There’s a lot to like about Houston. Built to a large extent on oil money, it may be the biggest city in Texas (and, with 2.2 million residents, the fourth-biggest city in the United States), with gleaming skyscrapers and high-class hotels to match, but the vibe is laid-back and southern hospitality alive and well.
The arts scene is impressive, as are the city’s museums. There’s live sport, boot scootin’ and rodeos, multicultural neighbourhoods, plenty of family-friendly attractions (including the NASA Space Center), and 480 kilometres of bicycle tracks for those who want to explore on two wheels.
If your kids didn’t want to be astronauts before going to Houston, they will by the time they leave. Touch a moon rock, see astronauts training and experience a simulated blast-off at the Space Center Houston.
Back on Earth, works by Picasso, Rembrandt, Rodin and Matisse are among the attractions at the renowned Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Cullen Sculpture Garden.
Sample the busy performing arts scene, visit the Downtown Aquarium or Houston Zoo, enjoy city parks, go to a ball game, or time your visit to coincide with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which is big in a very Texas way.
Eat and Drink
If you’re after Tex Mex, Cajun seafood or a Texas steakhouse you’ve come to the right place. In fact, whatever food you crave, you’ll find it in this restaurant-rich city, from cheap and cheerful taco trucks to French fine dining.
Downtown, Upper Kirby, River Oaks, Montrose and Midtown are among the areas offering the most fashionable fare, while ethnic neighbourhoods such as the Mahatma Gandhi District serve dishes from around the world, some of which is pretty radical: Crawfish & Noodles in Chinatown mixes Cajun and Vietnamese food.
There are plenty of opportunities to combine a night out with some live music. Lyle Lovett and ZZ Top got their starts in Houston. Try venues such as Anderson Fair in Montrose for Texas bands, beer and quesadillas.
Where to Stay
Houston’s urban sprawl is legendary: it covers an area bigger than New Jersey. Within this 1500 square kilometres there is an enormous range of accommodation, from budget to boutique to five-star.
You’ll find accommodation aplenty close to attractions in and around Downtown, where the hotel scene is booming, with lots of construction and renovations taking place. Houston also has a selection of cosy, welcoming B&Bs that offer traditional, small-scale, southern-style hospitality.
If you can’t find something to buy in Houston’s Uptown area you’re really not trying. Highlights include Galleria, America’s fourth-biggest shopping centre, which has 375 shops, a wing of restaurants, an ice rink and 24 million visitors a year.
Nearby Highland Village offers an upmarket mall and a Saturday morning farmers’ market (one of several in Houston). The Rice Village Shopping Centre is great for boutiques (including top Houston label Dao Chloe Dao).
If you’re looking for vintage clothing, antiques and more unusual stores, try Lower Westheimer, and for bargain bags, furniture, electronics and more, visit the numerous discount stores on Harwin Drive.
Houston Like a Local
Should you find yourself wandering around Houston’s streets in summer and wondering where everyone is, it’s time to head underground. The Houston tunnel system, a network of climate-controlled underground pedestrian walkways, spares Houstonians the worst of their humid, subtropical climate.
Six metres below street level, the 12-kilometre-long network connects skyscrapers in 95 downtown city blocks, and allows the city’s employees to shop, eat and do their dry-cleaning without breaking a sweat. Guided tours are available.