I still remember when my husband talked to me about moving to Houston. I must admit, back then I wasn’t very happy about leaving my beautiful San Diego. Acting like a spoiled little girl, my first thought was, ‘Texas! Really?’
Ten months later, while I’m still trying to understand the monster freeways and feel comfortable with tons of concrete, this megalopolis continues to grow. Literally, it is still growing in size, and it is growing on me.
Houston has everything: NASA, a phenomenal food scene, great museums, a fantastic international airport, parks, amazing concerts, and one of the largest theater districts outside of New York. Houston also has rodeos. The list goes on.
Furthermore, there was something else that sparked the way I see Houston today—people. In the nation’s most ethnically diverse city, I felt welcomed. I have met some of the friendliest folks I could possibly imagine. Additionally, while Hurricane Harvey was devastating, by the same token, the community’s kindness, strength, and solidarity were empowering. Nothing like I have seen before. No matter the race, social status, or wealth, the population came together, and the city was united in its effort to recover from the devastation wrought by Harvey.
But you may be thinking, ‘No way, how about the heat?’ True, on a hot day—of which there are many—it is possible to cook an egg on the sidewalk. Traffic? Yep, it’s merciless. In the end, after experiencing both the good and bad aspects of the city, Houston surprised me. Slowly, I felt comfortable here, and gradually I started calling it home.
In addition to all the amazing restaurants we have visited, here is a list of sites and events we have seen and enjoyed in Houston so far. As time goes by, surely our list of favorites will grow much longer.
Houston top 19: things to see, do, and eat
1. NASA Johnson Space Center
Space Center Houston is the official visitor center of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which has served as the hub for all astronaut training and shuttle programs since before the first man walked on the moon. Here, you will see artifacts and displays about past achievements, the historic mission control center, and even the current Mission Control.
To know more, read Visiting NASA’s Johnson Space Center
Houstonians are proud to host one of the largest rodeos of the world. The annual 20-day event happens between February and March, featuring a tournament-style competition that rewards winners in different categories: bareback riding, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping, and women’s barrel racing. Always a fan favorite, the best event might just be Mutton Busting.
Moreover, the event presents livestock exhibits, carnival rides, food, games, and nightly concerts featuring country music.
3. BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir not only is a peaceful and spiritual Hindu sanctuary, but also a fascinating construction composed of 33,000 pieces of hand carved Italian marble and Turkish limestone. A must see.
4. Hermann Park
Herman Park is a beautiful live space. Whether running along the trails, strolling, biking, riding the train along the Hermann Park Railroad, pedaling a boat on McGovern Lake, having a picnic on the grass under trees, relaxing in the Japanese Garden, watching a show at Miller Outdoor Theater, or sitting by the reflection pool, this gorgeous spot is a frequent destination for our family.
5. Houston Zoo
It is one of my daughter’s favorite places in Houston. Located on a beautiful tropical landscape within Hermann Park, the zoo is home to more than 6,000 animals, representing more than 800 species from around the world, including orangutans, elephants, giraffes, and lemurs.
For more information, check Houston Zoo.
6. Rice University Loop
It is one of my favorite spots in Houston. The 3-mile long graveled trail that loops around Rice University is a gorgeous place to stroll, hike, or run. Most of the path is protected by a canopy of oak trees providing shade and a gorgeous landscape.
In Houston, whether colorful or black and white, murals have been transforming empty walls into a piece of canvas, and humble streets become points of interest for locals and visitors who appreciate street art. Sometimes I cannot resist, and feel the urge the stop and snap a picture of it.
8. Houston Museum District.
Houston Museum District is noted as one of the most impressive cultural district in the country. Lovers of arts can explore 19 museums all within a 1.5 mile radius of the Mecom Fountain. We haven’t seen them all, but we like the superb private collections at Menil, the fantastic exhibits and colorful butterflies at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the collection of decorative art, paintings and furniture at the Museum of Fine Arts.
