From its birth in the Battle of San Jacinto to its current expanding skyline, Houston has always been a larger than life city. Its historic downtown is filled with stunning architecture and old world vibes alongside new, exciting shops and restaurants. Houston manages to maintain a sense of charm while keeping up with the fast pace of city life. If you only have a short amount of time in Houston here are some of the major spots to visit.
The Museum District has 19 museums to explore, and all of the museums are grouped into 4 “walkable” zones. Select a zone to explore for the afternoon with no transportation needed! There is enough to see for an entire week. From the Houston Center for Photography which features over 300 classes and workshops all year to the Health Museum with Free Family Thursday there is something for anyone and everyone. There is also a zoo located in the Museum District. Enjoy the weather and the scenery of Houston while exploring some of the best museums in the country.
Near the Museum District there are the Historic Districts of Houston. The streets are lined with old fashioned buildings with architecture calling essence to the their roots of the 1800s. Well-manicured trees sprout along the way, and you can see many of the protected landmarks that epitomize the history of Houston. Take a stroll to the Market Square Park which hosts events and concerts. There are delicious eats along the way and even a dog run in the park. If retail therapy is what you are looking for stop by The Shops at Houston Center where you will find all the shopping and beauty services you might need while in Houston.
The Gerald D. Hines Water Wall Park – As the most photographed site in Houston, it is a must see stop. Built in the 1980s by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, it is a U-shaped wall that pumps 11,000 gallons of recycled water cascading over the edge and down the steps at the foot of the fountain. Designed with a similar feel of the Roman Amphitheater, it is a peaceful spot in the middle of a bustling city.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Sanstha – This is actually about 30 minutes outside Houston, but this temple is well worth the drive. As a Hindu place of worship, it is designed with homage to ancient Indian architecture, and its exterior is accompanied by an incredible interior that honors India’s history. It is a serene and incredibly beautiful temple. The perfect place for a moment of reflection.
Whenever I travel I am on the prowl for new foods, and I love it when I find places that combine unique elements and flavors to make a signature experience. Holley’s in Houston was that incredible find! The owner and head chef Mark Holley, formerly of Brennan’s, has managed to combine Pan-American and Pan-Asian flavors with signature southern flare. I had the pleasure of meeting both Mark Holley and one of the sous chefs, Patricia Alvarez-Burdette. Patti did an impeccable job of introducing me to the many elements that make Holley’s so special. This seafood restaurant and oyster bar has dishes varying from traditional shrimp cocktails to entrees with threads of Peruvian and Haitian influences that create a symphony of flavors. It is the place to go if you are looking for the delicious freshness of seafood but with a kick you won’t forget.
Of all the dishes I tried, I think the Gumbo was one of my favorites! The recipe actually won judges’ choice at Houston’s 3rd Annual Gumbo Smackdown out of fifteen other competitors. The deep, rich taste is a savory combination of duck confit, gulf shrimp, fried oysters, and parsley rice. A fish stock base pulls together the shrimp and the metallic hint of the fried oysters all equalized by the parsley rice.
I also devoured the delicious NOLA Style Charbroiled Oyster with garlic butter and parmesan cheese. These southern style oysters dripping with butter in a tangy, finger-licking creation are the best oysters I have ever tasted. To be honest, oysters have never been my favorite seafood, but these chargrilled delicacies carefully prepared with some of the best elements of comfort food, left me thinking I had never truly tasted an oyster until then.
As my main dish, I enjoyed the Gulf Flounder, and it was sensational. Crabmeat was a pleasant surprise nestled among the peanuts, fennel-pickled red grape slaw, maitake mushrooms, and charred tomatoes. It was so fresh and accompanied by rich, savory flavors that created a fusion of southern seafood charm with carefully balanced details that sparked the entire taste of the dish.
One of my favorite parts of checking out a new restaurant is trying the new and creative drinks from the bar, and Holley’s had plenty to choose from. The bar has begun to put more focus on Bourbon, and Harold, the devoted bartender, has been steering this transition and concocting smooth, satisfying cocktails. I tried the Irasshaimasse which was created by Harold, and somehow he managed to create this drink that included horseradish! It was an experience all its own with just the perfect amount of bite but still silky smooth.
Don’t forget dessert! I highly recommend the Coconut Cake! It is a southern dessert that will leaving you wanting more. It is just the perfect amount of sweet, and it is topped with spiced pecans and salted caramel sauce. Holley’s is an absolute must if you are hungry in Houston.
After a long day of exploring Houston, you are going to need a great place to lay your weary head. In historic downtown, you will find Hotel ICON. Within walking distance of many of the historic downtown attractions, Hotel ICON is a pillar of Houston.
This award winning hotel was originally built in 1912 as the Union National Bank, and the details can still be seen such as the vault door positioned behind the front desk. Its twelve stories may look small among the towering modern day buildings, but when it was erected it was considered one of the nation’s first skyscrapers. Gorgeous detailing from the Corinthian columns to the arched doorways give the hotel a timeless beauty that captures the long history of Houston and the character of the city itself.
Enjoy a nightcap in the hotel bar or give in to the welcoming embrace of a jet tub. If you have time check out the BALANCE Urban Day Spa and get a massage for those tired muscles. Hotel ICON is the perfect place to stay to truly experience Houston.