In a state known for its go-big-or-go-home ethos, Houston stands out as not only the biggest city in Texas, but also one of the biggest and most diverse cities in the United States (it’s currently fourth in size, but gaining on Chicago all the time). Visitors can sample from a smorgasbord of arts and entertainment offerings: there’s a 17-block Theater District downtown, as well as a Museum District comprising 20 separate institutions dedicated to history, art, science, and culture. You won’t have time to see everything, but one can’t-miss destination is the famed Space Center Houston, of Houston-we-have-a-problem fame.
The city is also at the center of a burgeoning culinary scene: according to a Zagat survey, Houstonians dine out more than anyone else in the country. You’ll find a surprisingly varied array of authentic multicultural restaurants, as well as some of the best Tex-Mex, barbecue, and seafood in the country. And with year-round warm weather, you can enjoy gorgeous public parks no matter the season—or retreat to 7 miles of downtown tunnels and skywalks when things get too hot.
Houston for Culture Vultures
- Alley Theatre: The 65-year-old, Tony-winning theater offers a diverse slate of comedies, dramas, and family-friendly holiday fare
- The Menil Collection: Housed in a building designed by star architect Renzo Piano, this superb private collection includes 20th-century art from Jasper Johns, René Magritte, and Andy Warhol, as well as artifacts from Africa and the Pacific Islands.
- Space Center Houston: Tour the historic mission-control room where NASA guided the Apollo 13 astronauts back to earth, and get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to travel to the International Space Station.
- Bayou Place: Head to this popular entertainment complex in the heart of downtown for live music, restaurants, multiple bars, and a cabaret theater.
- Where to stay: Hotel ZaZa, located in the Museum District, has posh suites, an elegant fountain, and a fancy courtyard pool.
Houston for Foodies
- Urban Harvest Farmers Market: This year-round bazaar on Eastside Street features about 60 local vendors selling eggs, meat, and fresh produce, along with onsite chefs who make breakfast while you wait.
- Bellaire Boulevard on the southwestern side of the city is home to a slew of authentic Vietnamese restaurants and shops. Try Kim Son for dim sum or a sit-down dinner; pick up a banh mi sandwich and traditional Vietnamese-style iced coffee at the enormous Lee’s Sandwiches for a lighter meal.
- Barbecue is experiencing a renaissance in Houston these days. Hit up the CorkScrew BBQ food truck or Gatlin's BBQ on 19th Street, where the perfectly seasoned smoked pork ribs are considered by many to be Houston’s best.
- Where to stay: Located within walking distance of multiple fine-dining restaurants, Hotel Sorella Citycentre has a chic small-plates bar of its own.
- Discovery Green: A 12-acre downtown park with a lake, public art installations, and numerous events ranging from concerts to a nighttime flea market
- Uptown Park: Stroll past columns, stone fountains, and open-air bistros as you indulge in a little retail therapy at this outdoor mall designed to resemble an Italian piazza.
- Houston Zoo: An award-winning facility housing more than 6,000 animals, including a brand-new baby elephant named Duncan
- Where to stay: The Hilton Houston Plaza/Medical Center is a mile from the zoo and provides shuttle access. The hotel is situated in the Rice Village district, a popular shopping and strolling destination.