48 Hours In: Houston

From barbecue heaven to the final frontier, the Lone Star State’s leading city guarantees a unique short break. By Simon Calder

 

Click here for 48 Hours In... Houston map

Travel Essentials

Why go now?

Cutting-edge science, fine art and a warm welcome await in the biggest Texan city. Fall is the ideal time to explore Houston, as the summer heat abates and the pace of life picks up. And with good deals for weekend stays and plenty of free attractions, the city is excellent value.

Touch down

George Bush international airport, 20 miles north, is the main gateway. British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and United (0845 844 4777; united.com) fly non-stop from Heathrow. A taxi to Downtown costs $52.50 (£33), or the meter fare if that is lower. Metro Bus 102 picks up half-hourly on the south side of Terminal C and serves Pierce and Main (1) in Downtown – journey time 75 minutes, fare $1.25 (£0.80).

On American Airlines or Delta via their hubs in Dallas and Atlanta respectively, you can touch down at Hobby airport, only eight miles south-west of Downtown. A taxi costs a maximum of $26 to Downtown; bus No 88 departs half-hourly, taking 31 minutes to Pierce and Main (1).

At Hobby, make time to see the original Art Deco 1940 Air Terminal (001 713  454 1940; 1940; airterminal.org), now an aviation museum: it tells of an age when flying was the preserve of the rich and glamorous (10am-5pm, except Monday; Sunday from 1pm; $5/£3).

Get your bearings

Interstate 45 wraps around the western side of Downtown Houston; Highway 59 marks the south-eastern edge of the central area; and the Buffalo Bayou forms the northern boundary. Main Street meets this waterway close to Allen’s Landing (2), where the city was founded in 1836.

The Visitors’ Center (001 713 437 5200; visit houstontexas.com; 9am-4pm daily except Sundays) occupies part of the magnificent Art Deco City Hall (3) on Hermann Square; glance up at the star on the elaborate ceiling of the main lobby, and the legend: “O great city of vision – beautiful, strong and alert.”

Houston spilled beyond its downtown confines long ago, and many of the attractions lie some distance away. The Museum District is a couple of miles south-west along Main Street; the western suburb of Montrose is the unlikely venue for two of America’s great cultural treasures; and to the south-east is a lively Hispanic district.

The Texan love affair with the car is being tempered by Houston’s improving public transport system. The flagship is Light Rail, a seven-mile tram line running along Main Street with services every few minutes (flat fare $1.25 / £0.80). Two great initiatives: a free bus service, the Greenlink bus, circulates around Downtown every seven minutes on weekdays, while taxi rides in the central area cost a flat $6 (£4) (plus a customary dollar tip); see houstontx.gov/downtowncab.

Check in

Hotels in Houston can be excellent value, especially at weekends when business guests dwindle. Rates include 17 per cent tax and, as is usual in the US, exclude breakfast. One element of the resurgence of Houston’s core is Embassy Suites Downtown (4) at 1515 Dallas Street (001 713 739 9100; bit.ly/EmSuHo). Suites are available for as little as $149 (£93) per night for an advance purchase weekend stay, including Wi-Fi and a happy-hour reception.

In the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the Hotel ZaZa (5) resurrects  the 1926 Warwick Hotel at 5701 Main Street (001 713 526 1991; hotelzaza.com) and provides a theatrical take on Texas. Each suite is individually decorated, such as the space-themed Houston We Have A Problem. Doubles are typically $400 (£250), including Wi-Fi. The hotel’s “Magic Carpet” limousine service provides free transport within five miles.

Day One

Take a view

The JPMorgan Chase Tower (6) is the tallest building in Texas. Visit the observation gallery on the 60th floor for free – simply walk in and take the elevator to the “Sky Lobby”. This viewpoint opens only 8am-5pm from Monday to Friday. At weekends, content yourself with viewing the large Joan Miró sculpture outside.

Take a hike...

