Got extra time to escape the city on your Houston vacation? Hop in the car and explore more of Texas on some of the best day trips from Houston, TX! With world-class history, nature, and science all within reach of the state’s largest city, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Within a couple of hours’ drive of Houston, you can experience some of Texas’s coolest places to visit. If you’re into science and space exploration, there’s no better place to visit than the NASA Johnson Space Center, located just 30 minutes from the city. Want to enjoy a beautiful day out in nature? Bask in the wilderness at Lake Livingston State Park or Sam Houston National Forest.
Not sure how to extend your Houston itinerary? Explore the wider area with this complete guide to the top-rated Houston side trips!
Looking for more ideas? Check out all our other day trip guides and our Houston Travel Guide for more recommendations on when to visit, where to go & what to do!
Top-rated Houston side trips
Looking to spend a family-friendly day out on the Texas Gulf Coast? Drive just under an hour from Houston to Galveston. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Texas, Galveston is home to an iconic amusement park, sandy beaches, and even a fishing pier.
Historic Galveston is located on a biologically diverse barrier island between Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Start your side trip from Houston at the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier—and don’t forget to bring plenty of quarters! Whizz and soar over Galveston Bay on an exhilarating coaster or take things slower with some classic carnival games.
Once you’ve had your fill of thrills, one of the most popular things to do in Galveston, TX, is to head to a sandy beach and stake out your spot. Relax on the sands of one of Galveston’s lovely beaches and catch some rays or splash in the beautiful waters of the bay or the Gulf. Take your pick from one of the many beautiful beaches peppering the 32 miles of Galveston Island coastline.
Bring a picnic or chow down at one of the beachfront restaurants, bars, and cafes along Seawall Boulevard and Harborside Drive. Safe to say, Galveston provides the perfect family day out from Houston.
NASA Johnson Space Center
Interested in space exploration? Or maybe you’re a fan of science or remember those grainy images of the first step on the moon? Well, Houston? That’s no problem. Fulfill all your childhood dreams at the NASA Johnson Space Center!
Although it’s only a 30-minute drive from Houston, the NASA Johnson Space Center can take up a full day on your Houston itinerary. Whether you’re traveling with kiddos in tow or just want to live your childhood astronaut dreams, it’s a must-visit.
Begin your visit to the complex at the Space Center Houston. This Smithsonian Affiliate museum is jam-packed with exhibits, artifacts, and interactive activities, all detailing the history and science of space travel in the US and beyond. Get inspired, learn something new, and gain a new appreciation for the incredible people behind the scenes at NASA.
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Enjoy a tram tour around the 1,700-acre facility where astronauts train. See where mission control is located and catch a glimpse of where the world-class minds work. Settle down for lunch at the site’s cafe before hitting the gift shop for unique souvenirs.
Brazos Bend State Park
Want to get out and explore Texas’s vibrant wildlife? Travel 50 minutes south of Houston to Brazos Bend State Park. Get up close and personal with alligators, deer, and other exciting animals, all while taking in the beautiful natural wonder around you.
Start your day trip to Brazos Bend State Park by hitting one of the many hiking and cycling trails. Grab a guide from the visitors center and keep your eyes peeled for the park’s most famous residents: over 250 alligators!
Wander around the lake, and cast a line or two before heading up the park’s observatory. Through its domed telescopes, take in the clear skies around you and see what pops up. Educate yourself using the plaques throughout the observatory. Or, if you’ve got the time, wait around until nightfall and experience spectacular views and stargazing in this wonderful habitat.
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Too tired to drive home or want to make a weekend of it? Stay in one of the park’s campgrounds and get back to nature. There are plenty of spaces and hookups; keep that tent in the back of the car just in case—even if it’s just to take in the stars!
Sam Houston National Forest
Just under an hour north of Houston lies the Sam Houston National Forest, one of four national forests in the Lone Star State. Covering a whopping 163,037 acres of land, this national forest has more than enough for a day trip—and plenty of campgrounds if you want to extend your stay.
Commence your day trip to Sam Houston National Forest by choosing one of the hiking or mountain biking trails, depending on your mode of transportation. Take in the beauty of the trees and woodland around you, keeping your eyes peeled for local wildlife, including some impressive birds.
Continue your trip towards the Cagle Recreation Area, where you’ll find Lake Conroe. It’s the perfect spot for boating and water sports like kayaking or paddle boarding.
Launch your craft or sit back on the shoreline and watch the world go by. Note: You can’t actually swim in Lake Conroe; be aware of this when planning your hiking route.
If you’re looking to swim or rent canoes or paddle boats, head to the Double Lake Recreation Area. Splash around in the cooling waters, spin in circles on the paddleboats, or sit back and read a book on the shore.
Getting hungry after all this exercise and excitement? Refuel at the concession stand at the Double Lake Recreation Area and get supplies for your return hike to the car.
Want to stay longer? Hike back to one of the many campgrounds located all around the park.
