Planner’s Travel Series
About the series: Welcome to our ongoing travel series. These are all posts written by planning students and professionals about what to do in a given city when looking for Brunch, a Brew, or a good idea on a Budget. To cap it all off, we include a fun planning fact!
About the visit: I’ve been fortunate enough to have both my brothers live in Houston at some point. So I’ve had someone to visit there for over a decade now, and I try to get out there at least once a year. Houston isn’t an easy city to ‘get’ with just one visit and it can feel overwhelming if you don’t know where to go (it is the fourth largest city in America!). But it’s a wonderfully quirky and unpretentious city with one of the best food scenes in the country. The trick is to go a lot, go often, and go with someone who lives there. And to not go in summer!
Choosing the ‘best’ place for brunch in Houston is tantamount to sacrilege since brunch is a must-do every weekend. And unlike in cities like New York and San Francisco, which also pride themselves on their brunch game, it’s possible to find a brunch meal in Houston that is delicious AND cheap! My personal favorite place, though, is Tout Suite in the up and coming East Downtown neighborhood. Located in a converted old car dealership, Tout Suite is a hipster paradise with exposed brick walls, high ceilings, and an extensive avocado toast selection. But, more importantly, it has a menu full of delicious sweet and savory options, flavorful coffee, and an unbelievable pastry selection (the strawberry and creme croissant is a must).
From the tiki-theme of Lei Low, to the quintessential cheap beer, big cup feel of Alice’s Tall Texan Drive-In, to the old Southern grandeur of Julep, Houston has a bar for every kind of person and every kind of night. And the best part is that even the fanciest places usually have a dog-friendly outdoor patio. For a lively, but low key night and an impressive craft beer selection, try out Saint Arnold, the oldest craft brewery in the state. The beer garden and brewery, located in a warehouse that’s over 100,000 square feet just north of downtown, is open seven days a week and offers extensive outdoor seating and free wifi. Improve your skills in bocce while enjoying good drinks and tasty food.
It’s not exactly a ‘budget’ item by graduate student standards, but no visit to Houston is complete without a stop at the Johnson Space Center. It’ll take you about 45 minutes to get there and cost about $30 to get in, but the space center is a must for anyone interested in space or science or who just enjoyed the Apollo 13 movie. The family-friendly venue includes plenty of games and installations for kids, ample historical information, and a chance to walk aboard one of the NASA Space Shuttles. The entrance fee also includes tours of Mission Control, the astronaut training facility, and Rocket Park, where you can see one of the last remaining Saturn V rockets in the world (you know, those REALLY big rockets that got us to the moon).
If you’re looking for a real budget item, though, take a walk along Buffalo Bayou. Houston gets a bad rap for all the sprawl, but just west of downtown the city has preserved a 160-acre green space along the Buffalo Bayou river. The park was designed to be the city’s premier open space, with miles of hiking and biking trails, a couple great dog parks, multiple public art installations, gardens full of native plants, and plenty of places to rent bikes or paddle boats. In addition, Buffalo Bayou provides critical flood protection for downtown and is home, year-round, to one of the largest colonies of Mexican free-tailed bats in the world.
Fun Planning Fact
Houston routinely makes the list of worst designed cities in the world and is held up as the poster child of everything that’s wrong with unchecked growth and car-oriented development. In fact, some call it ‘the blob that ate East Texas.’ In its defense, Houston has been trying in recent years to improve its reputation by opening up multiple new light rail lines, investing significantly in downtown, and rapidly expanding the city’s bike sharing network.
As is, though, Houston might just be one of the most interesting cities in America. It’s actually hard to choose just one ‘fun’ planning fact! The metro area recently surpassed New York’s as the most diverse in America, and the first traditional Hindu temple in the country was built in Houston. The downtown grid was originally designed in line with the prevailing winds to help mitigate the smell from the cattle ranches outside the city. On top of that, with more than 54 medicine-related institutions, the Texas Medical Center is the largest medical complex in the world, while the Astrodome was the first domed stadium in the world. The GDP of the metro area is greater than that of the entire country of Sweden, and the city was the first major U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor.
Another cool fact is that Houston is the largest port city in the world NOT on the ocean, thanks to the Houston Ship Channel (which is actually just the Buffalo Bayou I mentioned above, heavily dredged and widened as it drains out to the sea). Though used to move goods to the Gulf since at least 1836, the Channel was significantly expanded in the early 20th century with the rise of the oil industry and the decline of Galveston following the 1900 hurricane.
Featured Image: The Houston Skyline via Wikimedia Commons
About the author: Leah Campbell is a Ph.D. student in the Department of City and Regional Planning, where she focuses on the intersection of equity issues and climate adaptation in addressing urban flooding. Prior to UNC, she worked in the environmental nonprofit sector fighting for clean water and healthy oceans in California. She holds a B.S. in Geophysics and Environmental Science from Yale University.