You don't need cash to experience some of the coolest offerings in this city, from the kitchy and somewhat bizarre to seriously high-brow contemporary art.
Experience a twilight epiphany. James Turrell's stunning Skyspace LED light show at Rice University occurs at dusk and dawn. The ethereal installation frames the sky through an aperture in a thin steel roof; at dawn and dusk, colored lights transform the structure, creating a mesmerizing effect. Reservations are required.
See a house made of beer cans. You can get a great view of the glistening, can-covered Beer Can House from the street. The Houston landmark was covered by its suds-loving owner in the 1960s with an estimated 50,000 flattened beer cans. To access the grounds and get a tour, you'll need to pay $5.
Visit Howard Hughes' grave. Once a rambling private park that also housed graves, Glenwood Cemetery was built in 1871 and is still stunning with impeccable grounds, downtown's skyline serving as a backdrop, and walkability to Buffalo Bayou's edge. Tycoon and aviator Howard Hughes was born in Houston and is buried here - his large family plot has made the cemetery somewhat famous.
Stroll through Garage Mahal. Houston hosts the world's largest art car parade each year, and at the Art Car Museum, some of the most elaborate vehicles are part of a rotating exhibit. You might find operable cars fashioned into things you never thought possible—like a stiletto heel. Another visit could turn up a car covered entirely in coins or cameras, or one VW buggy welded upside down on top of another. Locals affectionately refer to the free museum, whose entrance is covered in scrap metal, as "Garage Mahal."
Watch a bat colony take flight. Every night hundreds of thousands of bats emerge from under the Waugh Bridge after sunset—the exact time varies but it typically occurs just after dusk. "Chattering" and forming a vortex, the bats take flight in a majestic swoop, and you can watch from two viewing areas.
Take a selfie at the #biscuitpaintwall. Paint seemingly dripping in a rainbow of colors covers the exterior wall of hip home goods store Biscuit, and has become the backdrop of countless professional photo shoots and even more selfies. The new Sugar and Cloth bricked color wall at 3302 Canal Street on the East Side is just as impressive.
Get killer views of the city. The 60th floor observation deck in the Sky Lobby of the I.M. Pei-designed JP Morgan Chase building downtown is the highest public view of the city. The deck is open on weekdays until 5 p.m. for unmatched city views.
Sit in a tranquil space. Mark Rothko was commissioned to paint 14 pieces of art for the non-denominational Rothko Chapel, part of the free world-renowned Menil Collection, a magnificent museum campus dotted with public outdoor art and plenty of shade for a picnic. The Chapel is open 365 days a year. Expect a transcendent experience whether you consider yourself an art lover.
Walk through a neon tunnel. On Thursdays, admission is free at The Museum of Fine Arts. A dark tunnel created by contemporary artist James Turrell connects two buildings at the impressive museum, and the walls change colors as you walk through.
Skateboard in the country's largest cradle. With the city skyline in the background, the 30,000-square-foot Jamail Skatepark is a state-of-the-art facility that was the first of its kind in the region. The park contains plenty of bowls, grinding rails, and ramps for skaters of all levels to practice their skills, and its cradle is purported to be one of largest in the country.
Visit a massive open air temple. Constructed according to ancient Hindu tenets of divine architecture, the 33,000 individual stone blocks making up Sri Meenakshi Temple in the Houston suburb of Pearland were hand-carved in India by master stone workers and artisans. At the blazing white, intricately carved edifice you can mingle unobtrusively with the Hindu worshippers in colorful saris as they meditate or buy authentic, scratch-made food at the canteen.
Watch theater under the stars. For several months each year, you can bring a picnic and blanket to Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park for an impressive line-up of live performances, spanning from touring international dance troupes and Broadway musicals to symphonies and children's performances.
Hear poetry at a dive bar. Unmarked Montrose bar Poison Pen, known for its stiff and expertly made cocktails, hosts selected regional writers and poets the last Thursday of each month for a reading on their large, pretty rear patio.