When you talk Texas, better-known destinations like Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio will no doubt get a mention before Houston does. Even I admit that, before I went, aside from NASA’s Mission Control, I didn’t know much about what this coastal metropolis had to offer. But, as it turns out, there are loads of things to see and do here. In fact, Houston is incredibly underrated as the perfect place for a two or three-day US city break. And thanks to new direct flights from Manchester to Houston with Singapore Airlines, it’s easy to get there – no matter where you are in the UK.
Here’s how to make the most of your time in Houston:
Bike through Buffalo Bayou Park
Shake off any signs of jet lag and put your pedal power to the test around Downtown Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Park. This 160-acre network of paths and cycleways is a fairly new addition to the city’s leisure offering, and takes you beneath its bridges and roads, around landmarks, above ancient cisterns, and even past the home of a wild bat colony. And on a bike we easily explored the best of it in a little under two hours.
En route, be sure to stop off at Preston Bridge to ‘burp the Bayou’ – tucked away on the side of a brick pillar by the bridge is a small red button, which, when pressed, forces the water to erupt a burst of compressed air from its depths to stop it from stagnating.
Visit the Johnson Space Center
Seeing NASA’s Johnson Space Center is a rite of passage for anyone visiting Texas, let alone Houston. It is the home of Mission Control, not to mention the place where US astronauts are trained, new and existing space equipment is pushed to its limits, and historic artefacts are proudly displayed. If you’re time-poor, be sure to take the 90-minute Tram Tour – this will take you all around the Center grounds, as well as taking you to Mission Control, Building 9 and Rocket Park, aka, the best bits.
I loved this place so much, and was so humbled by it, that I gave it its own blog. You can read that here.
Discover the Museum District
Houston’s Museum District is vast, with 19 museums split across four walkable zones. So whether you’re into art, science or history, there’s something for every kind of traveller. As we were short on time for our visit, we used our Houston CityPASS to give us access to the Museum of Natural Science, which boasted dinosaurs (my personal favourite museum addition), a planetarium, an Ancient Egypt section and a choice of exhibitions and 3D movies.
Ride the Boardwalk Bullet
A stone’s throw from the Johnson Space Center you’ll find the family-friendly Kemah Boardwalk. It doesn’t have quite the same panache as Santa Monica or Coney Island, but it does look pretty good after dark – from the Ferris wheel to the brightly-lit restaurants and bars. Visit at Halloween to really see this place come to life with elaborate décor and costumed kids as far as they eye can see but, whenever you go, be sure to ride the Boardwalk Bullet.
This rickety wooden roller coaster is reminiscent of Blackpool’s Big Dipper, but a bit more upmarket. Perfect for thrill seekers, it’s superfast, throws you around a lot, and will certainly get you energised for a fun night in the city.
Drink beer at the 8th Wonder Brewery
Named after the Houston Astrodome – aka the ‘Eight Wonder of the World’ – this warehouse-style brewery/bar crafts some of the best tipples in the city. With its laid-back atmosphere and fairy lit, game-filled backyard, it’s a great place to enjoy a drink with friends while soaking up a bit of authentic Texan culture. If you’ve got the stamina, I recommend a pint of the ‘Premium Goods’ – tasty but a whopping 8% proof.
Admire the murals
Graffiti art is a big deal in Houston, with dozens of artists creating intricate designs across Downtown and, most importantly, the community embracing it with gusto. It just epitomises how relaxed and open to diversity this city is. So, if you’re impressed by what a paintbrush can do, you’ll be even more blown away by the masterpieces the spray cans have created here.
“Be careful in there you guys!” That was the warning from our driver, Elvis, when we stepped off the bus and into Jackson Street BBQ. One look at the menu, and I quickly saw what his warning was all about. A feast of meat is on offer in this legendary Houston fast-food joint, and it’s easy to get carried away with how much you ask the enthusiastic servers to pile on your plate. I heeded Elvis’s warning, and opted for the ‘Texas Trinity’: a mix of brisket, sausage and ribs. Some of my fellow travellers who opted for the Double Duo (we’re talking over 1/2 lb of meat, plus sides), were not so lucky, and found themselves sickeningly full by the time we left. Eat meat – it is Texas after all – but devour big portions at your own peril. Did someone say heartburn?
Shop ‘til you drop
Houston is home to The Galleria, the biggest mall in the whole of Texas – now that’s saying something. It has over 400 stores and restaurants, a full-size ice rink, a children’s play area and even two swimming pools!
It would take days to explore this behemoth of a shopping centre to its fullest and, while we all love shopping, hours of it can be quite exhausting. My advice? Pick your favourite stores and go bargain hunting, and break the day/s up with a coffee break and tasty lunch or dinner. Remember: even with the lousy dollar to pound exchange rate, brands like Levi’s and Calvin Klein are still heaps cheaper Stateside.
Catch a game at Minute Maid Park
Houston’s Minute Maid Park is legendary across the city – built onto the back of its Historic Union Station and having hosted some of the most famous baseball players and teams. And, as Houston is the location of the 2017 Super Bowl, Minute Maid Park will soon take a foray into football by hosting the sporting event’s opening night in January.
Even though the Major League Baseball season runs from the start of April to the end of the Season, it’s worth seeing this mighty stadium and all the Houston Astros paraphernalia, regardless of when you go or whether you’ve managed to get tickets or not. To do so, you can take a 90-minute tour around the grounds and behind the scenes year-round – as long it’s not Sunday or a game a day; ticketholders can still book a pre-game tour though.