Inspector 511 / AAA
IntroductionNeed a new wardrobe? Looking for a dynamic arts scene? Want to know more about moon rocks? Houston is the place to find it. This major player in the energy industry and home of the largest medical complex in the world may at first seem all business, but it's a city that also knows how to have fun. A vibrant downtown swells with coffee shops, restaurants, theaters and clubs. Inventive architecture brushes the sky. Sprawling parks host festivals and performances year-round.
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In DepthSpace City. H-Town. Bayou City. Capital of the Sunbelt. Clutch City. The Big Heart. Whatever you choose to call it, one thing's for certain: Houston is, well, a little bit of everything.
Space City is Houston's only official nickname. Because of the city's proximity to NASA's Johnson Space Center, the first word uttered by the first man on the moon in July 1969 was “Houston.” In Tranquillity Park, which commemorates the Apollo 11 mission, you'll find mounds and depressions that resemble the lunar surface and towers that look like rockets. And don't pass up a trip to Space Center Houston, where you can learn all about space exploration.
Houston is also known for its vibrant arts and entertainment scene. The downtown Theater District boasts the nation's second-largest concentration of theater seats in one geographic area. And top-notch museums, galleries and cultural establishments flourish in the Museum District. The nickname H-Town originated in the entertainment community, where everyone's heard of the H-Town Blues Festival, the Arena Theatre and the Houston-born hip-hop band H-Town, which made its debut in 1992.
Before there was a Houston there was a Harrisburg, a maritime trading post founded in 1824 by John Harris. In 1829 Harris died, leaving his brothers to resolve the inheritance of the town.
In 1836, the inheritance still unresolved, Augustus and John Allen attempted to purchase the town but felt the price was too high. They found a suitable plot of land near the junction of Buffalo and White Oak bayous and established Houston, named for Gen. Sam Houston, who had just defeated the Mexicans at nearby San Jacinto.
A 2,500-mile network of bayous flows through Houston, providing a vital habitat for diverse plant and animal species and a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Not only have the numerous waterways helped sustain the Bayou City's environmental well-being, but they also have contributed to the town's economic success. The conversion of the winding, marshy Buffalo Bayou into the Houston Ship Channel precipitated rapid industrial growth. With cotton reigning as king in Houston at the turn of the 20th century, textile mills the world over received and processed this commodity. The timber-, cotton- and cattle-shipping town morphed into a major seaport (despite its location 50 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico) and one of the energy capitals of the world.
The 20th century brought the discovery of oil, unleashing the potential of the refining and petrochemical industries. With petroleum, Houston became a boomtown, ever growing, ever changing, ever maintaining its Capital of the Sunbelt status. In 1940 Houston was ranked as the country's 27th most populous city; by the late 1980s it had soared to 4th.
Because there are no zoning ordinances, Houston has experienced unrestricted development. This has resulted in the city having more than one skyline and being a proving ground for innovative architecture. The Astrodome, billed as the “eighth wonder of the world” when it opened in 1965, set a futuristic standard for stadium construction. Minute Maid Park and NRG Stadium have ushered in a new generation of sports complexes.
Speaking of sports complexes, watching the Houston Rockets shoot three-pointers at Toyota Center is a fun diversion. Houston took its Clutch City nickname from the Rockets' furry mascot, Clutch the Bear, after the team captured two consecutive NBA championships in 1994-95.
Houston certainly has a lot to brag about, but its residents are bighearted—not bigheaded. It's the town's generosity, in fact, that yielded the moniker The Big Heart. After Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on neighboring Louisiana, Houstonians provided some 150,000 survivors with shelter, food and medical care.
By CarEntering Houston from the north, I-45 continues through town, exits southeast toward Space Center Houston at Clear Lake City and continues to Galveston. Hardy Toll Road parallels I-45 from north of Spring to I-610, which circles the city. I-10 enters the city from Louisiana, points east via Beaumont and picks up again as I-10 going to San Antonio.
From the northwest, US 290 connects Houston with Austin. From the northeast, US 59 runs from Texarkana through Houston to Victoria and the Mexican border.
Street SystemBefore tackling the freeway system, it is wise to study a city map. Freeways encircle and crisscross the city; names often change with the direction. The major city access routes spiral out from central downtown, not adhering to a north-south or east-west format.
The speed limit downtown is 35 mph or as posted. Rush hours generally occur Monday through Friday from 7 to 9 a.m. and from 4 to 6 p.m. Right turns on red are permitted unless otherwise posted.
ParkingMetered parking is available and operational Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., with an average rate of $1.50 per hour. A Downtown Hopper Pass allowing visitors to park at spaces throughout the central business district is available for $7 and can be purchased at any pay station.
