|Houston is the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest in the United States. It is huge, both in population and in land area. "Urban sprawl" is a term tailor-made for this city. Houston is an international city home to among the nation's largest Asian, Arab and Latin American populations. Houston's culture is not limited to diverse population - it boasts a world class symphony and theatre district that includes a full-time ballet company and opera. |
Houston is the largest city in the United States without any appreciable zoning. While there is some small measure of zoning in the form of ordinances and land use regulations, real estate development in Houston is only constrained by the will and the pocketbook of real estate developers. Traditionally, Houston politics and law are strongly influenced by real estate developers; at times, the majority of city council seats have been held by developers. Development of the city, then, has reflected what makes life easy on developers instead of visitors or residents.
What this means to visitors is that Houston covers a larger land area with less population than might otherwise be expected. Everything is spread out. No matter where you are, almost nothing will be within walking distance. The entire city is built on the assumption that nearly everyone owns and drives a car virtually everywhere they go.
The city has a number of districts. Historically, these districts were called "wards" and they tended to have distinct populations. Redevelopment has rendered most of those distinctions meaningless, but the modern version of Houston still has districts.
Houston has three downtowns. All three of these areas look like a typical downtown in a big city with high-rise buildings and, at street level, concessions to pedestrians that include shops and eating establishments.
• The traditional downtown center of the city, still the home of high finance and big business.
• The second downtown is south of the city center, an area now known, generically, as The Medical Center or The Texas Medical Center. Some of the best hospitals in the world are there.
• The third downtown, west of the city center, is called The Galleria or uptown and is known, not surprisingly, for a huge, high-end shopping mall complex named The Galleria as well as the tallest building in the United States outside of a main downtown area.
Situated elsewhere in town, between these three pillars of development and surrounding them, are a dozen or more distinct districts that define the more-accessible heart of the people and the city.
• NoDo or North of downtown - No other name has managed to stick for this area, just north of the original downtown and formerly the site of warehouses and industry. (A short-lived attempt to market the area as NoHo - North of Houston, get it? - died a well-deserved death and no good, short, snappy name has yet to fully permeate the collective consciousness of Houston.) Loft conversions and trendy residents are the rule in this area, nowadays, but there's still some good eats and nightlife to be found.
• Montrose - Both a street name and a neighborhood, Montrose is Houston's longtime home to a large portion of its gay and lesbian community, as well as host to the city's museums. An area that was once affordable and appealing for its 1920's bungalows, it has now given way to gentrification and high property taxes. Of note in the Montrose is the Menil Collection, a private family collection of 20th Century modern masterpieces, open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from 11-7. It boasts a large group of surrealist works and includes a special room devoted to the objects that the Surrealists themselves collected, which inspired many of the works on view. Montrose is one of the few places in the city where walking just might be feasible one day, but with August average high temperatures lingering in the 90's with 95% humidity, it is unlikely that Houstonians will ever surrender their cars.
• Clear Lake - A large sheltered bay and the area around it is a local recreation center. The area is home to NASA's Johnson Space Center, a smaller medical center, and seafood vendors. The area's boating opportunities are considered second only to those of Miami. Fishing, swimming, hiking, and history are also popular activities in the area.
• River Oaks -
• Post Oak / Galleria -
• Midtown -
• The Heights -
• Southwest Houston -
• New Chinatown - or Little Saigon located southwest of the center is the largest Chinatown in the world, areawise though the term Chinatown is misleading due to the fact that the majority of the shops and restaurants cater to Houston's large Vietnamese population. Hong Kong City Mall is a very large grocery store/shopping center in this area. This is actually the second Chinatown, the first being a now warehouse district on the northeast side of downtown. There is also a significant (though much smaller) concentration of Asian, especially Vietnamese, influence on the far southeast edge of the city.
• Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo - Reliant Stadium and Reliant Park. March, yearly (Feb 28-March 19 for the 2006 season). The world's largest rodeo. Includes rodeo events, calf scramble, and music concert. It is known for its big-name music acts as much as it is for the rodeo. The livestock show attracts professional breeders who bring in their world-class livestock to be judged. There is also a carnival on the grounds.
• Splashtown Part of the Six Flags Theme Parks.
• The Orange Show
• Random outdoor art work
• Super Happy Fun Land is Houston's venue for experimental electronic music, underground jazz, and outsider art!
• EnHouston is Houston online guide for current local events and live bands information
Houston is home to many universities, including:
• Rice University
• University of Houston
• Baylor College of Medicine
• The University of Texas Health Science Center
• Houston Baptist University
• University of St. Thomas
• Texas Southern University
• Houston Community College (HCC)
• Courtyard - Galleria, 3131 West Loop S - Close to the William P. Hobby Airport and only a 40-minute drive from Houston's major Airport, the George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
• Fairfield Inn - East, 10155 I-10 East - Seven miles from Downtown Houston, the Fairfield Inn Houston Hotel and only 30 minutes from Houston's international airport, the George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
• Fairfield Inn - Galleria, 3131 West Loop S - A quarter of a mile from uptown, near Houston's Galleria Mall and within easy reach of many of Houston's popular tourist attractions including Houston's Astrodome, Houston Museum District and Houston Space Center. Situated in close proximity to the William P. Hobby Airport. Also, it's only a 40-minute drive from Houston's major airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
• Hampton Inn - East, 828 Mercury Dr, 713-673-4200 - Near Jacinto city, east of Houston, only seven miles from Downtown Houston, and all the most interesting and most popular Houston tourist attractions. Only 30 minutes drive from the George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
• Holiday Inn - Airport, 15222 John F. Kennedy Blvd, 281-449-2311 - A midscale hotel right outside the main Houston Airport and half an hour's drive north of downtown Houston. The hotel runs a frequent shuttle to and from the airport, and guests staying at the hotel have the benefit of free on-site parking.
