Houston Travel Guide

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Houston Travel Guide

Houston Local History

In 1836, brothers Augustus and John Allen set up a trading post on the Buffalo Bayou, a river that now meanders through the heart of the city. They named their new holding Houston, in honour of General Sam Houston, who had just defeated the Mexican Army at San Jacinto.The economy was boosted by the arrival of the railroad in 1860's. But it was the 1901 discovery of oil that had put Houston on the road to good fortune and growth. The city's only obstacle to growth was its summer heat, but beginning in the 1930s, the availability of air conditioning made massive downtown development a reality.

Downtown underwent repeated skyscraper construction, beginning in the 1950s and dozens of older commercial and residential buildings were leveled and turned into parking lots for the growing army of office workers. In 1963, NASA's Mission Control Center opened a few miles from Houston, and six years later the city's name became the first word ever spoken by a human being on the surface of the moon.

Throughout the 1970s, Houston's fortunes continued upwards. In the 1990s, Houston's economy diversified as the city rode the general economic boom that swept the US. In 1997, Houston elected its first black mayor, Lee Brown. In 1998, Houston was drenched by a torrential downpour and menaced by tornadoes. The floodwaters were strong enough to sweep houses off their foundations. Several people were killed and large areas of the city remained under water for days.

Houston Attractions

Houston Shopping

Katy Mills - The principal outlet mall at the far western boundary of Houston, in the town of Katy. The drive is about 25 miles and the mall is a mammoth collection of about 200 factory outlet stores that offer a large selection of merchandise at discount prices. The size of the discounts varies, some are good deals, and some are not. There are also restaurants and a large movie theater on site. Take the Katy Freeway (I-10 west) until you spot the signs.

Commercial Chinatown - On the other side of the freeway from the George Brown Convention Center. Here you can browse your way through a number of little import stores where you will find all kinds of goods imported from across Asia. Interesting furniture, cheap foods, and a variety of curios, are all on offer. Note that some of these curios make lovely gifts to take back home with you.

Stelzig of Texas - For generations this store has been selling clothing, saddles, and other Western goods to local and tourists. It sells some of the high-dollar apparel, handmade boots, ranger belts with silver buckles, and so forth. Everything of the finest quality. If you are looking for the finest in Western wear, this is the store to visit. 3123 Post Oak Street. Tel: 281/629-7779.

Foley's - The oldest of Houston's department stores still has its original store that occupies an entire block. It carries several lines of expensive clothing and perfumes, as well as some moderately priced ones. Main Street at Lamar. Tel: 713/405-7035.

Houston Activities

Children's Museum of Houston - The Children's Museum was created to provide a place where children can engage the world around them, a place that will spark their imaginations, and a place where they will learn the joy of discovery. The museum's staff have developed such fun interactive exhibits as Bubble Lab and Kid-TV, which gives kids the opportunity to imitate what they see on the tube while giving them a behind-the-scenes understanding of television production. Tot Spot, an exhibit that focuses on the 6-month to 3-year-old crowd, helps to build motor skills through ingenious forms of play. The museum is for children up to 12 years old. Admission is $5 per person, free for children under 2. 1500 Binz Street. Tel: 713/522-1138.

SplashTown - Special events are held and live entertainment is on offer throughout the season. SplashTown is larger and has a few more rides than WaterWorld. It's full of water rides and games with a mixture of chutes and slides that you ride with or without a raft or other device, and it requires a sturdy bathing suit. SplashTown is a 45-minute drive from downtown, Northbound I-45 at Louetts Rd., Spring. Admission is $24 adults, $18 children under 48 inches. Tel: 281/355-3300.

Six Flags AstroWorld - This 75-acre park offers several high-tech roller coasters, performance venues, and theme areas. Highlights include: the Serial Thriller, a roller coaster that has you suspended in a seat while it twirls you through seven inversions. In Dungeon Drop you can experience free fall, and the Texas Tornado steel roller coaster does four loops at breakneck speed. Most rides are for children 48 inches or taller. Themed areas, such as the one based on Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters offers some entertainment for smaller or younger children. Admission: $36 adults, $18 children under 48 inches, free for children under 3. 9001 Kirby Dr. Tel: 713/799-1234.

Houston Parks & Gardens

George Ranch Historical Park - This 400-acre outdoor museum is a working cattle ranch, where you can experience the life of four generations of a Texas family. Take a walk through a restored 1820s pioneer farm, an 1880s Victorian mansion, an 1890s cowboy encampment, and a 1930s ranch house. Have a Victorian-style tea on the porch of the Victorian mansion, or watch crafts demonstrations, such as rope twisting. Picnic areas are provided, so bring along a basket and blanket and enjoy the outing. Admission $9 adults, $5 children ages 5 - 15. 10215 FM 762 Richmond. Tel: 281/343-0218.

Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park - This park serves as a repository for eight of Houston's oldest houses and buildings, which were moved here from their original locations. The Heritage Society has worked hard to restore them to their original state and furnish them with pieces from the appropriate eras. The only way to see these buildings is by guided tour. The Heritage Museum can be visited without taking the tour. It features permanent exhibits on Texas history. Tours: $6 adults, $4 children ages 13-17, $2 children 6-12. 1100 Bagby Street. Tel: 713/655-1912.

Houston Zoological Gardens - This 50-acre zoo features a gorilla habitat, rare albino reptiles, cat facility, huge aquarium, and vampire bats. The bats eat lunch every day at 2:30pm, and you can watch them feed. The Brown Education Center, open daily from 10am to 6pm, allows visitors to interact with the animals. The Gardens is located within Hermann Park. Admission: $3 adults, $1 children ages 3-12. 1513 N. MacGregor Rd. Tel: 713/523-5888.

