Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city, boasts a bustling economy, a vibrant arts scene and a diverse and dynamic population. Locals speak more than 90 languages, and their homelands influence everything from cuisine to entertainment in this sprawling, surprising Texas metropolis. You can shop for haute couture, eat an unforgettable Vietnamese meal and get your boots dusty at a rodeo—all in the same day.
The city is home to more than two dozen Fortune 500 companies, and its medical centers are some of the largest in the world. Houston is making an effort to diversify from energy—especially oil—and high-technology, medical research and professional services are all growing industries.
Getting to/from the airport
Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is 23 miles (37 kilometers) north of downtown. Check if your hotel offers a courtesy van service from the airport. You’ll find telephones in the baggage claim areas where you can call to request a ride to your hotel.
The SuperShuttle is a shared-ride service that drops passengers at different destinations. It takes longer than a taxi, but it’s cheaper. For fare quotes and reservations, go to supershuttle.com. The local public transit service, called the Metro, is available at the south side of Terminal C. The 102 Bush IAH bus costs just US$1.25 one way to downtown, but it makes several stops along the route. To check schedules and plan your trip, go to ridemetro.org.
Taxis are available outside each terminal. All destinations within Houston city limits are charged according to the zone or meter rate, whichever is less. The approximate fare from the airport to downtown is $50.
Houston’s smaller William P. Hobby Airport, is 13 miles (8 kilometers) southeast of downtown. Bus, van, shuttle and rental car services are all available from Hobby. A taxi ride downtown will cost about $26.
Getting around Houston
MetroRail is a fast, convenient way to travel to downtown, midtown, the museum district and the Texas Medical Center. Metro buses run on city streets, generally stopping every other corner. Six in the City—a $6 taxicab service—makes getting around downtown affordable and quick. The fare applies anywhere within the downtown district, bound by highways I-45, I-10 and U.S. 59.
Travel on two wheels with the Houston B-cycle programme, which allows bicycle pickup and return at different B-stations. B-cycle membership (available by day, week or year) can be purchased online or at any station.
Stretch your legs while avoiding Houston’s summer heat and humidity by using downtown’s air-conditioned underground tunnel and skywalk system, which spans several miles. The tunnels are accessible from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.
Where to stay
For upscale accommodation, try Omni Houston Hotel (4 Riverway; Ph: 1-713-871-8181), Hotel Indigo Houston at The Galleria (5160 Hildago St.; Ph: 1-713-621-8988), or Hilton Americas Houston (1600 Lamar; Phone: 1-713-739-8000).
For midscale options, try La Quinta Inn & Suites Houston Willowbrook (8383 FM 1960 Road West; Ph:1-832-617-5757) or Extended Stay America Houston Westchase Westheimer (2424 W. Sam Houston Parkway; Ph: 1-713-532-0524). Budget options include Travelodge Houston (8800 Airport Blvd.; Ph:1-713-581-7234) or Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Houston Medical Center (8080 Main St.; Ph:1-713-665-4439).
Things to see and do
If you’re planning to visit several of Houston’s top attractions, consider buying a Houston CityPass. It’s $46 but can save you much more in discounted admissions if you’re going to several places.
Space Center Houston is the official visitors’ center of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. You can touch a moon rock and see how astronauts train. Or jump on a mission to Mars in the Blast-Off theatre.
The Museum of Fine Arts has nearly 60,000 works of art from all over the world, as well as a sculpture garden where works by Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin and other 20th century masters are surrounded by native trees and flowering bushes.
If you want a more introspective experience, check out the The Health Museum, where an interactive display will give you a glimpse of how you might look in 40 years. Or check out the Art Car Museum, which displays cars that artists have altered in a “transformation of the vehicle from a factory-made commodity into a personal statement or expression.”
The San Jacinto Monument and Museum commemorates the battle for Texas independence, exploring the state’s history as an independent country. Nearby, the 100-year-oldBattleship Texas warship is open for tours.
Downtown, there’s plenty to do besides business. TheDowntown Aquarium, located in a six acre entertainment and dining complex, is home to more than 200 species of aquatic life.
During baseball season (spring to fall), you can catch a major league game at Minute Maid Park, the retractable-roof stadium where the Houston Astros play. Be sure to check out the replica of 19th century locomotive on the grounds just outside the stadium.
For a world-class shopping spree, head to The Galleria, the largest mall in Texas. It has 400 stores and restaurants, an ice rink, two swimming pools and much more. The smaller-scale Rice Village is a great area for shopping or just people-watching. Or hunt for bargains at the weekends-only Sunny Flea Market.
Where to eat
Chef Justin Yu joined forces with his pastry chef wife, Karen Man, to create the cozy Oxheart, which seats just 30 people. Four- or seven-course tasting menus cost $49 and $79, respectively. Many of the ingredients are locally sourced, and dishes reflect the owners’ origins. The offerings vary, but expect to find dishes like mesquite-smoked Gulf mackerel and a stew of black kale and fermented vegetables. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. You’ll find it at 1302 Nance St.; Ph: 1-832-830-8592.
For Mexican cuisine, head to Hugo’s, where even the 1920s-era building is Latin-inspired. Hang out by the gorgeous wood bar and enjoy a pre-dinner mescal (a tequila-like drink) or refreshing sangria. Try the lechón (braised tender suckling pig), the conejo (braised rabbit in banana leaf) or the adventurous chapulines (pan-sautéed grasshoppers). Vegetarians will be delighted with Hugo’s non-meat options. The restaurant is at 1600 Westheimer; Ph: 1-713-524-7744.
The Taste of Texas Restaurant lives up to its name, serving classic Texan fare such as steaks and prime rib. Try the pecan-crusted chicken or jalapeño-stuffed shrimp. The whopping 38-ounce Tomahawk rib-eye steak challenges even the heartiest eater. You’ll find Taste of Texas at 10505 Katy Freeway; Ph: 1-713-932-6901.
Photo credits: Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau