Few city founders are able to fully imagine the bustling metropolises their settlements will one day become. Consider businessmen August and John Allen the exceptions. In 1836, the brothers saw potential in a plot of land situated next to the Buffalo Bayou, and immediately set out to create what they termed, “a great center of government and commerce.” Naming their city after Texas war hero General Sam Houston helped the brothers to draw in pioneers on their way West, establishing a population that continued to grow with the development of ports and major rail lines. But it was the discovery of oil in the early 20th century that propelled Houston to a position of national prominence, almost overnight.
As the nation’s fourth-largest city by population, Houston has established itself as one of the Gulf Coast’s most thriving cultural hubs. The city has 19 museums covering everything from history to art to science, and Frommer’s even dubbed the Menil Collection “one of the world’s great private collections” for its assemblage of 20th-century artworks by Jasper Johns, René Magritte, and Andy Warhol.
According to a Zagat survey, Houstonians dine out more than anyone else in the country. Thanks to the city's melting-pot population, on any given day locals can find superlative-worthy Mexican, Indian, farm-to-table, and Vietnamese food, as well as countless options for pizza and brunch. Of course, Houston also has a grasp on good, old-fashioned barbecue and American comfort foods— a restaurant called Hubcap Grill even serves a “Quadruple Heart Clogger,” a huge hamburger patty topped with bacon, chili, and a grilled weiner.
Some of Houston's residents may prefer their food freeze-dried and served hundreds of thousands of miles above the stratosphere. Houston has played a crucial role in NASA's history since 1961 when it was named as the home of the Manned Spacecraft Center (now known as the Johnson Space Center. The facility served as Mission Control for all manned space flights––including the iconic Apollo 11 mission when "Houston" became the first word spoken on the moon––and now monitors all activities on the international space station.
Fewer things may be cooler than the view of Houston from space, but the city must be doing something right at ground level: Forbes named it the Coolest City in America in 2012. The magazine's decision was partial influenced by the city's thriving theater district, which spans a nearly 17-block-long stretth in the downtown area. There, audiences will find everything from touring Broadway shows, to small intimate venues, to the Houston Grand Opera, the only opera company in the world to have won a Tony Award, two Grammy Awards, and two Emmy Awards.