Houston Travel Guide

Houston Travel Guide

Ah, Houston. The awe-inspiring capital of space exploration and NASA. The most ethnically and racially diverse city in the U.S. An exhilarating conglomeration of world-class restaurants, theatres and museums. This thrumming city in the heart of Texas is many things—predictable is never one of them. And while Houston continues to grow in population and popularity, Houstonians retain a tangible pride in their old-school Texan roots. The result is a fascinating, all-inclusive city that celebrates Texas cliches without ever feeling bound by them. Houston’s diverse population also means you can expect an exciting culinary scene that fuses global flavours with local ingredients. Don’t worry about over-indulging; boot-scootin’ gay clubs will have you dancing all those calories away. The epicentre of Houston gay nightlife and culture is Montrose, an all-embracing neighbourhood where vintage shops and gay bars lie alongside cantinas and cottages. Discover the best of the gaybourhood (and all of Space City) with this ultimate Houston gay scene guide.

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The neoclassical building makes full use of charming original design elements like steel and brass vault doors, while details like cow print upholstered bar stools add a modern twist

Where to stay in Houston

The award-winning Hotel ICON is regularly regarded as Houston’s best luxury boutique hotel, where swanky contemporary design and traditional Texas hospitality effortlessly combine to create an experience that is entirely befitting of Houston. A former Union National Bank, the neoclassical building makes full use of charming original design elements like steel and brass vault doors, while details like cow print upholstered bar stools add a modern twist. Rooms are particularly spacious and extravagantly appointed with upscale amenities like rainfall showers and clawfoot tubs. The Post Oak Hotel brings lavish urban refinement to the Houston accommodation scene. The only hotel in Houston to boast AAA Five-Diamond award status, this commanding 38-story building is as enthralling as it is luxurious. Expect next-level details like a grand Swarovski crystal chandelier, cascading fountains and even a two-story Rolls-Royce showroom. With four excellent on-site restaurants, two chic cocktail lounges and panoramic Houston skyline views from every room, you’d be forgiven for never leaving the sleek complex.

Photo: Snapwire

Photo: Snapwire

One of Houston’s loveliest historic houses, the Houston Towers Inn has received a gorgeous renovation and now operates as a charming bed and breakfast. The first floor is a cosy common area, complete with a fireplace and breakfast nook. On a hot Houston day, the private backyard swimming pool is a welcome respite. Don’t miss a visit to the Viewing Tower for notable downtown views. For a taste of Italy in the heart of Houston, Hotel Granduca is squirrelled away in Uptown Park and oozes with all the charm of a romantic Tuscan villa. Spacious guest rooms feel decidedly old-world in all the right ways, and the luxurious poolside cabanas make for a blissful spot to relax after a long day of Houston sightseeing. Make a reservation at Hotel Granduca’s Ristorante Cavour for exceptional Northern Italian cuisine, best washed down with one (or two) of the many bottles of Italian wine on offer.

The Hotel ZaZa Houston Museum District is always a sexy option, boasting creative guest rooms and unforgettable concept suites. Take the ‘An Affair To Remember’ suite, which utilizes leopard carpet, mirrored and gold decor, and an oversized soaking tub to create one of the most seductive rooms in all of Houston. Or there’s the ‘Houston We Have A Problem,’ a theme perfectly befitting of the city with its crescent moon-inspired leather couch and life-size astronaut suit statue. The Poolside doubles as a refreshing pool and chic outdoor bar that’s very much ‘see and be seen.’ Come for the speciality cocktails—stay for the lively atmosphere.

Photo: Alex Block

Photo: Alex Block

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Recommended hotels in Houston
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Photo: Carlos Delgado

Photo: Carlos Delgado

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An undeniable Houston travel draw, Space Center Houston is a fascinating homage to the cosmos—and man’s daring exploration of it

Things to do in Houston

An undeniable Houston travel draw, Space Center Houston is a fascinating homage to the cosmos—and man’s daring exploration of it. The massive 250,000-square-foot complex allows visitors to walk through a replica of the Independence space shuttle, learn more about upcoming space missions, and tour the Johnson Space Center mission control. Those who find the topic of space exploration particularly beguiling should sign up for the Level 9 Tour, a VIP behind-the-scenes look at the Johnson Space Center. From here, switch things up by heading 200 feet below ground for an encounter with the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern. The cavernous area and its soaring concrete columns managed to escape a planned demolition and instead were reimagined into a public space with daring art installations. Don’t miss the spectacular light show by renowned artist Carlos Cruz-Diez on a historical walking tour, or try the Sunday morning meditation session.

