Nestled in that sweet spot between Austin and New Orleans I decided to check out Houston for 48 hours – mainly so I could go to the Space Centre, sit in a spaceship and declare ‘Houston, we have a problem’. And then get out and get a coffee, rather than roll about in unknown galaxies.
After two days in Houston my number one tip would be that you need a car for this city, or an Uber account. Just gonna say now, that VisitHouston gave me access to their account, which was awesome, so I didn’t have a problem. There are so many Ubers here I never waited more than five minutes but it’d just be simpler with a car.
My number two tip would be to check the opening hours of wherever it is you’re trying to go. I was there Easter weekend, which obviously made things difficult, and unfortunately for me the Menil Collection, above, was closed, as was the Beer Can Museum, but I’ve included them anyway as they come highly recommended. Like many places some of the museums are closed on Mondays – just to bear in mind.
I’d definitely recommend 48 hours in Houston – there are some cool museums, nice parks, and of course, it’s Beyonce’s birthtown (and Patrick Swayze, and Wes Anderson, just so you know).
Day one – City Centre Plaza
I arrived by Megabus at around 1pm from Austin and Ubered it straight to the Hotel Sorella, my home for the two nights (review further down). As you’d expect the City Centre area is full of shops – H&M, Anthropologie, Free People – and restaurants.
I was told Grub Burger was a good one for a quick and filling lunch, and it was just opposite the hotel. Lucky for me I was treated to a burger and milkshake tasting. I wouldn’t recommend the place if you’re on any sort of diet as everything was blummin delicious. Salmon burger, guac beef burger – both yum. And I’d also vote for the bourbon milkshake, the salted caramel one, and especially the Kitchen Sink (pictured), featuring crisps, pretzels and toffee sauce – honestly delish.
Once you’ve stocked up on energy in City Centre it’s time to explore.
Art Car Museum
The Art Car Museum, also known as the ‘Garage Mahal’ is a cool little museum featuring pimped up cars that look like they’ve been art attacked. It’s free to enter and when I was there there were five cars and a whole photography exhibition going on, which was pretty cool.
Beer Can House
Unfortunately I didn’t quite make it for the Beer Can House, given the Easter weekend opening hours and an Uber driver who couldn’t do maps, but it sounds like a really cool attraction I was sad to miss out.
Over John Milkovisch’s lifetime he flattened over 50,000 beer cans and built a house from them, as you do.
The Water Wall
The coolest sight I saw in Houston, which was actually by total fluke, was the Gerald D Hines Water Wall. It was by the Galleria shopping centre. The wall expands three acres and reaches 64 feet. Designed by architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee, every three hours and two minutes 78,500 gallons of recycled water pour down the walls. You could stand inside and it was as if you were right at the heart of a waterfall.
I didn’t really know what to do with myself at 5pm on Easter Sunday so I went to The Galleria to check out its 400-shops, from H&M (yep) to Louis Vuitton (nope). I decided to buy a case for my phone seeing as mine had broken and my phone is cracking on the corner (3 months old – FFS). To cut a long story short, the guy in there ended up giving me a free case and a free ‘privacy cover’ for my phone. And fitting it.
On a day that I felt particularly negative about myself (from trying clothes on after a month of pure USA-style indulgence) it was quite the boost as he was after my phone number, wanted to take me out for dinner, and wondered if we could hang out next week. All that good stuff. And I got a cool phone case too :).
Peska Seafood Restaurant
Peska was one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to, and my waiter, Vitaly, was without a doubt the best waiter. What a guy. I’m going to write a separate review of this place but there’s my starter above.
Day two – Space, Man
Some say ‘Houston’ was the first word spoken from the lunar surface in 1969 – that’s pretty cool right? So of course you can’t visit Houston without checking out the Space Center. I’d recommend giving it a day to explore, that way you can do both tours too.
Houston Space Centre
There are two tours at the Space Center, I was kind of short on time so I chose the ‘Astronaut Training Center’ one. The other was ‘Mission Control’, which I saw quite a bit of at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida when I went in December, so decided to skip.
The Houston Space Center was different to Florida in that it was obviously a working lot, rather than an entertainment area. Huge garages filled the lot and we were shown around on board a little train. The kids behind me reminded me exactly why I hadn’t bothered with children yet, screaming, shouting and messing about, so unfortunately none of the rest of us could hear the astronauts on the TV above telling me what I was seeing.
