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There’s no better time to visit the city of Houston than now. This thriving Texas city abounds with fun and exciting things to do, and in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, your tourism dollars could really  help the city out. From BBQ and craft beer to world-class museums and urban green spaces, it has something for everyone. For a fun adventure on a budget, check out our list of the best things to do in Houston for under $20, and get the most out of your visit to the biggest metropolis in the Lone Star State!

RELATED: Dream road trip for the American music lover

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Discovery Green

1. Experience downtown’s buzzing urban green space, Discovery Green: Where once there stood a convention center parking lot, the city has built a 12-acre urban green space in the heart of downtown. There’s a little something for everyone here: playgrounds and a splash pad, art installations and upscale dining at The Grove. Catch a weekend concert in the fall or skate around the ice rink during the holidays.

2. Eat your way down Long Point Road: This Spring Branch neighborhood throughway is slowly being reinvigorated, but you can still find cheap gems to feast at and explore. Check out Vieng Thai (BYOB) for the spiciest panang curry around, try soju and cook your own Korean BBQ in your own little room at Tree Garden, or feast on pierogis and other traditional Polish dishes at Polonia.

3. Turtle Races: Little Woodrow’s Midtown is home to the famous Turtle Races every Thursday evening starting at 8pm. Betting is free for all three waves but drinks and food are on you. Sample beers from Houston’s own local breweries and cheer the surprisingly agile turtles on for the win and maybe a prized koozie.

4. Cheese tasting at Houston Dairy Maids: Off Airline Drive in an old Sicilian grocery store dating to the 1930s, a curated selection of local and artisan cheeses and free cheese tastings awaits you! The six-course tasting is accompanied by bread from Houston’s own Slow Dough Bakery, olives and honey. For a few dollars, enjoy a glass of wine or pint of beer to pair.

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Buffalo Bayou Park

5. Buffalo Bayou Park: Spend the morning exploring this 160-acre park set against the Houston skyline right along the bayou with hike and bike trails, bike and kayak rentals and even a $1.5-million dog park. Don’t forget to hunt for the mysterious red button on the Preston Street Bridge to “Burp the Bayou” or check out the free underground cistern tour.

6. Art Car Museum: If you don’t happen to be in town for the Art Car Parade, this museum south of The Heights is a close second. Various cars, buses and police cruisers have been turned into works of art with paint, mixed media and installations. Admission is free; check the website for hours.

7. Beer Can House: On an unassuming street in Rice Military off Washington Avenue sits a house sparkling in the sun because it’s covered in decorative beer cans. For 18 years John Milkovisch worked on covering his house in over 50K cans with designs, garlands and even siding. Weekend guided tours are offered for $5.

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Galveston

8. Galveston day trip: Just an hour’s drive south of Houston, this beachside getaway is well worth the trip. Besides the obvious draws of the ocean and world-renowned Moody Gardens Pyramid Aquarium, there’s tons of amazing seafood options and history in the area. Stop by The Gumbo Diner for its namesake dish, grab an old-school ice cream soda at La Kings Confectionery on the Strand, play a few rounds at Magic Carpet Mini Golf or tour the historic Moody Mansion, all for under $12 each.

9. Free Thursdays in the Museum District: Houston is home to a plethora of world-class museums, and you can get in for free at various times on Thursdays. Visit Monet at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in the morning and the Dinosaurs at the Houston Museum of Natural Science after lunch. Finish up with the Children’s or Health Museum, if you have any energy left! The esteemed Menil Collection is always free.

10. La Carafe: In Historic Market Street Square, the original town center, this supposedly haunted tavern is the oldest bar and commercial building still in use in Houston. Don’t expect frills here; sip a cocktail while listening to the best jukebox in town in the candlelit atmosphere. The antique cash register doesn’t accept credit cards so bring cash for that glass of wine.

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11. Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe: After a night out, you are going to need to head here for your breakfast fix. $10 will get you a bottomless cup of amazing coffee and the Breakfast Grande including choice of meat, beans, roasted potatoes, a cheese tamale and cloud-like tortillas. Alternatively, go for a bowl of menudo and a spicy michelada.

12. Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens: Run by the Museum of Fine Arts, this former home of famous Houstonian Ima Hogg houses one the best collections of American decorative artworks and paintings, as well as 14 acres of organic gardens in the River Oaks neighborhood. Admission is $12.50 and be sure to check out their website for some of their year-round events like the Azalea Trail, Detective Days for Kids, and Sip and Stroll nights.

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Bridge over the Houston Ship Channel

13. Sam Houston Boat Tour: See the Houston Ship Channel up close and personal on this free 90-minute trip. One of the busiest ports in the US, catch site of international barges and learn all about the Port’s history and the maritime industry in the area. Inside seating with AC and outside deck standing room are available; be sure to make a reservation.

14. The Pit Room: What is Texas without BBQ? This locally grown joint has custom made smokers and makes everything you eat from scratch. $15.75 will get you your choice of two meats and two sides—we love the Elote. If you have any room left, get the sugar cream pie or a homemade ice cream sandwich—you won’t regret it!

15. Waugh Drive Bat Colony: Running over Buffalo Bayou Park, the Waugh Drive Bridge is home to a quarter million Mexican free-tail bats, one the largest non-migrating populations in the state. The massive colony’s evening exodus can be viewed from an observation deck anytime from sunset until dark year round. The only rule is please don’t touch the bats!

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Houston Zoo

16. The Houston Zoo: One of the top 10 zoos in the United States, a day pass will set you back $19.95 and get you in to see over 6,000 creatures from sea lions to snakes, big cats and giraffes, a children’s zoo, gorillas and even a red panda. Pack a lunch and check out the new elephant enclosure where they are often seen play wrestling and snorkeling. 

17. Craft Beer at Petrol Station: For an extensive craft beer list and unique wine selections, head to this refurbished gas station in the Garden Oaks area. $20 will get you a pint and the Rancor Burger, a half-pound beast with bacon, cheddar and fried egg and all the fixings. 

18. Brazos Bend State Park: An hour south of Houston in Needville, get up close and personal with tons of alligators and other wildlife for a $7 entrance fee. 37 miles of hike, bike and horse trails wind through swamps and forests. The Nature Center is worth a stop to meet a few animal residents and learn more about the ecology of the area. If your day runs long, stop by the George Observatory to catch some amazing views of those Texas stars at night.

19. Steak Night: You can find a bar steak night almost any night of the week here, but our top choice right now is at the eclectic Under the Volcano in Upper Kirby on Mondays. For $17 you get a rib eye or strip. You do have to buy a beverage, but it doesn’t have to be one of those amazing caipirinhas or delicious strawberry basil margaritas, a soda will do it.

20. Houston Arboretum and Memorial Park: Inside the 610 Loop along Memorial Drive you will see runners at any time of day or night hoofing it along this gravel 3-mile circle around towering Texas pines. When your workout is through, stop by the 155-acre Arboretum to explore native vegetation, wetlands and wildlife. The 5 miles of nature trails and a Discovery Room are free.

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Tagged: Cheap City, USA, Cheap Tips, Destinations, FREE!, Texas

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