The largest city in the Lone Star State imbues its flourishing fine-arts institutions, adventurous restaurants, lush parks and friendly bars and cafés with the same independent Texas spirit that first put it on the map
Author ADAM K. RAYMOND
With Houston’s oil rigs, medical centers and, more recently, its cultural centers getting top billing, it’s easy to overlook the city’s outdoor offerings. That would be a mistake. For starters, there are 50,000 acres of parkland within city limits, and just 30 miles away there’s the 25,000-acre Armand Bayou Nature Center, which shows off the Gulf Coast’s varied terrain and provides haven for 220 migratory bird species.
Perhaps most important, though, the city has a government, led by Mayor Annise Parker (winner of last year’s Mayors’ Climate Protection Award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors), that seems to recognize that what’s on and above the ground matters as much as what’s under it. Houston is the largest municipal purchaser of wind energy in the U.S.; ranks eighth in the nation in number of LEED-certified buildings; and has plans for a rapid-transit bus system, a bike trail network and a single-stream recycling program. Of course, if the kind of green that you can sink a putt into is at the top of your list, the city has championship golf courses as well as gorgeous municipal ones, too.
“My favorite spot to relax with an adult beverage is Bar Boheme. It’s got a huge patio and great snacks, and definitely attracts a local crowd. Virtually next door is my go-to furniture shop, Reeves Antiques, in Midtown. Half of my apartment came from there.”
PRINCIPAL DANCER, HOUSTON BALLET
“I often start my days off with a coffee from Catalina Coffee. Or brunch at Downhouse, which has some great-looking décor and delicious food. Then for dinner, Hugo’s is a must.”
OWNER, DAO CHLOE DAO FASHION BOUTIQUE
“I can spend all day in the Rice Village shopping area, beginning at Café Brioche. Their brioche is soft, moist and rich — but so worth the calories. That, and some shopping. You’ll find local designs plus brands you recognize. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Every year more than half a million people make the 35-minute trek from Houston to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Only a handful, though, get to experience the exclusive, behind-the-scenes Level 9 tour. Limited to 12 people a day, the tour allows visitors a glimpse of what it’s really like to be an astronaut. In addition to the attractions seen by all visitors, Level 9ers get to view the neutral buoyancy lab, where astronauts get low-gravity training in the world’s largest indoor swimming pool; the space environment simulation lab, an enormous vacuum chamber used to test full-scale flight hardware; and the mission control center, from which human space flight is monitored. Potentially the biggest treat of the Level 9 tour, though, is the NASA cafeteria, where savvy tour-goers might spot astronauts like Alvin Drew munching on a sandwich just a few tables over. The presence of gravity may dampen the effect slightly, but use your imagination. And go easy on the Tang jokes.