America’s Most Diverse City: A (Former) Local’s Guide to Visiting Houston

From 2001-2014, I happily called Houston home. As America’s fourth largest city, Houston offers everything one would expect from a major city, but with traditional Texan charm. Big oil has built this city, which is reflected in downtown’s skyscrapers. However, Houston isn’t all business.

Downtown Houston, as seen from Buffalo Bayou {credit}

With world-class museums, a 17-block Theater District, and an acclaimed dining scene, the Bayou City is definitely dynamic. Visitors will be surprised by Houston’s diversity, which is reflected in the cultural activities, restaurants, markets, consulates, religious buildings, and even the street signs. In fact in 2017, the city surpassed Los Angeles as America’s most diverse city. From someone who called Space City home for over a decade, I believe it to be an underappreciated destination. Whether you’re considering a trip or already have one planned, here’s a {former} local’s guide to visiting Houston.

Museums in Houston

Impressionist art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Houston’s Museum District is comprised of 19 different museums located within four walkable zones. The Museum of Natural Science is my favorite Houston museum, with the Gems and Minerals Hall being my favorite permanent exhibition. It has more than ten permanent exhibits, a planetarium, a Butterfly Center, a 3D theater, rotating special exhibits, and is one of the most visited museums in the country. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is comprised of over 65,000 works of art from cultures from around the world, spanning ancient to modern times. Absolutely don’t miss the Rothko Chapel, Menil Collection, and the Buffalo Soldier National Museum. For something a little different, pay a visit to the Art Car Museum, where cars are transformed into items such as stilettos and rabbits, or see the Beer Can House. Owner, John Milkovisch drank over 40,000 cans of beer and then decorated his house with the flattened cans.

Nature in Houston

Beating the heat in Downtown Houston’s Discover Green.

In a sprawling city seemingly filled with concrete, there are plenty of green spaces in which to escape. One of the newer developments is the Sabine to Bagby Promenade, which runs along Buffalo Bayou. This pedestrian-friendly park has biking and hiking trails, canoe launches, and public artwork. Between the Museum District and the Texas Medical Center {the world’s largest medical center}, is Hermann Park Conservancy, home to a golf course and a multitude of gardens, including a Japanese. One of the city’s most popular green spaces 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}. Now, it’s a popular walking, jogging, and biking destination. Discovery Green is a twelve-acre park located on the edge of downtown, filled with oak trees, art installments, jogging trails, restaurants, and a lake.

Shopping in Houston

As the largest mall in Texas, the Galleria is the crown jewel in Houston’s shopping scene. With 400 stores and restaurants across 2.4 million square feet of space, this massive mall has a wide selection of luxury designers, grand department stores, and mid-priced brands. The Galleria area is also home to some of the best Houston hotels, which is convenient for the hoards of international visitors who come to the city strictly for shopping.

CityCentre near the Memorial area is great for dining and shopping. {credit}

Take advantage of Houston’s sunshine by visiting some of its outdoor shopping centers. Rice Village, Sugar Land Town Square, CityCentre, Highland Village, and Uptown Park are all pleasant places to exercise your credit card. Bargain hunters will want to go to Katy Mills, Tanger Outlets, and Houston Premium Outlets. For a true treasure hunt head to the Harwin Shopping District. This road is filled with discount and wholesale shops selling everything from costume jewelry to clothes to furniture.

Eating in Houston

Houston has more than 10,000 restaurants, and Houstonians eat out more than anyone else in the USA. Since Space City is the most diverse city in the country, the food is reflective of the population. In fact, the city features cuisine from over 70 different nations. Name the cuisine and it can be found in Houston. Tex-Mex, BBQ, seafood, and steak are staples and should be sampled. Brennan’s of Houston has been a fixture in Houston since 1967 and is Creole with a Texan touch. Turtle soup, pecan crusted gulf fish and Bananas Foster are just a few of the perennial favorites. Classic steakhouse Vic & Anthony’s is owned by the Galveston-based Landry’s group and serves up some of the best steaks in town. Another homegrown steakhouse is Pappas Bros. Steakhouse.

You don’t have to go to Louisiana for great Cajun food.

