I moved to Houston in the summer of 2014, and it was definitely a bit of culture shock for this East Coast girl who thought 90 degrees was unbearably hot! I was expecting cowboy hats, big hair, and a desert landscape. I quickly realized that cowboys are few and far between in the city, and instead of desert, I got palm trees and pine trees! Houston is by far the biggest city I’ve ever lived in and unlike NYC or Chicago, it’s big and sprawling. There are actually two independent skylines – the downtown skyline and the Galleria skyline. It’s so massive that I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface in the 1 ½ years I’ve lived here. The humidity is not for the faint of heart, but despite my love/hate relationship with Texas summers, I’ve loved getting to explore here! The gorgeous sunsets make up for the humidity a little bit. 😉
I live in the Galleria area, so I thought I’d give you a list of my must-see places. These are the places I’d bring out-of-town friends, so I hope you find something that kicks your wanderlust into high gear!
Cook & Collins – This is the first place we take out-of-town friends. The menu is creative and fun, and everything is delicious. The Red Eye Fries with buffalo chili, cheddar, mustard seeds, and a fried egg are totally addictive. They’re also my favorite brunch place in town. If you want mimosas and a cinnamon roll as big as your head, this is the place to go.
River Oaks Donuts – Houston takes its donuts very seriously, and River Oaks has the best in town. They have all the classics along with some really wacky toppings like Fruity Pebbles and Captain Crunch. But the best thing in the case are the filled donut holes. All the traditional fillings, but in a tiny donut hole. The ratio of filling to donut is perfect, and you can eat 4… or 6 without feeling too guilty.
You’ll also see rows of kolaches, which are a Texas specialty. Unlike the more traditional fruit filling in a Danish-like pastry, Houston donut shops tend to have rectangular buns filled with cheese, bacon, sausage, and/or jalapenos. Totally delicious!
Torchy’s Tacos – The original location in Austin is legendary, but this small Texas chain is great no matter where you are. Their tacos are so fun and creative; my favorite is the Trailer Park, which is deep fried chicken. On a taco. So bizarre, and so delicious. If you order it “trashy” they’ll put queso on it, which, by the way, is the best queso I’ve EVER had. They also have some great vegetarian tacos, in case you or a friend avoid meat. The fried avocado taco is particularly good.
Our favorite Houston location is in the Heights on W 19th St. There’s extra parking across the street behind the Comerica Bank, so you never have to worry about finding parking. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be eating tacos than driving around looking for a parking spot!
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse – Definitely a splurge, but if you have a big birthday or anniversary coming up, this is a great place to go. Teddy and I went for the first time when it was featured on Food Network as the #3 steak house in the country. Since it’s practically down the street from us, we decided we had to go. I honestly can’t say enough good things about it. I still dream about the meal I shared with my husband last fall.
The Galleria – This is THE most iconic shopping mall in Houston (there’s a whole section of town named after it!). They have everything from Claire’s to Chanel, so no matter what your budget is, you’ll find something for you. They also have both a Lego and a Disney store, which is great if you have kiddos to shop for… or really like Legos and Disney. My favorite thing about the Galleria is the giant Christmas tree they set up in the middle of the ice skating rink every year. Yes, there’s an ice skating rink — this mall is MASSIVE!
To beat the crowds, I recommend going around 11 or 12 on a weekend day, and taking W. Alabama straight to the Orange garage. You can reach the Galleria from Westheimer Road, but it tends to get very congested there, especially on the weekends. Going straight to the Orange garage guarantees you a great parking spot.
Rice Village – A very popular outdoor mall near Rice University, with lots of fun restaurants and shops. If you pass by Sweet Paris Creperie and see a short line, you have to go! I haven’t actually managed to eat here yet because it’s ALWAYS packed, but I’ve heard it’s amazing.
Brazos Bookstore – My favorite bookstore in Houston is on the outskirts of Rice Village, so it’s a little less hectic. They have a really unique selection of books, particularly about art and history. I love coming here without an agenda, and just looking for books that catch my eye. A really fun touch is that the employees leave notes with their recommendations around the store, so you can find something you’ll love. If you’re a fan of mysteries, you should check out Murder by the Book across the street — it’s devoted to mysteries and thrillers, and it’s a really fun place to look for your next whodunnit.
Central Market – This is my favorite grocery store in Houston. They always have great seasonal produce, including some more exotic fruits that you don’t see very often. (I got a mini pineapple there, and it was amazing!) They also have a coffee/ smoothie/ wine bar with beer on tap, so you can grab a drink while you wander around the store. It’s one of my favorite places to get coffee and a pastry on a Saturday. Sitting outside and listening to the live music they have every weekend is the perfect way to start a Saturday. It’s also a great place to grab lunch if you’ve been shopping in Highland Village all morning.
Texas Art Supply – If you like art supplies, this is the place to go. A friend from Dallas wants to come to Houston just for this store.
Sites to See:
Houston Rodeo – If you’re disappointed that most Texans don’t wear cowboy hats and boots everywhere they go, you have to come to the Houston Rodeo. It’s the largest in the US and runs all through the month of March every year. There’s bull riding and calf roping of course, but there’s also deep-fried Oreos and cowboy hats as far as the eye can see. Plus you can see calves, piglets, and lambs running around, which is just too cute.
Houston Museum of Natural Science – There are tons of amazing museums in Houston, but this is the only one my husband and I have membership cards for (so far). All their permanent exhibits are great, but their special exhibits are really special. Last year I went to an exhibit of Bulgari jewelry and a Faberge exhibit with not only his famous Faberge eggs, but also some of the crown jewels of the Russian royal family. It was absolutely breathtaking. If you’re in town you should definitely check to see what special exhibits are open.
Wortham Theater Center – My in-laws go to see the show put on by the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Houston every year, so it’s become a fun new tradition for me. If operettas aren’t your thing, the Wortham Center also hosts the Houston Symphony and Houston Ballet. I’m hoping that I’ll get to see the Nutcracker here next Christmas!
Top Golf – If you combined a driving range with a darts board, it’d be Top Golf. There are giant targets all over the field, and all the balls are microchipped so they can track your score. It’s a lot of fun, even if you’ve never held a golf club before. You’re actually going for the highest score, so the closer to the bullseye you hit, the more points you get. They also have great food and drinks to keep up your strength while you play.
Have I convinced you to visit Houston yet? 😉 It’s a really fun place to live, and it’s also a great place to start if you’re hoping to visit some of the other big Texas cities. San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas are all a 3- 4 hour drive away, so it’s really fun to go up for a short weekend trip. If you want to read some more about my favorite places in Texas, you can check out my visits to Franklin Barbecue and the Texas State Fair.
I’m an East Coast girl who majored in English, so no one was more surprised than I was when I ended up in Texas working as a bookkeeper. When I’m not hiding from the heat, I’m going on weekend road trips with my husband, watching baking competition shows, or flipping through a cookbook looking for my next baking project — most likely with a diet Dr. Pepper in hand.