Houston: The Excitement is Palpable!
Houston, Texas is abuzz with their new World Champion Astros--Plus a lot more
By Max Hartshorne
There are a lot of superlatives you can use in the same sentence as Houston, Texas.
Texas' largest city is the most diverse city in the United States, for starters, with more than 90 different languages spoken within its 667 square miles.
On my visit in May, 2o16, everyone from the Uber drivers to the hotel staff brought up the 2017 Super Bowl LI and the myriad impact this huge event will have on the city.
There is a palpable excitement in the air, an anticipation and an acknowledgment that Houston is truly a world-class city.
A Booming Economy
People from all over the world have come here to make the city home, in part because of the city's many colleges and booming job market. In fact, in 2013, the city was named the top US city for job creation!
Houston is also the home to hundreds of local theater performances, one of the largest concentrations of shows outside of New York's Broadway.
Among its nearly five million population are a large number from Vietnam, who came here in huge numbers after the war, and now there are more than 80,000 Vietnamese people living there.
A Big 'Ole City
When I was visiting Houston and jumped into an Uber to meet my hosts at a swanky seafood restaurant across town, we drove for 30 minutes and had plenty of Houston left to cover. No city sprawls wider than Houston does.
It's one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the US, yet it's made up of neighborhoods that can feel like you're in a town, not a city.
Biking by the River
When we biked the Buffalo Bayou Hike and Bike trail, that winds along for eight miles, and we stopped for coffee and a beer at Nikos, a kiosk in Market Square Park, it felt like we were in a small town.
There are a staggering 160 miles of bike trails to ride, (with more being built!) and Houston leads the US in the amount of green space of all the top 10 US cities.
Super Bowl Fever
I spoke with AJ Mistretta, of Visit Houston, about how the city is preparing for the big Super Bowl spotlight, and he was quick to say that much of the development was already in place and was not directly related to the football game. But he did cite many improvements that will make Houston an even better place to visit in the years ahead.
It starts at the city's two major airports. In 2015, Southwest Airlines spent $150 million to upgrade William P. Hobby Airport into Houston's second international gateway. The airport also added an additional parking garage, roadway modifications, new concourse and an expanded terminal, all of which will help accommodate international flights to and from Houston.
The biggest development project is Avenida Houston, which incorporates a new hotel, the Marriot Marquis, and modernizes the city's convention center. This is a truly large-scale game changer, the centerpiece of a new development that will enhance the downtown.
Located in between the three professional sports team venues, this huge new area will feature a Texas-shaped river/pool, public art, live music, many new restaurants and shopping. It's all downtown, too, no driving to the suburbs to enjoy it!
An Explosion of Hotels
No city in the US comes close to having so many new hotels and planned hotels as Houston! So far, the following hotels have opened: Aloft Houston, JW Marriott Houston Downtown, Hampton Inn/Homewood Suites, Marriot Marquis, Spring Hill Suites and a downtown Holiday Inn. And in 2018, these hotels will add another thousand or so rooms to the burgeoning city.
Here are also many new hotels planned for 2017-2018: Hotel Alessandra will be a tall, narrow tower at Fannin and Polk streets with 225 rooms. The Hotel RL, Le Meridien, AC Hotels by Marriott and Hotel ZaZa are among the companies building or planning new Houston hotels.
And of course, New Eateries
Houston is already home to more than 10,000 restaurants, and like any vibrant city, every month a new one opens up. Among the most intriguing new restaurants that are coming up in 2017 will be a five-in-one--chef and James Beard Award Winner Chris Shepherd has a five-year plan to create five separate restaurants in a space currently occupied by another restaurant in the Montrose district.
He'll start out with One Fifth Steak opening in January 2017. One Fifth Romance Languages (the food of Spain, France and Italy) will follow, and then One-Fifth Fish. The two remaining concepts will be named at a later date.
When I quizzed Houstonian Phil Butcher, the owner of Bayou City Bike Tours, about his favorite restaurants. He cited Picos, for fried soft-shell crabs, the Mockingbird Bistro for a splurge, and the Raven Grill for the best wood-fired grill steaks and burgers.
Many Many Museums, Too
Then there are the museums: the Museum of Fine Arts, the Children's Museum with all kinds of interactive displays, the Health Museum, the Holocaust Museum, the Contemporary Art Museum, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, the National Museum of Funeral History, the Art Car Museum, the world-famous Menil Collection and the Buffalo Soldier Museum, to name just a few.
So if you want to know what to see and do in Houston, the big question is, "How much time do you have?"
Festivals and Shows
The largest and longest-running is the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, held over 20 days from early to late March and is the largest annual livestock show and rodeo in the world.
Another large celebration is the annual night-time Houston Pride Parade, held at the end of June. Other annual events include the Greek Festival, Art Car Parade, the Houston Auto Show, and the Bayou City Art Festival, which is considered to be one of the top five art festivals in the United States.
Houston is 'a great place to be yourself,' as my associate editor Stephen Hartshorne said after his visit a few years ago.
With plenty of opportunities to get a job, find affordable housing, and so many sports teams to root for, bike paths to wander, and all of those restaurants, maybe it's time for you to discover it too!
Find out a lot more about what you can see, do, eat and enjoy in the Great State of Texas at TravelTexas.
Travel Texas is an advertiser on GoNOMAD, but the opinions expressed are the author's own.
Max Hartshorne has been the editor and publisher of GoNOMAD Travel in South Deerfield Mass since 2002. He worked for newspapers and other sales positions for 23 years until he finally got what he wanted, and became the editor at GoNOMAD. He travels regularly, enjoys publishing new writers, and watching his grandchildren grow up.