48 Hours in Houston: Favorites from a Local
Leah Walker January 21, 2014

Having called Houston home since 2002, you’d think that I’ve experienced all that the city has to offer. In reality, I’ve only scratched the surface. As America’s fourth largest city, Houston is often overlooked as a tourist destination. I’m here to tell you, the Bayou City has a lot going for it. Houston was named America’s coolest city by Forbes in 2012 and in 2013, The New York Times named it one of their 46 places to go.

Houston’s diversity is reflected in the 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.

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Just after Christmas, I decided to have myself a 48-hour Houston staycation. During that time, I explored downtown. I watched ice skaters in the Discovery Green. I found some new favorite places to eat and rediscovered others. Quite simply, I rekindled the appreciation for my hometown. It would require writing a guidebook to mention all the great experiences in Houston, so I’ve just included a few of my top picks. To do all of this will take much longer than 48 hours, but take a look and see what tickles your fancy.

Stay

If you’ve been following my travels around the globe then you know I’m a huge fan of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts. Thus, when it came time to plan my staycation, the Four Seasons stood at the top of my wish list.

Four Seasons is the premier Houston hotel. And with the recent acquisition by Bill Gates, it only stands to get better. Close to Discovery Green, Toyota Center, Theater District, and Museum District, Four Seasons is ideally located for those wanting to take in a Rockets game, Broadway show, or the latest art exhibit. It’s also where many of the visiting NBA teams stay, so if you’re a big basketball fan then you might see your favorite player walking through the lobby.

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Luxury and first-rate service are standard with Four Seasons, and Houston is no exception. The doormen are among the most friendly and helpful, while the front desk staff is courteous and accommodating. This Texas hospitality helps make guests of the 404 guest rooms and suites feel special.

During my stay, I was given a deluxe executive suite. Everything is bigger in Texas, thus my suite would qualify as a sprawling apartment in most major cities. A living room filled with a couch, two chairs, flat-screen TV, and workspace was quite comfortable. The sleek, king-sized bed filled the separate bedroom, along with another TV.

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Both rooms overlooked the only resort-style pool in downtown and Toyota Center. In the last two years, I’ve stayed in many five-star hotels and toured even more, so it’s the little things that stand out to me now. One such thing was the iPhone 5 adapters on the bedside table docking stations. I know it might not sound like a big deal, but that element just goes to show the attention to details at Four Seasons, Houston.

Eat & Drink

When would-be visitors ask me what they should do in Houston, I always begin listing where they should eat. I once read that Houston has more than 11,000 restaurants and eats out more than any other city in the country. I can certainly believe those statistics. Even with so many options, I can’t help but keep returning to my favorites.

Chury's Houston Texas4

Texas put the ‘Tex’ in Tex-Mex, and I like to think that’s the part with the gooey cheese. Though there are TONS of options for Tex-Mex in Houston, I always find myself at Chuy’s. This funky chain began in Austin, but is now spreading across the Lone Star State and beyond. Despite its growth and popularity, I don’t think the taste or quality has suffered. Frankly, what keeps me walking through the door is the creamy jalapeno dip. Order it when your chips are delivered. It’s free. It’s crack. You’re welcome. Read more about my Chuy’s obsession here. Also check out Irma’s and Pappasito’s for pretty good Tex-Mex.

Ragin Cajun Houston Texas3

My favorite spot for casual Cajun food is Ragin Cajun. There are several locations around town, including one in the underground tunnel of downtown Houston. I always get a grilled shrimp po-boy, but also love the oysters on the half shell. Nirvana is found by loading one of those Gulf Coast beauties on a saltine cracker, adding a squeeze of lemon, and a dash of hot sauce. If it’s crawfish season then get a bucket and a stack of napkins. The gumbo is delicious, as is the jambalaya and boudin. If you have no idea what any of these dishes are then you definitely need to get to Ragin Cajun.

Breakfast Klub Houston Texas1

My love for The Breakfast Klub and Max’s Wine Dive directly correlates with my appreciation for good fried chicken. When going to The Breakfast Klub, be prepared for a line out the door. I promise that the wings & waffle plate is worth the wait. The dish may sound weird to non-Southerners, but just give it a try. Frankly, I’m kicking myself for not discovering Max’s Wine Dive sooner. “Fried chicken and Champagne?…Why the hell not?!” With a slogan like that, I should’ve been camped outside of their door on the daily. Max’s fried chicken may very well be the best I’ve eaten, but I’m also smitten with the MAX ‘n cheese. Anything with truffle wins my heart, and their version of macaroni and cheese has it.

