In all honesty, Sugar Land wasn’t really on my radar as a travel destination.
Having lived in Houston for a decade before moving home to Austin in 2012, Sugar Land was a place where we would trek on a weekend to see friends, go shopping, or maybe dabble in an activity or two.
It wasn’t, however, in my mind, a stand-alone destination.
It is now.
Located about a half-hour from downtown Houston, Sugar Land served as the site of major U.S. sugar producer Imperial Sugar’s headquarters from 1843 to 2003, when the refinery shuttered its doors. These days, the city has garnered a sweet reputation for being among the most diverse cities in the nation and frequently finds itself on the top of nationwide rankings, including being named the No. 10 Safest U.S. City by Moneygeek.com in 2023 and No. 16 on a list of Best Places to Live for Families by Fortune in 2022.
During an August trip to Sugar Land with my 12-year-old daughter that was anchored by tickets to see my favorite band, Counting Crows, perform at Smart Financial Centre, I discovered a city brimming with more adventure, arts, entertainment, and dining options than you could possibly fit into a three-day itinerary.
If you’re heading to the Houston area, here’s why you should consider making Sugar Land your home base and what to do once you get there.
Take off early on Friday from Austin and point your car towards Constellation Field, a state-of-the-art ballpark that seats 7,500 and serves as the home of the Sugar Land Space Cowboys, the official Triple-A Minor League Baseball affiliate of the Houston Astros. In addition to simply being a fun way to kick off a visit to Sugar Land, the ballpark also features theme nights such as Space Cowboys Spooktacular (wear your favorite Halloween costume), Bark in the Park (bring your four-legged friends), and Kids Day (pregame games of catch on the field, player autographs, running of the bases and more). An added bonus for Friday evening games: The post-game fireworks, which typically take place around 9:30 p.m. No matter what day you attend a game, though, you can feel good about your ticket purchase; the team partners with local charity organizations each season to host awareness nights and fundraisers, with 50 percent of proceeds from every home game going to local charity efforts.
Start your day by getting centered with a free hour-long yoga class, offered every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. by Crystal Yoga Studio, on the lawn at Sugar Land’s sprawling and revered First Colony Mall. The class is all levels but registration is required and you should bring your own yoga mat. Afterward, browse the hundreds of shops and restaurants that fill the mall.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, beeline to Jupiter Pizza and Waffles, a fusion restaurant concept in Sugar Land Town Square from the owners of popular nearby eateries Japaneiro’s and GURU Burgers and Crepes that features pizzas, waffles, barista-grade coffee, craft beer and more. My daughter was delighted by her marshmallow-loaded gluten-free Belgian waffles, and my Todd Ingram sandwich, loaded with pulled barbecue jackfruit and vegan coleslaw and served sandwich-style on plant-buttered Texas toast, was perfection.
After lunch, we found ourselves faced with yet another adventure –– this time at the Department of Wonder’s Lamp Maker’s Apprentice. This immersive, mixed-reality experience encourages visitors to bring light to the darkness by “unraveling stories and solving puzzles amid a fantastical universe of interactive experiences and colorful characters.” To be at the Department of Wonder was kind of like stepping into a Harry Potter-esque escape room, with challenges, secret doors, and riddles around every corner. Within minutes we found ourselves rushing through a building with strangers-turned-teammates, all of us singularly focused on finding the light anywhere we could.
It’s safe to say I have an obsession with the band Counting Crows. It started the first time I heard their breakout hit, “Mr. Jones,” as a young teen in the early 1990s and has continued to this day. Having seen them dozens of times over the years at venues ranging from Austin’s once iconic and now shuttered City Coliseum to the spectacularly quirky Isle of Wight Festival in England, it’s also safe to say that I put a lot of thought into when and where I see them when they’re on tour. When the band announced its current tour and did not include an Austin date, I spent hours evaluating if I should purchase tickets to their show in Sugar Land, Dallas, or San Antonio. Ultimately, I picked Sugar Land, in large part due to Smart Financial Centre.
Declared “Houston’s Hottest Music Venue” by the Houston Press, Smart Financial Centre hosts musicians, comedians, and theatrically-staged Broadway productions throughout the year and ended up being the perfect place to see my favorite band. From the seamless access to the band’s pre-show sound check, which was included with our tickets, to the incredible sound and visuals from our fifth-row seats, we had the time of our lives singing along to every word. My only regret? That lead singer Adam Duritz didn’t debut his spectacular cover of Taylor Swift’s “The 1” until a few nights later.
Houston may have a bad reputation for traffic and sprawl. But Sugar Land, is, in fact, very green, with 27 parks including the 150-acre riverside Memorial Park, the adjacent 6-acre Pawm Springs Dog Park, and the 750-acre Cullinan Park, which is brimming with more than 265 species of birds. During our visit, we loved traversing Brazos River Park, which spans 67 acres along the Brazos River and is home to a variety of features including a mural that reminds passersby “It’s OK not to be OK.” (The mural is part of a mural series commissioned by the City of Sugar Land to increase the visibility of mental health resources.)
Although we enjoyed touring by foot, perhaps the best way to see Brazos River Park is from the sky with a zipline tour from Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park, a 19-acre tree-top adventure facility complete with zip lines, climbing nets, and a tree canopy rope course. Although I was initially apprehensive about ziplining with my 12-year-old, the thorough training provided all of the information we needed to traverse the course. From the challenging ropes course that had us wobbling, teetering, and giggling among the leaves to the trademark big-finish ziplines –– the longest ziplines in the Houston area –– that had us screaming in the air, it was an unforgettable experience. As was the rest of our time in Sugar Land.
If You Go
Sugar Land is located about 2.5 hours from downtown Austin and about 30 minutes from downtown Houston.
The Courtyard Houston Sugar Land/Lake Pointe offered wonderfully convenient access to all Sugar Land-area attractions and beautiful, well-appointed rooms perfect for relaxing after a fun-filled day.
The Department of Wonder offers an immersive and unforgettable experience for adults and children alike; Art Museum TX features a variety of incredible contemporary art pieces; and Smart Financial Centre brings in some of the country’s most exciting bands and musicians throughout the year.
Sugar Land is also home to amazing and iconic restaurants, including Mahesh’s Kitchen, Pacific Coast Tacos, Jupiter Pizza and Waffles, The Sweet Boutique Bakery, B.B. Italia Bistro & Bar, and Japaneiro’s.