A Hip Weekend In Houston – 48 Hours In H-Town
Written by Jaillan Yehia
I begin my weekend in Houston like any average tourist, knowing this city has been singled-out by its history of space exploration, is the very definition of a sprawling US metropolis, and that it’s famous for oil and gas.
Fast forward 48 hours and I’m wearing my H-Town T-shirt with pride, clutching a NASA fridge magnet and nursing a hangover which underlines what I was told last night – with a new influx of young professionals Houston’s reputation for energy now has a double meaning.
In short I’ve learned that Houston is now hip and you can learn it too with my weekend shortcut guide to Houston, Texas…
I discover all this while a tornado rages in Texas but it doesn’t stop me having a whirlwind romance with the place Katrina survivors nicknamed The Big Heart.
This is the story of my weekend in Houston.
SKYSCRAPERS, SIESTAS & SAKE
10 am – Hang Out Above Houston, at Chase Tower
The first thing I believe in doing when I land in a new city is sussing out the set up and getting my bearings – along with a touch of vertigo – while seeing the view from above.
Despite Houston’s impressive skyline there’s only one candidate when it comes to hanging out at the top of Houston, and that’s the South facing observation deck on the 60th floor of the 75-story-high Chase Tower – making this Houston’s highest building as well as one of the top 10 tallest Stateside skyscrapers.
And before you even get inside you’ll be treated to a great view; the largest Miro sculpture in the USA marks the entrance to this 1.7 million square-foot structure in the heart of downtown’s sweetly named Skyline district, at 600 Travis Street.
Update 2017: The Chase Tower Observation Deck is no longer open to the public.
12 noon – The Art of Houston, at MFAH
Houston is home to a surprisingly large selection of museums and galleries and high class art isn’t in short supply here. For contemporary art fans there’s The Menile Collection but if you have time for only one museum while you’re in H-Town make it the two-building-strong collection of 64,000 works housed at the Museum of Fine Arts, one of the largest museums in the entire country.
There’s an amazing array of Ancient Egyptians artefacts, oodles of oil paintings and a selection of sculptures and you can take photos freely which let’s face it, adds to the fun. There’s also free wifi so you can share your favourite shots of your weekend in Houston with your friends. Visit with the Houston CityPASS and the $15 admission price is waived.
More Info: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
4 pm – Charcuterie & Siesta, at JW Marriott Houston Downtown
Marriott’s Main Kitchen made the cut as one of Houstonia Magazine’s Top 10 New restaurants of 2015, so perhaps this is why I’m willing to make my way back to this remarkably trendy outpost of the Marriott hotel for a mid-afternoon snack – or maybe it’s just the knowledge that the supremely comfy bed is waiting to be jumped on.
First the Artisan Charcuterie & Cheese Board does an able job of getting me in a Spanish frame of mind, eg. ready for a much needed siesta before my big night out on the Houston town.
You can’t go wrong feeding a hungry European any combination of meats and cheeses but what really stood out on the plate was the red chilli flake and bacon peanut brittle, made in house, the like of which I have never quite seen, and which once sampled I challenge you not to desire as a tasty and tooth-threatening garnish on all charcuterie boards henceforth.
More Info: JW Marriott Downtown Houston
8 pm – A night on the H-Town, At Tarakaan
Life’s what happens while you’re busy making plans. It’s a John Lennon lyric and one which I’ve co-opted as my life motto – and boy did it turn out to be true for my big night out in Houston.
Ever the greedy guts I decide to sneak in a quick visit to one of Houston’s newest night time venues, Tarakaan, before heading onto the headline act for the evening: dinner and a show at The Prohibition Supperclub.
What I haven’t allowed for is the warmth of the welcome at Tarakaan and the coldness of the night beyond its Buddha-beautiful interior, where the tornado is by now in full torrential-rain-wielding, wind-whipping swing, meaning all the taxis seem to have been washed away.
So what starts out as a sprint-paced taste of a single appetizer and aperitivo (Hamachi Tiradito washed down with a Lychee Rose, since you ask) turns into a far more leisurely stroll through the menu, sampling various nibbles and tipples, as a succession of taxis fail to materialise to take us to our next stop.
Finally myself and my travel companion Alicia of Go Live Explore throw caution to the prevailing winds, give up on transportation and give ourselves up to a marathon of Asian-inspired food and shots of sake, even posing for pictures with the geisha girls behind the bar. Yes, there are far worse places to be stranded.
More Info: Tarakaan Houston
SPACE, SEAFOOD & SKYLINES
11 am – Space Exploration, at Johnson Space Centre
The official first word uttered by man from the surface of the moon was ‘Houston’ – though like most space-era facts there’s a conspiracy theory about this fact – but no matter, how many cities can lay claim to being name-checked from another planet?
