Welcome to the Bayou City! Houston is famous for offering a vast range of opportunities and cultural experiences to its 5.5 million residents. Often described as a "sprawling Texas town", the greater Houston area covers more ground than any other major city in America. This creates a sense of living in a medium-sized town—one that just happens to offer big-city convenience and opportunity.
During the day, the downtown skyscrapers are alive with activity and the sidewalks are filled with bustling executives in designer suits. Do not let the daytime business atmosphere fool you, however. This city cares about much more than business, and it is out to prove it. When the sun goes down, the downtown area comes alive with an entirely different personality.
Catch a performance in Houston's renowned Theater District, which spans 17 blocks. Houston is one of a few U.S. cities with permanent, professional resident companies in opera (
If all of this is not enough to impress you, then give the underground tunnels and some shopping a try. A trip through this "city under the city" is an interesting experience that should not be missed by anyone—tourist or resident.
The prestige and glamour of the Galleria area is undeniable. Office space in one of the nearby skyscrapers is expensive, and the shopping consists primarily of exclusive shops offering designer merchandise. If money is no object, put a trip to
Restaurants and clubs, like most things in the area, tend to be fairly sophisticated and cosmopolitan.
Developed in 1911, Montrose covers approximately four square miles, bordered by Buffalo Bayou's Allen Parkway on the north, the Museum District and Highway 59 on the south, Bagby and the revitalized Midtown on the east and Upper Kirby District and Shepherd Drive on the west. Find some quiet time at the
21st century Houston is a thriving art nexus, the home of world-class museums, acclaimed art galleries and a huge community of talented artists. At the heart of it all: The Houston Museum District, whose 15 museums and 50-acre zoological park—all within walking distance of one another and accessible by METRO Rail—form one of the largest cultural districts in the country, with more than half a million square feet of exhibition space. It's also one of the most vital in the nation, drawing six million visitors annually. The
Hermann Park Running alongside the
Besides providing a peaceful view and getaway for the local medical workforce, the park offers a variety of fun options to tourists and residents. Sports enthusiasts can commune with nature while exploring the bike and jogging trails or hit the golf course for the afternoon. Families can enjoy spending the afternoon riding the train around the park and exploring the water on paddle boats. For a little cultural enhancement,
If you enjoy learning a thing or two while having a good time, visit the
If you head south past the Loop on I-45, you will run into the Clear Lake/Kemah area. Unless you are the boat-loving outdoors type, the greatest attraction in this area is
If you happen to prefer the "splashier" side of life, you will undoubtedly love this area for its water sports and boating activities. Both Clear Lake and Galveston Bay offer ample opportunities to get your feet wet. In fact, this area has been labeled "the nation's third coast for boating" and contains one of the largest concentrations of pleasure boats in the country.
Of course, an area with ocean access has to provide delectable seafood offerings, or it simply would not be worth its weight in salt. The
East Houston/San Jacinto
A visit to
Traveling through the area also offers a chance to see the famous Houston Ship Channel. While it is not necessarily as scenic, the sight is certainly splendorous in its own way. Depending on the route taken, you can cross the channel via a toll bridge or a ferry. Naturally, the ferry is recommended for the best view.
As the newest section of the city, the west side has the distinction of being fresh and modern. There are not a lot of tourist attractions on this side of town, but you will find excellent restaurants and shopping centers. Town & Country Center, a modern, three-story shopping mall, offers the perfect blend of traditional mall retailers and unique specialty stores. The Center's newest neighbor, Town & Country Center, is a sprawling shopping center that has wisely followed the same pattern. Many designer and specialty stores stand next to the more recognizable names.
Katy Mills Mall hums with both shoppers ever since it opened. It is a sight to behold. The mall is home to the first Bass Pro Shop in the Houston area. And if you have the kids along, be sure to grab a bite to eat at
While contemporary restaurants still tend to gravitate to the downtown and Galleria areas, the west side holds its own when it comes to a juicy cut of steak or spicy Tex-Mex fare.
Although a few other businesses have managed to squeeze into the crevices here and there, the number of restaurants, bars and nightclubs lining this strip is phenomenal. The western portion of Richmond Avenue is fairly tame and civilized, but once you cross Hillcroft on your way downtown, the fun and games begin.
With so many choices available, it is hard to nail down the most popular spots in the area, but City Streets would no doubt qualify. This vast nightclub houses seven distinctly different clubs, including a 1970s Pop Disco, a piano bar and a huge Country & Western dance hall. If you enjoy perfecting your gaming skills with the latest in high-tech virtual reality and video game equipment, head to
Restaurants along the strip are both diverse and impressive.
