- Do all the fall festivals (or at least one or two of ‘em)
- Have absolutely no shame in your pumpkin beer game
- Have the ultimate people-watching experience at RenFest
- Get wonderstruck at the James Turrell Skyspace
- Take a picnic to the stage
- Show your love for homegrown art
- Go stargazing at George Observatory
- Bring live music into your life
- See bats spiral out of the Waugh Bridge
- Unlock the glory of patio season
- Peruse the always-stunning Menil Campus
- Go old-school at a drive-in movie theater, or hit a rooftop for movies with a view
- Eat your weight in BBQ
- Explore Buffalo Bayou Park
- Take Houston by BCycle
- Cheer on the Thanksgiving Day Parade Houston 2022
16 Cool Things to Do in Houston This Fall
We are slowly (not exactly surely, but we remain hopeful) coming out of the hellhole that is Houston summer, and as our fellow hometown girl Lizzo would say, “IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME.” Now is when you want to get out and enjoy stuff. We’ve got local landmarks that just seem to get better as the years go by, autumntime festivals to hit up and seasonal flavors to savor, and true-to-Houston experiences to, well, experience. Whether you’ve lived here all your life or are in town for five minutes, here are 15 fun things you gotta do this fall.
Do all the fall festivals (or at least one or two of ‘em)
As fall’s cooling temperatures gradually sneak their way in (fingers crossed this happens early this year), fall festivals become aplenty. This season, load up on the Gulf’s finest shrimp gumbo at Galveston Island Shrimp Festival (September 23 – 24), change into lederhosen and drink through German biers at Oktoberfest (September 24), get the souvlaki sweats at The Original Greek Festival (October 6 – 8), help save local at the Bayou City Art Festival (October 8 – 9), cure your hangover at Michelada Fest (October 9), jam to zydeco and bayou rock at the Conroe Catfish Festival (October 14 – 16), smash unlimited tacos under the downtown skyline at Tacolandia (October 15), and eat everything at the 2022 Houston Food Fest (November 12).
Have absolutely no shame in your pumpkin beer game
Being basic is not a crime—as evidenced by the mayhem surrounding the pumpkin beer releases from Houston finest breweries every fall. Stalk ‘em out, from Saint Arnold’s famous Pumpkinator (typically unveiled on the ides of October) and Buff Brew’s Pumpkin Spice Latte to the CyGourd from Southern Star. If you won’t touch pumpkin, you can at least try some of the Oktoberfest styles the breweries put out, or seek out all things fall spiced at the best local coffee shops.
Have the ultimate people-watching experience at RenFest
Every year, the Texas Renaissance Festival enchants the small Texas town of Todd Mission, and every year, the folks that show up to the festival do not disappoint in the people-watching category. Live out your fantasies in costume, or just show up to gnaw down a giant turkey leg and have a damn good time at the public flogging booth. Opening weekend is October 8 and the magical merriment runs through November 27, with theme weekend’s including Pirate Adventure, Barbarian Invasion, and All Hallow’s Eve.
Get wonderstruck at the James Turrell Skyspace
Not many tourist attractions are actually worthy of your time, but this totally rad light and sound installation most definitely is. Sittin’ pretty right next to the Shepherd School of Music on the Rice University campus, the acoustically engineered masterpiece, which is designed to host musical performances, is dubbed “Twilight Epiphany” thanks to a trippy LED light sequence. It projects onto and through the structure’s open knife-edge roof just before sunrise and at sunset. Money isn’t needed and neither are reservations, just walk up and take an open seat.
Take a picnic to the stage
The open-air Miller Outdoor Theatre is one of the city’s crown jewels, offering a lineup of seasonal performances and exciting stage productions—think live jazz, ballet, Motown concerts, movie screenings, and musical theater—that are absolutely cool and one of the best free things to do in Houston. Fall’s lineup includes an Allman Brothers tribute, Bayou City Jazz Celebration, and screening of feel-good classic The Mighty Ducks. Show up early with a blanket, some boxed wine, and a spread of local cheeses to have yourself a picnic on the lawn, or score one of the covered seats by reserving a free ticket.
Show your love for homegrown art
Washington Avenue & Theatre District
After a rough few years, Houston’s theater companies, musicians, and artists have been spreading the love and resharing their talents with the world. Now’s the time to visit Theater District favorites like the Alley Theatre, Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony, Stages, TUTS, and more. Or shoot over to Arts District Houston, where you’ll find over 300 studios and artists camped out at creative hub Sawyer Yards.
Go stargazing at George Observatory
Brazos Bend State Park
The stars at night are legit “big and bright” if you head deep in the heart of Brazos Bend State Park, where you’ll find the historic George Observatory, a satellite facility of the Houston Museum of Natural Science that recently re-emerged after a two-year facelift. On Saturday evenings, the deck is open for your star-viewing pleasure, with real-time camera feeds from the observatory’s monster telescopes (you can also bring your own telescopes and binoculars). Snag the required advance tickets for $10 a pop.