Expectations are therefore reasonably high when I arrive at Houston’s Space Centre (also with the CityPASS), one of 10 NASA field centres, and probably the most internationally recognized.
I quickly realise that the main building, Exhibit Plaza, is a family-oriented affair offering science and technology shows, demos and interactive fun, so I go in search of the Tram Tour which will take me on a little outdoor space exploration of my own: through some of the 1,600 acres of Johnson Space Centre to be exact.
We spy deer running around and even cows grazing in fields, so large is the area but the most fascinating part of the tour is the chance to gawp at the testing area for space vehicles designed to be used at the International Space Station.
This co-project involves 15 nations working together on the ISS and doing things like building robot astronauts or ‘Robonauts’ who are so sophisticated they can turn pages of books, use tools and even type on their iPhones.
I have a habit of tuning out when bombarded with too many statistics but some of the facts you learn here really resonate – like the notion that astronauts travel so fast they see sunrise and sunset 16 times a day from space, or that space suits on the ISS take a full 2 hours to put on, but research right here means new ones will take just 10 minutes.
That’s one giant leap for getting dressed in a hurry – I need access to that research.
More Info: Space Centre Houston.
6 pm – Southern Shrimp, at Pappadeux Seafood Kitchen
Normally I wouldn’t recommend seeking out a chain restaurant on a trip, particularly for a seafood supper, but after a few days in Houston it becomes obvious that the Pappas restaurant empire – which includes 8 different options for everything from Tex-Mex to Burgers and BBQ – is an undeniable part of the fabric of the local culinary scene.
Pappas is to Houston what Starbucks is to Seattle so a pilgrimage to one of the 4th generation of family restaurateurs’ 80 outposts, all headquartered right here in Houston, is a must.
After much deliberation (because everything on the menu really does sound amazing, and because space exploration sure works up an appetite) I decide to try a new dish; as this is as close as I’ve ever come to New Orleans I plump for the creole-inspired Shrimp Etouffee.
The portion sizes are enormous and there’s no better way to convey how much I enjoyed the dish than to tell you this: I take the second half of my dinner to go. I’m trying out Southwest Airlines new route to Cancun the very next day and that etouffee actually comes with me. To Mexico.
More Info: Pappadeux
9 pm – Hotel Derek
Some hotels are just a place to lay your head, others are comfortable, enjoyable, even plush, but then there are hotels which are a destination in their own right and offer genuine cause to get excited. Derek is just such a guy, I mean place.
This is one of those city boutique hotels that makes you jump up and down and squeal with excitement about the perks – a rooftop pool projecting classic movies, a free happy hour, an in-house Starbucks and craft beer tastings, a gigantic wall-mounted scrabble board and a private balcony with ridiculous views of the Houston skyline – and then makes you almost grumpy that there’s a city out there at all, capable of distracting your attention and drawing you away from all these toys.
So the best advice I can give if you want to actually see Houston is absolutely do not stay at the Hotel Derek – you’ll be hard pushed to leave the lobby.
More Info: Hotel Derek
Getting Around Hustle Town
I’m not going to sugar coat this, getting around so-called Hustle Town can be a hassle unless you have your own set of wheels – but forewarned is forearmed and the good news is that if you’re staying within the downtown core and exploring the museum district during your weekend in Houston the Metro’s Red Line is going to be your bargain best friend.
Add to this a combination of taxis and Uber and you can get wherever you want to go – but while market leader Yellow Cab is definitely omnipresent they aren’t always omniscient; this isn’t London, and the drivers haven’t done The Knowledge so make sure you know where you’re going because you can’t always rely on the driver to guide you.
During my visit Uber’s surge pricing was in full effect too but if talk of the four Phantom Rolls Royces driving around town as Ubers is to be believed I for one would be willing to pay 3 x the going rate for a ride.
Why I’m In A Hurry To Spend More Time In Houston
What I hadn’t fully appreciated before arriving in Houston is that each of the city’s neighborhoods is practically a separate destination, meaning a weekend in Houston just isn’t enough to do it justice.
I also didn’t make it to some of Houston’s hip highlights on my short visit – next time around I’ll be making it my business to check out the Beer Can House, trying to catch the HUE Street Art Festival as well as getting my picture taken with the Hollywood style We Love Houston sign, perhaps while singing Hooray for Houston.
A repeat visit would also give me an excuse to make it to Texas’ neighbouring cities of Dallas and Austin, both of which are high on my wishlist. As a newly converted golf fan I fancy playing a round at Avery Ranch Golf Club in Austin which runs a lot of local tournaments. I’m also a huge Kennedy assassination obsessive, having read all the JFK conspiracy books, so Dallas is essential for me. But I’ll make time to head on over to Houston again when I return to Texas, that’s for sure.
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