Hip & hot: Houston’s top spots
Where big-city bustle and southern charm meet, Houston offers an appealing array of outdoor art, mezcal bars, stylish shopping — and food. Oh, the food. Everything from classic barbecue and tex-mex to authentic Ethiopian to locally-inspired Greek can be found in H-town, and you won’t regret trying it all. In between meals, you’ll find plenty to do, whether your interests lean towards space museums or boardwalk rides.
Menil art campus
On just one campus, you can visit multiple separate art museums and exhibits, including the world-famous private collection in the Main Building (1533 Sul Ross St), the Byzantine Fresco Chapel (4011 Yupon St) housing experimental year-long series of contemporary art, and the Cy Twombly Gallery (1501 Branard St), a collection of paintings and sculptures that defies categorization. Once you’ve had enough art exhibits (don’t miss the Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall (1426-1490 Richmond Ave), take a moment of peace in the Rothko Chapel (3900 Yupon St), a sacred place intended for people of all faiths. Or, grab some calamari and double truffle fries with a craft beer at Bistro Menil (1513 W Alabama St) if that’s more your style of worship.
Barbecue and tex-mex
At the risk of stating the obvious, it wouldn’t be a trip to Texas without some BBQ and tex-mex. Houston might not be as well-known for these fares as hubs like Hill Country and Austin, but it certainly holds its own. A few favorites: Killen’s Barbecue (3613 E Broadway St) serves up brisket and beef ribs as well as on-point fried chicken, Jackson Street BBQ (209 Jackson St) puts downtown on the map for ‘cue, and Roegels Barbecue Co (2223 S Voss Rd) and Corkscrew BBQ (26608 Keith St) are two standouts coincidentally both helmed by married couples. For that tex-mex fix, you’ll find El Tiempo locations all across the city, and for good reason — the margaritas alone will knock you off your feet.
A short step outside of downtown Houston, Kemah Boardwalk is brimming with kitschy fun and special events. Dine on the waterfront, take the kids on rides like the HypnoSpin and Jungle Bounce, and finish it off at the arcade. For the grown-ups, check out events like Blues, Brews, & BBQ on May 20-21, or the Thursday night summer concert series Rock the Dock starting in June. The fun keeps going all summer, with Firework Fridays and Lone Star Country Nights starting up a little later, so no matter when you go, you’ll find a reason to head to the boardwalk.
Called the most popular museum in Texas, the Houston Museum of Natural Science (5555 Hermann Park Dr) is worth a visit for both young and old (and in between if you’re not ready to fit into either of those categories). Get interactive in the chemistry hall, ogle Fabergé eggs, then roam the mesmerizing Cockrell Butterfly Center. The Johnson Space Center (2101 E NASA Pkwy) is the famous site of “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” and worth a visit for that alone — but the chance to meet astronauts in training and check out the space shows and interactive exhibits make it even more appealing. One last science sight to see: James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace (Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion) (to be fair, more of an art and science intersection), which is best viewed at sunrise or sunset as the LED light show entrancingly interacts with the natural light.
For a sprawling metropolis, Houston has a pretty solid park scene too. The expansive Discovery Green (1500 McKinney St) plays host to live music, Kinder Lake, and, as you’d anticipate, wide open green spaces that let you feel like you’ve stepped outside the city action. On the slow-moving river cutting through Houston, Buffalo Bayou Park (1800 Allen Pkwy & Memorial Dr) lines the water and has art attractions of its own. Opened just last year, Rain: Magdalena Fernández at the Houston Cistern is on view until June 25. Atop the Buffalo Bayou Cistern Park (105 Sabine St), you’ll also find Down Periscope by Donald Lipski, a seven-foot periscope allowing you to view the 87,500-square-foot expanse of the Cistern below.
The bar scene in Houston has a little something for everyone — especially if you have a drink of choice. Axelrad is an expansive beer garden that hosts live music events, art shows, and features the city’s only hammock grove. Wine lovers will gravitate towards 13 Celsius (3000 Caroline St) or La Carafe (813 Congress Ave), said to be Houston’s oldest bar, and rumored to be haunted. If you’re feeling a little more tiki-inspired, Lei Low Bar (6412 N Main St) is your spot, where creative cocktails will make you feel swept away to sea in the best way. For a drool-worthy whiskey list, check out Reserve 101 (1201 Caroline St) — plan ahead to take in a tasting. Finally, The Pastry War (310 Main St) is a can’t-miss mezcaleria serving agave spirits (read: margaritas and more) to happy patrons and pool-players.
River Oaks house museums
In the stylish neighborhood of River Oaks, some homes have been transformed into outstanding art museums. Full properties donated to the Museum of Fine Arts include Rienzi (1406 Kirby Dr), housing European decorative arts, and Bayou Bend (6003 Memorial Dr), the American iteration. Both are situated on impeccably manicured grounds with impressive architecture, so strolling the grounds is as much of the experience as taking in the art exhibits themselves.
When you’ve had your fill of BBQ and tex-mex (if that day ever comes), you’ll find an impressively international cuisine scene in H-town. Helen Greek (2429 Rice Blvd) is one such standout, using local ingredients to create authentically mouthwatering Greek favorites like Gulf shrimp saganaki, spanakopita, and a Texas pecan baklava sundae for dessert. For sushi, Uchi (904 Westheimer Rd) offers an innovative take. Ethiopian food is another specialty of the city: check out Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant & Lounge (6800 Southwest Fwy), which turns into a dance club after dinner, or Blue Nile (9400 Richmond Ave), a family-owned joint with spices imported straight from the source. Hankering for a homey place to relax in the afternoon? Grab a coffee (or wine, or beer) at local favorite Agora (1712 Westheimer Rd), also offering European-inspired snacks.
Pack a picnic and get ready for possibly the most Instagrammable moment of your Houston foray: Waterwall. Officially called the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park (2800 Post Oak Blvd), the 64-foot U-shaped fountain circulates 78,500 gallons of rushing water. Surrounded by over 180 live oaks, you won’t find a much more picturesque spot to while away the afternoon picnicking and tossing the Frisbee around.
Full of stylish little streets, Houston is a shopper’s dream. Saint Cloud (with locations in Rice Village and West Gray) highlights new designers in home goods and women’s apparel and accessories. Kick Pleat (2565 Kirby Dr) is another winning local boutique, just around the corner from sprawling Tootsies (2601 Westheimer Rd), an upscale full-line shop focused on customer service. Men and women looking for a polished Southern style need only cross the street to Billy Reid (2702 Westheimer Rd).