Bring live music into your life
Nothing gives you energy like a live concert at one of Houston’s local standbys. There’s crowd-drawing haunts like Warehouse Live, The Continental Club, and the sprawling indoor-outdoor spot White Oak Music Hall, super cool 713 Music Hall, acoustic-kissed AvantGarden, dive vibe Dan Electro’s Guitar Bar, underground music venue Last Concert Cafe, and country-lovin’ patio bar The Rustic. Or you could just make your very own live music with some questionable singing at Midtown favorite Glitter Karaoke.
See bats spiral out of the Waugh Bridge
When the Waugh Bridge was built, no one realized it was the perfect structure to host a whole bunch of Mexican free-tailed bats. Well, apparently it was, because locals started noticing a bat colony around ‘99. Before Hurricane Harvey and 2021’s devastating ice storm, the bridge sheltered about 300,000 of the little guys, and though some sadly didn’t make it, a bulk of the colony remains intact. Today, you’ll find the bats hanging tight until they spiral out from the bridge’s crevices on warm nights around sunset. Head to the viewing platform and you may just catch a bat show, which never fails to both fascinate and creep the hell out of anyone you bring along (especially if you’re visiting around Halloween).
Unlock the glory of patio season
Patio season is basically year-round here—yes, even during scorched earth season known as the Houston summer (shade, misting fans, and ice cold drinks help with that)—but fall patio time is where it’s at. Some of our favorite al-fresco watering holes include spunky Mexican-American haunt Monkey’s Tail, super chill craft beer garden Axelrad, even chiller old school dive West Alabama Ice House, King’s BierHaus’ sprawling biergarten, and Truck Yard, a bonafide adult playground with an actual Ferris wheel. Not to mention our rooftop bars and al fresco restaurant spaces. Go forth and imbibe.
Peruse the always-stunning Menil Campus
This local jewel is always free and always open to the public, with reservations available for timed entry if you’d like to plan ahead. Hit the art museum for one of the best collections in town, complete with new exhibitions and Insta-worthy standbys like the Dan Flavin installation and the spiritual Rothko Chapel (because we could all use a little zen these days), plus its charming, oak-shaded green space. Though admission is free, donations are more than welcome.
Go old-school at a drive-in movie theater, or hit a rooftop for movies with a view
People have been craving nostalgic experiences, and drive-in movies have become today’s comeback kid. Check out pop-up Moonstruck (which rocks views of the Downtown skyline) over in EaDo and the OG Showboat Drive-In in Hockley. Or go for an updated al fresco experience at the super cool Rooftop Cinema Club in Uptown (where you won’t need your car, outside of getting yourself there).
Eat your weight in BBQ
This city’s barbecue game has officially proven its worth, garnering national attention and being just plain delicious. You should probably pay it some attention, too—and you can do so by getting your ‘cue on at as many local barbecue joints as your stomach will allow. Our top picks (straight from the mouths of Houston’s finest pitmasters) include Blood Bros. BBQ, Corkscrew, Feges BBQ, Harlem Road, Khói Barbecue, Truth, and more.
Explore Buffalo Bayou Park
Stretching from Shepherd to Sabine between Allen Parkway and Memorial, Buffalo Bayou Park is one of the best places to take in the views of the city skyline. Wander along the winding hiking and cycling paths and you’ll be rewarded with grassy plateaus framed by trees, massive dog and skate parks, picnic spots and kayak opportunities, and pavilions perfect for al fresco activities and live entertainment. There’s also plenty of cool art installations that add an extra layer of vivacity to the already exhilarating landmark, from the blooming Dandelion Fountain to Monumental Moments, six-foot-four-tall sculptures stationed along the curved Kinder Footpath. Plus, a colossal Underground Cistern that looks like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Take Houston by BCycle
One of the best ways to get to know a city is by biking it, and if you don’t have wheels of your own, you can always hit up one of BCycle’s 80+ (and counting) stations to rent yourself a shiny new ride. It’ll run you $3 per 30 minutes, or you can go full-on Tour de Houston and sign up for the $13 monthly membership, which will unlock unlimited 60-minute trips for the entire month.
Cheer on the Thanksgiving Day Parade Houston 2022
One of the oldest Turkey Day parades in the nation, the 73rd annual H-E-B Thanksgiving Day Parade will be ridin’ through downtown Houston beginning at 9 am on Thanksgiving morning (Thursday, November 24). This year’s Grand Marshall is rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (yep, 50 Cent is now a Houston resident), with a special performance from hometown hero Bun B and a theatrical display from the TUTS production of “Mary Poppins.” Join the hundreds of thousands that line the streets to cheer on elaborate floats, badass marching bands and drill teams, and soaring balloons that show off over 20 city blocks. And if you’re up for a little sweat before you stuff yourself with entirely too much stuffing later on in the day, consider early rising for he Turkey Trot (there’s a 10k, 5k, and Kids Run) in the Galleria.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.
Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who will apparently be doing A LOT this summer. Follow her journey through the hottest months on IG @brookiefafa or on Twitter @BrookeViggiano.