I Heart Houston: Favorites from the Bayou City
Leah Walker January 14, 2013

Often overshadowed by Austin for its funky vibe, San Antonio for its historical and tourism value, and Dallas for its cosmopolitan reputation, Houston has all of those qualities and more.

Sam Houston

Namesake of the Bayou City, Sam Houston, the 1st President of the Republic of Texas

There is not another city in the South, and very few in the nation, that has the diversity Houston does. It’s reflected in cultural activities, restaurants, markets, consulates, religious buildings, and even the street signs. Couple that diversity with a world-class theater district, phenomenal museum district, variety of professional sporting events, and an endless array of festivals, and Houston can compete on the international stage of tourism.

I originally wrote this post for National Geographic Traveler‘s series, “I Heart My City” in March, but it’s yet to be published. With so many people asking me for my recommendations on Houston, I thought I’d just publish it myself. After all, that’s why I have my own Website. I can publish what I want when I want. And with the New York Times naming my hometown as its #7 place to visit in 2013, I thought I’d share what I love about the Bayou City…Space City…Houston.

Minute Maid

Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros, as seen from Discovery Green

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is out to eat. Houston has over 11,000 restaurants and we eat out more than any other city.

When I crave a shrimp po’ boy, I always go to Ragin Cajun.

Po Boy

To escape the hustle and bustle of the city I head to Old Town Spring for its nostalgic Victorian feel.

If I want to shop for antiques I go to the Heights.

For complete quiet, I can hide away at Hermann Park, located between the Museum District and the Texas Medical Center {the world’s largest medical center}.

Lindsey Plaza

The Reflection Pool in Hermann Park

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to the Harwin Shopping District.

For a huge splurge I go to Neiman Marcus in the Galleria. It’s Texas-sized!

A hidden gem in my city is Rice University for its gorgeous trees and Neo-Byzantine, rose-colored brick buildings that are topped with red clay tile roofs.

Waterwall

Williams Tower near the Galleria and Hines Waterwall

Phoenicia is my one-stop shop for great foods from over 50 countries.

Locals know to skip the megaplexes and check out a movie at River Oaks Theater instead.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from Chuy’s it has to be grilled shrimp tacos, the creamy jalapeno, and boom-boom sauce.

Chuy's Shrimp Taco

Photo ops in my city include downtown, Reliant Park, the Medical Center, and the Galleria. The best vantage point is from the JPMorgan Chase Tower. On the 60th floor of the 75-story building is an observation deck. Some also claim to see all the way to the coast.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Tommy Lee Jones, ruggedly Texan, yet intelligently polished and worldly.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken at Hines Waterwall Park or the Beer Can House. John Milkovisch drank over 40,000 cans of beer and then decorated his house with the flattened cans.

Waterwall

Hines Waterwall

The most random thing about my city is that Houston” was the first word heard from the moon on July 20, 1969.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves the Sabine to Bagby Promenade that runs along Buffalo Bayou. This pedestrian-friendly park has biking and hiking trails, canoe launches, and public artwork.

My city’s best museum is the Museum of Natural Science. The Gems and Minerals Hall is my favorite permanent exhibition. I could spend hours in there.

Gems

Gems and Mineral Hall at the Museum of Natural Science

For a night of dancing, go to Whiskey River. For live music, check out Cynthia Woods Mitchel Pavilion or the seventeen-block Theater District.

Katz’s Deli is the spot for late-night eats.

My favorite jogging/walking route is Memorial Park. The 1,500-acre park once was the backyard of Ima Hogg, daughter of Jim Hogg, the former governor of Texas. Yes, Ima is her real name.

Memorial Park

Memorial Park’s jogging trail

You can tell a lot about my city from the number of Fortune 500 companies. Houston is second only to New York City. If it were an independent nation, Houston would rank as the world’s 30th largest economy.

You can tell if someone is from my city if talking about the high price of oil excites them.

In the spring you should eat crawfish. They’re in season.

Crawfish

In the summer you should visit Saint Arnold’s Brewery for a tour and free tastings of Summer Pils, Weedwacker, and Lawnmower or Karbach Brewing Company.

St. Arnold's

St. Arnold’s Brewery on a crowded Saturday

In the fall you should tailgate and watch high school, college, and professional football games. Fall equals football in Texas.

In the winter you should ice skate at Discovery Green.

Don’t miss the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in March. It’s the world’s largest in both categories.

Houston Rodeo

Houston Rodeo action at Reliant Stadium

The best way to see my city is by kayak through Buffalo Bayou.

If my city were a pet it would be a friendly and loyal mixed-breed dog.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live (where?) in the Texas Hill Country.

Just outside my city, you can visit Galveston Island for some beach time and fun at Pleasure Pier or Schlitterbahn.

