Houston Surrounding Area: Attractions

August 22, 2020

Paul Kay

While we love what Houston has to offer, the surrounding area rewards the traveler who ventures up to an hour outside of the city. In this post, we feature interesting attractions that are just a short drive away from the city.

Sam Houston Statue, Huntsville


Sam Houston Statue from Car Huntsville Texas

It’s hard to miss the 77-foot statue of Sam Houston as you drive along I-45 through Huntville, Texas.

The Sam Houston Statue was designed and constructed by artist David Adickes. He dedicated the statue to the City of Huntsville on October 22,1994. It’s the world’s tallest statue of an American hero at 67 feet tall on a 10-foot sunset granite base.

Welcome Sign Sam Houston Statue Huntsville Texas

If you want to get up close and personal with Sam, don’t stop on the shoulder. Interstate 45 is far too dangerous. Luckily there is a nice visitor center.

Visitor Center Sam Houston Statue Huntsville Texas

The visitor center provides ample parking, and helpful people explain the history of the statue. Even though the statue and visitor’s center is in Huntsville it’s close to Houston. You’re likely to see if you are driving to or from Houston. After all, the city takes its name from Sam Houston.

The sculptor of this massive statue is David Adickes, who was born and raised in Huntsville. He sculpted this huge monument to the man who still inspires Texans to reach lofty heights. Sam Houston (1793-1863) remembered the Alamo with his surprise victory of Santa Anna's more experienced and professional Mexican Army at San Jacinto during Texas’s fight for independence from Mexico. He then became president of the Republic of Texas, governor of the state of Texas, and a U.S. Senator. Sam Houston is a very big deal in Texas and this 77-foot-tall statue honors this tall Texan who was six feet six inches tall.

Paul and Sam Houston Statue Huntsville Texas

Adickes started building Sam in 1992, not exactly certain how he would accomplish the massive project. The 25-ton steel-and-concrete colossus comprises multiple 10-foot sections, each containing five layers of concrete reinforced with steel straps. An outside layer includes a fiberglass mesh.

We were intrigued enough to find out more about Sam Houston and David Adickes. The sculptor has some pretty well known installations in Houston, so we put those on our list. We knew a lot about Sam Houston, but the exhibit gave lots of useful information about this famous Texan.

Sam Houston National Forest


Sam Houston National Forest New Waverly Texas

When you’re visiting the Sam Houston sculpture, you are near the Sam Houston National Forest. While the sculpture is on city land, the national forest lies to the east and south and to the north of Houston. It’s a beautiful area and worth the time to do a driving tour.

We put “Sam Houston National Forest” into Google Maps, and then started out. It turns out that wasn’t a good idea. It directed us to what felt like the center of the forest, which was really land belonging to a homeowner. We then looked for an alternate route and asked for the ranger station for the national forest. That worked better.

Forest Fire Fighter with Eagle Sam Houston National Forest New Waverly Texas

We thought that a national forest and a national park were similar. We expected a main entrance and a visitor center for the Sam Houston National Forest. We would show our national parks pass and mosey on in. But by design there is no gatehouse for the national forest.

One of the differences between national parks and national forests is that the area within a national park remains undisturbed. In a national forest, the land is managed for timber and recreation. National parks preserve the land and sites. National forests protect but use the land. To illustrate this, the Department of the Interior manages national parks, while the Department of Agriculture manages national forests.

Smokey the Bear Sam Houston National Forest New Waverly Texas

We found the ranger station, and two rangers patiently explained why they didn’t need to see my national park pass and the surrounding lands. They were nice, and I learned a valuable lesson.

Lake Conroe Sam Houston National Forest New Waverly Texas

The national forest is beautiful. You can take a ride through it and enjoy the beauty. There are plenty of hiking trails and campsites. And there's a man-made lake for recreation. We weren’t hiking or camping or boating, so we drove around, enjoyed the beauty and took lots of photographs.

The forest spans three counties: Montgomery, San Jacinto and Walker. Each of these counties have yielded evidence of human occupation dating back 12,000 years. The basins of the San Jacinto and Trinity rivers were home to Atakapan-speaking groups known as the Bidai, Patiri, Deadose and Akokisa. These Native Americans primarily were hunters and gatherers. Some from these groups may have practiced agriculture.

If you're in Houston and want to take a break from the urban life and get some fresh air, I highly recommend a drive to the Sam Houston National Forest. 

The Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park, Conroe


Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park, Conroe, Texas

We found the Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park while researching Houston. Conroe is not too far away from Houston and closer still to The Woodlands (a good place to stay while visiting Houston). The park celebrates the birthplace of the Lone Star flag with flying historical battle and rally flags that flew during Texas’s fight for independence.

Charles Bellinger Stewart Bust, Lone Star Monument and Historical Flags Park, Conroe, Texas

A bronze bust of Dr. Charles B. Stewart, the Montgomery County native credited with the design of the Lone Star Flag, greets visitors at the park entrance.

