As America's fourth largest city with over four-million residents, Houston has the perfect mix of urban sophistication and southern hospitality. Home to the country’s most exciting food scene (according to Tasting Table), the largest mall in Texas, the famed Johnson Space Center, and even a beach in nearby Galveston there is no shortage of reasons to visit Houston.
Insiders Guide to Houston
Houston for Kids
Once you've seen one zoo, you've seen them all, right? Think again. With special activities like giraffe feedings, a water play park and a 4-D movie experience, animal lovers of all ages are sure to enjoy a visit to the Houston Zoo.
Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston
"Houston, we have a problem." Even if you haven't seen Apollo 13, you've probably still heard this famous saying. The Johnson Space Center, 25 miles south of Houston, has been NASA's human spaceflight hub since it opened in 1963. It still operates as one of the country's major space centers for personnel training and research. Tourists can visit the adjacent Space Center Houston to check out interactive exhibits, Mission Control tours, and even have lunch with an astronaut. Be sure to pick up some astronaut ice cream from the gift shop on your way out.
This giant play place let's your kids explore their "inner zany genius" with exhibits for all ages. The Tot Spot for kids up to 35 months old includes a ball and pillow pit, and older kids can visit the Invention Convention, a mini engineering workshop, or EcoStation, an indoor/outdoor area where you can do everything from bug collecting to leaf rubbings.
Museum of Natural Science
This museum isn't just for grade school field trips. It's such a popular destination in Houston because of its wide range of exhibits including dinosaur fossils, a gem vault, the Planetarium and my favorite, the Butterfly Center. This glass-enclosed recreation of an Ecuadorian jungle houses hundreds of butterflies. Wear something colorful and one might land on your shoulder.
Where to Eat in Houston
Tex-Mex in Houston
Houston, and Texas for that matter, are famous for Mexican food and BBQ. Although it's hard to pick a favorite, here are some of Houston’s finest dining spots.
Ninfa's on Navigation - As Tex-Mex as you can get, this is where Mama Ninfa started the fajita craze.
Molina's Cantina - Jose's Dip, queso with spicy ground beef is the standout here. Save room for the yummy pralines that come with your check.
Los Tios - This restaurant claims to be the home of Houston's first frozen margarita. Needless to say, it’s a must taste item when in town!
Texas and BBQ go hand in hand. Get ready to get messy because Houston means business when it comes to BBQ. So don't be surprised to find a table covered in brown paper, a roll of paper towels, and no silverware.
CorkScrew BBQ - Get there early because this restaurant is known to sell out by 2pm. Order the brisket- probably some of the best in town!
Ray's Real Pit BBQ – Situated next to a gas station, Ray’s serves battered and deep-fried corn on the cob. You can't get any more Texas than that!
Goode Company BBQ - Goode Company makes the list for their Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie. It's not BBQ, but it is southern deliciousness that the one and only Oprah loves.
Bonus: Shipley Do-nuts - Get them while they're hot and they'll literally melt in your mouth.
Houston for Art-lovers
Art Car Museum
Affectionately known as the "Garage Mahal," this museum opened in 1998 and features an array of different automobiles ranging from low riders and hippie vans to derby racers and police cruisers. Each one is ornately painted and decorated and some are even outfitted with additional art installations. Only a few cars are on display at a time, but if you're visiting Houston in April, don't miss the Art Car Parade Weekend.
The Menil Collection is the compilation of art gathered by Jean and Dominique de Menil. In addition to the main building full of tribal, antiquity, Byzantine, medieval and 20th century art, there are four satellite exhibits. Maybe not the best place for kids, the Menil Collection seeks to inspire a "contemplative environment”. Consequently, quiet is much appreciated and the gallery asks that you refrain from taking photos.
Known as one of the nation's best ballet companies, the Houston Ballet has been dazzling audiences since 1955. If you've never been to the ballet, the Nutcracker is always a crowd favorite and a show that audiences young and old can enjoy.
Houston for Shopaholics
Wear some comfortable shoes. Ranked by Forbes as one of the world's best shopping malls, the Galleria has 3 million square feet of space for your shopping pleasure with stores ranging from the highest of ends like Chanel, Gucci, and Hugo Boss to Old Navy, Forever 21, and everything in between. When you're tired of shopping, you can hit the ice at the year-round ice skating rink in the middle of the mall.
Harwin is a treasure trove for the serious bargain hunter. This no-frills shopping destination is full of designer look-a-likes and vendors ready to strike a deal. Make friends with the store owner to gain access to the "back room" where they hide the best merchandise.
Just west of Houston's Rice University, this shopping district is full of eclectic boutiques perfect for finding a unique gift. It's also home to the winner of the second season of Bravo's Project Runway, Chloe Dao's boutique, Dao Chloe Dao.
Houston for Night Owls
Recently one of the most run-down neighborhoods in the city, Washington Avenue is now the hot spot for young Houstonians to live and play with brand new townhouses and The Wave, a fixed-route, fixed-rate taxi-bus service that'll get you safely to one of the area's many bars.
Also newly resurrected, Downtown is the home of all the major performing arts companies in Houston and a burgeoning culinary and nightlife scene. After your show, enjoy a night out at GreenStreet, a four block entertainment complex.
Anything goes in Montrose. This neighborhood is known as a pocket of eccentricity and diversity in Houston. Chill out at West Alabama Ice House or catch a comedy act upstairs at Rudyard's.
Houston for Sports Fans
Minute Maid Park
At the home of the Houston Astros, you can catch a ballgame in the air-conditioned and roofed stadium or take a tour. The largest entrance to the park used to be Houston's Union Station, and the stadium even includes a railway with a train that moves whenever the Astros hit a home run or when the Astros win a game.
This 52-mile water way has been around since 1836 and recently underwent a $58 million restoration to update landscaping, hiking and walking trails. You can also canoe or kayak or take a boat tour if you'd rather sit back and relax.
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This article was written by Lauren Gaw.