’s renown firework shows launched on Friday and Saturday evenings during spring and summer. With good food, live music, amusement rides and ideal waterfront access, the festive open-air Boardwalk provides nonstop diversion for all ages just minutes from downtown Houston.

The San Jacinto Monument

Name and Location: The San Jacinto Monument pays homage to the pivotal Battle of San Jacinto in Texas’ independence from Mexico located off Interstate 10 East of Houston in La Porte, TX commemorating the decisive 18-minute battle fought in 1836.

History and Significance: Authorized in 1936 and dedicated in 1939, the 570 ft tall monument’s octagonal shaft incorporating Art Deco design elements and 220 ton Texas star sculpture remains the tallest masonry column in the world honoring the history changing battle elevated overlooking the ship channel by architectural structures and on site museum.

What to Expect: A museum housing artifacts from the battle site and replica tall ship visitors can board, a 570-foot obelisk viewable from 50 miles away, theatre presentation, Revolutionary Era weapons and historical insight into pivotal political rebellion shifts indelibly tied to the very ground beneath the monument.

Visitor Information: Open year-round except major holidays. Modest fees apply to enter facilities and theater attractions. Observation deck and museum access require ticketed Battleship TEXAS tour.

Standing 570 feet above the Houston Ship Channel just 20 miles outside downtown lies the San Jacinto Monument paying homage to the decisive battle that led to Texas earning its independence from Mexico in 1836. At the base of the towering column topped with a 220 ton star symbolizing the Lone Star State lies the museum showcasing artifacts and exhibits recounting the events before, during and after the legendary conflict.

Known as the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site today, the complex sits on the very grounds where General Sam Houston led the famous surprise attack to defeat Mexican General Santa Anna’s forces in under twenty minutes. The monument tower soaring above the battlefield landscape has an observation deck with panoramic views of the Houston metro while the museum below houses an important history collection.

Highlights of the museum’s extensive exhibits cover topics like the Texas Revolution, early Texas settlement, and the decisive half hour battle at San Jacinto told from both General Sam Houston and Santa Anna’s contrasting perspectives. With expansive grounds, historic structures and detailed chronicles of a pivotal moment in forming Texas, the San Jacinto site provides an immersive experience commemorating the fight for independence.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas

Name and Location: Six Flags Fiesta Texas spans over 200 acres 15 miles northwest of downtown San Antonio, TX filled with world class roller coasters, rides, shows and attractions making it the premiere theme park in South Texas.

History and Significance: Opening under a licensing deal in 1992 tying park themes into San Antonio’s rich Spanish colonial roots and Mission trail heritage, Six Flags Fiesta Texas emerged over 25 years into the major regional destination it remains today thanks to millions invested annually upgrading seasonal offerings.

What to Expect: Over 50 rides from mild to extreme like the Goliath inverted coaster, unique shows like Soul Rockin’ Nights or Cool Vibrations, Looney Tunes character meet-ups, award winning kids areas, Halloween/Christmas festivities, waterpark and diverse food/shopping kiosks across immersive themed lands.

Visitor Information: Season runs March-December. Open weekends early Spring then expanding operations in Summer before scaled down hours post Labor Day. Discounted tickets purchased online in advance highly recommended.

Home to world-class roller coasters, family rides and a unique culture, Six Flags Fiesta Texas theme park provides thrills for visitors of all ages. Located inside a former limestone quarry in San Antonio just over 3 hours from Houston, the park contains over 50 rides and attractions across its 200 acres. From pulse pounding coasters and extreme rides to options tailored to smaller kids, Six Flags Fiesta Texas holds broad appeal across generations.

Popular thrill rides range from the hair-raising twists of Superman: Krypton Coaster to the 205 foot high screeches of the Iron Rattler hybrid coaster intertwining a classic wooden track with a new steel I-beam. Gentler picks include the old fashioned Brass Ring Carousel, lively music and dancing at the Rockville High area or the colorful Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster designed specially for families. When it comes to water fun, the White Water Bay extension opens during summer with water slides, wave pools, a 1,000 ft long lazy river and more wet attractions.

In addition to its world-class rides and entertainment, Fiesta Texas embraces a strong Southwest theme across its park filled with vibrant decor, live music, streetmosphere performers and places to pick up local food and crafts. With endless options from extreme to mild spread over expansive grounds, Six Flags hits high notes across generations seeking adventure just a road trip away from Houston.

Moody Gardens

Name and Location: Moody Gardens is a public nonprofit educational destination consisting of three glass pyramid attractions, a rainforest, aquarium, museum, hotel and convention center centered around botany, nature and conservation spread out over 249 acres of Galveston Island.