Looking to see what the Texas oil boom does to a town or visit a beautiful wildlife refuge along the Gulf of Mexico? Get in your car and head an hour and 10 minutes west to the coastal town of Port Arthur.
Start your day in Port Arthur at the small Museum of Port Arthur to get a feel for the community. Learn about the history of the town—including its oil boom—and discover some of the town’s famous children, including legendary singer Janis Joplin.
Looking to pick up the pace? Grab your family or friends and head out on an airboat tour. Discover the unique environment surrounding Port Arthur and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife in the area’s marshlands.
Once you’ve had your fill, head to a popular neighborhood spot, The Boudain Hut, and order a pot of delicious spicy crawfish—this is as local as it can get around these parts!
Sea Rim State Park
While you’re in Port Arthur, journey the extra 30 minutes to reach the beautiful Sea Rim State Park. Located at the confluence of the Gulf of Mexico and the marshlands, Sea Rim State Park offers a unique habitat for local wildlife and flora.
Outdoorsy travelers will find plenty to enjoy at Sea Rim State Park. Start your trip by wandering down the coastal beach across the Sabine Pass Waterway. This tranquil route takes in the stunning Gulf of Mexico and is particularly gorgeous at sunrise. Keep your eyes peeled for birds, fish, and, of course, plenty of alligators.
If you prefer to spend your time on the water, you can rent kayaks and paddle along the waterways. You’ll find plenty of trails to choose from, ranging from an easy 1.79-mile trail up to a way more advanced 9.59-mile trail.
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Hungry? Bring your rod and your bucket and try your hand at fishing or crabbing—both are super popular here. Take home your catch to fry up, or head to the park’s campsite or cabin to extend your trip.
Looking to relive the glory days or just want to feel some college spirit? Head an hour and a half northwest of Houston, and you’ll hit the city of College Station, home to Texas A&M University.
Like a lot of college towns and cities across the country, College Station hosts a younger demographic and a bustling social scene. Surprisingly, there’s also a ton of history and culture here, offering a great balance for day-trippers.
First up, check out the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum. Named after the Texan President, this Presidential Library & Museum features a replica Oval Office and even a piece of the famous Berlin Wall. Learn more about American and international history in this well-curated museum.
Afterward, grab a bite to eat at Century Square and have a quick browse around the boutiques and independent stores. Find yourself a bargain, treat yourself, or just window shop; all are possible here!
Finally, don your colors and try to catch a game at Kyle Field, home of the Texas A&M University Aggies football team, one of the best college teams in the country. Get there early to tailgate and immerse in the raucous atmosphere before the Aggies take the field and go for the win!
Lake Livingston State Park
Just over an hour north of central Houston, you’ll find the natural paradise of Lake Livingston State Park. Bring your family or friends with you and take advantage of being immersed in the great outdoors for the day.
Begin your day at Lake Livingston State Park by hiking through the Piney Woods section. Journey along on the many trails, spotting wildlife as you go. You can frequently see southern flying squirrels, armadillos, opossums, and even white-tailed deer here; bring your binoculars and your camera!
Once you get to Lake Livingston, it’s time to kick back and relax. Find yourself a spot on the beach, go for a paddle in the crystal clear waters, or, if you’ve brought a small craft with you, glide atop the water. (Oh, and watch out for alligators!)
If you want to stay longer, you can take advantage of the super cheap campground. Or, if you’re in an RV, there are plenty of hookups around the 635-acre state park.
Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
Love everything to do with coastal wildlife? Well then, jump in the car and go an hour east to the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge is one of the best places in the Houston area to go birdwatching or enjoy fishing and crabbing. If you’re into your outdoor pursuits with a wildlife twist, this is the place. As the park covers 34,000 acres around the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll have plenty of room to roam and quietly spot birds or stake out a secluded fishing spot.
Start off at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge visitor center to get loaded up with knowledge about the park’s residents. Pick the brains of the park rangers about the best spots before you hit the trail or head out to the coastline.
Bring a picnic and spend the entire day in the tranquility that comes with fishing and wildlife spotting. Just be sure to steer clear from the waterfowl hunting areas for safety reasons. If you’re a hunter, seasonal permits are now available.
Traveling with kiddos or with friends or loved ones who love picking fruit? Just 50 minutes west of Houston is Blessington Farms, a family-friendly day out complete with nature’s bounty!
Start your day with a hayride around the farm to learn more about the history and how it functions daily. You’ll see just how big the site is and what activities are where, so you can plan your day accordingly. Take a ride on the barrel train, leap on the jump pad, or whizz by on the giant slides.
Next, head to the animal encounters area, where you can get up close and personal with goats, chickens, and even camels. Yep, that’s right, camels. Watch out, though: They have a tendency to spit! Say goodbye to your new favorite animal and head to the main attraction: the fruit fields.
Depending on when you visit, the produce will be different. In summer, pick beautiful, fresh strawberries into September, and collect blackberries and blueberries.
When the site is open in the fall, get spooky with their pumpkin patch. As this activity is seasonal, you’ll want to check in advance to see what’s on offer at Blessington Farms.