… through the Downtown Historic District with a Houston Greeter (001 713 473 3837; houstongreeters.org). These volunteers steer a fascinating course through the heart of Houston. Tours usually start at City Hall (3), and explore the Theater District. The waterside path on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou leads to Allen’s Landing (2), where the trading history of Houston is documented; this inland city is America’s leading international port. The upper part of Main Street has barely changed since the 1960s. Turn left for one block on Texas Street and you reach the entrance to Christ Church Cathedral (7) – a surprisingly dainty place of worship for so muscular a city (001 713 222 2593; christchurchcathedral.org).

Lunch on the run

The Great Hall of the cathedral (7) serves excellent lunches from Monday to Friday. A seven-day-a-week alternative is accessible by taking the Light Rail to Museum District station. Cross to the Museum of Fine Arts (8) at 1001 Bissonnet Street (001 713 639 7300; mfah.org) and walk beyond it to the Cullen Sculpture Garden (9am-10pm daily; free) on the corner of Montrose Avenue and Bissonet Street. Every day from 11am to 3pm a different food truck serves cheap, tasty and nutritious meals.

Take your purchase into the garden to share with Matisse and Rodin. The museum itself opens daily except Monday; hours vary, admission $10 (£6.60); free on Thursdays.

Window shopping

Houston was home to the world’s first air-conditioned mall, and the genre has reached its ultimate at the vast Galleria, north-west of the centre. For a more modest retail outlet try The Heights, along 19th Street between North Shepherd and Heights Boulevard. Among the distinctive stores is the cornucopia of unusual gifts at Bliss on 19th (9) at 235 (001 832 673 0099; blisson19th.com) and the adjacent Vinal Edge Records (001 281 537 2575; vinaledge.com), where random 78s are sold by weight.

An aperitif

The Onion Creek Café (10) at 3106 White Oak (001 713 880 0706; onioncreekcafe.com) marks its 10th birthday, but this rambling barn of a tavern feels like it’s been here since 1950. Sip a local craft beer such as St Arnold’s Amber; linger for a burger ($12/£7.50 with a beer), or cross town for a Tex-Mex.

Dining with the locals

Even in surprising Houston, the Original Ninfa’s (11) at 2704 Navigation Boulevard (001 713 228 1175; ninfas.com) is a one-off: a former tortilla factory where Tex-Mex meets modern American under chef Alex Padilla. The signature dish remains as it has since the Seventies: beef and chicken fajitas, medium (half-pound, $17.95/£11) or large (1lb, $32.95/£20). Conclude with a peppery mole ice cream and one of the dozen varieties of tequila.

Day Two

Sunday morning: go to church

The Rothko Chapel (12) at 3900 Yupon Street (001 713 524 9839; rothkochapel.org; 10am–6pm daily) was created by John and Dominique de Menil as “a sacred place open to all people, every day”. The Russian-born artist, Mark Rothko, filled it with 14 dark, monumental canvasses.

Cultural morning

What Dominique de Menil did next stands next door, in the elegant shape of the first US building by Renzo Piano: the Menil Collection (13), home to one of the world’s leading private art collections (001 713 525 9400; menil.org; 11am-7pm Wednesday to Sunday, free). Ancient engravings meet  Andy Warhol.

Out to brunch

Many Texans consider the barbecue a work of art. The old masters reside at Goode Co BBQ (14) at 5109 Kirby Drive (001 713 522 2530; goodecompany.com; 11am-10pm daily). Pork ribs and beef brisket ($10.95/£7 for either) are grilled over mesquite wood.

A walk in the park

Discovery Green (15) was created from two car parks on the edge of Downtown. Indulge in yoga, zumba and open-air movies, though not at the same time. In winter the pond is transformed into an ice rink ( discoverygreen.com).

Take a ride

Make a journey to the Moon and beyond at Space Center Houston (001 281 244 2100; spacecenter.org 10am-5pm daily, later at weekends; $22.95/£14). It explains the story of space exploration, with samples such as a piece of Moon rock that you can touch. Then, board a “tram tour” (included in price) to explore the Johnson Space Center, from which the Apollo missions were controlled. Finally, visit Rocket Park – including a real Saturn V rocket. And remember the late Neil Armstrong’s momentous words: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor