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Menil Collection Houston
Photograph: Courtesy Menil Collection

The best museums in Houston, Texas

The best museums in Houston cover everything from art to space, history, science and more, including funerals

James Wong
Written by
James Wong
Contributor
Justine Harrington
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There’s no beating Houston for the best museums in all of Texas. Houston is a mega-city, and with a mega-city comes top-notch exhibits, restaurants worth flying in for, endless things to do (both for kids and adults), and culture to the max. AustinSan Antonio, and Dallas may have a lot to offer by way of museums in the Lone Star State, but Houston has virtually everything covered. 

The quality is world-class, and many of them are free to enter (or offer special free days and discounts), making them extra accessible. Though you’ll find exhibits dotted all over town, the Museum District is where the core of it lies. This leafy, quiet neighborhood between the Texas Medical Center and Rice University contains 18 museums within a 1.5-mile radius. From here to the edges of the city, there’s a museum to suit nearly everyone’s interests – whether you’re fascinated by great art, Texas culture, space, or even funeral history. 

Best museums in Houston

This leading science and space learning institution is the official visitor center of NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and Mission Control. The Space Center offers a captivating look into the world’s largest space program – attractions include interactive exhibits, astronaut artifacts, space simulators, the Northrop Grumman IMAX Theater, and Martian Matrix, a kid’s play area. Diehard space fans should consider doing a “Level 9 Tour”, which provides an in-depth look at NASA and Mission Control.

This is an educational experience unlike any other. The National Museum of Funeral History is chock-full of unique exhibits on caskets and coffins, hearses, celebrity funerals, mourning customs, worldly funeral traditions, and the cultural heritage of the funeral service industry in the United States. Though this may sound like a morbid activity to some, the National Museum of Funeral History is an insightful look at the science and history of death and a true celebration of life itself.

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Houston’s Holocaust Museum is a poignant step back in time and an immersive look at one of the darkest periods in our history. Located in the Museum District, this impactful museum documents the Holocaust through hundreds of permanent exhibits and artifacts, rotating special exhibitions, and 30-minute films that share the stories of survivors living in the Houston area. Perhaps most importantly, the Holocaust Museum serves as a powerful warning to future generations of the dangers of marginalization, prejudice, and apathy.

A playful, popular museum for kids up to 12 years old, conveniently situated in the Museum District. Boasting an array of highly interactive and bilingual displays, the Children’s Museum of Houston is a serious treat for kiddos. The museum even includes a sprawling child-sized city called Kidtropolis, complete with a city government, skyscrapers, and even a banking system. For children under 3, TotSpot has plenty of structures and toys that babies and toddlers are bound to love.

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What is it? Located in Hermann Park, this high-quality museum complex boasts a dizzying array of interactive exhibits, ancient artifacts, fossils, bones and stuffed creatures that span the time of the dinosaurs up until the space age.
Why go? One of the most attended museums in the country, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is truly impressive. Wander through towering rows of dinosaur skeletons, peer at living specimens of rare insects, catch an IMAX movie and marvel at the Butterfly Garden, an incredible rainforest habitat that houses hundreds of colorful butterflies.

The Art Car Museum displays an inventive and exciting mix of art cars, and many artists from all over the world show their work here. This private museum of contemporary art pays homage to Houston’s alternative scene and the art car movement, in which folks create artistic masterpieces out of everyday vehicles. There are always special events and exhibitions happening, including an annual Art Car Parade; entrance to the Art Car Museum is free.

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The fifth-largest museum in the country and Texas’s first (and biggest) art museum., the Museum of Fine Arts (MSFA) remains one of the country’s most impressive art institutions and cultural hubs. Featuring over 50,000 pieces that span six continents, the MSFA offers a comprehensive look at some of the world’s best art. Be sure to allow ample time for exploring both the inside and the outside – the Cullen Sculpture Garden is simply lovely.

Founded by a French couple, John de Menil and Dominique Schlumberger de Menil, who moved to Houston during World War II, this award-winning museum contains an incredible permanent collection consisting of works dating from the Paleolithic era to the present day. Situated on a quaint Montrose-area campus, the collection features Byzantine and medieval works, tribal art, the renowned Cy Twombly Gallery, and the noteworthy Rothko Chapel. The Menil Collection is an absolute must-visit for art lovers, and arguably the coolest museum in Houston.

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Housed in the base of the San Jacinto Monument, the San Jacinto Museum of History honors those Texans who fought here in 1836 in the Battle of San Jacinto. This one’s for the history buffs: The San Jacinto Monument and Museum of History offers a rich look into Texas culture and tradition through exhibits, art, and artifacts that chronicle the 18-minute battle for independence that took place here. Plus, this is the world’s tallest monument tower – the view from the top is stunning.

A non-collecting institution founded in 1948, this world-class museum occupies the famous stainless-steel building in the heart of the Museum District. The Contemporary Arts Museum showcases some of the best regional and national art of the last 40 years – this innovative space features a steady stream of reliably awesome exhibitions in a variety of media, from sculpture to digital media to performance art. Best of all, the Contemporary is totally free.

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