This Is the Only Guide You’ll Need When You Visit Houston

January 19, 2017

Welcome to H-Town, the fourth largest city in the nation. From award-winning BBQ to hosting the largest rodeo in the world, the Bayou City is one of the coolest places to live. Don’t believe us? Check out this article from Forbes Magazine (Spoiler: Houston is #1 on the list). Whether you’re passing through for vacation, here for business or live here full-time, our insider’s guide to Houston has something for everyone. Pack your bags and see our guide for a fun and stress-free trip!

CULTURAL FARE | BOOTS & BLING | OFF THE BEATEN PATH | WATERING HOLES & VITTLES | DAY TRIPPERS | TAKE A SELFIE | MAP

Cultural Fare

  • Houston Zoo: Feed the giraffes or search for hidden koolookamabas faces in the African Forest while visiting over 4,500 exotic animals. You can even pet some in the petting zoo!
  • Museum District: After hanging out at the zoo, hop on over and visit one of the largest walk-able museum districts in the U.S. Check out museums like the Museum of Fine Arts, The Menil, Rothko Chapel and more. From beautiful and contemporary architecture to a focus on heritage and culture, the Houston Museum District is a must-see for any visitor.
  • Centennial Gardens in Hermann Park: If you’re still up for more sight-seeing, then head on over next door to Hermann Park. While Hermann Park is a destination itself, the McGovern Centennial Gardens are breathtaking and picturesque. Visit Hermann Park, get zen in the Japanese Gardens, grab lunch at the Pinewood Café, and end your day strolling through the Centennial Gardens.
  • Discovery Green: Only about a 15 minute drive North from Hermann Park you’ll find a 12-acre park in Downtown Houston. The park features interactive fountains, public art and dog-friendly trails.

Boots & Bling

Glam up in a pair of designer boots and high-fashion duds for a night out on the town or a celebratory dinner!

  • The Galleria: Houston is home to the largest shopping center in Texas and the fourth largest in the nation. With stores like Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Michael Kors, Yves Saint Laurent and more, you can’t go wrong! There are over 400 different stores to choose from and 50 different dining options ranging from Chick-fil-A to Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse.
  • Pinto Ranch: Our flagship store is located just a hop, skip and a jump from The Galleria on Post Oak Boulevard in Uptown. Throw back a beer or two while browsing the largest handmade boot collection in the nation. You can also have your hat steamed, boots shined, and even check out the in-house saddle shop in action! If you’re flying in or out of the George Bush Intercontinental Airport, be sure to visit our satellite store in Terminal C.

Off the Beaten Path in Houston

Check out these not-so-well-known attractions that even some locals may not know about!

  • Waugh Drive Bat Colony and Buffalo Bayou Park : 160-acres of trails and gardens with some of the best Houston skyline views you’ll see. There’s even a 250,000 bat colony that comes out every night to stretch their wings. This impressive daily occurrence is considered one of Houston’s best kept secrets and a must-see attraction.
  • Art Car Museum : Experience contemporary art… on cars! Rabbit-shaped, vintage and bedazzled. You will find cars that are so unique that you most likely will never see anything like it again!
  • David Adicke’s Studio: Take pictures with 36-foot tall statues of the Beatles and seven-foot tall busts of 43 United State’s Presidents. Check back soon, we’re double checking that this attraction is still open! 
  • Beer Can House: An entire house adorned with over 50,000 cans of beer. (Ripley’s Believe it or Not actually tried to count all the cans and gave up after reaching 50,000.)

Watering Holes & Vittles

HONKY TONKS | HOPE YER HUNGRY | WATERING HOLES

Honky Tonks

Honky Tonks pretty much originated in the South. Nowadays they’re bars where you can get some good ol’ Southern cooking while listening to country music. Here are a couple of our favorites in the Houston area.

  • Firehouse Saloon: Named the #1 Honky Tonk in Houston by Houston Press. With decor that looks like it was plucked right out of the cowboy era, you’ll feel like a bona fide cowboy.
  • Redneck Country Club: Come for the food but stay for the big-name musicians at this Honky Tonk! Casual and fun, what more can you ask for? Click here for a list of upcoming shows.
  • Wild West: A mix between a honky tonk and a nightclub, Wild West was built for Texans to dance, shoot pool, party, and chow down on fajitas. Here you’ll get country music and the latest pop hits all in one night. If you go on Sundays, you can even get some free dance lessons from 4:30PM-6:00PM.

