Intro to the Museum District
Looking for a neighborhood in the know about Van Gogh? Is your middle name Culture Vulture? Does proximity to a huge public park get you excited? Welcome to Houston’s Museum District a.k.a. your new happy place.
Home to 19 museums within three square miles, the Museum District is one of Houston’s most discerning, low-key, and quiet areas to live and play. Even though its one of the city’s smaller neighborhoods, the tree-lined streets and keep-to-themselves neighbors give off a feeling of peace and tranquility, all while providing a central location in the fourth largest city in America.
Located just south of Montrose and north of the Texas Medical Center, the Museum District’s affluent and well-traveled vibe makes it a dream neighborhood for those who are looking to be close to it all, while being relatively off the radar.
With residents that include the President/Chancellor of The University of Houston, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane’s ex-wife, and prominent figures of the local arts scene, this part of the city is meant for those who value the finer things in life, without all the bling-bling that comes with it.
The typical resident: middle age professionals to older couples that enjoy being close to arts and culture. Given that Rice University is within walking distance, there are some grad students and professors that also value minimizing their daily commute. Also, the closeness to the medical center also equates to a ton of health professionals preferring to live close to work.
This probably sounds like, for a lack of a better term, a bunch of old people – but, that’s not true either. Yes, the average home value in this area is close to $500,000, so you can picture the average buyer. But, there are a few high-rise apartment buildings here that offer a fairly solid value and attract a social, more refined resident that will make it feel less like a retirement neighborhood.
Though, no matter what age, people that choose to live in the Museum District mainly keep to themselves and prefer their neighbors also keep it that way, too.
If you’ve read my other neighborhood guides on Taco Street Locating, you know this is where I usually rank how severe the homeless problem is in the specific part of the town. Well, guys… I’m happy to report that the Museum District is one of the least homeless parts of Houston! Woohoo!
I’m really not trying to talk down on people who are down on their luck, but there are certain issues that come with neighborhoods that have a high rate of transients spending their days/nights roaming around. Yes, you will spot a panhandler here and there, but it’s no where close to what you’ll witness near the Galleria or Midtown.
The Museum District is relatively safe, with a low chance of car break-in’s, especially when you compare it to neighboring Montrose. It’s crazy the difference that a half mile can make. Home burglary is even more rare, as so much for the area is dotted with museums that employ solid security systems with tons of cameras. If you commit a crime in this part of town, you better be smiling because you’ll be on a camera somewhere.
Enjoy a brisk morning walk or stress-relieving evening bike ride? This is the neighborhood for you. The sidewalks are well taken care of. The streets are not so trafficked, so potholes aren’t a huge issue. And, many residents enjoy being at least somewhat active, so you won’t feel like you’re the only one walking down an empty street.
One of my favorite amenities of the Museum District is how close it is to the 445-acre oasis known as Hermann Park. This massive public park connects the Museum District to the Medical Center, and is home to the two mile-long Marvin Taylor Exercise Trail – a jogger/runners paradise. It’s all covered by huge oak trees, so the intense summer sun won’t scorch you.
If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also be super close to the 2.9 mile-long Rice University jogging trail. This public dirt trail runs the circumference of the campus and takes you through one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods.
The Museum District also has numerous B-Cycle stations, which are electric bike stands that charge you by the hour for two-wheel rentals. You can check-out a bike from one station and return at any other around the city.
Literally, you have no excuse not to burn off that holiday weight now. If you still come up with a ridiculous reason, tweet me at @zplusb and I’ll motivate you and may even make you cry. But, its all for your betterment. But, I digress…
The Museum District in Three Words: Quiet, Cultured, Central
Now you’re probably asking yourself, ‘if there are so many museums and a huge park in this neighborhood, how can you say it’s quiet?’ Great Question. During the weekdays, there aren’t a huge number of people that come out to the attractions/museums/park. On the weekends, there are definitely more people, but the museums are spread out enough that there are small pockets of activity, but not like a mass amount of people congregating all around. I feel like this part of Houston was designed really well, so that residents aren’t annoyed at the visitors and people enjoying a day out don’t feel like they are encroaching.
