Yep, things are bigger in Texas—and Houston is no exception. There are more things to see, more things to do, and more things to experience than can fit in only one visit, so we’ll pull out a list of 10 things just to get your started.
Spend the Morning at the Buffalo Bayou Park
There’s a beautiful green area that extends from Shepherd Drive all the way to Sabine Street, between Allen Parkway and Memorial Park—all in the heart of the city. This is Buffalo Bayou Park (www.buffalobayoupark.org), the place to be for a walk or a bike ride to take in the views and the city skyline. The park has a canal that can be enjoyed in season, with kayaks, canoes and paddleboards available for rent at the Lost Lake Visitor Center. Don’t miss a visit to the Cistern, an underground drinking water reservoir built in 1926. Rediscovered in 2010, it has since been transformed into a unique space for art exhibits.
Pick A Show At The Theater District
The Houston Theater District (www.houston-theatre.com) is located in the heart of the city, extending along 17 blocks. It’s home to nine (yeah, NINE) professional arts companies. Walk past the rectangular columns that decorate the façade of Jones Hall to enjoy a concert by the Houston Symphony. Behind the 88-foot tall glass entry archway, the Wortham Theater Center is home to two of the city’s most beloved companies: the Houston Ballet and the Houston Grand Opera. Walk the spiral staircase from the entrance-vestibule to the second floor lobby of the Alley Theater to enjoy productions of classic and contemporary plays. Broadway shows and others put on by the local Theater Under the Stars company can be seen at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, with its gigantic windows overlooking Tranquility Park. And while you’re there, stop in for dinner at Artista on the second floor—and ask for the tres leches cake for dessert, a favorite of patrons.
Houston’s Downtown area, with its ever-evolving architecture, used to be an area dedicated solely to business endeavors. The city’s Renaissance left all that behind, creating a new atmosphere that includes murals on the city walls, art in the streets and large expanses of green. There are a couple of can’t-miss parks: Market Square and Discovery Green (www.DiscoveryGreen.com). The former was housed the City Hall for over 100 years; today it’s dotted with benches that welcome visitors and boasts a dog park and a hotspot for Greek food—an outpost of local favorite Niko Niko’s. Discovery Green, meanwhile, is a paradise with fountains, kids’ play areas and a small lake. There are art installations as well, and every December the place is transformed into a winter wonderland, ice rink included. Don’t miss a stop at The Grove (www.thegrovehouston.com) for a bite to eat, or visit any of the restaurants on nearby Houston Avenue.
Houston After Dark
Several places near Market Square light up after dark, including La Carafe, Houston’s oldest bar. Public Services Wine and Whiskey (www.publicservicesbar.com) is another cool spot, complete with comfy seating and a list of hard to find wines. The vaulted ceiling of the Original OKRA Charity Saloon (www.friedokra.org) is part of its charm, while The Pastry War (www.thepastrywar.com) offers an amazing list of mescals. At The Nightingale Room (www.nightingaleroom.com) you can enjoy live music, and just upstairs is Capt. Foxheart Bad News Bar, where you can scope out Main Street from their balcony with a cocktail in hand. Just a few blocks away, the neon lights of Bovine & Barley (www.bovineandbarley.com) await patrons with a bevy of local beers. Want more? There are 60 beers on tap at The Conservatory (www.conservatorytx.com). Next door, the Prohibition Supper Club & Bar (www.prohibitiontheatre.com) puts on burlesque shows with a side of dinner and a very unique experience.
Take Your Time At The River Oaks District
The River Oaks District (www.riveroaksdistrict.com) is small, exclusive—and very luxurious. The area encompasses several blocks with shady trees that are lit up at night, highlighting the boutiques and restaurants. Store windows display the latest trends from designers such as Tom Ford, Cartier, Dior, Hermès, Stella McCartney, Roberto Cavalli, Chopard and Harry Winston. There’s a gym and a movie theater, and plenty of places to choose from for lunch or dinner—think burgers at Hopdoddy Burger Bar or something French at Toulouse; Taverna for Italian; Steak 48 for, you guessed it, steak; and Le Colonial for Vietnamese with a French twist. Oh, and you can’t leave without first enjoying a flower-shaped ice cream scoop from Amorino.
Drink In The Silence At The Rothko Chapel
Always open, the Rothko Chapel (www.rothkochapel.org) welcomes everyone who comes to its door, regardless of religion or creed. Visitors over the years have included the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchú, Murhabazi Namegabe, and Desmond Tutu, among others. It’s been open since 1971 and its founders, Dominique and John de Menil, had a clear purpose: to create a sanctuary, a place for dialogue and introspection, a place where art and spirituality could meet. This is why they charged Mark Rothko with the décor. His 14 murals surround visitors and are illuminated with natural light—here, it’s believed clarity comes from the inside. Visitors can also browse a selection of sacred texts on their way out.
A few steps away from the Rothko Chapel, past the modern architecture of St. Thomas University, you’ll find the Chapel of St. Basil, designed by Philip Johnson. Its design is amazing, all geometric forms and plays of light.
Walk With the Surrealists
Dominique and John de Menil had one passion: art. Over the decades they amassed some 10,000 pieces that together give those who view them a glimpse of the globe. They’re contained in a long, gray building designed by Renzo Piano under the name, The Menil Collection (www.menil.org). There are sculptures from Africa and the Pacific Islands, medieval pieces and a mobile by Alexander Calder next to paintings by René Magritte and Max Ernst, just to name a few. Visitors will find a hidden room with another collection of diverse objects. Entry is free.
After a morning with the Menil Collection, stop by Bistro Menil (www.bistromenil.com) for the exquisite lemon tart and, if you have time, visit the nearby three buildings: the Chapel of Byzantine Frescos, Richmond Hall and the Cy Twombly Gallery. (The Rothko Chapel is right there, too.)
Have A Coffee At Montrose
With a long display case filled with macaroons, croissants, baguettes and all kinds of sweet treats, the Common Bond Café (www.commonbondcafe.com) is the ideal place for a cup of coffee and a chat. Its only one of the many hip places located on Westheimer Street in Montrose, where everyone starts off the morning right. Take the time to explore the area—there are several blocks to browse between Montrose Boulevard and Shepherd Drive. This used to be a hangout for artists and dissident hippies who opposed the Vietnam War; now it’s filled with antique shops, art galleries, tattoo parlors and tons of restaurants. Come back after sunset for cocktails at the Anvil Bar & Refuge (www.anvilhouston.com) or artisanal beer at The Hay Merchant (www.haymerchant.com). Finish the evening out close by at the Boheme (www.barboheme.com), an open-air bar with red lighting and great sangria.
Cheer On Your Favorite Team
There are four stadiums where you can go watch one of the many professional teams that call Houston home. If baseball is your game, head out to the Minute Maid Park (www.houston.astros.mlb.com), home of the Houston Astros. Basketball fans can catch the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center (www.houstontoyotacenter.com), also the sight of many a headliner concert. At the NRG Stadium (www.nrgpark.com/nrg-stadium) the NFL fans yell off their heads cheering for the Houston Texans, while soccer fans can don their best orange outfits and cheer the Houston Dynamos or the Houston Dash at the BBVA Compass Stadium (www.bbvacompassstadium.com), which opened fairly recently in 2012.