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.
The diverse industrial focus of Houston has inspired people from numerous countries to settle here. With so many cultures represented, it is no great surprise that the city's dining opportunities reflect their influences. If you are homesick, there is a good chance you will be able to find a restaurant that specializes in your native cuisine. If you are simply adventurous and like to sample the flavors of the world, you will have a lot of chances to do so while visiting. In fact, you would have to live here a very long time to exhaust the possibilities.
Beyond the realm of traditional Texan, the possibilities are equally impressive. The close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico has inspired a love of seafood, which has, in turn, inspired the birth of a large number of seafood restaurants across the city. The downtown area boasts the expertise of Massa's Seafood Grill and McCormick & Schmick's. A variety of Asian food types are popular in Houston. If you like Japanese sushi in an upscale atmosphere, try the Sake Lounge. In addition to the tasty Tex-Mex offerings, the city also boasts a number of restaurants that specialize in traditional Mexican fare. Irma's Restaurant has been a famous Houston mainstay for years. Irma herself will come out of the kitchen and treat you like one of the family at her homey establishment.
Steaks are considered to be a strong runner-up as a Texas tradition, and some of the finest steakhouses in the state are located in Houston. Morton's The Steakhouse is yet another former President Bush-approved restaurant. It is classy and elegant, as is Capital Grille. Copeland's of New Orleans is an example of a New Orleans' original that has made a mark on the spicy side of the Houston dining scene.
Not to be outdone by the Big Apple, Houston also has its share of restaurants that specialize in contemporary, cutting-edge cuisine. Anthony's Restaurant is owned and operated by heralded restaurateur Tony Vallone. The elegance and sophistication of the décor and European/American menu are hard to beat. Rudi Lechner's Restaurant pays tribute to German and Austrian cuisine. Pizzerias are essentially Italian, of course, but the concept has been Americanized to a large extent. Fun-loving diners are drawn to the boisterous atmosphere of New York Pizzeria, while out-of-the-ordinary options, like barbecue pizza, attract a full house at California Pizza Kitchen.
When it comes to Tex-Mex, the city's restaurants offer a variety of atmospheres to suit every mood. You can enjoy the best at a place called Little Pappasito's. The décor is eclectic Mexican, complete with roaming mariachis, but the menu offers some sophisticated twists in addition to traditional Tex-Mex. Otto's Bar-B-Q has been around for over 50 years and has earned former President George Bush's seal of approval. Not to be outdone, Goode Company Barbecue is famous across the city for the sweet-spicy-smoky barbecue sauce they slather on a variety of meats. Brennan's of Houston specializes in Cajun and Creole creations, while Baroque offers the best in French dining with a romantic, elegant theme. You have the option of dining lavishly, and if you choose to do so, there is no better place to splurge than Aldo's.
You will be comfortable dressing up or down for your meal at Mark's American Cuisine, but don't let the name fool you. There are a lot of interesting global twists on the menu. For spicy Thai and a view of some interesting murals, visit Nit Noi. Another interesting mural, this one of Saigon, can be found at Miss Saigon Cafe. Traditional Greek cuisine is the focus at Nikos Nikos. Thanks in part to Houston's influence in the oil and energy fields, the city has a sizeable number of Middle Eastern residents and quite a few restaurants that specialize in the region's cuisine; try Istanbul Grill, the famed Turkish restaurant. If you care more about good food than elegant surroundings, try Yildizlar in the Montrose area. It's not much to look at, but the food will certainly satisfy.
Casual diners might prefer Taste of Texas, which offers the more traditional "rustic cowboy" atmosphere to go along with that excellent cut of beef. Bistro Provence heada up the city's list of elegant and impressive bistros. The family-friendly Otilia's Mexican Restaurant is built in an old drive-in restaurant. Houston is also kind to health-conscious diners. If your concept of healthy food revolves primarily around low-fat, grilled meat, you will find a large number of restaurants to accommodate you. If you prefer total vegetarian dining, A Moveable Feast is a fantastic option.