As long as glitz and glamor are not on your agenda, the strip offers the perfect solution for a night out. Head there and you will inevitably stumble across the perfect spot.
Houston is a well-traveled city, and you certainly won't have any difficulty finding accommodations that appeal to your tastes. Whether your style and budget demand luxurious, elaborate lodgings or something much more casual and simple, you are certain to find the perfect hotel to meet your needs. There are even some unique bed and breakfast establishments and a few rejuvenating spas mixed in with the traditional choices.
The downtown area is home to many of Houston's eminent business leaders. With the smell of money floating in the air, it is no great surprise that many of the city's most prestigious—and expensive—hotels are located in this area. The luxurious Four Seasons Hotel was recently renovated to refresh its cutting-edge image. Besides glamorous accommodations, it has an on-site beauty salon and other impressive workout facilities. Sophisticated, elegant dining is available at Quattro without even leaving the hotel. The Lancaster first opened as the Auditorium Hotel in the 1920's. A combination of unabashed luxury, small size, gorgeous antiques and breathtaking artwork make guests feel like part of the elite. Dining in the hotel restaurant, Bistro Lancaster, is an equally elegant experience.
The Galleria area is another prestigious section of the city, and most of the hotels in the area reflect its class and elegance. Doubletree Guest Suites offers 26 stories of elegant suites, most with a breathtaking view of the entire area. The Houstonian is an elite institution with its own private health club and beauty spa, acres and acres of gorgeous landscaping and a golf course. It is the only hotel that offers such elaborate amenities in such a bustling area. Don't be surprised if you actually forget that you are right in the middle of a thriving city. The Omni Hotel's scenic jogging trail also does an admirable job of making you forget where you are. If you do not jog, you can opt for a leisurely walk along the trail or hit the fitness center to get your daily dose of exercise. If you want to be surrounded by elegance and also have impressive shopping opportunities literally at your fingertips, stay in the Westin Galleria Houston. It is actually located inside a wing of the Galleria. How's that for convenience?
If you have a taste for old-world elegance, try one of the city's historic hotels or a classic bed and breakfast. The Hotel ZaZa was built in 1927 and originally consisted of luxury apartments. It has since been renovated to showcase beautiful artwork and features accommodations that are designed to please the "hard-to-please". Robin's Nest Inn is a Victorian bed and breakfast that was built in 1895 as a personal residence. Only four rooms are available, so be sure and book well in advance. Angel Arbor Bed & Breakfast also offers only four rooms and should be booked well in advance. This 1923 Georgian-style home, with its soothing and scenic garden, is popular with couples seeking a romantic getaway. Availability at Lovett Inn is a little better since they offer eight rooms and one private cottage with its own whirlpool, but this 1918 Colonial bed and breakfast still books quickly. If you're looking to stay in this historic district but would like a more moderately priced hotel, try the Rodeway Inn Greenway Plaza for all your basic hotel amenities.
With plenty of outdoor activities to take part in near the lake, as well as the Space Center Houston for those who like to stay dry, you will not be spending much time in your hotel room in the Clear Lake/Kemah area. So why not consider a cheaper hotel compared to the fancy high-risers in Downtown and the Galleria? The Rodeway Inn is a convenient location as it offers close access to Hobby Airport. Those visiting to tour NASA's facilities will find the Super 8 to be an affordable hotel that still offers some luxurious benefits like private jacuzzis in their suites. Red Roof Inn Hobby is another reasonably priced hotel in proximity to the airport and lake.
From its humble beginnings as a cotton-shipping port to its current designation as the "Energy Capital of the World", Houston has enjoyed more than 160 years of existence.
The first settlement in this area was actually started by John Harris in 1826 and was called Harrisburg. At that time, the area was still under Mexican rule, but Texans were growing increasingly discontent. Ten years later in 1836, war between Texas and Mexico was in full swing, and Harrisburg was destroyed by Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna as he chased the Texas army across the area. A short week later, General Sam Houston led the Texas troops to victory and independence at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Later that same year, Augustus and John Allen, two brothers and land speculators from New York, purchased land near the burned-out remains of Harrisburg and started a new settlement. They decided to name the new city after Sam Houston, in honor of his amazing victory at San Jacinto State Historical Park and his new status as the first President of the Republic of Texas. They also managed to convince the first Congress of the Republic of Texas to move to Houston. However, the move didn't quite take, and the government relocated to Austin after two years.