13 Flags, The Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park, Conroe, Texas

Unlike the famous six flags over Texas, which represent the six countries that have held dominion over Texas, this park displays 13 flags that were chosen to represent the number of colonies in Texas at the time of its independence and the number of days the Alamo siege. Many visitors are unaware of the many flags that flew as symbols of the volunteer organizations fighting for Texas long before the Lone Star was approved by the Texas congress in 1839 as the official flag of Texas.

The Texian, Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park, Conroe, Texas

A 14 ft. bronze statue, The Texian, conceived and sculpted by Craig Campobella, serves as the park’s centerpiece. The Texian symbolizes volunteers in the Texas Revolutionary Army. And he brandishes a Texas flag.

Front View, The Texian, The Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park, Conroe, Texas

You’ll find a lot of numeric symbolism in The Texian. The 13 rocks under The Texian’s left foot represent the 13-day siege at the Alamo. and 354 marks in the rocks, one for each soldier massacred at Goliad. The 18 buttons on The Texian’s coat, shirt and pants represent every minute (yes, minute!) fought at San Jacinto. If you look closely at the tie and a sash at the five o’clock position, you’ll see they spell out alpha and omega, the beginning and end. It was approximately 5:00 p.m. on April 21, 1836, when the Battle of San Jacinto came to a decisive end. Under the right boot are nine stones, one for each Texian who died at the Battle of San Jacinto. Craig Campobella knew his Texas history when he undertook this effort.

Sacred Soils of the Texas Revolution, Lone Star Monument and Historical Flag Park, Conroe, Texas

A sign for sacred soils caught our interest. The Sacred Soils of the Texas Revolution is a time capsule containing 15 soils: 13 from battle sites and two from the gravesites of Texas historical figures General Sam Houston and Dr. Charles B. Stewart. This is a solemn reminder of the hard work and sacrifice of the men and women who served Texas.

The Woodlands


The Woodlands, Houston, Texas

The Woodlands was founded in 1974 as a master planned community. It is 28 miles north of Houston along Interstate 45. It’s home to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, which is why we visited. Locally The Woodlands is more well known as a vibrant place to live and work. Along with nice homes, a waterway and a renowned country club with 3 golf courses, it has attracted large corporate campuses, including Chevron Phillips Chemical, Huntsman Corporation, Chicago Bridge & Iron Company, McKesson Corporation, Maersk Line, Anadarko Petroleum, Halliburton and others.

George and Cynthia Mitchell, Houston, Texas

Texas oilman, George P. Mitchell, envisioned The Woodlands over 40 years ago: a community where people could live, work and play. Successful in the oil business, Mitchell purchased 17,450 acres for his community and later added another 10,000 acres.

He wanted Houston to grow but not just in the downtown area. Mitchell wanted a master-planned community. His vision was to connect villages through wooded streetscapes that would provide room for expansion and growth. Today, The Woodlands includes villages with parks, schools, health care facilities, grocery stores and places of worship. Everything residents need is just minutes from home.

The Woodlands has nearly 8,000 acres of green space, the 200-acre Lake Woodlands, 130 neighborhood parks and four major hospitals. The development encourages corporate America to settle, too; there are multiple clinics, close to 200 restaurants and more than 21 million square feet of workspace.

Sign, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands, Houston, Texas

We visited The Woodlands for music. The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion opened in 1990, with a performance by the Houston Symphony. Frank Sinatra played the following day. The day after that, Alabama with Clint Black performed. I think they were trying to hit all the age demographics and audience tastes in three days!

The Pavilion hosts between 50 and 65 events every March through December. Types and styles of performances range from rock to classical, jazz to country and opera to ballet.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands, Houston, Texas

Madeline and I enjoyed Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Bob gave a terrific performance, even with a two-hour rain delay.

Paul Kay Graduation, Deerfield High School, Deerfield, Illinois
Madeline Kay Graduation, 1969, Deerfield High School, Deerfield, Illinois

The pavilion is an outdoor theatre. We thought it similar to Ravinia, in Highland Park, Illinois, outside Chicago. Madeline and I went to high school in nearby Deerfield. We had our high school graduation at Ravinia.

Ravinia opened in 1904 as an amusement park. Over 100 years later, Ravinia Festival is the oldest outdoor music festival in North America and holds between 120 to 150 events annually.

Stage View to Lawn, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands, Houston, Texas

Similar to Ravinia, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion is open air theater. Some visitors sit in seats under the pavilion cover, and the rest sit on the lawn behind. We wanted to be close to the stage, so we had seats under the cover when the rains came. An announcer told the people on the lawn to seek shelter since the lightning strikes were everywhere. Lots of people got wet but the performance went on after the lightning was over. The weather in Houston is always unpredictable so if you do go to a concert here, be prepared. You might want to bring rain gear!

Bob Seger Seated, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands, Houston, Texas

Parking is abundant, with many free lots and a few that charge closer to the venue. Madeline and I didn’t head to our car until midnight with the two-hour rain delay. We headed back to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Houston Intercontinental Airport, via the tollway. Madeline noticed that our tire pressure warning light was on. We also heard noises that sounded ominously like a flat tire.