Johnson Space Center | Photo: Chris Boyer

Johnson Space Center | Photo: Chris Boyer

With over 70,000 objects spread out over 14-acres and two buildings, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston is the largest cultural institution in the Southwest. And after a mammoth expansion due to finish in 2020, the museum is only slated to get more impressive. Exhibits span from antiquity to modern-day legends, including everything from Sub-Saharan African gold artefacts to Impressionist paintings to pieces by Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol; allow at least a few hours, though even that will only skim the surface. Another must-visit Houston museum is The Menil Collection, a truly impressive assemblage of Dominique and John de Menil’s private art collection. The main building displays a wide range of treasures, from Egyptian artefacts to works by Picasso. Two more buildings are dedicated to artists Cy Twombly and Dan Flavin, and there’s also the Byzantine Fresco Chapel and acclaimed Menil Drawing Institute. An arguably quirkier art installation that’s as puzzling as it is impactful is The Orange Show. Single-handedly built by the late Jefferson Davis McKissack and inspired by an imaginative love of oranges, the building aims to preserve, promote, and document both visionary art and the creative spirit—and is a must-include on any gay Houston guide.

Houston’s craft beer scene is on fire—with over 60 microbreweries throughout the city, you’ll have no problem finding a spot to indulge. That said, Saint Arnold is Texas’ oldest craft brewery, with excellent free tours and a robust food menu, and Karbach and 8th Wonder are two brewtastic Houston institutions. For the ultimate deep-dive into the city’s tap scene, hop on a Craft Brew Tour and cheers to the Space City while being shuttled to some of Houston’s best-kept secrets.

Museum of Fine Arts | Photo: Werner Du Plessis

Museum of Fine Arts | Photo: Werner Du Plessis

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Recommended experiences in Houston
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What to see in Houston

The James Turrell Skyspace, more frequently called “Twilight Epiphany,” is unmissable for its ethereal light and sound installations. Visit at sunrise or sunset to watch as coloured lights bewitchingly project onto the structure’s open roof. There’s also the occasional concert here, which always makes for a mesmerizing Houston evening. Speaking of outdoor shows, every summer the Miller Outdoor Theater shows live jazz, ballet and musical numbers for free. Bring a picnic and settle in for an excellent performance. Houston’s most gorgeous greenery can be found at Buffalo Bayou Park, 160-acres of gardens, public art spaces, hiking trails, and bike paths. Rent a kayak and paddle alongside Houston skyline views, or simply enjoy a leisurely amble away from the hubbub of downtown.

Houston’s street art scene is on point, with installations by some of the world’s top graffiti artists and muralists. Perhaps the most famous street artist to come out of Houston, Gonzo247 is also the creator of many of the most iconic pieces you’ll find across the city—including the psychedelic “Houston is Inspired” mural at the intersection of Travis and Preston Streets. Other Instagrammable locales including “Greetings from Houston” and Synchronicity of Color are pinpointed here. Every fall, the HUE Mural Festival transforms the cityscape from drab concrete to bold colour and is a notable Houston thing to do. Houston might not evoke pictures of a tropical paradise, but head about an hour outside of the city, and you’ll find the picturesque beaches of Galveston. Sink your toes in the golden sand, explore the storied downtown, or enjoy al fresco dining at a seaside restaurant. At the centre of it all is Pleasure Pier, a historic waterfront amusement area that never disappoints for people watching.

Photo: Random Sky

Photo: Random Sky

Photo: Melvin Thambi

Photo: Melvin Thambi

Where to eat in Houston

There’s a reason why The New York Times called Houston “one of the country’s most exciting places to eat.” The food scene is a direct representation of Houston’s ethnic diversity; expect everything from Mexican to Cajun to Vietnamese to homegrown Texan classics. One of the city’s top fine dining experiences, the three brothers behind Maison Pucha Bistro crank out elevated takes on French-Ecuadorian cuisine. Save room for any of the desserts featuring decadent Ecuadorian chocolate. Another elegant option is Xochi, where Oaxacan-inspired dishes shine on the carefully curated menu. Opt for the mole tasting to best appreciate the variations of chiles, seeds, nuts, and spices that combine to create the hallmark sauce. Decorative Mexican tiles and hand-painted alebrijes (Mexican folk art sculptures) further enhance the Oaxacan vibes. Delighting diners for over 50 years, Tony’s remains a quintessential high-end Houston dining experience. Italian staples are influenced by fresh, seasonal ingredients, with dishes like truffle-crusted snapper, foie gras flambe, and house-made pasta making appearances on the tasting menu. Their exquisite wine list goes on and on, with a vast number available by the glass.

Photo: Margherita Turrin

Photo: Margherita Turrin

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Long a favorite on the Houston food scene, Brennan’s combines classic New Orleans flavors with Texan ingredients in a refined complex that could be straight out of New Orleans’ French Quarter

Long a favourite on Houston travel guides, Brennan’s combines classic New Orleans flavours with Texan ingredients in a refined complex that could be straight out of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Service purrs along while radiating old-school Southern hospitality. Snapping Turtle Soup, Seafood Gumbo, and Wood-Grilled Oysters are just a few of the exciting menu options. On weekends, toe-tapping live jazz fills the air during their highly popular Sunday Brunch. One Fifth is a restaurant experience unlike any other. Helmed by chef Chris Shepherd, the restaurant follows five unique concepts over five years. Now on its third year, One Fifth is currently all about Mediterranean cuisine. Enjoy family-style dishes and fresh pita in the former Hyde Park church, or keep an eye out for what concepts years four and five will unveil.