Culture is the name of the game in the Museum District. With institutions such as The Asia Society Texas, Houston Museum of African American Culture, Czech Center Museum Houston, and world-renowned Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the sheer diversity of the culture is what really caught me off guard. Usually I find museums and this kind of stuff to be boring AF, but these spots put on some awesome programming and give you a reason to at least try them out once. And, you should. This is coming from someone who doesn’t enjoy this stuff, so that should tell you something. Another great benefit of the Museum District is how centrally located it is.
Was that the best segway or what? Damn, I impress myself sometimes, but not really. As I was just about to mention, this neighborhood is pretty convenient for the daily commute.
Drive time to Texas Medical Center? Two minutes.
Montrose? Five minutes.
Midtown? 10 minutes.
Downtown Houston? 15 minutes.
The Galleria/Uptown? 20 minutes.
If you weren’t sold on the efficiency yet, the Museum District also has two METRO Rail stops that efficiently get you to Midtown, Downtown, NRG Stadium, and beyond.
As far as access to major highways/freeways goes, this area provides easy access to 288 (takes you towards the gulf coast), and semi-easy access to I-59. I say ‘semi-easy’ because you still have to cross through pothole-ridden montrose to go south on 59, but its a small price to pay when you weigh all of the benefits.
Uber or Lyft’ing around? You won’t have to wait long because of all the attractions nearby and there are actually designated rideshare pickup spots in the Museum District, which may not sound like a huge deal, but is pretty rare in Houston. It’s basically New York City. lol.
Free Things To Do
We already talked about the awesome jogging/walking trail at Hermann Park, but there is SO much more to enjoy at what is easily my favorite park in the city.
- Houston Zoo: The park is home to the Houston Zoo, which is pretty much a normal zoo, but stands out with its giraffe feeding exhibit. You can actually buy some lettuce from the gift shop, climb up a couple of stairs, and get the best photo opp with your tall ass new friends. They also have a killer holiday lights display during the fall/winter for Zoo Lights. It’s probably the most popular Christmas attraction in the whole city, so yeah it can get busy.
- McGovern Centennial Gardens: This English-inspired garden is the perfect place to kick back for an afternoon picnic. The manicured lawn, diverse plant life, and herb garden come together to create such an awesome vibe. I sound like an old man that lives in the park, but really – this place is the epitome of chill.
- Miller Outdoor Theater: This amphitheater smackdab in the middle of Hermann Park has a regular schedule of cultural shows, musical events, and sponsored movie viewings. The best part? It’s all free! Yuuuup, all the events are free, but make sure you show up earlier in the day to get tickets, because they go fast. Like, if a show is at 7pm, you need to swing by right when the ticket booth opens at 10am to snag tix for your party.
- Japanese Garden: So many of my friends call this this their favorite part of Hermann Park. Located just behind the Miller Outdoor Theater, you’ll find the serene Japenese Garden full of exotic plantlife, zen areas to meditate, and a lake full of koi and turtles. This is where you go when you need some alone time and want to be one with nature. It’s sublime, for real. This is a great starting point for your day at the park, as it gets pretty busy later in the day.
- Also see: Jones Reflecting Pool, Bill Coats Bridge, DilliDiidae, Grand Gateway, Hawkins Sculpture Walk, picnic areas, and more. Can you tell I love this park? I LOVE THIS PARK.
Always Free Museums
I don’t know about you, but when I think of museums, I usually think of throwing money away to stare at ‘art’ I don’t understand and won’t remember even five minutes after I leave. But, what if I told you, you could do all of this for free? Yeah, no investment for a new experience. Sounds decent enough.
The Museum District has a good amount of attractions that are always free, as well as ones that offer free admission at certain times – I’ll give you a brief breakdown below:
- Asia Society Texas Center (awesome front lawn for chilling and Indian cafe inside)
- Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (really cool pop culture art that resonates with a younger, less stuffy demographic)
- Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
- Houston Center for Photography (this is moreso in Montrose, though)
- The Jung Center (I still don’t understand wtf this place is – seems a bit creepy)
- Lawndale Art Center
- The Menil Collection (again, it’s basically in Montrose)
- Moody Center for the Arts (on Rice U campus w/ cool temporary art experiences)
- Rothko Chapel (also in Montrose – I don’t see how they can say it’s part of the Museum District. But, what do I know?