Houston Restaurants and Bars

This city, that helped put a man on the moon, has a specialty when it comes to cuisine. There's the steak. It doesn't matter which cut you pick. In Texas, you can get a steak any day of the week, anywhere in the state. Naturally, Texas steakhouses are considered among the best in the nation. Take Pappas Brothers in Houston, where you can add shrimp remoulade and Maine lobster to your three-peppercorn steak. Barbecue-ing is serious business in the USA .

Everyone has a theory on the proper 'rub' (salt, sugar and spice mix), 'mop' (meat moisturizer) and 'smoke' (cooking device). Sauce recipes are passed down from generation to generation like family heirlooms. Chef Robert Del Grande is also creating southwestern cuisine masterpieces of his own, such as grilled redfish in a subtle red-chile salsa at Cafe Annie in Houston. So be ready to loosen that belt a notch .

Houston Restaurants

Americas - Way-out decor that combines realistic representations of Incan stonework, blown-up images of Indian basketry, and a polychromatic rainforest canopy, combined with an inventive menu of dishes inspired by the national cuisines of the New World, makes this restaurant something to smile about. The restaurant is very popular with Houston natives and reservations are recommended. Indicative of what you can order are: corn-crusted gulf red snapper with a Mexican cream sauce, the yucca polenta, and a refined version of anticuchos (chunks of beefheart cooked over a fire en brochette, a favorite street food in Peru). Main courses $15-$30. 1800 Post Oak Blvd. Tel: 713/961-1492.

Backstreet Cafe - Wonderful cooking, a good selection of wines, and excellent service make this place extremely popular with both locals and visitors. Do not miss the delicious starters, especially the portobello mushrooms stuffed with shrimp and crawfish and the smoked corn crab cakes. The main courses are quite a splendour, and something new on the menu is the braised duck with a zinfandel flavored au jus on top of a wild rice/shitake cake. Try the bread pudding, with macadamia nut brittle and vanilla ice cream for dessert. Main courses $13-$19 and reservations are recommended. 1103 S. Shepherd Street. Tel: 713/521-2239.

Goode Company Texas Barbecue - Jim Goode cooks up some great barbecue at this rickety joint. The scene is set by flashing beer signs and country music on the jukebox. Mr. Goode cooks with the greenest wood he can find, to get great smoked flavour. Especially tasty are the pork ribs and the brisket, and for dessert, the pecan pie is a must. Barbecue plates $7-$10. 5109 Kirby Dr. Tel: 713/522-2530.

Hugo's - The chef/owner, Hugo Ortega, enjoys seasonal cooking. In cold weather, he will often make a delicious seafood soup Zihuatanejo-style, flavoured with a little chile guajillo, a black sauce made from chile morita, and a rich, fresh-tasting fish stock. The specialty is the homemade Mexican hot chocolate, which is truly delicious, but so were the margaritas. Keep an eye out for daily specials. Main courses $13-$25 and reservations are recommended. 1602 Westheimer Rd. Tel: 713/524-7744.

Houston Bars & Clubs

La Carafe - Has been around for ages, and is the oldest commercial building in the city. The jukebox is something of a relic, too, with the most eclectic mix possible and some obscure choices and the crowd is mostly older downtowners. For atmosphere, this spot can not be beaten. 813 Congress. Tel: 713/229-9399.

Marfreless - A bar with a unique flavour. The background music is always classical, and alcoves here and there are considered romantic. The beverage list is quite substancial and you can count on some complementary snacks to stop the beverages from hitting the spot too soon. 2006 Peden. Tel: 713/528-0083.

The Laff Stop - By far the best place for stand-up comedy in Houston. Many of the acts have a biting edge and are not appropriate for kids. There are usually three to four acts a night and you can expect to pay between $10 and $20 per night. 1952-A W. Gray Street. Tel: 713/524-2333.

Blanco's - A Texas-style honky-tonk spot that attracts all sorts of people. Lots of good Texas bands like to play here, so it's a good opportunity to see a well-known band in a small venue. The cover ranges from $5 to $15. Located at 3406 W. Alabama, between Kirby Drive and Buffalo Speedway. Tel: 713/439-0072.

Houston children's activities

Children's Museum of Houston - The Children's Museum was created to provide a place where children can engage the world around them, a place that will spark their imaginations, and a place where they will learn the joy of discovery. The museum's staff have developed such fun interactive exhibits as Bubble Lab and Kid-TV, which gives kids the opportunity to imitate what they see on the tube while giving them a behind-the-scenes understanding of television production. Tot Spot, an exhibit that focuses on the 6-month to 3-year-old crowd, helps to build motor skills through ingenious forms of play. The museum is for children up to 12 years old. Admission is $5 per person, free for children under 2. 1500 Binz Street. Tel: 713/522-1138.

SplashTown - Special events are held and live entertainment is on offer throughout the season. SplashTown is larger and has a few more rides than WaterWorld. It's full of water rides and games with a mixture of chutes and slides that you ride with or without a raft or other device, and it requires a sturdy bathing suit. SplashTown is a 45-minute drive from downtown, Northbound I-45 at Louetts Rd., Spring. Admission is $24 adults, $18 children under 48 inches. Tel: 281/355-3300.

Six Flags AstroWorld - This 75-acre park offers several high-tech roller coasters, performance venues, and theme areas. Highlights include: the Serial Thriller, a roller coaster that has you suspended in a seat while it twirls you through seven inversions. In Dungeon Drop you can experience free fall, and the Texas Tornado steel roller coaster does four loops at breakneck speed. Most rides are for children 48 inches or taller. Themed areas, such as the one based on Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters offers some entertainment for smaller or younger children. Admission: $36 adults, $18 children under 48 inches, free for children under 3. 9001 Kirby Dr. Tel: 713/799-1234.

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