Hope Yer Hungry

Houston has so many restaurants and food cultures that it would be impossible to narrow everything down to a short list. But when in Houston there are a few things you just can’t skip out on. Below we’ve included a list of James Beard nominees and winners as well as some of the local favorites.

James Beard Nominees, Semi-Finalists & Winners

  • Tony’s Restaurant: Owned and run by Tony Vallone, this fine dining Italian restaurant has served seven United States Presidents. It is a premier destination for foodies all over the world and should be on your list of places to visit in Houston.
  • Brennan’s: If you’re looking to dine at a restaurant with some history, then this is the place. Brennan’s had been serving the Houston area Creole and Southern Cuisine since 1967. It quickly became a top restaurant in local and national rankings.
  • Reef: Here you’ll find all (well, a good amount) of the food cultures present in Houston in one place. Reef incorporates influences from Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican and Gulf Coast Southern cooking into one menu. Chef Bryan Caswell was named best new chef by Food & Wine in 2008 and Reef was named “Best of Houston” by Houston Press. Not to mention,  Reef and Caswell were semi-finalists in the James Beard Foundation Awards.
  • Hugo’s: You’ll find authentic Mexican dishes made from scratch and keeping true to traditions. Hugo’s is also known for their wine, cocktail and tequila menu. If that isn’t enough, the building itself was built in 1925 and is Latin-inspired, giving the entire Hugo’s experience an authentic Mexican feel.

Click here for a complete list of James Beard nods in Houston.

BBQ

  • Killen’s Barbecue: Named one of the best restaurants in 2015 by GQ Magazine, Killen’s is almost considered a household name by Houstonians. The lines get pretty intense right before the doors open and on the weekend, so we recommend going during the week (but we make no promises of not having to wait in line).
  • Gatlin’s BBQ: Something about Gatlin’s makes you feel like you’re eating at your own dining room table. Maybe it’s the family atmosphere or their motto, “Where Love is the Secret Ingredient,” but you’ll want to come back again and again. Gatlin’s has been named as one of the best BBQ joints in the city of Houston, so be sure to add it to the bucket list!
  • Goode Co. Armadillo Palace: At Goode’s you’ll get traditional Texas ranch house vibes, amazing BBQ and honky tonk music. It’s not just a restaurant, it’s a place for friends and family to come together, eat, drink and dance…Texas style.
  • Pizzitola’s Bar-B-Cue: Serving Houstonians real BBQ for over 70 years, this is the place to try real Texas BBQ. Try the pork ribs, chicken or pretty much anything else on the menu and you won’t be disappointed. See for yourself why generations of families make Pizzitola’s their go-to for authentic Texas BBQ. Be sure to check store hours before going!
  • CorkScrew BBQ: One of the newest additions to the Houston BBQ scene, CorkScrew is known for their backyard style BBQ. From the look and feel of the restaurant to the food, you’ll feel like you’re in your own backyard.

Tex-Mex

  • The Don’Key: Serving up some of the best Tex-Mex in the Houston area since 1984, this family-run restaurant will satisfy your cravings every single time. Be sure to try their famous Don’Key Rita!
  • The ORIGINAL Ninfa’s on Navigation: This restaurant is the result of one of the most historic creations in Tex-Mex Cuisine. Mama Ninfa, the restaurant’s founder, created the first fajita as we know it, which gained nationwide popularity. The original restaurant is found downtown on Navigation Boulevard.
  • El Tiempo: Founded by Mama Ninfa’s eldest son, Roland, El Tiempo stays true to its origins and pays homage to Mama Ninfa’s legacy with quality Tex-Mex. They were also voted best margarita in Houston by Houston Press.

Kolaches & Sweet Stuff

What is a Kolache? Czech immigrants brought the ‘kolach’ to Texas back in the 1800’s. Originally they were pastries with sweet fillings like fruits and cheese. Overtime the kolach became what we now call kolaches, which are pastries filled with sausage, jalapeños, cheese, and basically anything from sweet to savory. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Texan that hasn’t tried (and loved) kolaches. You can discover some of Houston’s best and more at these spots.

