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Super-sized getaway

Carve out a made-to-order weekend in Houston.

As you might expect, everything is big in Houston, the largest city in Texas. The skyscrapers are tall monoliths of glass and steel. The culture is rich in its diversity, and more than 2 million people call the fourth-largest city in the U.S. home.

Houston

Above: Houston's modern skyline Sean Pavone/Fotolia.com

Below: The Starship Gallery at Space Center Houston Space Center Houston

Space Center

The city also is spread out over hundreds of square miles, yet it is quite manageable on a first weekend visit. Locals often reference a destination as being inside or outside the Interstate 610 Loop. It makes for a handy map reference.

This is a city built on oil and cattle money, plus corporate expansion. There is a sense of history here; Houston was founded in 1836 and incorporated a year later. And while Houston may seem like a megapolis, visitors can break down bits of the city to enjoy.

In the Loop

An oasis in busy downtown Houston is the Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa (111 N. Post Oak Lane), located on 18 acres of wooded green space, close by Memorial Park and the Galleria (a glass-roofed shopping mecca of stores, restaurants, electronic outlets, and even an ice skating rink).

This AAA Four Diamond hotel offers guests a chance to escape the city by distractions such as a fitness center with 30 staff trainers, a climbing wall, a boxing ring, plus 100 weekly exercise classes for those who want to work off the day's activities.

The Manor House, next to the Houstonian, is one of the trendiest restaurants in a town with scores of trendy restaurants. Once the residence for former President George H.W. Bush when he was the director of the CIA, the Manor House now serves a daily lunch with menu choices from short ribs to traditional chicken pot pie.

Other dining venues, from upmarket to neighborhood, call out to the visitor. The Grove (1611 Lamar St.) offers a beautiful view from the rooftop of downtown Houston's skyline. This AAA Three Diamond restaurant sits atop Discovery Green, considered Houston's "front yard." The menu has some interesting choices: deviled eggs and barbecue brisket benedict. Near downtown, the popular Del Frisco's Grille (2800 Kirby Drive) features "anytime eats" that put a twist on classic comfort foods like cheesesteak egg rolls and ahi tuna tacos.

Did someone say dessert? Then after any meal anywhere in Houston, consider motoring over to The Dessert Gallery (3600 Kirby Drive) where you can find pies, cookies, and cake by the slice.

Fun festivals

As a community of numerous cultures and ethnic backgrounds, Houston hosts many annual events. The biggest, baddest, longest-running of them all is the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which rules the city for 20 days every March. There are daily displays of animals, lots of rodeo events, and celebrity entertainers. The rodeo dates for 2017 will be March 7–26. The Downtown Rodeo Parade will be March 4, 2017.

In the fall, two very popular events fill most Houston calendars. The Fiestas Patrias, held each September in and around Minute Maid Park, provides a stylish, colorful parade and celebration of Mexican independence from Spain. Costumed dancers from area ballet folkorico troupes fill the streets with color and movement as they perform to festive Mexican music. This year, the 48th annual parade is set for Sept. 17.

For a step back in time, the Texian Market Days event on Oct. 22 offers more than 200 costumed interpreters at George Ranch Historical Park who help to bring to life all that is historical Texas. There are children's activities, an antique tractor show and, naturally, a parade.

Family fun

By far, the year-round attraction that has the highest profile in Houston is Space Center Houston (2101 NASA Road 1). Here, visitors can tour the history of America's race to space and all the high-tech gear that it used. There are test rockets and space capsules, artifacts, and interactive exhibits. For an additional fee, there's a Level 9 tram tour of the NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, situated next door to the visitors' center. At Johnson Space Center, you'll see the original Apollo Mission Control Center that Americans saw on their televisions as they watched the Apollo missions in the 1970s. This must be booked in advance.

Families also can check out the Houston Zoo (6200 Hermann Park Dr.), set in 55 acres of tropical landscape, and home to nearly 6,000 animals, including 200 species at the Kipp Aquarium.

The Children's Museum of Houston (1500 Binz St.), is a world-class venue with dozens of interactive exhibits and activities. Here, children can run their own city and prepare their own TV news at Kidtropolis, or check out hydropower at FlowWorks, two of the many exhibits offered at the museum.

Creative Houston

Houston, for all its sophisticated, corporate look and stately skyscrapers, has a quirky side, too. One stop that should be on every visitor's list is the Beer Can House (222 Malone St.). Yes, it's a house made entirely of empty beer cans – an estimated 50,000 of them, plus lots of glass, marbles, and found objects. Retired Southern Pacific Railroad worker John Milkovisch started building the house in 1968. Today, the house is part of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, which also oversees the Orange Monument (2402 Mungar St.). Postal worker Jeff McKissack built this house from 1956–1979, adding walkways, balconies, and rooms, big and small, straight and twisted. Both homes are open to visitors.

Another popular Houston phenomenon, the Art Car Parade, is part of the Orange Show art center. Staged through Houston's downtown streets every April, the parade has scores of decorated cars – rolling works of art – shown to the city with smiles and slow, low roars of engines. For car enthusiasts, it's a treat to see how creative these car owners can be.

Or cruise into the Art Car Museum (140 Heights Blvd.) that was founded in 1998 by artist Ann Harithas.

Whatever the venue, wherever the visit takes you, you'll find a friendly welcome in Houston.

Fred. W. Wright Jr. is a contributor from St. Petersburg, Fla.

September/October 2016 Issue

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BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact the Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau at (713) 437-5200.

To visit Houston, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.


 


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