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Houston
Nobody really thinks of Houston as a traveler's destination, but it's a city that's actually very cool if you take the time to get to know it (even Forbes agrees, putting it at the top of its list of America's Coolest Cities in 2012). As the United States' fourth-largest city, Houston is vibrant, dynamic, and full of opportunity and diversity, where more than 90 languages other than English are spoken. With bumpy roads and friendly faces, visitors will find an intriguing blend of Texas and transplant culture.
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 is called METRO and runs 7.5 miles from Reliant Park to the University of Houston-Downtown.

A clear local favorite is 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 weather, the theater has an eight-month season. And 100 percent of the shows are free. Most Houstonians consider the experience a truly priceless gift.
There are claims that Houston has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the world. With more than 11,000 establishments, you would certainly never have to eat at the same place twice. The influences are as vast as the numbers—Mexican, Vietnamese, Korean, Salvadoran, French, Cajun. Houston’s food is dynamic and highly touted, 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 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 locational liberty.
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.