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You can’t come to Texas without eating a steak and there are plenty of great options in Houston. Downtown is Vic & Anthony’s. There are also outlets in Vegas, Atlantic City, and New York, but Vic & Anthony’s originated in Houston. It’s my favorite steak. Period. Seriously. I’m a fan of the filet mignon and prime rib, but their seafood is plate licking good, too. Fresh raw oysters, lobster bisque, and the tuna tartare are great opening acts to the beef. Near the Galleria is my former favorite steakhouse—Pappas Bros. Also a Houston original, Pappas is sublime. My favorite dishes include the lobster deviled eggs, filet mignon, and au gratin potatoes. Wine lovers are not forgotten. Pappas’ vino menu reads like War and Peace.

In a city with so many great restaurants, there surprisingly aren’t very many Italian places, at least good ones. For me, the only place to eat Italian food in Houston is at Quattro in the Four Seasons. Executive chef, Maurizio Ferrarese, is as nice as he is talented. This native Italian has cooked all over the world, including at the Four Seasons, Florence. I’m a huge fan of his Old Fashioned Risotto alla Milanese, which was named the winning recipe at the 2013 International Risotto Festival. I’d say that’s high praise.

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Brennan’s of Houston is the perfect combination of Texas and Creole. The sister restaurant to the grand dame of New Orleans restaurants, Commander’s Palace, Brennan’s has been a staple in Houston since 1967. I dream of the turtle soup, Gulf fish Pontchartrain, and bananas Foster. Surf and turf options fill the menu, along with exceptional side dishes like Steen’s cane syrup whipped sweet potatoes. Their courtyard is also a great place to grab an after-work or pre-dinner cocktail.

If you’re not a Texan, then you definitely have to have a chicken fried steak when in Houston. As I proclaimed in 10 Things to Know before Visiting Texas, chicken fried steak {CFS for short} is NOT poultry. You can read up exactly what it is in my article, but make sure you plan on trying one. My favorite is from Hickory Hollow in the Heights. Be warned though—their servings are massive.

Experience

In Houston, the Galleria is king when it comes to shopping. With 400 stores and restaurants found in 2.4 million square feet of space, if the Galleria doesn’t have what you’re looking for then you probably don’t need it. Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and not one, but two Macy’s, anchor the mall. Luxe brands designers Gucci, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Valentino, as well as jewelry stores such as Cartier, Bvlgari, and DeBeers, all have stores in the Galleria. For the non-heiress, shops such as Ann Taylor, Gap, J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, and Zara are also in the massive mall. Find your inner geek at Apple, Brookstone, and Microsoft. If shopping is your thing, then the Galleria is a must do.

Houston Texas Galleria

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While you’re at the Galleria, make sure to stop by Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park. Next to the mall and the 64-story Williams Tower, Waterwall Park features a 64-foot, semi-circular water fountain. It’s a great photo opportunity and place to relax under the giant oak trees.

Houston Galleria Waterfall

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The Houston Museum of Natural Science is my favorite in the city. With permanent exhibits ranging in subjects from Ancient Egypt to Gems and Minerals to African and Texas Wildlife, it’s easy to spend an entire day exploring. Attractions also include a 3D theater, planetarium, Butterfly Center, and various special exhibits. Other attractions in the Museum District include The Museum of Fine Arts, Holocaust Museum, Rothko Chapel, Houston Museum of African American Culture, The Menil Collection, and the Asia Society. While in the Museum District, make sure to explore Hermann Park.

Museum of Fine Arts Houston Texas

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For something a bit different, check out the Art Car Museum in the Heights. This museum celebrates cars, art, and individuality. Here a VW Beatle is transformed into the Easter Bunny and a Honda motorcycle is made into a red stiletto. It’s far from highbrow, so check your snobbery at the door.

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Very close to the Four Seasons is Discovery Green, the largest green space in downtown and my favorite park. Inside the twelve-acres is Kinder Lake, a man-made lake that features a water garden and a pier with tables and chairs. In the winter, Kinder Lake is frozen and turned into an ice rink. Dog runs, jogging trails, indoor and outdoor reading rooms are all found throughout Discovery Green. There are also free concerts, family and date night movies, exercise and dance classes, and a monthly flea market. The Grove, a restaurant inside the park, is a lovely place to eat or grab an evening cocktail. Read more about what I love about Discovery Green here.