With its economy was based primarily on the shipping of cotton, the town grew slowly during the early years. After the widening and deepening of Buffalo Bayou—now part of the Houston Ship Channel—in 1869 and the periodic addition of railway systems, the town began to grow into a transportation center for southeast Texas. The city's full-blown surge into expansion and prosperity was brought about by the discovery of oil in the area in 1901. The construction of refineries and other petroleum-related industries began during World War I; these were expanded during World War II. The completion of the Houston Ship Channel in 1914 established Houston's importance in the shipping world, and the city hasn't stopped growing since.
Houston's prestigious billing as the "Energy Capital of the World" is a fact that is well known, but energy is only a small part of what makes the city the thriving corporate center it has become. The chemical industry produces almost half of the United States' petrochemical supply. Manufacturing firms are valued at over billions of dollars, and one out of every three jobs in the area is tied to international business in some way. With the Port of Houston serving as the second largest port in the U.S. in total tonnage, the import/export trade always thrives as well. Numerous computer companies have located their headquarters and data processing operations here—including Compaq Computer Corporation—and over 400 local firms are involved in software development. Electronics companies abound, and engineering firms employ nearly 47,000 engineers and architects in various fields.
Houston medical facilities oversee the health of residents and people across the globe; local medical centers provide some of the best patient care, medical research and medical education in the world. The renowned Texas Medical Center is highly respected for its pioneering work in cardiac and organ-transplant surgery and cancer treatment. Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children's Hospital, M.D. Andersen Cancer Center and many other prestigious institutions are located here.
And last, but certainly not the least; remember those first words spoken from the moon? "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed". Houston's past and future impact on the aerospace industry is in a league of its own. Space Center Houston, the mission control headquarters for manned U.S. space flights, has played a significant role in further developing and expanding Houston's contribution to scientific fields.
The city's extreme industrial diversity has resulted in a cultural blend that is equally impressive. With over 60 primary languages spoken in the homes of Houston Independent School District families, Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United States. It has been further estimated that an additional 30 languages are also spoken on a smaller scale.
Residents typically have a broad knowledge and a great deal of respect for other world cultures and enjoy numerous cultural events every year. Along with common neighborhood events, Talento Bilingue de Houston has become extremely popular over the years by offering productions that illustrate the values of these different ethnic cultures. Needless to say, ethnic diversity has also broadened the horizons in the restaurant world. The number of cultures and cuisines represented throughout Houston is both impressive and appreciated. Ima Hogg, a renowned local philanthropist, first blessed Houston's arts and culture scene back in 1913 when he established the Houston Symphony. In the years since then, Houston has gained a formidable reputation as a world-class center for the arts. The 17-block Theater District is home to numerous performing arts organizations and is second only to New York's Broadway for number of theater seats (over 12,000) in a concentrated area. It is also one of the few U.S. cities that has its own professional symphony orchestra and resident professional companies in ballet, opera and theater. More than 200 visual and performing arts organizations are currently active in the Houston arts scene.
The visual arts are equally represented in the numerous museums and galleries that are located primarily in the Museum District. In 1987, the Menil Collection opened and added a new sense of prestige to Houston's museum scene. It boasts what is recognized as one of the finest private collections in the country. With more than USD100 million poured into the economy by the television and motion picture industry recently, the city is also emerging as a prominent force for Hollywood businesses.
To a large extent, the growth and development of Houston has been based on the education of its residents. The city has always put significant emphasis on the education of children at both the primary and secondary levels. Several of the local school districts traditionally win state and national achievement awards for academic aptitude.
To this day, residents of Houston are more likely to have completed four years of college than the rest of the U.S. adult population. The city boasts some excellent universities and colleges. Among them are the very prestigious and highly acclaimed Rice University, which first opened for classes in 1891, the University of Houston (1927), Texas Southern University (1947), University of Saint Thomas (1947) and Houston Baptist University (1960). Also, both Baylor and the University of Texas have prominent medical schools in the Texas Medical Center. More than 240,000 students are currently enrolled in colleges and universities in the area.
From tiny cow-town to the fourth largest city in the U.S., Houston has had quite a historical journey. Petroleum might be what launched the city on the path to growth and success, but it is the diverse population and quality of life that make it a city worth living in and visiting. Houston is truly an international city in every sense of the word.