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Introduction

Downtown Houston

Downtown Houston

© All Rights Reserved Reece Sanford

Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States and the largest in Texas with around 2.3 million people living in the city and almost 6 million in the metropolitan area. Houston was founded on August 28, 1836 near the banks of Buffalo Bayou (now known as Allen's Landing)[8][9] and incorporated as a city on June 5, 1837. The city was named after former General Sam Houston, who was president of the Republic of Texas and had commanded and won at the Battle of San Jacinto 40 kilometres east of where the city was established. The burgeoning port and railroad industry, combined with oil discovery in 1901, has induced continual surges in the city's population. In the mid-20th century, Houston became the home of the Texas Medical Center—the world's largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions - and NASA's Johnson Space Center, where the Mission Control Center is located.

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Neighbourhoods

  • Downtown - Downtown feels very empty if you explore it on foot at street level. Even during the usual lunch break there aren't very many people about. This is because the skyscrapers which are home to many of the large companies in Houston are all connected via an underground, air conditioned tunnel system. Houstonians are very proud of The Tunnels which mean that during the hot and humid summer months there is no need to go outside at all. The first 10 or so stories of the skyscrapers are car parks, so commuters can drive into their office building, work, go to the Tunnels for lunch and leave at the end of the day never having left the comfort of air conditioning.
  • Galleria - This is the other major business district in Houston, slightly to the west of the centre of the city. Texas' largest mall, The Galleria (which includes an ice rink) is the centre of this district. Many hotels and offices can be directly accessed from inside the Galleria mall.
  • Montrose - This is the old residential centre of Houston and is charaterised with mature trees along the roads and a mix of large houses, two-story apartment complexes and bars. It is the gay district of Houston, and the annual Gay Pride Parade and Festival is centred around the crossing of Montrose Boulevard and Westheimer. There are many thrift stores, tattoo palours, psychics and eclectic eateries scattered between the US 59 at the south and Buffalo Bayou Park to the north of this district.
  • The Heights - The Heights are north of the Buffalo Bayou Park which runs West to East along Allen Parkway into downtown. As Montrose became increasingly expensive, many artists moved out of Montrose and into the Heights. This is also a leafy part of the city, relatively central with many one-family homes on plots with front and back yards.

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Sights and Activities

  • Space Center Houston is the official visitors’ center at NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. You will find interactive exhibits, a shuttle simulator and numerous presentations detailing NASA's history.
  • The Theatre District - This is at the north end of downtown and home to the numerous theatres in Houston. There are full time Theatre, Opera and Ballet companies as well as a Symphony all of which perform within this district of Houston. Off-Broadway shows frequently come for three to six month residencies as well.
  • Houston Zoo within Hermann Park, houses over 4,500 animals divided over 900 species.
  • The Galleria is Texas' largest mall
  • Enjoy some sporting action while watching the Houston Astros (MLB), Houston Rockets (NBA), Houston Texans (NFL) or Houston Dynamo (MLS).
  • The Museum District - This is north and south of the US59 roughly along Montrose Boulevard. To the north of the US59 in Montrose is the Houston Centre for Photography, the Rothko Chapel and the Menil Collection. The latter two are free to visit. South of the US59 are the Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Natural Science and 14 other museums, all of which are listed at the Museum District Association. Most museums have one day or afternoon a week when entrance is free.

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Events and Festivals

  • The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is held over 20 days from late February to early March.
  • The Houston Pride Parade is a night-time gay pride parade held each year in June.

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Weather

Houston has a humid subtropical climate, with occasional tornadoes in spring. Prevailing winds from the south and southwest bring heat from Mexico's deserts and moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. In summer, temperatures regularly reach over 32 °C with an average 99 days a year. The humidity of the area results in an even higher heat index than the actual temperature. Winds in summer are often light and bring little relief. Air conditioning use in Houston is very heavy to cope with the high temperatures. Winters are quite temperate with an average high of 17 °C in January, the coldest month. Snowfall is rare. Houston receives a high amount of rainfall each year, averaging 1,200 mm annually. The rains frequently cause flooding in parts of the city.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max16.1 °C18.5 °C21.7 °C25.8 °C29.2 °C32.3 °C33.7 °C33.6 °C31.3 °C27.6 °C22.4 °C18.2 °C
Avg Min4.3 °C5.9 °C10 °C14.5 °C18 °C21.4 °C22.4 °C22.2 °C19.9 °C14.2 °C9.8 °C5.7 °C
Rainfall83.6 mm75.2 mm74.2 mm81.5 mm133.1 mm126 mm91.4 mm88.6 mm124.2 mm108.5 mm96.3 mm87.6 mm
Rain Days7.95.96.856.97.37.56.97.56.16.86.8

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Getting There

By Plane

The George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is Houston's primary airport and the 9th largest in the US in terms of total passengers. It is the headquarters of Continental Airlines and its largest hub. It's located about 20 miles (32 kilometres) from downtown Houston.

To/from the airport

  • Bus: The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas, or METRO, offers bus service available at the south side of Terminal C. The 102 Bush IAH Express and the METRO Airport Direct serve the airport.
  • Shuttles: Regularly scheduled bus and shuttle service go to locations from IAH to Reliant Park/Reliant Astrodome, Downtown Houston, Uptown, Greenway Plaza, the Texas Medical Center, Westside hotels, the city of College Station and William P. Hobby Airport. Super Shuttle also provides service from George Bush Intercontinental Airport to the surrounding communities via shared vans.
  • Taxis and vans also are available and there are plenty of options to rent cars.