There are many commercial lots and garages downtown. The usual fee is $2 for the first 20 minutes, $5 per hour and $15 per day. Theater district parking garages charge $6 on weekends, beginning at 5 p.m. on Friday. Some places of business compensate for parking fees by stamping your parking ticket.
About the City
Sales TaxMunicipalities may impose additional rates of up to 2 percent on the statewide 6.25 percent sales tax. Sales tax in the city of Houston is 8.25 percent; rates vary in the suburbs. The hotel occupancy tax in Houston is 17 percent.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)(713) 884-3131
Fire (non-emergency)(713) 884-3143
Time and Temperature(713) 529-4444
HospitalsCypress Fairbanks Medical Center, (281) 890-4285; Memorial Hermann–Texas Medical Center, (713) 704-4000; Houston Northwest Medical Center, (281) 440-1000; Houston Methodist Hospital, (713) 790-3311; Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center, (832) 355-1000; West Houston Medical Center, (281) 558-3444.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersThe city's major daily paper is the Houston Chronicle.
RadioHouston radio station KTRH (740 AM) is an all-news/weather station; KUHF (88.7 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.
Visitor InformationGreater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau 1331 Lamar St. HOUSTON, TX 77010. Phone:(713)437-5200 or (800)446-8786
Air TravelHouston has two airports. George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), 23 miles north of downtown on US 59, is served by major domestic and international airlines. William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) to the south handles domestic flights and, beginning in 2015, flights to Mexico and the Caribbean via Southwest Airlines.
Rental CarsHertz, 2120 Louisiana St., offers discounts to AAA members; phone (713) 652-0436 or (800) 654-3080.
Rail ServiceThe Amtrak rail station is at 902 Washington Ave.; for train schedule and ticket information phone (713) 224-1577 or (800) 872-7245. METRORail light rail service connects downtown, the Museum District, Texas Medical Center and NRG Stadium and costs $1.25 for one-way service and $2.50 for round-trip service; ages 0-5 ride free.
BusesThe Greyhound Lines Inc. bus station is at 2121 S. Main St.; phone (713) 759-6565 or (800) 231-2222.
TaxisYou can hire a taxi at cab stands near the major hotels in the downtown area or phone for one. One of the larger companies is Yellow Cab, (713) 236-1111. The standard fare is $4.75 for the first mile and $2.20 for each mile thereafter. A $1 surcharge is added for trips between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Public TransportationAir-conditioned buses crisscross the city and suburbs. Limited and local fares are $1.25. Passengers must have exact change. Park-and-ride bus fares range from $2 to $4.50 and vary according to location. For details phone METRO Transit Authorities, (713) 635-4000.
BoatsHouston is a leading world seaport, and the Port of Houston accommodates passenger ships.
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EssentialsSpend a few hours exploring history, science and art in the Houston Museum District, a cluster of superb museums within walking distance of one another. The Menil Collection (1533 Sul Ross St.), with its changing exhibits, single-artist installations and outdoor sculptures, is a must-see for art lovers. If you've got the kids in tow, let them burn off excess energy in the 14 fun-filled galleries comprising The Children's Museum of Houston (1500 Binz St.).
Also in the Museum District is 445-acre Hermann Park (6001 Fannin St.), where a number of Houston highlights are wrapped up in one pretty package. Meet 6,000 animals at Houston Zoo (6200 Hermann Park Dr.), view fascinating exhibits at Houston Museum of Natural Science (5555 Hermann Park Dr.), unwind in the Japanese Garden, rent a pedal boat on McGovern Lake, ride the miniature train or enjoy free entertainment at Miller Outdoor Theatre.
Catch a show at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts (800 Bagby St.), the crown jewel of Houston's 17-block Theater District. The glass-walled contemporary building affords terrific views of the city skyline and neighboring parks and houses two theaters, an impressive Grand Lobby and the swanky Artista restaurant. Artista's speedy service and fab food make it a great pre- or post-performance dining spot.
Practice self-discipline (or don't!) at the upscale Houston Galleria mall (5085 Westheimer Rd.), which features 375-plus stores in addition to eateries, an ice-skating rink and two hotels. You'll enjoy wandering around this architectural stunner that's been touted as Houston's top shopping destination.
Take a leisurely drive through River Oaks, an über-exclusive neighborhood within the I-610 Loop between downtown and uptown whose stately mansions all come with impeccably groomed lawns and hefty price tags. The community was developed in the 1920s by brothers William and Michael Hogg; they lived with their sister, renowned philanthropist Ima Hogg, in the gorgeous Southern plantation home that's now Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens (6003 Memorial Dr.), a wing of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1001 Bissonnet St.). Stop in and see the superb collection of American decorative arts dating from the Colonial era to the mid-19th century.