• Holiday Inn - Greenway, 2712 Southwest Freeway, 713-523-8448 - 16 miles from Houston Hobby Airport, 27 miles from Houston Airport, and just 20 minutes from downtown Houston.
• Holiday Inn - Medical Center, 6800 S. Main St, 713-528-7744 - Great location close to the Texas Medical Center, the world-class hospital complex 4 miles south-west of downtown Houston, 13 miles from Houston Hobby Airport and 25 miles from Houston Intercontinental Airport. The hotel provides complimentary transportation across the Center and further into Houston.
• Holiday Inn Select, 14703 Park Row, 281-558-5580 - A convenient location just 0.5 mile from "Energy Corridor" in Houston and only 16 miles from downtown, while both the main Houston airports are 33 miles away.
• Microtel - Clear Lake , 1620 Nasa Rd 1, 281-335-0800. Economy/budget hotel offering guests free local and free long distance calls in the continental United States, and free wireless high-speed Internet access in every room of their hotels, as well as advance online check-in and check-out with unlimited access to online folio information.
• Wyndham - Greenspoint, 12400 Greenspoint Dr - Near the area's largest shopping center, Greenspoint Mall and only half an hour from downtown, Astros Field, Sam Houston Race Park and major corporate headquarters.
• InterContinental, 2222 W. Loop South - A AAA 4-Diamond hotel, is ideally located in the heart of prestigious uptown Houston, one block from the world-renowned Houston Galleria shopping and dining.
• Omni, Four Riverway, (888) 444-6664 - Centrally located in the prestigious Post Oak neighborhood, the hotel is near the Galleria - Houston's premier shopping venue - and only minutes from downtown. A proud recipient of the AAA 5-diamond award, the hotel is surrounded by impeccably manicured grounds and two sparkling pools.
• Omni - Westside, 13210 Katy Freeway, (888) 444-6664 - A luxury hotel featuring an atrium lobby complete with indoor lakes and waterfalls, tropical fish and glass elevators. Located in the exclusive energy corridor just 30 minutes from George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport.
• Galveston. Only about an hour's drive southeast from the city, Houstonians go to Galveston island for its beaches, the Strand, and Moody Gardens.
• Surfside. Another beach, less crowded than Galveston. About 2 hours from Houston.
• Schlitterbahn, New Braunfels, TX (about 174 miles west of Houston). Huge waterpark, rated #1 waterpark in America by the Travel Channel.
• Kemah - Nice Boardwalk with Great Restaurants. South of Houston. On the way to Galveston Island. Kemah Boardwalk
• Downtown Houston Tunnels. 25 miles of tunnels run under Downtown Houston with restaurants and retail shops throughout Downtown. Good for a rainy day. Downtown Houston Map
• Bluebell Creameries See the Texas countryside in Brenham and tour the creamery. About one hour (75 mi) north west of Houston along US 290.
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Houston skyline, Texas
• Getting In & Around
Please, be careful when coming near the METRORail track, especially at intersections. Many vehicles and pedestrians have been involve in collisions with this controversial service already, even though it has only been in service since January 2004.
DO NOT IGNORE THE SIGNS, since the trains move very quickly and run at almost all hours of the day and night. It runs almost silently. At many streets, left turns are not permitted. Also watch the signs and signals, because some will change as trains approach.
Do not drive on the tracks, there are large raised white domes that separate the roadway and the rail line. In some areas signs may indicate driving (or walking) on the tracks is permitted (currently only in the Texas Medical Center) but make sure it is safe to do so.
Grounds of the Bayou Beno, Houston
• Galleria, 5085 Westheimer Rd. (located 1 block west of the West Loop at the intersection of Westheimer and Post Oak Blvd.), 713-622-0663 - Mon-Sat 10:00am - 9:00pm, Sun 11:00am - 7:00pm. Free parking. A huge indoor shopping mall with 375 stores. Upscale shopping. Food court and fine restaurants. Indoor ice-skating rink.
• Baybrook Mall Nearby in Friendswood, along the Gulf Freeway (IH-45 South)
• Memorial City Mall Has many department stores and also an indoor ice skating rink. Located at I-10 and Gessner (Western part of Houston).
• Katy Mills Mall In the nearby city of Katy, roughly 15 miles west of Houston.
• 88.7FM, KUHF: National Public Radio news and programs, classical music
• 90.1FM, KPFT/Pacifica: alternative radio, defenders of human rights, BBC world news
• 91.7FM, Rice University: weird music of all types! Very fun, despite the sleepy voices of the student announcers. Childrens' program on Sat afternoon
• 90.9FM, Texas Southern University: jazz mainly
• 93.7FM, The Arrow: Classic Rock, Dean and Rog in the mornings
• 94.5FM, The Buzz: Recent Rock
• 103.7FM, Rock station with all kinds of different types of rock, Walton and Johnson in the mornings
• 106.9FM, The Point: Basically eighties music with a hint of some late seventies and early nineties
• 107.5FM, Oldies
Houston is a big city and, like any other big city, has crime. Use common sense.
Astrodome Sports Complex