We soon arrived at the astronaut training facility where we got out and went in to stroll the walkway above the space men’s ‘office’. Looking down you could see where they created new space suits, where they learned how to survive in space, how to work the suits, the equipment and learnt how to manage in the spaceships for a lengthy amount of time.
It was fascinating.
Apparently the space men compete with each other in different tasks as if they’re in space, but in a local league on the ground. I could see the trophies and certificates lining the walls.
After 10 minutes of watching the space people at work it was back on the bus and off to see the Saturn Rocket (above). I also got to see a Texas Longhorn here, which was pretty exciting. The logo for them is everywhere as the Texas Longhorns are the state’s football team.
Just to note, make sure you go to the Space Center Houston and not the NASA Johnson Space Center on your Google Maps. The latter is an ID access only center where the receptionist is mean to you if you accidentally go to the wrong place.
The Kemah Boardwalk, just seven miles up the road, 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, you get a free pass for all of the rides.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple
I never expected to see a building like this in Houston – although I’m not sure why as it’s one of the most multicultural cities in the US. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple is a (newish) Hindu place of worship, and anyone is free to come along have a look and take photos from the ground. Not inside though, it’s not a tourist attraction.
It’s a little out the way but if you’re staying at Hotel Sorella it’s a good stop on the way back from the Space Center.
Day three – Museum District
I spent a few hours in the Museum District – there are 19 there – with over half being free to enter. The three I mention below all charge, or come free on the Houston City Pass.
There are over 6000 animals at Houston Zoo. I saw flamingoes, elephants, sloths, some awesome giraffes, my first babirusa, tigers, lions, my first Bongo, monkeys, and a very cute little red panda, among others. I also saw about 50,000 school children, but y’know, Easter holidays and all that.
The huge jellyfish above are from an exhibition trying to show people how rubbish (traaaash) is ruining our world and in particular, our seas. When I was there the kids were pulling on everything and the lady in charge looked like she was almost at breaking point. Great little presentation though.
Houston Natural Science Museum
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 two hours.
Museum of Fine Arts
I didn’t manage to fit this in but they have a great-looking art deco automobiles exhibition I wouldn’t have minded seeing. It’s also one of the top recommended things to do in the city. Go!
– Photos weren’t allowed so this is from rothkochapel.com
I loved it in here. From the outside I’ll admit I was a little disappointed and confused about why it was such a ‘Houston thing to see’. The obelisk sculpture which was normally there had been taken away for work so the exterior didn’t look quite as impressive.
Inside though, I just felt calm. The Rothko Chapel was created as a place for all cultures, religions and people to come together. Founded by John and Dominique de Menil, it’s a non denominational chapel, and a great place to go and sit away from the craziness of the city.
The surrounding park is nice for a picnic too – CVS (food shop) is just up the road!
Tips and accommodation
Houston City Pass
The Houston City Pass is the best way to see all this for the best price. Go to everything and you’ll save 48% off the usual ticket prices and you’ll get speedy entry too.
– Space Center Houston
– Downtown Aquarium
– Houston Museum of Natural Science
– Houston Zoo OR Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
– Kemah Boardwalk OR Children’s Museum of Houston
All for $56
I stayed in an incredible apartment at the Hotel Sorella, absolutely incredible, courtesy of the hotel. It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an office room, walk in wardrobes bigger than my London flat and an awesome balcony looking out over the Houston skyline.
They do have normal rooms too, starting from $184.
The price includes breakfast, the fitness centre, the pool and there’s an Italian restaurant on site which has some great cocktails, and serves a delicious scallops and grapefruit entree.
Westin Hotel in the Woodlands
I actually stayed in Houston a little longer than the 48 hours, just to check out the new Westin in the Woodlands Hotel, which was lush, as expected.
They’ve also got a really good restaurant on site, called Current. I had a crab cake which had the most crab I’ve ever had in a crab cake ever, salmon with orzo pasta and a berry cobbler. All the food is as locally sourced as possible and everything is from inside the US.
Really enjoyed this meal, with a Margarita on the side.
48 Hours in Houston
Houston is the fourth largest city in the US so 48 hours isn’t a lot, but you can definitely get a good idea of the city in that time. It’s a great stop on a road trip between Austin and New Orleans. Known to some as ‘H-Town’ Houston is very spread out. The biggest industries here are oil, medical and NASA, but the burgeoning culinary scene is coming up too, so it’s the perfect time to get out there.