The Children’s Museum is a must if you have kids. It offers a wonderful variety of exhibits, satisfying every child’s interests and hobbies. Don’t miss the Building Zone where children can explore the world of building, or Cuberchase, a fun, interactive game where algebra, fractions and probability are used to protect the world from an evil hacker. In the Power Play exhibit, children can test the strength through fun and physical challenges.
9. Top Golf
Top Golf is a three-level venue with 103 hitting bays where guests can practice their swings, while enjoying food and beverages served directly to the hitting bay. With accurate technology, each golf ball has a computer microchip that registers the distance of each shot. Scores are recorded on the screen in each bay, making the experience a fun, competitive game among friends and family. This is a fabulous place to beat the heat or the rainy days of Houston. Houston has three Top Golf locations, one of them conveniently placed inside the Four Seasons Hotel.
Although you can find cuisine from all over the world in Houston, Texas barbecue still gives the city its identity. From North to South, East to West, restaurants serve perfectly smoked briskets, sausages, and ribs that must be tried by y’all. Hard to say which one is the best in barbecue land, but our favorite is Killen’s Barbecue.
11. Houston Tunnel System
It is an impressive underground system in Downtown Houston where workers and visitors circulate Monday through Friday, from 6am to 6:30pm. The six miles of tunnels, containing food courts, services and retail, connect 94 city blocks of office buildings, banks, government offices, malls, and hotels above ground.
With most of the entrances located inside office buildings, Wells Fargo Plaza and McKinney Garage on Main provide the only street level access to the tunnels.
12. Gerald D. Hines Waterwall
Surrounded by beautiful oak trees, this 64-foot semi-circular architectural fountain re-circulates 11,000 gallons of water per minute as it cascades down the inner and outer wall structure. Gorgeous!
Location: 2800 Post Oak Boulevard.
13. The Kemah Boardwalk
Located about 20 miles south of downtown Houston, the Kemah Boardwalk is an excellent escape from the bustle of the big city. Offering waterfront restaurants and shops overlooking the waters of Galveston Bay, amusement rides, even an aquarium with an interactive stingray petting reef, the Kemah Boardwalk can be either a day-trip or weekend destination.
14. San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site
Site where the Republic of Texas was born. In 1836, General Houston, fighting for independence from the Mexican government, defeated General Santa Anna’s soldiers in an 18-minute battle. Known as the Battle of San Jacinto, that victory led to the addition of Texas into the United States.
Check the museum in the San Jacinto Monument and ride the elevator 489 feet above the battleground to the observation floor where you can enjoy the panoramic views.
15. Battleship Texas
While at the San Jacinto Battleground, make sure to visit this amazing piece of history. Commissioned in 1914 as the most powerful weapon in the world, the Battleship Texas is the only veteran vessel today that fought in both World War I and World War II. It was the first U.S. battleship to mount anti-aircraft guns and the first in the U.S. Navy to receive a commercial radar. A great program for the whole family.
16. The Art Car Parade
The Art Car Parade is an annual event that happens in Houston every April. Using creativity, art, and passion, participants from America, Mexico, and Canada, transform simple cars into fabulous, unique pieces of art. Totally worth the time to see it!
Not in town during the parade? No problem, visit the Art Car Museum to see some winners from past years.
17. Bayou Bend
Bayou Bend is the former residence of Houston philanthropist and collector Ima Hogg. The 1920s-era mansion houses one of the country’s finest collection of early American decorative arts and paintings. The 14-acre estate features stunning gardens and natural woodlands. Bayou Bend’s gardens are considered to be among the most significant historic gardens in the south.
18. The Downtown Aquarium
Although small, the aquarium has a decent selection of aquatic life on display. We were surprised to see white tigers in an Aquarium setting. Although beautiful, we felt they seemed out of place.
19. Memorial Park
It is the largest urban park in Houston, located in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city. With walking and jogging trails, this place attracts hundreds of locals in the early morning and evening hours. Among other amenities, it is home to a golf course, restaurants, an exercise/stretching area, and the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center.
What else would you add to this list? Please share your thoughts.