Sometimes Free – check out their websites for more details:
- Buffalo Soldiers National Museum (pretty insightful and small, so you can knock it out in a couple of hours)
- Children’s Museum of Houston (been around for almost 40 years and is always recognized as one of top children’s museums in the world – it’s cool if you have kids, or need to keep your niece/nephew occupied for a few hours)
- Czech Center Museum Houston (haven’t been yet, but it looks kinda small from outside.)
- The Health Museum (I usually check my blood pressure at Walgreens, so I haven’t been. It’s right next to Hermann Park.)
- Holocaust Museum Houston (I mean, it’s kinda depressing but the building is beautiful and really makes you appreciate the people that fought against a superpower.)
- Houston Museum of African American Culture
- Houston Museum of Natural Science (VERY cool museum. They have a dinosaur skeleton right as you enter and it’s magnificent.)
- The Houston Zoo (talked about it above)
- The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (this place is legit – a definite must visit atleast once.)
- Yes, basically every museum is free at some point during the month.
Now, if your life is all about living in an area that is a foodie mecca, stop reading now and take a look at my Montrose Neighborhood Guide. By no means is the Museum District a prime destination for people who need to be trying the newest and coolest restaurants as soon as they open. Though, there are a few popular spots and the rest are mainly neighborhood eateries.
Spanish Village $
This throwdown neighborhood tex-mex spot always knows how to satisfy. Given that I don’t like much of the tex-mex inside Loop 610, that says a lot. With heaping portions of quality classics like enchiladas, quesadillas, and tacos, it’s no surprise why they’ve been around for over 50 freaking years. That’s half a century. You know the food has to be pretty good for a restaurant to survive that long. Another thing is that they have a special window for pick up, so you don’t have to walk into the restaurant to find your to-go order. You just walk up, grab your cheesy deliciousness, and get on your way. Convenience, good quality, and friendly service. What more could you want?
With eight locations essentially all inside The Loop, you know that Barnaby’s is doing something right. Named after the owner’s dog, this Houston go-to is definitely man’s best friend. They do awesome salads, sandwiches, and diner style plates. But, don’t picture one of those greasy, rude diners – this one is definitely on the nicer side. The location is clean and the portions are freaking huge. Like, their sandwiches are good enough for two meals and cost around $12. And the ingredients are all sourced locally. They even have a full bar, so you can easily spend some time playing with your food and getting to know your neighbors.
Turkey Leg Hut $$
Remember how I said that there’s not much in the way of popular restaurants in the Museum District? This is the one exception. With frequent patrons named James Harden, Dave Chapelle, Slim Thug, Snoop Dogg, and almost every Houston Texan, Turkey Leg Hut has become one of the most known places in the entire city. I’m not exaggerating. If you are able to snag a table, you’ll see people literally arriving from the airport – with luggage in-tow. The average wait time for a table is easily around one hour, but once you bite into their famous turkey leg, you’ll understand why. The meat legit falls off the bone. What really sets it off, is that they top the huge turkey legs with creative add-ons like crawfish mac ‘n cheese, Ciroc Mango Habanero glaze, and shrimp alfredo. Yes, shrimp alfredo pasta on a turkey leg. IT. WORKS.
As one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Lucille’s does classic southern cooking the right way. Since the spot is named after the owner’s grandmother, you know they’ve got a lot to live up to. Located just a couple of blocks from Hermann Park, this is where you come for the most crispy fried green tomatoes, crazy soft biscuits, juicy fried chicken, and their popular Sunday brunch, complete with live jazz music. They even do monthly wine dinners that feature local wine makers and pair it with foods that originated the southern style of cuisine. It’s like a boozy history lesson. A total must-do.
MF Sushi $$$
Ranked as one of the top 2-3 best sushi restaurants in all of Houston, MF Sushi is where you come to appreciate the flavors of freshly flown-in fish from Japan and to dine alongside some of Houston’s most discerning palates. It’s a known fact that the millionaire residents of River Oaks will drive out this way to enjoy their favorite sushi. If it’s good enough for an oil billionaire, it’s good enough for me. Just remember to wear a blazer or dress, because this place is definitely on the fancier side… you can tell by the menu pricing. Ay carumba.
