Well, it's happened. Over the weekend our friends from the North East have listed Houston #7 on their "46 places to visit in 2013" list which, presumably, means that a wave of New Englanders are going to be descending on our fair city to partake in the sights, sounds and entertainment that is Houston.
The release of this list has Houston media in a frenzy. While I'm sure that you're going to receive a lot of red carpet invitations from Houstonians there are a few things about our fair city of which we probably should advise you before you book your tickets here.
- Rent a car. For some of you, especially those who live in New York, this could be problematic. And while you're used to moving around town on foot, via cab, and by using a fairly extensive public transportation system you're going to be shocked when you come to Houston and hop aboard the toy train. While 7 miles of light rail is enough to make Houston deem its cute little transportation option a "success" somewhere around the 2nd trip you're going to get very bored with the ride from just past Reliant Stadium to the University of Houston-Downtown. The good news is, everywhere on the train that you want to go, you can reach by car fairly simply. The bad news is, you can see better versions of many of the Museums in Houston in your home-town, so that side-trip might not be all you want it to be. But, given that only a few museums in a few cities in the world are worth vacation visits, this probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Don't get me wrong, I love Houston's museum district, as someone who lives here. Were I traveling here from New England I think I might be slightly underwhelmed. Also on the rail line is the Medical Center. Don't get me wrong, it's great but, for reasons I hope are obvious, we hope you don't have to visit there. One last note: Don't try to make sense of Metro's bus routing. Just don't.
- Don't worry if you're in Downtown at night, you didn't miss the Rapture. You're going to read in our media, and from our visitor's bureau how Downtown is grand, a veritable cornucopia of hip, urban fun. How we have the Houston Pavilions and Disco Green and...um....OK, so Downtown is not really a tourist paradise, especially when you're coming from Central Park and Times Square. (I know, I know, locals don't go to Times Square much but you get my drift) You also might not be all that impressed with our theater selection, you having access to Broadway and all. You're going to read a lot about how nice it is to stay in Downtown Houston and how many "world class" hotels we have there. Unfortunately, unless you're traveling for business, they're not really conducive to a happy family vacation. The problem, of course, is a lack of entertainment options. I'm sure Forever 21 is a nice store, but I would imagine that the excitement for the kiddies will wear off after the 2nd or 3rd trip through. House of Blues? Meh. I guess you could go bowling every night at Lucky Strike Lanes or watch the New England Patriots play in the AFC Championship game at Comcast SportsNet but you can do this at home as well. The fact is Downtown Houston at night is the perfect setting for a post-apocalyptic urban movie scene, utterly devoid of life.
- The places you want to go are South of Houston. Wanna see the Texas equivalent of Coney Island (where we'll prove that everything is not bigger in Texas?) Visit Kemah, the Space Center is nice, as is Moody Gardens. Also in Galveston is The Strand which can eat up an afternoon, and The Pleasure Pier which can eat up your entertainment budget. And remember, despite the perpetually angry hipsters at Free Press Houston declaring it the "worst park" the San Jacinto Battleground Historic Site is actually a nice place to learn about some pretty neat Texas history. Yes, the place is polluted and if your children jump in the water they'll come out green, but it's a neat way to spend an afternoon doing the most Houston of activities: driving 2 hours to get somewhere that will take you about an hour to see.
- Despite it's size, Houston is very small-town in thinking. This came to me the other day while talking to a friend who now lives in London. She was back in Houston for the first time in a couple of years and, after spending two days driving around and (sadly) watching and reading the news, she realized how big the chasm was between a real "world class" city (London) and a regional city play-pretending (Houston). You're going to find that the thinking here is different, that the so-called New Urbanists here don't really want an active, urban environment like you're used to. Instead they want an altered form of a Norman Rockwell painting returning us to a time that men wore suits in 95 degree weather. Our political scandals are amusing, but nowhere near the level of say, Chicago. As a matter of fact, our local politics are closer to the frontier Texas, kow-tow to the local cattle-baron level (The Houston Way, for instance, is more about crony capitalism than anything else) than it is to anything resembling a political machine. (That's not a bad thing) So, when you come here, don't expect to find the burgeoning urban metropolis that's advertised, think frontier Wichita, spread-out, with spotty wi-fi, more baubles and an unusual attraction to art cars and you have Houston pretty much down pat.
In closing I think it best to say this: Welcome to our humble abode travelers, just make sure to do a little advanced planning, budget some extra time if driving in moisture or on Sundays (we drive slow here in Space City) and dress appropriately. If you're intent on going out on Washington Ave. for drinks make sure you wear good shoes for the game of dodge-car that's sure to follow, and hip, trendy eye wear is required apparel. Fortunately, the Galleria has you covered on that front.