Courtesy of Space Center Houston / NA
Munch on a picnic lunch in Tranquillity Park (downtown, bounded by Smith, Walker, Bagby and Rusk sts.), then work off some calories on a “moon walk” across the park's grounds, which feature depressions and mounds that resemble the lunar surface. Snap a photo or two of the signature 32-level fountain and the five rocket-like towers that rise from it.
Take yourself out to the ballgame at Minute Maid Park (501 Crawford St.) and root, root, root for the home team, the MLB's Houston Astros. Even if you can't catch a game, a guided tour of this state-of-the-art, retractable-roofed stadium is a must.
Basketball fans can score tickets to watch the NBA's Houston Rockets throw down reverse dunks at Toyota Center (1510 Polk St.), a 750,000-square-foot, LEED-certified arena spanning six blocks in the heart of downtown.
Let a seasoned guide sprinkle a savory blend of education and entertainment on your Houston experience during a walking, bus or van tour of the downtown area. Houston Historical Tours usually depart from City Hall (901 Bagby St.) and offer a variety of themed excursions highlighting the city's stadiums, parks, historic buildings, observation decks, underground tunnels and art displays.
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ShoppingWhether you seek a 12-carat emerald or a $12 scarf, you are sure to find what you need in one of Houston's large department stores. Neiman Marcus , in the Houston Galleria at 5085 Westheimer Rd. on the city's west side, is equipped to handle the wants of millionaires and eccentrics as well as those of browsers. The Galleria's 375 other stores include Macy's, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, along with restaurants and an ice-skating rink.
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There also are an eclectic mix of independent shops and well-known retailers at Rice Village , 2400 University Blvd., near Rice University. Old Town Spring , north on I-45 at exit 70A at 403 Main St., has antique and specialty shops, galleries and restaurants in 180 restored Victorian cottages along tree-lined streets.
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Antique lovers are invited to forage for vintage treasures in Lower Westheimer (also called the Westheimer Curve), between Montrose Boulevard and Dunlavy Street, and those looking for rock 'n' roll souvenirs head to Hard Rock Cafe, 502 Texas Ave.
Most stores are open Mon.-Sat. 9-9. Most shopping centers are open Mon.-Sat. 10-9 and Sun. noon-6.
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Performing ArtsHouston has been musically inclined from its earliest days. As a result, a wide variety of musical entertainment, ranging from classical to modern, is currently available in the city.
The stage of Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St., is used throughout the year for productions by the Houston Symphony Orchestra, phone (713) 224-7575, and the Society for the Performing Arts; phone (713) 227-4772. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave., is the home of the Houston Grand Opera, phone (713) 228-6737, and the Houston Ballet; phone (713) 227-2787.
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Bus and Van ToursThe easiest way to familiarize yourself with Houston is to take a bus or van tour of the city.
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The 1847 Kennedy Trading Post, on the square at 813 Congress St., is Houston's oldest commercial building on its original site. The old Cotton Exchange Building is a four-story, Victorian-Italianate structure on the southwest corner of Travis and Franklin streets. Built in 1884, it served as a cotton exchange until 1923. The Old Sixth Ward is a residential-commercial area of Victorian gingerbread frame houses just northwest of downtown.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
The rodeo opens the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at NRG Stadium in March. The River Oaks Garden Club sponsors the Azalea Trail through River Oaks in March, when many houses and gardens are open to the public. For golf lovers, the Shell Houston Open is played in late March to early April at the Redstone Golf Club in Humble.
During Houston Art Car Parade Weekend in April, a parade showcases cars and other wheeled objects turned polychromatic works of art.
A 16th-century English village is re-created 50 miles northwest of Houston in Todd Mission, between Plantersville and Magnolia, for the Texas Renaissance Festival . Food, merchants, craft booths, entertainers, street characters, royalty, jousting, games and skills of the period are presented weekends from early October to late November. From late October to early November the George R. Brown Convention Center hosts the 4-day International Quilt Festival .
The Thanksgiving Day Parade , a tradition since 1950, marches through downtown on Thanksgiving Day. During the second weekend in December the Heritage Society conducts a Candlelight Tour of eight historic structures in Sam Houston Park. Each structure features 19th-century decor and family-friendly entertainment.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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CityPASSHouston CityPASS saves travelers 46 percent on combined admission costs to select Houston attractions. A Houston CityPASS ticket booklet includes prepaid admission to Space Center Houston (NASA), Downtown Aquarium and Houston Museum of Natural Science. Also included are two option tickets: one for either Houston Zoo or The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the other for either a Kemah Boardwalk All Day All Ride Pass or The Children's Museum of Houston.
The ticket booklet, valid for 9 days starting with the first date of use, is available online and from participating attractions.
Places in Vicinity