The William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) is Houston's second largest airport and mainly operates small to medium-haul flights. It is the only airport served by Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways.

By Train

Amtrak stops in Houston along the Sunset Limited route from Los Angeles to New Orleans. The station is on the north side of the downtown area.

By Car

Houston is well connected to the rest of the state and country by many freeways/interstates.

By Bus

Greyhound Bus Lines have intercity services from 5 stations in Houston and Houston suburbs. Other bus lines also operate from Greyhound's stations.

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Getting Around

By Car

Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

By Public Transport

Currently, public transportation in Houston is limited to METRO, which operates bus lines as well as the new and very popular light rail line called METRORail. METRORail is a seven and a half mile light rail line that runs between downtown, midtown, the museum district, the Medical Center, Reliant Park, and the Fannin South Park & Ride (which is a handy place to park and is located near the 610 loop). It costs US$1.25 for a one-way ticket.

By Bike

The city of Houston has 290 miles of marked bike routes, plus another 80 miles of hike and bike trails in city parks, with concrete plans for even more expansion. For more information on the Houston Bikeway program, including a complete map of all marked bike paths, visit the City of Houston Bikeway Program website.

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Eat

Houston has outstanding dining options, and is widely considered the most restaurant-oriented city in the United States, with a thriving community of ethnic restaurants, superb Tex-Mex, classic Texas steakhouses and Gulf Coast seafood, as well as chain restaurants. Houston's fine dining scene has exploded in recent years, with Downtown, Montrose, Midtown, and the Heights (including the Washington Corridor) as the epicenter of what's hot-and-happening now.

Although high-quality, authentic Mexican food can be found just about anywhere in the city (for some of the best surprises, stop by any nondescript taqueria and order nearly anything at random), the best ethnic dining is generally found in West Houston - in particular the area west of Highway 59 and south of I-10, with everything from Middle Eastern to Ethiopian to Bosnian. The bustling Mahatma Gandhi District around Hillcroft St. is the place to go for top-notch Indian and Pakistani cuisine. In years past, you'd go east of Downtown or to Midtown for your Chinese or Vietnamese fix (respectively); nowadays the new Chinatown (or sometimes "Asiatown") is the new one-stop shop for your cravings. Lying just north of I-10, Long Point Drive and North Gessner sport crowded Korean joints, fantastic taco trucks, and hidden Thai gems.

Like any city with a respectable, trendy food scene, Houston's top restaurants seem to be all about what's seasonal and local these days (oh, and Houston is just now getting into gourmet food trucks), as well as becoming increasingly prominent in stores as well. Fresh produce to seek out include tomatoes, sweet "1015" onions (not as sweet as the Hawaiian variety, but pretty impressive), watermelon, strawberries, peaches, corn, carrots, and squash blossoms. Look for local cheese from the Houston Dairymaids - who make just about any variety you can think of - and bread baked daily and shipped to restaurants from the Slow Dough Bakery. Houstonians are just as crazy for crawfish (no "crayfish" down here, Yankee) as Louisianans are, as well as catfish and Gulf seafood such as red snapper, blue crab, and shrimp; gaining in popularity are local species that were previously overlooked, such as blackfin tuna, tilefish, grouper, almaco jack, and black drum. Houston has always had a steady supply of oysters from Galveston Bay, but the program of oyster "appellations" has only recently been revived, meaning high-quality specimens are labeled with their reef of origin, just like the well-known varieties from the east and west coasts - look for varieties such as Ladies Pass and Pepper Grove.

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Drink

  • The Saint Arnold Brewery - Billed as Texas' oldest microbrewery. Their brews are often sold in local bars. Very popular beers are the Texas Wheat, Oktoberfest (August through October), and Christmas Ale (November through December). The brewery tour is open Monday through Friday from 3:00pm to 4:15pm, and Saturday 11:00am to 2:00pm.

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Sleep

Budget

PropertyAddressTypePopularity
Houston International Hostel5302 Crawford St. TexasHostel73
Friends Cottage Hostel – Downtown1818 LubbockHOSTEL-
Americas Best Value Inn & Suites12170 North west freewayHOTEL-
Space Pod Houston10046 Rosbrook Drive Houston, Texas 77038GUESTHOUSE-
Motel 6 Houston Reliant Park3223 South Loop West HoustonHotel-
Motel 6 Houston - Westchase2900 West Sam Houston Parkway South HoustonHotel-
Knights Inn Humble/Houston15319 Eastex Freeway Humble/HoustonHotel-
Baymont Inn & Suites Houston IAH Airport18032 McKay Blvd HumbleHOTEL-
HI-Houston: The Morty Rich Hostel501 Lovett BoulevardHOSTEL86
Carefree Inn Houston Medical Center10015 South Main StHotel-

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Keep Connected

Internet

There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.

Post

The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 29.759956
  • Longitude: -95.362534

Contributors

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Houston Travel Helpers

This is version 26. Last edited at 13:45 on Sep 9, 16 by Utrecht. 141 articles link to this page.

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