History and Significance: Constructed in the mid 1980s as investment enriching Galveston’s reputation as a tourist draw beyond the beaches, Moody Gardens proven model of education fueling recreation successfully connects visitors to exhibits focused on habitats, ecosystems and wildlife appreciation within architecturally dramatic structures demanding exploration on their Interior albeit dependent on lavish energy consumption.

What to Expect: Tropical greenery in enclosed glass pyramids housing rotating exhibits, penguins, fur seals, rainforest creatures and palms dotting surrounding grounds crossed by transport boats ferrying guests between pyramids and attractions revealing nature’s splendor through volume, variety and privileged close viewing proximity otherwise unobtainable beyond cages and enclosures siting animals in their interpreted original environments.

Visitor Information: Open year-round from at least 10am daily. Closed select major holidays.Combo tickets available granting access across multiple attractions. Pricing varies seasonally with kids under 3 free to encourage attendance building family traditions.

As a popular island resort and educational complex, Moody Gardens in Galveston provides entertainment, recreation and leisure focused on nature and conservation. Located about 50 miles from Houston on Galveston Island, the 243-acre tropical paradise contains attractions, exhibits, hotels and a convention center nestled between the island’s sandy beaches and the Galveston Ship Channel.

The main Pyramid complex at Moody Gardens encapsulates an Aquarium housing marine species like penguins, sharks and seals, a Rainforest showcasing exotic birds, insects, plants and animals plus multimedia Discovery Museum with films and exhibits like an on-site production of Cirque Dreams. Just next door lies the garden grounds and the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat for cruises exploring Offatts Bayou and Galveston Bay.

Other top attractions drawing families include the 4D Special FX Theater adding lighting, motion, smells and snow effects to animated films. Thrill seekers also flock to the Moody Gardens Hotel’s new High Ropes Course suspended up to 50 feet in the air above palm trees and paths. With nature encounters, educational experiences, and resort-style amenities all in one tropical setting, visitors get a taste of paradise without venturing too far from Houston.

Washington on the Brazos State Historic Site

Name and Location: Situated roughly halfway between Houston and Austin along Highway 105 sits Washington on the Brazos State Historic Site preserving over 300 acres of Independence Hall Plantation grounds centered around milestones in the Texas Revolution during the 19th century.

History and Significance: As the site where delegates first declared independence from Mexico in 1836 establishing the short-lived Republic of Texas, copious historical markers and reconstructed buildings authentically simulate the setting, structures and events hosting early political beginnings for eventual US state annexation just years later thanks to grassroots defiance forged partially from the very site’s once prominent role.

What to Expect: Interpretive tours guide visitors through a Barrington Living History Farm, reconstructed town sites, plantation manor sites, Independence Hall replica and visitor centers framing exhibits further detailing Washington on the Brazos watershed legacy as the epicenter of early political unrest birthing the larger than life Texas ethos still permeating modern identity.

Visitor Information: Open daily except major holidays. Hours vary seasonally. Nominal entrance fees help fund historical programming and costumed reenactments transporting guests back towards revolutionary eras before modern amenities formed the backdrop of such an otherwise average seeming natural landscape along Texas’ coastal plains.

Located along the Brazos River where Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836, Washington on the Brazos captures the spirit of the early settlers who shaped the future state’s trajectory. Visitors travel 150 miles from Houston to this historic town site just outside Navasota to walk in the footsteps of legendary leaders and explore the origins of Texas during its revolution days.

At the center lies Independence Hall built as a replica of the structure where 59 delegates came together to sever ties with Mexico and draft a Texas Constitution. Costumed interpreters reenact lively scenes while the on-site museum houses artifacts and exhibits diving deeper into the Texas Declaration of Independence and the lives of key political figures.

Beyond Independence hall, notable park attractions include Barrington Plantation depicting an 1850s living history farmstead and the Star of the Republic museum showcasing glassware, weapons and decorative items owned by early Texas settlers. With multiple structures and stories evoking pivotal moments in forming the future Lone Star State, the site conveys a powerful sense of Texas courage and self-determination.

Conclusion

Houston residents looking to explore beyond the city will find no shortage of nearby attractions, historic sites, and scenic escapes for an exciting day trip. From the coastlines of Galveston Island to the world’s largest space center to a 19th century living history ranch, the diversity and quality of destinations within a few hours drive makes getting out of Houston both accessible and compelling. Visitors can tailor outings based on preferences whether that’s thrill rides, cultural attractions, beachside relaxation or outdoor recreation. For such a sprawling metropolis, Houston provides easy access to small town charm, coastal panoramas and world-class destinations in just about any direction.

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