I pulled over on the shoulder and called AAA Texas. Madeline and I were glad to be part of AAA since you never know when you’ll need them. Calling after midnight stranded on a tollway was a good time to be a member. We turned on the flashers and waited for help.

While we waited, two friendly Houston constables pulled up. After some discussion about our problem, they set up to allow us to be safely visited by AAA. I think the two officers were simply patrolling and wanted to make sure we were all right. They were friendly, helpful and professional. We appreciate their service and all Houston first responders. They all had their hands full with Hurricane Harvey, but they still served two stranded travelers in the middle of the night.

Battleship Texas, La Porte


The Battleship Texas is the last remaining battleship that participated in both World War I and World War II. The U.S. Navy commissioned the USS Texas in 1914. It was the most powerful ship in the world at the time. In 1916, the USS Texas became the first American battleship to mount anti-aircraft guns. It was also the first to control gunfire with directors and range-keepers. These early computers increased firing accuracy. In World War I, the USS Texas joined the 6th Battle Squadron of the British Grand Fleet and carried out many duties until Germany’s surrender in November 1918.

Battleship Texas, La Porte, Texas

In 1925, the U.S. Navy opted to modernize the USS Texas. It was converted from coal to oil. The USS Texas received one of the first radar systems in the U.S. Navy in 1939. With new anti-aircraft guns, fire control and communication equipment, the ship remained an aging but powerful asset in the U.S. naval fleet.

Luckily the USS Texas was not in Pearl Harbor at the start of the America’s involvement in World War 2; it was in Maine getting updated. During the war, the USS Texas fired on Nazi defenses in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. It also participated in battles on Iowa Jima and Okinawa, Japan.

Walkway and Battleship Texas, Houston, Texas

After completing its final mission, the state of Texas acquired the ship. On April 21, 1948, USS Texas was decommissioned. Today, Battleship Texas is a floating museum and the last remaining U.S. battleship of her kind. It stands as a memorial to the bravery and sacrifice of the servicemen who fought in both world wars.

The battleship is a national historic landmark and a national mechanical engineering landmark. We enjoyed learning about the ship’s history and especially how Texans saved it from the scrap heap. Madeline and I visited this site when we were 13. Then we returned 55 years later, a bit older and able to drive our own car. The USS Texas is as impressive to us as adults as it was when we were kids!

San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, La Porte


Monument, San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, Houston, Texas

Madeline and I visited the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site when we were 13. Her parents drove us, and we ate at a famous restaurant called the San Jacinto Inn, which is no longer open. Madeline’s parents took us to see the famous monument to the Battle of San Jacinto, and even as 13-year-olds it was an impressive history lesson.

In 1835, much of Texas was part of Mexico. During the 1820s and 1830s, settlers established homesteads around Galveston Bay, each with a few dozen to a few thousand acres. They were farmers and ranchers. The settlers were citizens of Mexico.

Entrance, San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, Houston, Texas

In the fall of 1835, Texas settlers were no longer happy with being citizens of Mexico. President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had established himself as dictator. Texans (both Anglo-American and Tejano) resisted his rule. Armed rebels drove the Mexican army from Texas by the end of 1835. General Santa Anna would not stand for this. He marched 6,000 soldiers north to reclaim Texas and quell the rebellion, showing no mercy. By mid-March 1836, he seemed close to success. The Alamo fell on March 6; Texas troops at Goliad surrendered two weeks later.

General Sam Houston led the Texas army in a retreat. His troops were eager to engage the Mexican army. But the general was worried about confronting the larger and better-trained Mexican forces. Santa Anna was emboldened with his successes. He divided his army to pursue different targets and re-establish his rule farther north. The armies moved out of San Jacinto in search of their new targets. Sam Houston saw his chance when the number of Mexican soldiers was reduced. General Santa Anna let his remaining exhausted soldiers eat and rest.

Houston knew he would not have a better opportunity. At 3:30 that afternoon, he assembled his troops and laid out his battle plan. It was time for his 750 eager soldiers to take the fight to Santa Anna’s 1,200 troops. At about 4:30, the Texians swarmed into the Mexican camp, shouting “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Goliad!” The Mexican army was caught unawares, and the battle ended 18 minutes later. The Texians killed more than 600 Mexican soldiers and captured most of the rest. Nine Texans died in the battle.

Monument from Afar, San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, Houston, Texas

General Santa Anna escaped, disguised as a private. Texas troops captured him the next day and brought him before the wounded General Houston. Houston forced the Mexican president to sign a treaty recognizing Texas’s independence.

Sam Houston later was president of the Republic of Texas, governor of the state of Texas and a U.S. senator. The 1,200-acre San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site is a national historic landmark and worth a visit.

Read More

Texas: Cities to See
David Adickes
Houston: Staying There
Houston: Restaurants
Houston: Attractions
Space Center Houston

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