Hermann Park Houston reflection pool

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Houston is a place that I’ve come to call home. I never intended on staying over a decade, but that’s what’s happened. I take offense to those that turn up their nose at my city. At first glance, it’s a sprawling energy hub. But in reality, the city is much more. Houston is like an onion that needs a few layers peeled back to see what’s great.

Read more of my Houston favorites here.

I was a guest of Four Seasons, Houston. In no way was I swayed to write a positive review based on their awesome car service, flight of Champagne, or lobby filled with NBA players. As always, opinions are mine.

Note: There are affiliate links in this post, meaning I make a small commission if you make a purchase through my links. It costs you nothing more, but helps keep me stocked in French wine {and a roof over my head}.

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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.

21 Comments

    1. When you were here the weather was terrible. I’m sorry I didn’t show you more of the city, especially the Galleria, which I know you’d love.

  1. I love this post, Leah! Great to get some insight into Houston, but also great to show the idea of a staycation some love. I find myself living in Manchester a good ten years after I imagined I’d have moved on, but I’ve come to love the city and I’ve started paying more attention to it when I’m not travelling which is really enjoyable!

    1. It’s the first hotel I’ve ever stayed in while living in Houston. It’s amazing how checking into a hotel can change your state of mind, even in your hometown. Give it a try in Manchester and let me know what you think.

  2. For a while, I was visiting Houston quite often when my husband would be there on business. There’s way more to the city than most people think. I loved hanging out at Discovery Green for lunch and live music. Next time I’m back there, I’ll check out your restaurant suggestions. For steak, I really liked III Forks. Getting hungry just thinking about it.

    1. I actually ate at III Forks during my stay at Four Seasons. It’s just around the corner. After having eaten Vic & Anthony’s the night before, I was a bit underwhelmed, though it was still good. I’m glad to have an opinion of an unbiased visitor. 🙂

  3. I remember your older post about Chuy’s and thinking everything there sounds delicious! This post just proves that I need to make a return visit to Houston. I’ve been only once – and it was a long time ago – and I didn’t see or do anything you mention here.

    1. Chuy’s is in most major city in Texas now, but there are lots more reasons to visit. The Children’s Museum is fantastic in you ever bring your family.

  4. Hi Leah, yes Houston is a gem. I’ve lived here on and off for 12+ years and I learn new things about the city everyday, even though I’ve crisscrossed it many times. I was traveling sometime ago and a woman from Los Angeles asked me why would you live in Houston? I told her, if you lived in Houston, you would know. Cheers…

  5. I never made it to Houston when I lived in Dallas, but it is on my radar. My son is obsessed with the NBA and loves watching YouTube clips of the Rockets mascot, Clutch. I never think about the fact you’re on the coast. I imagine you get some great Gulf seafood. That makes the city worth a visit to me.

  6. The wings and waffle photo is making me salivate! And I agree with you on Chuy’s – I love going and we are lucky to have one here in ATL. Love getting great tips from a local and Houston is a town I have never visited so thanks in advance for I shall visit some day!

  7. I really have not seen enough of Texas! Hopefully, I will get to Houston soon…I really think I’d love it. PS that food looks delicious!

  8. Naturally, I’m going to be onboard with anything that involves the Four Seasons and Chicken & Waffles. I nearly moved to Houston years ago when I was in the hotel business. I’ve often wondered what I’d be like today if I had…

  9. Houston has been my home for 43 years, and it has shaped me as much as my parents, schooling, and friends have. For example, it is nothing to me to load up for a 45 to 60 minute drive to an amazing restaurant or event. We’re a sprawling city, so we’re used to driving a distance to be where we want to be.

    I’d love for you to create a post about the sprawling-ness of Houston. (I can make up a word if I want to; I’m from Texas.) I try to tell far-away friends that my address my have “Spring,” “Katy,” “The Woodlands,” Pasadena,” “Sugarland,” or even “Porter,” “Conroe,” “Alvin,” or “Rosenberg,” in the city’s spot, but it’s all considered HOUSTON. You’ll never notice the city limit markers; every community blends into its neighbors. I drive from work in Houston to home in Conroe each day without thinking about each community I travel through: Aldine (Houston), Greenspoint (Houston and where I was raised), Spring (city), The Woodlands (city), Oak Ridge area and Shenandoah (city), College Park area (The Woodlands), and Conroe (city). And there’s never a break in “the city” to be seen. We’re all just one big happy city.

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