Houston is a vibrant city in Texas, known for its bustling downtown, world-class museums, and famous landmarks. However, beyond the well-known attractions, Houston is home to many hidden gems that are off the beaten path. 

These hidden gems offer visitors a chance to explore unique and lesser-known spots that capture the essence of Houston’s diverse culture and history. From quirky cafes to historic landmarks, Houston’s hidden gems are waiting to be discovered. 

Whether you’re a local or a first-time visitor, exploring these off-the-beaten-path spots can be a refreshing change from the usual tourist destinations. So, if you’re looking for a unique and authentic Houston before you land at those places, make sure you check out Houstoning to up your recreational experience.  

Historic Hidden Gems in Houston

For those interested in history, Houston has a variety of hidden gems to explore. Here are two sites that are worth a visit:

The Menil Collection

The Menil Collection is a museum that houses the private art collection of John and Dominique de Menil. The museum is known for its collection of Surrealist and contemporary art, but also features works from ancient cultures and Byzantine and medieval art. 

The museum is free to the public and is located in a quiet residential neighborhood, making it a peaceful spot to explore.

Visitors can expect to see works by artists such as Max Ernst, René Magritte, and Jackson Pollock. The museum also has a Rothko Chapel, which is a non-denominational chapel that features fourteen large-scale paintings by Mark Rothko. The chapel is a serene space for reflection and contemplation.

The Orange Show Monument

The Orange Show Monument is a folk art environment that was created by Jeff McKissack, a Houston postal worker. The monument is made up of several structures that are covered in mosaic tiles, metal, and other found objects. 

The monument is dedicated to the orange, which McKissack believed to be the perfect food, and features a variety of orange-themed structures.

Visitors can explore the monument and its various structures, including a wishing well, a stage, and a museum. The monument is a quirky and unique spot that is sure to delight visitors of all ages.

Nature and Outdoors Hidden Gems in Houston

Houston may be known for its urban sprawl, but there are plenty of natural areas to explore. Here are a few off-the-beaten-path spots to visit:

Buffalo Bayou Park

Buffalo Bayou Park is a 160-acre park that runs along the Buffalo Bayou. It’s a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy some nature making it a great hidden gem in Houston. Visitors can walk, bike, or jog along the trails, take a kayak or paddleboard out on the water, or have a picnic in one of the park’s many green spaces.

The park is also home to several art installations, including the colorful “Houston” sign and the “Tolerance” sculpture. Visitors can also catch a show at the outdoor theater, or attend one of the many events held in the park throughout the year.

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

Off the beaten path at the Houston Arboretum

Houston Arboretum

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is a 155-acre nature preserve located in Memorial Park. It features several walking trails, a butterfly garden, and a pond. Visitors can also take a guided nature walk or attend one of the many educational programs offered by the center.

The arboretum is home to a variety of native plants and animals, including owls, hawks, and snakes. Visitors can also spot migratory birds during the spring and fall.

The nature center also has a gift shop and a nature-themed playground for children.

Off the Beaten Path Food and Drink in Houston

One of the best ways to experience a city is through its food and drink. Houston is no exception, and there are plenty of hidden gems that offer a unique taste of the city. Here are two must-visit spots for foodies:

Ninfa’s on Navigation

Ninfa’s on Navigation is a Houston institution that has been serving up some of the best Mexican food in the city for over 40 years. The restaurant is named after “Mama” Ninfa Laurenzo, who started the business in 1973. 

Today, the menu features a variety of classic Mexican dishes, including fajitas, enchiladas, and tacos al carbon. The restaurant also has a full bar, with a great selection of margaritas and other cocktails.

Address Phone Number Hours
2704 Navigation Blvd, Houston, TX 77003 (713) 228-1175 Mon-Sat: 11am-10pm, Sun: 10am-9pm

The Breakfast Klub

The Breakfast Klub is a popular spot for brunch in Houston, and for good reason. The menu features classic breakfast dishes like pancakes, waffles, and eggs benedict, as well as southern staples like grits and fried catfish. 

The restaurant also has a great selection of coffee and fresh-squeezed juices. Be prepared to wait in line, as the restaurant is usually packed on weekends.

Address Phone Number Hours
3711 Travis St, Houston, TX 77002 (713) 528-8561 Mon-Fri: 7am-2pm, Sat-Sun: 8am-2pm

Hidden Gems in Arts and Culture

Houston is a vibrant city with a rich arts and culture scene. While many visitors flock to the well-known museums and galleries, there are a few artistic hidden gems in Houston that are worth exploring.

Project Row Houses

Project Row Houses in Houston

Project Row Houses in Houston

Project Row Houses is a community-based arts organization located in Houston’s historic Third Ward. Founded in 1993, the organization has transformed a group of shotgun-style houses into an art space that serves as a hub for community engagement and cultural exchange. The houses are home to a variety of programs, including artist residencies, exhibitions, and public art projects.

One of the most unique aspects of Project Row Houses is the Young Mothers Residential Program. This program provides housing and support for young mothers and their children, while also offering opportunities for personal and professional development. Visitors can take a tour of the houses and learn more about the organization’s mission and programs.

Lawndale Art Center

The Lawndale Art Center is a contemporary art space located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District. Founded in 1979, the center is dedicated to promoting contemporary art and artists from the Gulf Coast region. The center hosts a variety of exhibitions, artist talks, and educational programs throughout the year.

One of the highlights of the Lawndale Art Center is the annual Big Show. This juried exhibition features work by artists from all over Texas and is one of the largest and most anticipated events in the Houston art community. Visitors can also explore the center’s galleries and shop for unique gifts and artwork in the center’s store.