Galevston Pleasure Pier

Ride at Pleasure Pier on Galveston Island

The best book about my city is the true-crime book, Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Home to Houston” by Steve Earle.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss Kemah Boardwalk, Johnson Space Center, and Discovery Green.

Discovery Green

Fountains at Discovery Green in downtown Houston

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the Houston Press.

For a great breakfast joint try the Breakfast Klub for waffles and wings or the Kolache Factory for a quick bite.

The convergence of 90+ languages with a Texas twang could only happen in my city.

George R Brown

Artwork in front of George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston

I’ve lived in Houston for ten years, and I believe it to be a very underrated destination. I’ll be the first to sing its praises and point out its negatives. The Bayou City has so much to offer the people that live here as well as its visitors. There’s more to the city than oil and gas, and after a decade here, I’ve still yet to discover all of its offerings.

Check out these Houston posts I’ve written about Discovery Green, Chuy’s, Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, and  Karbach Brewing Company.

 

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Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.

17 Comments

  1. I LOVE this!! Took me right back 2 weeks ago when I had the pleasure of visiting the city for the first time. Still in mad love with Tex Mex and those Kolache Factory breakfast thingies, OMG! Loved it – and the beauty of it is that I haven’t seen half the places. So it simply means I need to go back!

    1. You didn’t see a bit of the city. I’m really sorry that the weather was crap. Yes, you will have to come back soon. I’ll show you this and more.

    1. If you can get past the weather, which can be so hot and humid, Houston is a great place to live and visit. It’s something different for seasoned travelers. And for people who live here, there’s really nothing it doesn’t have…except mountains, but who needs those messing up our beautiful skyline?

  2. Great write up! Houston is quite the diverse city….although I’m happy to live outside of the hustle and bustle. Funny you mentioned the Hogg family. I live in West Columbia where the Varner-Hogg Plantation attracts lots of visitors. A beautiful home and the land it’s situated on…gorgeous. Very well kept and there’s always activities and tours happening. West Columbia was the 1st Republic of Texas. Little tidbit…

    1. I’ve never heard of the Varner-Hogg Plantation. I’ll have to look that up. Perhaps the spring would be a great time to visit. I need to get out to the George Ranch as well. So many things around Houston yet to discover. AND, I didn’t know that West Columbia was the 1st Republic of Texas. Do you mean that this was before the signing at Washington-on-the-Brazos? Tell me more!

  3. I’ve yet to visit Houston, or Texas for that matter! Thanks for the must do’s and must eats….love when it is all laid out for me! Had no idea Houston was second to NYC for fortune 500 companies. That is impressive!
    What’s it like for cycling? May be in need of a spring cycling destination. If we skip Europe this year, it is a toss up between Texas, Arizona or North Carolina for a week!

    1. Texas’ economy ranked 14th in the world just behind Russia and ahead of Australia in 2008. I haven’t seen more recent data, but I’m sure it’s moving up considering all the businesses moving to Texas.

      As for cycling, it’s ok. I’d recommend Austin. It’s very bike friendly and there are lots of cyclists that take on the massive hills around the city. Lance Armstrong living in the city really exploded the sport. Spring is great in Austin with the fab weather and the wildflowers blanketing the sides of roads.

  4. Great post, the eats alone make me want to get there. Kayaking to checkout the city, sounds amazing! Love capturing signage, so you mentioning street signs has me curious. 🙂

    1. There’s an area of town that has English and Chinese street signs. The first time I saw them I thought it really odd. Now knowing the demographics it makes perfect sense. And, yes, the food is fab. No shortage of choices in Houston.

  5. Great points Leah. Houston in extremely under appreciated due mostly to it’s long, at times miserable, summers. Many ask me how I can handle the Houston traffic. I simply tell them that you have to be smarter than the masses, know where to go and when. BTW the traffic in Houston is much more manageable than Austin, SA, & DFW. Another aspect that is also over looked is the world class/affordable golf community found in Houston. Keep exploring and sharing with us. Safe travels.

    1. Absolutely, the traffic is a breeze to so many other major cities, and not just those in Texas. If you don’t mind being hot and sweaty, it’s a great place to call home.

  6. As a fellow HOUSTONIAN I have to say I LOVE this list. Houston is truly an international city and I LOVE my city. We welcome everyone!

  7. We’re about to set off for Houston and found this article in the nick of time! Great advice, thanks!

  8. OK, you’ve made me want to visit Houston, especially with all the talk of food and the amusement park. I’m tentatively thinking of visiting the South again next year, so will see how that goes. Although I’m curious, how easy is to get around without a car? I’ve heard that it’s not exactly a city made for public transportation?

    1. Yeah, Houston isn’t great for life with no car. You’d be better off in Austin or San Antonio, where there is much to see in downtown. I hate saying that, but it’s true!

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