When returning to Houston, I have a few mandatory stops. First is to Chuy’s for the grilled shrimp tacos, with creamy jalapeno, and boom-boom sauce. Next is to Rajun Cajun for a shrimp po’ boy or bucket of crawfish, if they’re in season. For breakfast, I must have an egg and potato taco from Rudy’s and something from the Kolache Factory. There are tons of hot and up-and-coming restaurants in Houston, but I keep returning to my sentimental favorites, because, well, I can’t get this stuff in Paris!

Day Trips from Houston

About 45 minutes south of downtown is Galveston Island. This historical island is unique and a far cry from Houston. The downtown area is quaint and offers some excellent shopping. Oceanfront seafood restaurants are plentiful, with Gaido’s being a perennial favorite. Moody Gardens, Schlitterbahn Water Park, and Pleasure Pier are fun for all ages.

Galveston’s Pleasure Pier is located on the Gulf of Mexico.

Just off the interstate toward Galveston, about 20 minutes from downtown Houston, you’ll find Kemah, which is best known for its boardwalk. The brainchild of Landry’s, the Kemah Boardwalk is an entertainment district that sits along the shores of Clear Lake and Galveston Bay. Restaurants, rides, and retailers comprise the Boardwalk. I suggest skipping the chain restaurants on the Boardwalk and eat at the locally owned places on the other side of the bridge. “Houston” was the first word heard from the moon on July 20, 1969. So, while you’re in the area, plan to stop at Space Center Houston. It’s interesting for both kids and adults.

In 2012, I got a rare picture alone at the Hines Waterwall.

There is not another city in the South and very few in the nation, that can compete with Houston. I love the small-town feel of the Heights in the shadows of downtown, and Rice University for its gorgeous trees and Neo-Byzantine, rose-colored brick buildings. Cooling off on a hot, humid Houston day at the Hines Waterwall or walking through the fountains at Discovery Green make the summers bearable. I miss the frenzy that Houstonians have over their sports teams, as well as the tradition of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Houston is a special place, with more than meets the eye. It’s often ignored for other Texas cities like Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas. However, visiting Houston should be on your travel to-do list.

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  • Valerie
    May 19, 2017

    Great post, Leah! I’ve been working on some content from Houston after a trip there, and it’s wonderful to see other travelers covering the destination too.

  • Juergen | dare2go
    May 20, 2017

    Well, although I really don’t like big cities, you have (almost) convinced me! At least to the point that now I regret that a few years ago we drove straight past Houston to get quickly to San Antonio. 😉 Specially the museum district sounds absolutely interesting. 19 museums in one walkable area! I always like to visit a good exhibition of contemporary art.

  • Claudia
    May 20, 2017

    We visited Houston more than a few times but I still havent seen much of the city. When I used to live in Dallas I thought Houston was all about business and didnt offer much else so thank you for proving me wrong!

  • sherianne
    May 21, 2017

    I have spent only a small amount of time in Houston, what I remember most is TexMex food 🙂

  • Tami
    May 21, 2017

    I have to admit I don’t think about visiting Texas. Primarily because I have no family living there and most of my travels include visiting family. But should I ever get out that way, I’d love to explore Houston and see what it has to offer. I love the heartfelt way in which you shared Houston with your readers!

  • Cai Dominguez
    May 23, 2017

    I love that Houston has interesting museums to offer. Aside from that, it’s great to know that despite being a mega city they still managed to give space for nature. I hope I could visit Houston someday.

  • Divyakshi Gupta
    May 23, 2017

    Fabulous! You have it all covered, from shopping (for shopaholics like me) to nature to museums for history lovers!
    65000 works of art! WOW! would love to visit it someday. especially for the space centre!

  • chrysoula
    May 23, 2017

    I had no idea Houston had so many interesting things to do I would love to visit the museum on natural science’s as it sounds so impressive.

  • Nisha
    May 23, 2017

    My husband once went on a day trip to Houston from Dallas and visited just the Space Centre . He has given rave reviews about the place .

  • Very glad to know a little more about Houston. I only have been in a few places in the USA, so i have so much things to visit. Houston seems to have so many things to offer.

  • Cat
    May 23, 2017

    Houston is such a fun place to visit! I would love to visit some of the museums and go on a culinary tour. Also, a rodeo sounds like a good idea!

  • Agness of eTramping
    June 19, 2017

    I really didn’t know that Huston is so magical! Such an excellent post!


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