Winter Shminter! For hiking and backpacking enthusiasts, colder temperatures can’t stand in the way of our desire to get out on the trails. But if you’re looking to do a long-distance hike or backcountry camping trip during the winter, it’s probably best to stick to an area that isn’t going to be snowed in.

In fact, some National Parks even close down partially in over winter since the snow and ice can make exploring near impossible. Luckily, there are still plenty of warm places in the US to do some backcountry hiking and overnight backpacking during the colder months of November through February. From California to Florida and other options in between, read on to see the best places to go backpacking in winter around the US.

Backpacking Treks in Winter

Carrying everything you need on your back, pitching a tent, and living 100% in the great outdoors is the call of the wild for many backpackers. But in winter, it’s important to have a high level of respect for the natural elements.

Below-freezing temperatures, snowed-in trails, and icy conditions can mean that some places are just not possible to hike in winter, even if you have the most advanced winter gear.

To make your life easier (and your pack lighter), stick to these places in the US where you can through-hike and camp overnight, even during the winter months of November, December, January, or February.

Santa Catalina, California

Catalina Island is a great place to go backpacking in winter

Most of California enjoys moderate weather year-round. Other than in the mountains, it rarely drops below freezing, so if you’re looking for the perfect place to go backpacking in winter, California is a perfect option. 

Santa Catalina is an island off the coast of southern California, which allows hikers year-round. The winter months are prime whale-watching season along the California Coast, so keep an eye out as you take in the sweeping views over the Pacific Ocean.

The Trans-Catalina hiking trail spans 38.5 miles and typically takes 4 days. You’ll hike across Catalina Island, explore its interior, and camp at stops along pristine beaches. Ferry tickets to Catalina Island are around $75 and camping fees vary by season.

Because Catalina is a fairly small island, you’ll get your bearings quickly, and it’s a great place to experience an overnight camping and winter backpacking trip in California once the colder weather sets in.

Henry Coe State Park, California

Backpacking in Henry Coe State Park

Henry Coe State Park is a vast wilderness in Northern California where you can easily do a multi-day winter backpacking trip. As the largest state park in Northern California, Henry Coe has 80,000 acres of wilderness areas.

Spring is the busy season, when many visitors come to hike the Henry Coe trails among an abundance of wildflowers. So if you’re looking for more solitude, try this California backpacking spot in the winter months. The hills surrounding Henry Coe experience mild weather year-round, and like many places in California, it rarely dips below freezing even in winter.

The Lost Coast Trail, California

Hiking the Lost Coast Trail in California

This region is called The Lost Coast because the rugged terrain made it impossible to build Highway 1 through here. The highway just… stops. Good news for backcountry hikers, there is a well-maintained network of trails along The Lost Coast.

Backpacking this California area in winter is completely doable, but keep in mind that you may face wet conditions. Be sure to bring waterproof gear and a resilient spirit.

Other places for backpacking in winter in California:

  • Skyline to the Sea Trail – located in the Big Basin National Park, which sadly was almost completely burned in the August 2020 lightning fire. Currently, the park is open again, but most of the pine tree foliage has been completely burned, with new growth starting to emerge. Check out the Big Basin page for more information current conditions.
  • Point Reyes National Seashore – A trail that hugs the coastline and provides stunning views. 

Kalalau Trail on the Na’Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

Free Things to Do in Kauai

If you’re trying to beat the winter blues that set in around January, why not make the leap and head to the Hawaiian Islands? Hawaii is popular year-round, but you’ll be dealing with fewer tourists if you visit in winter. We recommend heading to Kauai (The Garden Isle) and doing one of the many hikes along the coast.

The Na’Pali Coast in particular is one of the most famous hikes in Hawaii. The Kalalau Trail takes you on a 3-day hike along rocky ridges with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. 

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Backpacking in Winter in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park covers a large area in Southern Texas including the Chisos Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert. Winter is the ideal time to go backpacking in Big Bend since you’re likely to experience clear skies with daytime temperatures in the mid-70s or higher.

There are plenty of overnight hiking trails around Boot Canyon, Emory Peak, and the South Rim, but keep in mind that a backcountry use permit is required. There are also plenty of half-day and day hikes if you’re thinking of visiting Big Bend for a weekend. 

Pinhoti Trail, Alabama

Flagg Mountain on the Pinhoti Trail

Flagg Mountain on the Pinhoti Trail

The Pinhoti Trail spans 335-miles, which means you can go hiking for a few days or go backpacking for as long as you want. This Alabama region is a great option for backpacking in the winter for both beginners and experienced hikers.

The Pinhoti Trail can get snowy in winter, but considerably less so compared to the popular long-distance hiking trails like the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail. It’s also very easy to break the Pinhoti Trail into sections so that you can go for as short or as long as you want.

The best time to hike the Pinhoti Trail is anytime between March and April, when some other popular backpacking spots are still thawing from the winter freeze.

Other places for backpacking in winter in Alabama:

  • Sipsey Wilderness Area, Alabama

The Florida Trail, Florida

Backpacking The Florida Trail in Winter

Florida’s prime hiking and backpacking season is from December through March. So when the rest of the country is facing snowstorms and below-freezing temperatures, you can head south when Florida experiences ideal weather.

There are a growing number of through-hikers who spend their winters on The Florida Trail as an alternative to the Appalachian Trail. The entire Florida Trail is 1,500 miles, so take a look here at the different parts of the trail that are recommended for a multi-day hike.

Keep in mind that the conditions in Florida might be different from other places you’ve hiked. Think soggy feet, mosquitos, and tropical surroundings. Luckily these issues are less severe when the weather cools, so if you want to experience backcountry camping Florida’s unique ecosystem, the winter months are the best time to go backpacking.