Photo Courtesy of Thomas Hawk
The largest city in Texas and the fourth-largest in the nation, Houston is a powerhouse metropolis with strong ties to the energy and aeronautics industries but a soft spot for the arts, too. Between its happening neighborhoods, creative culinary scene, ample green space, live music, and ever-increa…sing cultural diversity, Houston is taking on a new identity as one of the great cosmopolitan cities on the global stage.
What to know before you go to Houston
Remember these months: October through May. That’s when the weather in Houston is just about perfect for doing anything indoors or out. It’s best to avoid Houston’s four-month-long summers of extreme heat and humidity (June through September), when locals look for any opportunity to make a northern escape.
Houston has two major airports: George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), 15 miles northeast of downtown, and Hobby Airport (HOU), 9 miles southeast of the city. Taxis and shuttles are available into town from the airports, but it’s probably best just to rent a car, which you’ll most likely need to get around Houston during your stay.
Unfortunately, a car is a must if you want to really explore Houston. There are walkable areas (Midtown, Neartown/Montrose, and Downtown), but access from those neighborhoods to the rest of the city by public transportation is quite limited. The light rail, called METRORail, has three lines with a total of 22 miles of rail.
A clear local favorite activity is attending an outdoor concert or play at Miller Outdoor Theatre. It’s been around since 1923 and is part of the beautiful Hermann Park in southwest Houston. Because of Houston’s mild fall-through-spring weather, the theater has an eight-month season. And 100 percent of the shows are free. Hermann Park is also near the Museum District, so you can spend the afternoon browsing the Museum of Fine Arts or the Museum of Natural Science, then see a show at the outdoor theater in the evening.
There are claims that Houston has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the world. With more than 10,000 establishments, you would certainly never have to eat at the same place twice. The ethnic diversity is almost as vast as the numbers—Mexican, Vietnamese, Korean, Salvadoran, French, Cajun. Houston’s food is dynamic and highly touted (six of the city's chefs were nominated for James Beard Awards in 2017), making it a constant challenge to save enough room for dessert.
One thing that surprises visitors and newcomers to Houston is its world-renowned arts scene. The city is second only to New York City for the number of theater seats in a concentrated U.S. downtown area, and it has its own opera, ballet, symphony, and theater companies. Houston is also a great museum city with 19 different museums offering a range of exhibits, collections, workshops, and live performances all in one district. The Menil Collection, MFAH, Museum of Natural Science, and CAMH are all must-visit museums.
From fall through spring, Houston is the perfect setting for outdoor festivals and events like the Greek Festival in October, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in March, and the Art Car Parade in May.
An interesting fact about Houston you may not learn unless living here is that it’s the only major American city without land-use zoning laws. This means anything can be built anywhere—hospitals next to Italian restaurants next to taxidermy shops next to schools next to gun shops. So, what the city lacks in beauty may be due this little-known hyperlocal liberty.
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Jessica Lymberopoulos Houston Local Expert A native of East Tennessee, Jessica Lymberopoulos has been based in Houston since 2010. She has lived and worked in the Heights, Medical Center, and Kingwood and loves all this sprawling, energetic city has to offer. She works as a marketing copywriter and studies rhetoric at Northern Arizona University.