State of Grace is as gorgeous as restaurants come, invoking an elevated European bistro feel. The menu mainly showcases local Hill Country ingredients in time-honoured ‘Old South’ favourites, but international influences like shrimp “a la plancha” and kimchi collards also pop up on the menu. Start with the lobster hush puppies—you won’t be disappointed. Nestled in Buffalo Bayou Park, The Dunlavy is easily recognizable for its floor-to-ceiling glass windows and medley of shimmering chandeliers in all shapes and sizes. Come for a gourmet lunch before or after a stroll through the park. Also, an excellent option for dining during the day, the Pondicheri Bake Lab + Shop serves Indian-inspired pastries, fresh juices and other ingenious twists on cafe classics. We recommend the Alphonso mango & local peach cheesecake, best savoured with a warm chai tea on the side. The packaged house masalas and ayurvedic skin oils are also well worth checking out. The persistent line of Houstonians at Local Foods is all the proof you need that this artisanal sandwich shop is worth a visit. Their signature Crunch Chicken is a mouthwatering combo of fried chicken topped with crushed kettle chips and served on a pretzel bun, but you also can’t go wrong with any of their veggie options.

State of Grace

State of Grace

State of Grace

State of Grace

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Manready Mercantile is a haven for men who appreciate sipping an Old-Fashioned while perusing racks of original, vintage pieces

Shopping in Houston

Dating back to 1883, Hamilton Shirts creates bespoke, made-to-measure shirts in a moody, dark-panelled shop. Celebrity A-listers and discerning travellers alike have long sought after the high-quality fabrics; now in its fourth generation of ownership, shopping for a custom, hand-cut Hamilton Shirt remains an indisputable Houston must-do. Timeless yet modern menswear is the choice du jour of Rye 51, where small-batch mentality and ethical production workshops ensure a much-appreciated alternative to fast fashion. The quality over quantity mentality means items are limited, so if something catches your eye, snag it while you can. Then there’s Manready Mercantile, a haven for men who appreciate sipping an Old-Fashioned while perusing racks of original, vintage pieces. Yes, that really happens here. A generous dose of quirkiness balances out the rugged boots, denim, and taxidermy focus.

Space Montrose is the place to discover gorgeous uniquities by independent, local artisans. There’s a clear sense of community between the owners, the artists they work with, and the patrons who frequent their shop. Come for hand-crafted souvenirs you won’t find anywhere else. Decidedly more eclectic is Wilde Collection, the brainchild of owners Lawyer Douglas and Tyler Zottarelle. The owners say the imaginative shop is what would happen if Edgar Allen Poe and Oscar Wilde opened a gift shop; the bizarre oddities and gothic decor are strangely beautiful—and a prime example of why Houston is one of the coolest cities around.

Photo: Terje Sollie

Photo: Terje Sollie

Photo: Sbstnc

Photo: Sbstnc

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There’s nowhere better to get your two-steppin’ on then Neon Boots—a cowboy-themed gay dance hall that doubles as the largest LGBT country concept in Texas

Houston nightlife

Wrangle your inner cowboy. You’re in Houston, after all, and there’s nowhere better to get your two-steppin’ on then Neon Boots—a cowboy-themed gay dance hall that doubles as the largest LGBT country concept in Texas. Once home to the famed Esquire Ballroom (where legends like Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson took to the stage), Neon Boots has regular live shows, dance lessons, and karaoke. An institution in gay Houston, JR’s is a chilled-out gay bar in the heart of Montrose with a loyal following and generous drink specials. It’s a friendly place to meet and mingle, especially on the lovely patio. A more contemporary option is Guava Lamp, a sleek gay bar where you’ll find handsome men sipping martinis in the lounge-like atmosphere. Regular drag shows and karaoke nights fill the calendar.

Aptly named South Beach is a gay club that feels straight out of Miami. With male dancers, laser lights and throbbing house music throughout the 10,000 square foot space, it’s the ultimate Houston gay club when you want a wild, after-hours night on the town. Another megaclub and popular Houston gay nightlife guide option is Rich’s, a recently reopened multi-level nightclub with fabulous Latin nights, boisterous drag shows and a boozy Sunday Funday.

With its unpresumptuous front door and original antique safes on display, the Houston Watch Company feels very much like a speakeasy (without ever trying too hard.) The two-level craft cocktail lounge specializes in Old Fashioneds, with four different flavours to choose from. As its name suggests, the cosy bar has a long history as one of Houston’s most prestigious watch shops and time services; saddle up with a drink at the bar and ask the knowledgeable staff all about it. Similarly, Bad News is a sleek saloon with an unmarked door on Main Street, right above The Nightingale Room. The atmosphere is all dark wood and chandeliers, and bartenders excel at both custom concoctions and the classics. Sip a local craft beer while enjoying the skyline views at The Raven Tower, an industrial-style taproom housed in a former metal shop. The spacious, open-air deck is a laid-back spot for playing cornhole in the afternoon but be sure to climb to the Tower Lounge for the best vistas.

Photo: Ayo Ogunseinde

Photo: Ayo Ogunseinde

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