Houston is without a doubt one of the most overlooked and underrated destinations in the country. Which just makes it that much more fun to explore. With incredible museums and art collections, nearly 63,000 acres of parkland, more theater seats than New York City and burgeoning art, fashion and food scenes, there’s lots to keep you occupied. No wonder it’s attracting a new generation of young professionals and creatives. Officially ranked as the most diverse city in the U.S., it’s also one of the least expensive cities to live in. NASA may have earned it the nickname Space City but there is a lot more to Houston than that. Here are our top 10 places to see, eat and stay in the up-and-coming metropolis:
Photo Credit: Greater Houston CVB
The Museum of Fine Arts
There are a lot of museums to choose from in Houston—20 in the Museum District alone—but the Museum of Fine Arts is king of the hill. One of the largest museums in the United States, its permanent collection spans more than 6,000 years with approximately 64,000 works from six continents. It offers 270,000 square feet of exhibition space spread out over several buildings, and is home to a sculpture garden. Two of them were designed by the legendary Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and before you even get inside, the architecture itself is an impressive sight. In 2019, the Museum will unveil a new $450 million expansion.
Photo Credit: Greater Houston CVB
The Menil Collection
The other standout star of the Museum District is a true mecca for lovers of contemporary art. First opened to the public in 1987 by banking and oil baron John de Menial and his heiress wife Dominique, it was designed by world famous architect Renzo Piano and occupies its own 30-acre campus. One of the largest, and possibly the most important, private art collection in the US, the Menil Collection comprises approximately 17,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs and rare books. Satellite structures contain the Rothko Chapel with a series of monumental works by Mark Rothko, and our favorite, the amazing Cy Twombly Gallery dedicated to the late, great, American artist.
Photo Credit: Bistro Menil
The Menil campus is now also drawing people who have no intention of looking at art, they go for the food. The recently-opened Bistro Menil sits in a spot originally selected by Renzo Piano, and has quickly become rated as one of the city’s best restaurants. Chef Greg Martin has put a fresh spin on the classic bistro concept with causal, friendly and lively dining in a contemporary setting with a focus on craft beer and cask wine. Of course is doesn’t hurt to have Rothko and Twombly for neighbors. The adjacent Menial Collection Bookstore is also a must.
Photo Credit: Hotel ICON
Hotel ICON was ahead of its time in 2004, opening Downtown in a former bank dating back to 1911. Now an exclusive member of the Autograph Collection, it’s often fully booked by guests who appreciate the style of a hip hotel in the midst of historic neoclassical architecture and modern amenities. Many of the 135 guest rooms and 18 suites have their own individual character, with several featuring decorative molding and paneling. Baths boast marble fixtures, antique claw-foot or Jacuzzi tubs, and rain showers. The 1,000-square-foot Presidential Suite is spread out over three lavish levels.
Photo Credit: JW Marriott Houston Downtown
JW Marriott Houston Downtown
Newly opened in a revamped 100-year-old office building, the upscale 323 room hotel has a wealth of architectural detail set off by cutting-edge design. The JW Marriott Houston Downtown also features a Houston-themed restaurant called Main Kitchen, a plush bar, full-service spa, health club, executive lounge and 16,000 square feet of meeting space. Paintings and sculptures created by local artists adorn the space, which has quickly become a hot spot for locals to grab a bite to eat or a cocktail. Two nearby rail lines and Houston’s underground tunnel system afford easy access to the area’s attractions.
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In a city with so many Fortune 500 company headquarters, we’d expect some serious real estate to salivate over, and Houston does not disappoint. The 1,110-acre River Oaks community is the wealthiest and most expensive in Texas, and among the top ten in the United States. Real estate values range from $1 million to well over $20 million, with many of the houses having historic architectural interest as the area was originally developed in the 1920s. Home to former Enron execs to oil barons, socialites and tycoons of all types, you will see everything from plantations to English mansions and French châteaux on a scenic drive through its privileged thoroughfares.
Photo Credit: The Texas Junk Company
The Texas Junk Company
A must for anyone into vintage Americana, the Texas Junk Company presents a less polished side of Houston, but nonetheless interesting for it. With over 1,000 pairs of secondhand cowboy boots, antiques, picture frames and wooden tennis rackets, it’s a great, innately-Texan counterpoint to all the major luxury boutiques which are found in H-Town. Want new boots? Try the recently-opened Luchese store in Highland Village, an outpost of the famed 130-year-old El Paso brand.
Photo Credit: Weights + Measures
Weights + Measures
Houston’s newest, coolest eatery, Weights + Measures, comprises a restaurant, bar and bake shop with a wicked brunch scene and spot-on open plan design, plus perfect graphics. With 5,000 square feet in a converted 1950’s industrial warehouse—a collaboration between a developer, a bartender, a chef and a baker—it still manages to feel intimate. The kitchen delivers a “seasonal, quintessentially American menu,” with local twists like fried chicken sandwiched between cake donuts. And in addition to the full bar serving up great cocktails, there’s a huge selection of bottled craft beers and a wine list focused on small production options.
Photo Credit: Underbelly
This bustling bar and restaurant aims to present the whole story of Houston food through the cooking of Chef Chris Shepherd. Since he won a James Beard Award for “Best Chef Southwest” in 2014, you can bet it’s a culinary tour worth embarking on. Underbelly references “an endless array of the ingredients and cultures” that lie beneath the city’s surface, and Shepherd calls the result “Houston New American Creole” cuisine. It really has to be experienced firsthand. Also worth checking out are the other spots in Shepherd’s Clumsy Butcher Group, including stylish watering holes like Julep, The Hay Merchant, Anvil and Blacksmith.
Photo Credit: Revival Market
The Heights, one of Houston’s up-and-coming neighborhoods, is home to this urban interpretation of a traditional market café, with a sharp focus on the freshest of foods. Revival Market's menu is sourced from local farmers, ranchers, cheese makers and culinary artisans of all descriptions, and offers a wide array of seasonally-inspired prepared foods, charcuterie, and house-made staples like condiments, pickles and jams. The bounty of Texas is apparent in its offerings, and most visitors take the opportunity to enjoy an amazing sandwich on a trip to stock their larders. We’ll see you there.