Houston City and Culture

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Houston City and Culture
In a city of more than two million people, you're going to find a little bit of everything. Houson offers the classy—Museum of Modern Art, anyone?—to the unapologetically weird Thanks to its numerous distinct neighborhoods—each with its own character—Houston offers endless exploration opportunities. Get to know the city, the people, and the culture.
By Kristin Finan, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
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    The Bayou City
    Known as Space City because of its (very cool) connection to NASA, Houston also goes by "Bayou City." Buffalo Bayou (sometimes called Allen's Landing) is a waterway that runs through downtown Houston. Historically significant in the region—during its founding and development, Houston was looking to expand its shipping industry—the bayou remains a fixture.
    Photo courtesy of Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
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    A Multicultural Identity
    Houston is an extremely diverse place—an estimated 145 languages are spoken here. This is great news for visitors—there's substantial variety in everything from the local media to food to art. You won't be at a loss for neighborhoods to explore, but make sure you don't miss the Vietnamese quarter around Milam Street or either of the city's Chinatowns (one is near Bellaire, the other is in East Downtown), where you should block out a day to sample the restaurant scene.
    Photo courtesy of Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
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    The Museum Scene
    Houston's Museum District is a major tourist draw, attracting millions of visitors annually. The major facilities include the Museum of Fine Arts, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the Menil Collection. But don't skip the smaller, quirkier museums, either, including the fascinating National Museum of Funeral History and the innovative Art Car Musuem.
    Photo by Michael DeFreitas/age fotostock
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    Sensational Shopping
    Houstonians love to shop, and they are fortunate to have a lot of options. Rice Village, located in West University Place near the Rice University campus, is one favorite thanks to its collection of shops and eateries—stop by and say hi to Project Runway winner Chloe Dao at her namesake store while you're there. Another can't-miss shopping destination is the Galleria, which draws 24 million visitors every year and is home to almost 400 stores. When you're done shopping, cross the street to take a selfie at Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park, a stunning semicircular architectural fountain that pumps 11,000 gallons of water a minute. Want something from a local artist? Check out the First Saturday Arts Market in the Heights.
    Photo courtesy of Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
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    Houston Heights
    Houston Heights—referred to by locals as "the Heights"—is one of the city's earliest planned communities and a neighborhood favored by artists. Characterized by quaint Victorian houses, loads of green space, and an abundance of bike paths, the Heights is a great place to meander. Browse or buy antiques along 19th Street, then check out fascinating Heights Boulevard Street Art Project. The First Saturday Arts Market is another fun way to get to know the neighborhood.
    Photo courtesy of Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
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    Houston's Cocktail Culture
    In the past decade, Houston has become a hub for the craft cocktail scene—bars sprinkled across the city are elevating the public's notion of what it means to grab a drink. One of the best examples of a craft cocktail bar is Anvil Bar & Refuge, which specializes in drinks that utilize local ingredients and house-made syrups. Other must-go bars include La Carafe, considered by many to be Houston's oldest bar, tequila-focused El Big Bad and the beloved Saint Arnold Brewing Company. For something entirely unique, stop in at the OKRA Charity Saloon, a pub that donates its proceeds to Houston-based non-profits. In addition to its social justice mission, OKRA is an inviting space with a laid-back vibe.
    Photo courtesy of Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
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    Green Houston
    Perhaps unexpectedly, given its ties to industry, Houston is an extremely green city. The subtropical climate helps—lots of rainfall means lots of plant life—but so does the city's commitment to environmental practices. From transportation options to the purchase of green power, Houston is an eco-friendly place. There are hundreds of parks in the area; start with Memorial Park, Hermann Park, and Discovery Green. The latter has two dog runs on-site.
    Photo courtesy of Hugh Hargrave/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau