Beyonce was born here. And with 2.3 million inhabitants, it’s the US’s fourth largest city, after NYC, LA and Chicago.
But despite knowing the basics, Houston, Texas always remained a bit of a mystery to me.
I guess I harbored a very ‘red’ perception of the city. I assumed that, like the rest of the Lone Star State – Austin aside – it was not for me.
But visiting H-Town last year, I got an education. Epitomized by its jagged, futuristic skyline (one of my favorites ever), the city was far more progressive and cosmopolitan than I expected.
Keeping politics out of it (although I will say Trump was in town, and there were protests), I was impressed by the locals’ openminded and welcoming nature.
Local LGBTIs I met insisted it was great place to live, with a sprawling gay scene. This is supported by the tourist board’s investment in a dedicated website to queer life in the city.
There are many far more established LGBTI destinations that don’t have so sophisticated a resource, so be sure to check it out.
Then there’s the comprehensive list of things to see and do, from cultural centers to giant shopping complexes [such as The Houston Premium Outlets, pictured above]. There’s easily enough here to rival Houston’s brother cities on the East and West Coast, and put simply, for us, it made for a refreshing change of city break.
Here’s our guide to seeing the best of the best in 48 hours…
Morning: Tour the city
We explored the fantastically neat and tidy Downtown area on the hop-on, hop-off Houston City Double Decker Bus Tour. The journey has six key stop-offs: the GRB Convention Center, Market Square Park, City Hall Visitor Center, Downtown Aquarium, Hermann Park and the Museum District.
An audio guide accompanies you on your journey, dishing out nuggets of trivia about Bayou City – nicknamed as such because it has ten waterways circling it. Three random facts: Houston was founded in 1836, over 90 languages are spoken here, and it’s officially the most ethnically-diverse metropolitan area in the nation.
My top tip for sightseeing is Joan Miro’s colourful public sculpture, Personage and Birds. It’s so delightful and impressive that it practically obscures the 305m JPMorgan Chase Tower (Texas’ tallest building), on the doorstep of which it sits.
Afternoon: Shop at one of the city’s mega-malls
There are Simon Shopping Destinations across the US, and they’re great for time-constrained travelers looking to speedily cover a lot of ground.
The Galleria is a sparkly, shiny and sprawling development, covering 3 million square feet. Across 2 million of them you’ll find 375 stores (we got lost in Saks Fifth Avenue), 30 dining options and a year-round ice rink.
It commonly attracts 24 million visitors a year, and is the seventh largest mall in the US, and the largest in Texas.
The Galleria also has two hotels: we stayed at the four star Westin Galleria [pictured above]. It’s a stone’s throw from all the shopping action.
Another shopping option? The Houston Premium Outlets. A 35-minute drive out of town, here you’ll find almost 150 designer and high end retailers offering a range of bargains.
Again, we hit Saks Fifth Avenue and found a pineapple-print shirt by Penguin which we’ve practically lived in ever since. Other outlets we loved included Armani, Hugo Boss and Levis. International travelers especially will go crazy for the tax-free prices.
— F Bar Houston (@FBarHouston) June 26, 2016
Evening: Party at one of the city’s many LGBTI venues
Leather bars, gay pubs, country and Western clubs, dance complexes – Houston has a glittering array of queer spaces to cater for every taste. We spent our sole night out in Houston at the 4,200 square foot F Bar, complete with comfortable patio area. It’s one of the chicest and most modern gay spaces we’ve been to in years.
It hosts a popular drag show every Tuesday, but this isn’t really your typical, casual gay bar. There are chandeliers, bouquets of flowers and velvet drapes, but there’s nothing ironic about any of it. Also, there were as many women as there were men. In truth, a night out here strikes me more as a statement, an event; there were people dressed to the nines, and those that weren’t were dancing up a storm.
#MondayMemories: One year ago today we opened the international landmark exhibit #IndependencePlaza. Last Saturday, almost exactly one year later, we opened our new exhibit #MissionMars. There’s always something new to explore at Space Center Houston! Click the link in our bio to get your tickets! #spacecenterhou #spacecenterhouston #houston #nasa #galveston #pearland #sugarland #pasadena #clearlake #webster #science #space #museum #mars #exploration #explore #adventure
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Morning: Space Center Houston
Probably Houston’s strongest selling point is its close proximity to this icon of science and modern American history, just a 31-minute drive away.
It’s a tourism attraction and gateway to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which visitors can enjoy a tour of, as well as photo ops by a replica of the famous Space Shuttle Independence.
There are over 400 things to see and do here, so put a decent amount of time by to visit. Feeling the scratchy surface of lunar rock, for example – one of only eight such rocks in the world you can touch – was a pinch yourself moment for yours truly.
But the most amazing part was seeing the actual Mission Control Center Gallery, in all its throwback style. It sends iconic space quotes circling around your head like satellites. Do. Not. Miss.
Afternoon: Catch a game at NRG Stadium
For a true slice of energetic Americana, a baseball game is essential. The city’s homeboys, the Houston Astros, were playing against the Cincinnati Reds the night we stopped by. The atmosphere in this 72,220-seater was electric.
This year, the epic venue will also play host to the likes of Blink-182, U2, Coldplay and Metallica. You’ll also know the stadium as the setting for Gaga’s career-defining Super Bowl halftime show earlier this year. Yes, she jumped from all the way up there…
Evening: eat at one of Houston’s 11,000 restaurants.
Better still, these eateries represent 70 countries. No surprise then that locals apparently eat out here more than any other US city.
That said, our favorites served local fare. Head to Gringo’s Cypress for hearty, traditional Tex-Mex and Corona-infused frozen margaritas (it’s located near Houston Premium Outlets) and Jackson Street BBQ for piles of smoky meat in an informal setting.
For more information about Houston, head to VisitHoustonTexas.com.
Shopping images courtesy of Simon Shopping. All other images by Pixabay.