If you’ve got any plans to road trip the Deep South of the USA, I’d recommend including some Houston time in your itinerary. It’s easy to get to from both Austin and New Orleans by train, bus or car, and it’s got some cool attractions shouldn’t miss.
Word of warning, though: you’ll need a car to get around. Houston is one of the most spaced out cities I’ve ever been to, and that’s not because of the aeronautics connection. There are buses, but they’re irregular and if you rely on taxis, like I did, you’ll soon find your travel savings dwindling.
So order that rental car and get your Google Maps round this little lot.
1. Houston Space Centre
“Houston, we have a problem” – I’d guess those leading words uttered from the lunar landing were your first introduction to Houston? Am I right?
The Houston Space Centre is such an important part of the city; a must on any itinerary. Visit and you can take a tour around the astronauts’ training ground to see how they really learn to survive in outer space, and you can check out the mission control station too.
The Saturn space rocket is housed here and there’s a whole exhibition you can play with to get a small sense of what life is really like out there, in the unknown.
At the Houston Space Centre you get to go around on a little space train and explore the lots, rockets and the spaceman orchard, where anyone who’s died in space has a tree planted.
You might also get to see some Texas Longhorn cows hanging out in the greenery too.
2. Kemah Boardwalk
The Kemah Boardwalk, just seven miles up the road from the Space Centre, has restaurants, carnival rides, shops, zip lines, arcades and boats. It’s a pretty cool place to let off some steam after the intensity of the Houston Space Center, and if you get the City Pass, which I’d recommend ($56, covers all the attractions), you get an unlimited pass for all of the rides too.
3. Houston Zoo
With over 6000 animals at the Houston Zoo, I bet you a dollar, or even two, that you’ll see at least one you’ve never seen before, and possibly never even heard of. What about a ‘Bongo’ or a ‘Babirusa’? They were new to me.
I also saw flamingos, elephants, sloths, some awesome giraffes, tigers, lions, monkeys, and a very cute little red panda, among many others. The zoo has a bird house, a reptile house and has daily feedings of seals and penguins too.
I’m always a bit unsure about zoos (never go to the one in Tokyo) but the animals here all seemed well looked after and had what I’d consider enough space. I can’t imagine the zoo would get away with anything less here.
4. Houston Natural Science Museum
The Natural Science Museum in Houston has at least five huge exhibits going on at any one time. I went from the mummies in the tombs of ancient Egypt, to the wigwams of the Americas to the taxidermied animals of Texas past and present. I saw rubies, emeralds, diamonds worth millions and Faberge eggs. I also walked with dinosaurs, met myself in a past life as a monkey and felt at one with the world in a room full of butterflies. Loads to do here, I’d recommend at least spending two hours of your time.
And now for three things that are totally free…
5. Rothko Chapel
The Rothko Chapel (just behind the Menil Collection Museum, which comes highly recommended but isn’t open on Mondays and Tuesdays) is a non-denominational chapel that will bring a rarely felt feeling of calm to your day, I guarantee.
Inside, the holy books of many religions line the bookshelf for you to peruse, or you can just sit and enjoy the time away from the craziness of the city.
On a side note, just outside there’s a pretty park where you could enjoy some snacks from the nearby CVS snack shop, if you wanted a cheap picnic.
6. Beer Can House
I’m gutted that the Beer Can House wasn’t open on the Easter weekend that I was there – you need to go and tell me what it was like.
Owner John Milkovisch spent a lifetime collecting and flattening over 50,000 beer cans, to add to the outside of his house. It now looks like the whole house is made of them, hence the name. Go and count them.
7. Art Car Museum
Houston’s Art Car Museum is also known as the ‘Garage Mahal’. It’s a cool little museum featuring pimped up cars that look like they’ve been Neil Buchannan-style art attacked.
It’s free to enter and when I was there, there were five cars – including an awesome bat-themed one called Batwing – and a whole photography exhibition going on in a side room, which was pretty cool.
Houston is a great city to visit, not only because it’s Beyonce’s hometown (and Patrick Swayze’s and Wes Anderson’s) but also because there are some top class museums, vibrant parks and you can even see a sloth just living his life at the Houston Zoo.