Behind the Glamour Space 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, with entertainment, commerce and a ton of places to eat.
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 looking for adventure travel. 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.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
Municipalities 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.
Time and Temperature
Cypress 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.
701 Avenida de las Americas Suite 200 Houston, TX 77010. Phone:(713)437-5200 or (800)446-8786
Houston has two airports for visitors with airline flights.
Hertz, 2120 Louisiana St., offers discounts to AAA members; phone (713) 652-0436 or (800) 654-3080.
The 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.
The Greyhound Lines Inc. bus station is at 2121 S. Main St.; phone (713) 759-6565 or (800) 231-2222.
You 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 surcharge of up to $2.80 is added for trips between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Air-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.
Houston is a leading world seaport, and the Port of Houston accommodates passenger ships.