N/A. I’m not kidding.
The Museum District is not a neighborhood where you come to party. There is not a single club or late-night bar. The closest thing is the lobby bar at Hotel ZaZa, which is overpriced and closes at like 11 p.m. You’re going to have to drive to Montrose to satisfy that 1 a.m. dirty martini craving. Get some sleep, dude. Damn.
Taco Street – The Heights
Just like the nightlife scene, the Museum District is not somewhere you should live if you need a variety of taco joints. Given that its not a historically hispanic neighborhood, this should come as no surprise. Though, I’ll still give you the lay of the (limited) taco land.
Best: Spanish Village
As I mentioned above, Spanish Village is the go-to tex-mex spot in the neighborhood and their breakfast tacos live up to the same standard. With simple options like potato and egg, bacon and egg, and bean and cheese, the tacos are not awe-inspiring, but sometimes you don’t need something out of the ordinary – you just need a solid taco nearby. That’s exactly what Spanish Village is good at. I will say, it’s pretty cool that they have a vegan breakfast menu. So you can order their roasted pepper taco with potatoes, and that one actually goes pretty hard. Try it out and tell me what you think.
Convenient: Bodegas Tacos
Located just below one of the medical office buildings in the Museum District, Bodegas Tacos is centrally located by Hermann Park and just a block away from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. That’s kind of what the selling point is. It’s convenient. The tacos are very forgettable and are made to satisfy a quick craving by the health professionals that work above the location. There are some neighbors that swear by it, but that just tells me that they haven’t had good tacos. Not talking smack, but I’ve had Bodegas once and that’s about all I needed. I’d rather drive the half mile to Spanish Village for a fluffier product.
A Day in the Life
So, what does a normal day in the Museum District look like? Pretty chill.
On the hunt to stock your pantry? There’s not a proper grocery store directly in the Museum District, but you’re basically in an HEB sandwich. There’s one to the west right across 288 (1 mile away) and one to the east in Montrose (1.5 miles away). Definitely not inconvenient by Houston standards. It’s not like you’re walking there, Forrest Gump.
Looking to hit the gym or a yoga class? Not happening. This small neighborhood is mainly residential and some small office buildings. If you want to hit up a hot yoga sesh, you’ll need to jump in your go-go mobile and head the Montrose and take your pick of like 10 different fitness studios.
As far as dry cleaning goes, there is just one location for this service and it’s right on Main St, so its pretty convenient. Mostly frequented by the folks working the Medical Center, so it can get pretty busy. There are also a couple of gas stations for easy fill-ups, though they can also get super packed around rush hour traffic time.
For the most part, you’ll need to head to one of the larger nearby neighborhoods for the majority of your daily chores, though it’s not that bad. Museum District bleeds into Montrose, Midtown and the Medical Center, and commuting between is relatively easy and almost walkable throughout, as long as you’re not trying to go get a case of water and lug it back to your apartment. Your arms will fall off.
The Verdict on Museum District
- Proximity to Museums/Attractions
- Public Transport
- Centrally Located
- Lack of Nightlife
- Limited Restaurant scene
- Apartment Options
- Limited Diversity
Who is the Museum District perfect for? Those that are working in the Texas Medical Center or Downtown, because it makes total sense to live close by and have access to the METRO Rail for your short commute. Also, it’s great for those that enjoy being a stones throw from the majority of Houston’s museums or love a daily morning walk in the park. You can’t beat Hermann Park. Well, some people really like Memorial Park, but I still say Hermann Park is the tops.
If you need some peace and quiet, all while being close to some of the more popping neighborhoods, I can’t recommend a better location to live in Houston. #IntrovertLife. Though, if you need some bars and restaurants within walking distance, I’d recommend you head to Montrose or The Heights.
Again, this is not the ideal location for foodies or those wanting a legit nightlife scene. It will make you feel like you’re in an early retirement some days, but so many of life’s simple pleasures are brighter in the Museum District. Sometimes you just want to wake up, brew a cup of coffee, and go downstairs to walk a non-smoggy road. It’s a vibe of its own and there are not many parts of the city that offer you the serenity that this neighborhood does.