Explore Undercover Houston: Off the Beaten Track

Houston has places that are just as magical as the locations we see so glamorously portrayed on Instagram. When you think of it this way, it seems crazy that we go to such lengths to travel halfway across the globe without giving our backyard a second glance. Recently we set out to find and explore our city’s little-known gems.  All of these spots offer unique experiences to enjoy with your gal pals, family, or out of town visitors.

Smither Park

This colorful jewel of a park, nestled in a neighborhood in the East End, provides a visual feast for the eyes and on some days an opportunity to see artists in action.  Over 300 artists have contributed mosaic art pieces made from donated materials, including broken dishes, wine bottles, mirrors and forks.  Explore the mosaic-covered Fish Amphitheater, the 400 ft memory wall, pavilion and walkways and enjoy a picnic on the art covered tables and benches.  2441 Munger Street. Open Daily. Dawn until dusk.

Labyrinth at Villa de Matel

The labyrinth is an ancient symbol found across many cultures and around the world.  We are all on the path, exactly where we need to be.  The labyrinth is a model of that path.  A Prayer Labyrinth is located on the beautifully serene and extensive grounds of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word at Villa de Matel, located not far from downtown Houston.  No reservation is required to walk the labyrinth at the Villa.  They are open from 9 am to 8 pm.  Simply drive through the main gate at 6510 Lawndale, continue to the front of the Villa, sign in at the front desk to receive a visitor’s badge and parking permit, and proceed to the labyrinth located behind the Villa, adjacent to the convent cemetery.  

Labyrinth at Villa de Matel
Labyrinth at Villa de Matel

Beer Can House

Talk about recycle, repurpose, reuse!  This house is the poster child for the movement.  It is estimated over 50,000 cans adorn this monument to recycling which was begun in 1968 by the homeowner.  Flattened beer cans provide siding and hang from the roof edges like wind chimes.  The house is located just east of Memorial Park, open Saturday and Sunday 12-5pm and is $5 to enter or free if you just want to take it all in from outside. 222 Malone Street.

Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern

In May 2016, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership opened the Cistern to the public.  Previously, the cistern provided drinking water from 1926 to the City of Houston until it was decommissioned in 2007.  It is now restored and repurposed to house an ambitious program of changing art installations.  Tours are available Thursday through Sunday, every ½ hour for $5 per ticket. 105 Sabine Street.

Fun facts:  The cistern is the size of 1.5 football fields, contains 221 25-foot tall columns, holds 15 million gallons of water and has a 17-second echo.

Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern
Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern (photo courtesy of BBP Cistern)

Buffalo Bayou Boat Tours

The Buffalo Bayou Partnership operates themed tours aboard a pontoon boat up and down Buffalo Bayou with most starting at Allen’s Landing.  History, Waugh Bat Colony, Foodie Floats and Twilight Tours are among the themes offered.  We boarded the Spirit of the Bayou pontoon for the Cinco de Mayo tour which included music, party favors, margaritas and street tacos.  The scenery along the route of Buffalo Bayou Park and the views of the iconic Houston skyline are delightful.  We spotted wildlife along the bayou’s edge, paused under the Waugh bridge to hear the bats chirp, enjoyed the refreshing breeze, and waved to cyclists peddling by on shore.

Buffalo Bayou Boat Tour
Buffalo Bayou Boat Tour

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

The Mandir is a place of worship and prayer for followers of Hinduism and is the first of its kind in North America.  The setting is beautiful with the humungous temple and reflecting pond as the centerpiece.  The stones were quarried in Turkey and Carrara Italy then shipped to India where 2,000 traditional artisans hand-sculpted them.  Hundreds of volunteers and artisans then assembled the temple, completing it in 2004.

You can enjoy the Mandir’s architecture and beauty from 9 am to 8:30 pm.  It’s open to people of all faiths and backgrounds, all year long for free.  I visited the Mandir with my family over the holidays.  The women showed us where to place our shoes and the worshipers inside were happy to explain the ceremonies and the meaning behind each of the brightly adorned Gods. The gift shop is fun to explore with lots of interesting looking snacks.  The Mandir is located at 1150 Brand Lane, Stafford, TX. We opted to continue with the theme and eat Indo-Pak food at Aga’s Restaurant, not far from the temple at 11842 Wilcrest Drive.

BAPS Houston Mandir
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (photo courtesy of BAPS)

What are you waiting for? Plan a day in the near future to discover your hometown!

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