Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States. Of course, a city of this size offers a little bit of everything—professional sports, art, dining, shopping, clubs, theater, and more. Naturally, someone visiting Houston might need some direction from a person in the know (hey, I was born and raised there). Here’s my take on fun things to do in H-town.
There is nothing better than shopping at the ever-so- famous Galleria (if you like shopping, that is). Originally developed by Gerald Hines, this three-story shopping area is filled with hundreds of stores, from Saks Fifth Avenue, Chanel, and Armani to Ann Taylor, the Gap, and Macy’s. Start at one end and just keep going: This is the literal translation of "shop till you drop." Seriously, if you get too tired, take a break and watch the ice skaters circling the massive rink that sits smack dab in the middle of the Galleria, or lunch at one of the many restaurants.
My favorite place to stop in for a bite is the NM Cafe at Neiman Marcus. Tucked inside that venerable house of fashion, the cafe is peaceful and quaint and provides a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the main mall. Sit down and enjoy a small teacup of chicken consommé that soothes the soul. Then treat yourself to some of the fluffy monkey bread and the melt-in-your-mouth strawberry butter. I always get Neiman’s famous chicken salad sandwich that comes with coleslaw and Texas Caviar. It makes for the perfect light lunch. If you prefer something a little less formal, the Cheesecake Factory that you can enter from either the street or second level of the Galleria is another option. A diverse menu selection, from salads to burgers, makes it difficult for indecisive people, but every kind of cheesecake imaginable means you simply can’t make a wrong choice.
Another cool place to shop is off Kirby at the Rice Village, which is near Rice University (stop by and take a look at the campus while you are in the area). On a pretty day it is nice to stroll outside from store to store. Be warned: Parking can be a problem. The Village offers specialty shops like Chardé (jewelry), the Bead Shop, and La Taste (bath) as well as the usual suspects like Eddie Bauer, Banana Republic, and the Gap. Ruggles Cafe Bakery is the only place to lunch here. Relax inside or out and savor the delicious grilled chicken salad with walnuts, apples, and chunks of blue cheese dressed with honey-Dijon vinaigrette. The white chocolate bread pudding is sooooo sweet.
No shopping trip in Houston is complete without milling around the Montrose area. Here you will find antiques shops mixed in with tattoo parlors. Be sure to linger over a cup of coffee at Brasil off Westheimer. This brick building that was once a bicycle shop is a terrific spot for catching up with friends and people-watching.
Don’t despair if you’re not inclined to shop, there is definitely more to Houston. The remarkable museum district, which is off Bissonet, provides the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Walk through the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (permanent holdings include the Glassell African Gold Collection); the thirteen galleries at the Children’s Museum; the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Museum of Natural Science (a real butterfly might be inclined to land on your shoulder); and the Contemporary Arts Museum. If you want to get outdoors, go to Six Flags AstroWorld (a fantastic place to take the kids)—games and rides make for an exciting time. Don’t leave without experiencing the thrill of the park’s tallest roller coaster, the Texas Tornado. Houston’s new Enron Field baseball facility sports an amazing retractable roof with glass wall; you can hear a game for miles.
When the sun sets in Houston, things start hopping. There are millions of dining options, from the ultra chic Cafe Annie to the down-home eats at Goode Company Hamburgers and Taqueria on Kirby Drive. For a fast and casual dinner, Jax Grill on S. Rice is my favorite. I go there at least once each time I visit my hometown. This neighborhood hangout in Bellaire has the most scrumptious hamburger called a T Rex (on the kids’ menu), not to mention the deliciously tender filet wrapped in bacon. But if it’s Mexican food you’re craving, the original Ninfa’s on Navigation is the place to go. Tortillas are made right in front of you as you walk in the door. The fajitas are packed with flavor, and the margaritas are definitely the best in town.
Now that dinner is over, it is time for a little late-night barhopping with friends. Tour Houston’s blossoming downtown (new restaurants, nightclubs, and apartments blend to create quite an urban feel), but be sure to dress up; downtown isn’t the place for casual attire. Cabo on Travis has a two-story bar and stout margaritas, or try the State Bar in the Rice Hotel on Texas Avenue, which has been renovated into lofts. Volcano off Bissonet is a hole-in-the-wall that serves up a delicious frozen screwdriver. For boogying, hit the classy Black Swan Pub at the Omni Houston Hotel on Riverway, or make a move to the eclectic Gallant Knight near Bellaire Boulevard. Whatever you decide to do, you are sure to have a happening time in H-town.