It was my first time visiting Houston, Texas and from what I heard over and over – a lot has changed in the last several years. The city ranks as one of the top spots in the entire country for everything from job creation to “most interesting places to eat”. (No joke – there are over 10,000 places in which to dine.)
After spending almost four full days in H-Town – here are 8 things that I really liked about Texas’ largest city.
1. Y’all Don’t Have An Accent
I thought for sure I’d be engulfed by Texas twang during my visit and was fully prepared to sound like a cowboy by the time I hopped on the plane for home. Having spent a considerable amount of time in the south – it was glaring that not once did anyone use the phrase “y’all”. That’s not to say people don’t say it in Houston – but it was bizarre that I never actually heard it once, or any real “twang” for that matter, despite striking up conversations with dozens of people. So much for assuming!
Houston has recently surpassed New York City as the most ethnically diverse place in America and more than 90 different languages are spoken among the 2.3 million people that call this home.
So, there are certainly accents – but there didn’t seem to be a Houston accent. That’s cool because it shows that the city is full of all sorts of people from all around the world.
2. Easy Metro Rail System
Public transportation can be incredibly dicey in big cities. Houston has a rather simple yet efficient downtown rail system that I used nearly everyday that I was in town. I’m sure locals might argue it doesn’t extend far enough to do much good but for people getting around downtown – or for visitors like myself – it was awesome. A ride costs $1.25 (or there are cards for regular riders) and it couldn’t be more simple getting from point A to be point B.
For example – heading to the final day of the Houston Rodeo – I caught a ride just steps from my hotel and in no time – I was at the stadium with no trouble at all. At the end of the day, I waited just 7 minutes for another train that took me back to the hotel. Another day I used it for a ride to the Houston Zoo.
The train is on street level so there’s no trouble searching for stations or waiting around in blighted areas like you do when using public transportation in a lot of cities. You catch your ride literally on the same street as vehicular traffic.
3. Museums, Museums, Museums!
It would have taken me more than a week to visit all of the treasures within Houston’s Museum District. There are 19 different institutions within four “zones” that make up the district. The Houston Zoo, Holocaust Museum, Lawndale Art Center and the acclaimed Children’s Museum of Houston for starters.
Houston has more than 500 institutions dedicated to science, performing arts and history.
Gina Miller of the Houston Museum District pointed that while many of the museums are free – even the ones that charge admission offer “free hours” during the week to allow everyone the opportunity to experience the collections and exhibits in the district.
4. Relaxing In Hermann Park
I love visiting parks and absolutely loved spending time in the beautiful Hermann Park located downtown. A secret to the rest of us that live outside of Texas – Houston has more than 56,000 acres of park space – the most among any of the ten most populated cities in the U.S.
After walking through the park one afternoon – I stopped by the awesome Japanese garden and the McGovern Centennial Garden.
5. Hiding Underground
One thing I heard over and over about Houston is that it’s incredibly humid in the Summer. I happen to know a thing or two about humidity – living just miles from the Mississippi River – I know all too well what it’s like to feel drenched the second you walk out the front door. But, when asked about the Houston humidity – Leah Fillion of the Greater Houston CVB reminded me: “You don’t have to shovel humidity”.
So while it all comes down to personal preference – humidity seems more enjoyable than digging out of your driveway or scraping ice off your car every morning.
Now that I’ve given the internet trolls fodder for comments – one thing that was really cool downtown are the underground tunnels that allow folks to escape the weather outside. Directly underneath a portion of downtown you’ll find stores, restaurants, even places to get your hair cut or buy jewelry. Think of it like an underground mall that connects from different buildings and street level entry points.
As a huge fan of the TV show Big Bang Theory – I was delighted to learn that Houston is the home town of Jim Parsons who plays Sheldon Cooper on the popular CBS sitcom. I’d always heard the references to Texas but never knew what city he was actually from. Not only is he from Houston – he’s proud to be from Houston. He credits the local theater scene for much of his success.
7. Houston Space Center
People that live in Houston may take it for granted – but as a visitor I think it’s incredibly cool to have NASA in your backyard. The space center is technically not part of NASA but you’d never know that during a visit. You can touch a moon rock, see actual spacecraft and equipment that’s been used in real missions and take a tram tour to NASA’s Houston headquarters for a 90 minute tour.
8. A House Of Beer Cans
I can’t imagine the neighbors are too crazy about it – but tucked away in a quiet neighborhood of Houston there’s a house that’s covered in beer cans. Apparently, a man enjoyed his beer during retirement and saved all of his cans. Nobody currently lives in the house but it’s open for tours certain days of the week. Or you can stop by for a photo-op like I did.
For more about visiting Houston, Texas – the Greater Houston Convention & Visitor’s Bureau has a terrific website with information for every taste or interest: www.visitHOUSTON.com