By John Egan

The Houston Museum District paints a cultural picture like no other in the country.

Within a roughly 1.5-mile radius of the Mecom Fountain in Houston's Hermann Park, the 19 institutions that make up the Museum District attract more than 7 million visitors a year. That's more people than the entire population of the Houston metro area.

The district's 19 institutions reflect the impressive ascent of Houston's ethnic and cultural diversity, a transformation that's "more dramatic than that of any other US city in the past century," according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Not only are these institutions great places for out-of-town visitors to explore, but some of them also are great places for receptions, dinners and other off-site gatherings.

Here are a few examples of the venue capabilities in the Museum District:

●    The Children's Museum of Houston can accommodate up to 2,500 guests.
●    The Houston Museum of Natural Science can hold as many as 2,000 guests.
●    The Houston Zoo's Reflection Pool area can fit as many as 2,500 people.

Of course, the Museum District's institutions are much more than event venues. They're also great spots to dive into Houston's cultural scene. Here's a sampling:

●    Respected as one of the most significant privately assembled art collections of the 20th century, the Menil Collection houses about 17,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs and rare books.
●    The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum is the only US museum dedicated primarily to preserving the legacy and honor of African-American soldiers.
●    The Health Museum, a member institution of the Texas Medical Center, is the most visited health museum of its kind in the country. Among its features is a "walk" through the human body.

What makes the Museum District even more appealing is that admission to many of its institutions is free.

The district says: "Whether you are admiring a great piece of art, marveling at an ancient artifact or laughing at an animal cavorting in the mud, the Museum District offers you a number of opportunities to experience great culture."

Here's a list of all 19 institutions within the Houston Museum District:

Learn more about the evolving Houston Convention District at