  • The Original Kolache Shoppe: Considered to be one of the best places in Houston to get kolaches. Just ask any Houstonian, they’ll tell you! Using traditional Czech recipes, this kolache shop gives Texas flavor to the original ‘kolach’.
  • The Kolache Factory: Recognized as one of the top drive thru’s in the nation by the Food Network, you can’t go wrong with a kolache from here! With so many locations in the Houston area, there’s no excuse for you not to visit. Also, when you fall in love with kolaches (and we know you will), don’t fret when you go back home… The Kolache Factory ships nation wide.
  • Christy’s Donuts: A family-run shop located on West Gray in Montrose that has been serving some of the best donuts in the Houston area for years. They also serve kolaches, breakfast sandwiches and beverages. You really can’t go wrong if you’re looking for a quick weekend pick-me-up!
  • Shipley’s Donuts: This doughnut chain originated right here in Houston, Texas. The chain now boasts over 250 stores throughout Southern USA. If you ask any native-born Houstonian, they’ll direct you towards the nearest Shipley’s for doughnuts, kolaches and coffee.
  • El Bolillo: No visit to Houston is complete without a visit to a Mexican bakery. El Bolillo is an award-winning bakery known for making fresh (and delicious) pastries daily. From hojarscas to empanadas de queso, you’ll be in pastry heaven.

An Insider’s Guide to this foodie city would be incomplete without a list of iconic meals. Click here to check out the most iconic meals in Houston.

Watering Holes

  • Saint Arnold’s Brewery: The oldest craft brewery in the Lone Star State. Tour the brewery and chow down on a two course meal in the beer hall.
  • La Carafe: The oldest building and bar in the City of Houston as well as an official Texas Historic Landmark. This wine bar should definitely be on your list of places to visit while in town.
  • Yellow Rose Distillery: Houston’s first legal Whiskey Distillery within city limits. Take a tour and buy your own bottle of Yellow Rose Whiskey!
  • Anvil Bar & Refuge: Houston’s first bar dedicated to creating classic cocktails. The mixologists at Anvil strive to use high quality spirits to make their cocktails and are very selective with their ingredients.
  • Whitmeyer’s Distilling Company: The very first distillery in Harris County, this distillery only serves made in Texas products. Take a tour and try some Texas-made whiskey.
  • Karbach Brewing Company: Looking for German beer? Karbach’s got it. Take a tour of their brewery, hang out in the Biergarten, and have lunch at the Karbach Restaurant + Patio.
  • The Pastry War: Celebrate the lively drinking culture of Mexico at The Pastry War. Serving agave spirits from family-owned distilleries in Mexico, this bar has it all…except for pastries. Go figure.
  • The Hay Merchant:  Beer aficionado? Then this is the place for you. Hay Merchant has 80 taps and over 200 kegs aging in their cellar. The menu includes cellared beers, difficult to find beers, easily found beers, and beers that date back to 2001.

Day Trippers

  • Kemah and Galveston: Located about an hour South of Houston, Kemah and Galveston are a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Head to Galveston Island and ride the amusement rides on Pleasure Pier, visit Moody Gardens and shop on The Strand. Don’t forget to try the milkshakes from LaKing’s Confectionery, where antique machines make candies right in front of your eyes! Afterwards, head inland to Kemah Boardwalk for some more amusement rides and eateries.
  • NASA Johnson Space Center: Go behind the scenes at NASA for a fun and educational adventure for kids and adults alike!
  • George Ranch Historical Park: Take a trip through history while visiting this 20,000-acre working ranch. Watch cowboys herd cattle the way it was done before the Rodeo made cattle herding a sport. Visit log cabin replicas and experience life before the modern era.

Take A Selfie!

You may not know it, but Houston has quite the mural art landscape! Local Houston blogger, Carrie Colbert, put together a handy Houston Mural Guide to the murals around town. Remember to take a selfie because as you well know…picture, or it didn’t happen. 

Well folks, that about wraps up our insider’s guide to the beautiful city of Houston. It’s down right impossible to include all the amazing places to visit, but we hope you like some of our favorites! Have you visited any of these spots before? Have some suggestions of places to add to our list? Let us know in the comments below.


Y’all come on back to Houston and visit again soon!

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