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Houston Travel Guide

Weekend Getaway

Hello, Houston
From Hot Cowboys to Haute Cuisine

By Marene Gustin

Downtown Houston
Downtown Houston

Whether you're looking to kick up your heels at the rodeo or attend a world premiere opera, Houston, the fourth largest city in America, boasts a typical Texas spirit swathed in a worldly veneer. There are more than 90 different languages spoken in this multi-cultural Mecca, which is home to the world's largest stock show and rodeo, professional teams in every major sport and more than 500 visual, cultural and performing arts organizations. The downtown Theater District has some 12,000 seats for the city's ballet, opera, symphony and Tony Award-winning theater while the tree-lined Museum District is home to thirteen institutions and is nestled next to the verdant Hermann Park, an urban oasis, and the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the world.

Historical sites are juxtaposed with quirky cultural places like the Beer Can House, which is exactly what it sounds like, and towering steel skyscrapers in concrete canyons. Besides sporting events and cultural performances, Houstonians love to shop and eat. You'll find everything from quaint boutiques selling Mexican folk art and homegrown designer duds to huge indoor malls, plus more than 10,000 restaurants ranging from taco shacks to fine dining emporiums.

Considering the sprawl that is Houston—the city stretches over12,476 square miles, an area larger than Maryland—you won't be surprised that locals are highly dependent on their automobiles. You'll need a rental car to access most sights, although several are within walking distance of the recommended hotels or accessible by the sleek 7.5-mile METRO rail that runs from Midtown to the Texan's Reliant Stadium.

The pool at Four Seasons Hotel Houston
The pool at Four Seasons Hotel Houston

There is much to consider for the first-time visitor who hopes to see even a small sample of the attractions. That's because Houston's cultural, economic and historic perspectives are as diverse as its horizons. From the groundswell of the famous oil boom to ground control of the national space program, Houston is a high-energy destination. That's why a 72-hour trip through time and space aims to help you take in—and make some sense of—the majesty of this major metropolis.

Luxurious accommodations befitting its diverse visitors populate the largest city in Texas. La Colombe d'Or Hotel, residing within the gracious mansion of a 1920s oil magnate, offers an intimate escape in the heart of the beautiful museum district.

If you want to make downtown the focus of your Houston stay, consider booking your accommodations at the Four Seasons Hotel Houston. This elegant property will amaze you with its famous restaurant, Quattro, which is romantic and contemporary with a great view of downtown Houston, yet comfortable and family-friendly. A $4 million rooftop redo offers a pool with cabanas and an outdoor dining venue.

The Galleria shopping mall touts many unique stores coupled with a plethora of all-time high-end favorites. When you visit the Galleria, don't forget it's the home to a popular restaurant row, which includes The Oceanaire Seafood Room with divine fish dishes and views of the glitzy streets lit by white lights twinkling in the trees below.

Houston is brash and big, so seeing all it has to offer may take several visits, but here's a plan for hitting the city's hottest spots—all in just 72 hours.


The Rockstar Suite at Hotel ZaZa in Houston
Rockstar Suite at Hotel ZaZa
Rock stars and royalty stay at the over-the-top Hotel ZaZa, which despite its decadent décor still retains the majesty of the original 1925 hotel that affords fabulous views of Hermann Park and Rice University. Bob Hope once called the view from the penthouse "the best in the world." Deep in the heart of the Museum District, it's the perfect place to stay and to start your walking tour. Within this sector lies Hermann Park and tree-lined streets, anchored by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and its world-renowned permanent collection and traveling exhibits which include African art, European paintings, antiques, photography, prints, drawings, textiles and costumes.

After you've seen your fill of art, work your way across the street to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, which highlights the earth's wonders with its Wortham IMAX Theatre, the Cockrell Butterfly Center, the Burke Baker Planetarium and three floors of permanent exhibits showcasing everything from dinosaurs to the elaborate Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals. Then, consider paying a visit to the Holocaust Museum Houston—the first institution of its kind in the Southwest that serves as a memorial to the millions imprisoned and murdered by Nazis.

Holocaust Museum Houston
Holocaust Museum Houston

Both the young and young at heart will enjoy the Children's Museum of Houston, which doubled its hands-on-exhibit space in 2009. And, of course, there's always the miniature train in Hermann Park, the zoo and Japanese Gardens to see. All within walking distance.

For lunch, consider the MFA Café. This sophisticated glass-encased café, situated on the ground floor of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Beck Building, offers Italian fare created with locally sourced ingredients.

After lunch, hop in that rental car for a five-minute drive to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's decorative arts collection at Bayou Bend, the former mansion and stunning gardens of Houston's first lady of philanthropy, Ima Hogg. (Yes, that was her real name.)

Children's Museum of Houston
Children's Museum of Houston

You can spend all afternoon prowling the well-tended gardens and taking in the rich collection of Americana inside the mansion. In the spring the flowers are breathtaking and during the holidays the museum's Yuletide décor is a must-see by candlelight tour.

At the end of the day there's nothing like an elegant meal at Monarch at the Hotel ZaZa. Linger and relax until the action picks up on the fabulous lounge patio. Join the glam set as they sip martinis and enjoy the nighttime view of the park and the dramatically lit Mecom Fountain. Not only will you feel like a celebrity, you just might rub elbows with a few.

Continue to Day 2


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* Images from the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

(Updated: 03/09/11 NW)

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