Situated in the southeastern portion of the great state of Texas, Houston is one of the largest and most populous cities in the nation, in fact ranking fourth in population after New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. It also is the largest city in the Southern United States, as well as the seat of the very populous Harris County. It is the principal city of Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land, which is the fifth-most populated metropolitan area in the United States.
Houston is a very diverse city with a large and growing international community. The metropolitan area is home to roughly a million-plus residents who were born outside the United States, with nearly two-thirds of this foreign-born population coming from south of the United States–Mexico border. Additionally, more than 20 percent of the foreign-born residents are from Asia, and the city is home to the nation’s third-largest concentration of consular offices, representing 86 countries.
There are many annual events that celebrate the diverse cultures of Houston. The largest and longest-running of these is the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, conducted over 20 days from early to late March, and is the largest annual livestock show and rodeo in the world. Another great celebration is the annual night-time Houston Pride Parade, held at the end of June each year Other yearly events include the Houston Greek Festival, Art Car Parade, the Houston Auto Show, the Houston International Festival, and the Bayou City Art Festival, which is considered to be one of the top five art festivals in the United States.
In 1967, Houston received the official nickname of “Space City,” when it became the location of NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Other nicknames often used by locals include the “Bayou City,” “Clutch City,” “Magnolia City,””New Houston” (a tribute to the cultural contributions of New Orleans natives who left their city during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina catastrophe), and “H-Town.”
Houston has a wealth of things to do and see within its borders, so many, in fact, that it would be impossible to list them all within the confines of this article. Instead we have chosen to highlight five of the most popular and oft-visited great sights and attractions available in Houston, complete with a brief description of each site, attraction or activity.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
Located in the heart of downtown Houston, Texas, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is loaded to the gills with eye-popping exhibits that must be seen to fully appreciate. In its totality, the museum allows visitors an opportunity to experience the wonders of science and nature, beginning from the time of the dinosaurs and continuing to the space age—an age that is evolving more and more every day. In addition to the museum’s massive collection of dated fossils, dinosaur remains, precious gems and artifacts from Egypt to the heart of North America, the Houston Museum of Natural Science also houses an exciting, interactive planetarium; a butterfly center with countless species on hand; and an enormous screen for movies and presentations.
In addition to the above-named attractions at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the facility also features a collection of permanent exhibits; ever-changing temporary exhibits that are based on the news of the day; and an unbelievable number of educational and entertaining programs that help visitors make sense out of the abundance of information before them.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science was first opened in 1909, and today this fantastic Texas attraction has morphed into in one of the premier destinations for fans of the Natural Sciences, second only to those institutes owned and operated by the Smithsonian Institute.
Visitors to the Houston Museum of Natural Science can expect to see a number of wonders of our natural world, including an impressive and far-reaching collection of animal specimens, plant life, and exhibits that clearly demonstrate the human impact on planet earth. Guests can experience, through pictures and videos, the powerful forces of several different types of natural disasters—earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.—and the potential these forces have for transforming the natural habitats we live in. The museum will appeal to guests of all ages, and is open year-round, excluding major holidays.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science is located at 5555 Hermann Park Drive, and is within walking distance of several other great Houston attractions.
The Houston Zoo
A staple of the Houston, Texas sightseeing scene, the Houston Zoo is comprised of many moving parts, all working in perfect harmony together to produce a one-of-a-kind guest experience. The zoo hosts over 6,000 permanent animal residents representing many different species, for whom the dedicated staff of the zoo provides daily meals, housing, medical care and, in some cases, training and education. Over 2 million people come to visit this awesome animal sanctuary each year to experience firsthand the incredible variety of animals and ecosystems here, and to attend special private and public events hosted by the zoo, in which the animals are the primary source of entertainment.
The tireless and dedicated staff of the Houston Zoo literally works around the clock to bring the excitement of the facility to life, and to make certain that the zoo is operating smoothly to ensure the safety of both the animals and those that come to see them. According to the Mission Statement posted on the Houston Zoo’s website, “the zoo aims to provide a fun, unique, and inspirational experience—one that fosters appreciation (of the animals), knowledge, and care for the natural world.”
Guests who opt to visit the Houston Zoo can expect to see a variety of animals, including, but certainly not limited to, tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars and other big cats; coyotes and wolves; monkeys, chimpanzees, apes and gorillas; reptiles of every shape and size, including snakes and large lizards; a variety of sea life; and bird species from every corner of the earth.
Shows, demonstrations and all-out presentations are featured daily at the Houston Zoo—shows that highlight and showcase the behavior of certain animals and demonstrate their many talents. The Houston Zoo also plays host to a number of great restaurants, where people can watch animals frolic in a replica of their natural habitat as they dine; snack-style eateries featuring pizza, hot dogs, burgers and a variety of cold drinks.
The Houston Zoo is located at 6200 Hermann Park Drive, and prices vary depending on age and season.
Cypress-Area Distillery and Brewery Tour
If you’re looking for an outside-the-box excursion just for the adults in your group, why not discover the delightful distilleries and award winning breweries located just outside of the city of Houston? On this trip, which has you traveling northwest and uncovering the Cypress area via an expertly-guided tour, you and your group can immerse yourselves in the crafts of spirit and beer making.
Guests of this fun tour will meet at an arranged location in Cypress, where they will settle in for the trip on a deluxe motor coach that will first whisk them away to the local whiskey and vodka distilleries, giving them a firsthand look at how sour mash and potatoes, respectively, evolve into the spirits enjoyed by so many people around the world. Stops at these two locations will be followed up by informational and educational tours of two local breweries, where guests will have the unique opportunity to sample a number of different frothy beers and ales, and where they will uncover some of the hidden ingredients that lead to taste variation. Visitors can also mingle with the owners and workers of these facilities and will have the chance to go behind the scenes to see how these beverages are crafted from start to finish.
The Cypress-Area Distillery and Brewery Tour will afford participants the opportunity to learn how to distinguish between different varieties of beer and spirits and appreciate each of their distinctive flavors and bodies.
On the Cypress-Area Distillery and Brewery Tour, participants will get to visit some of the prime brewing and distilling hot spots in the Houston area, some of which include Whitmeyer’s Distilling, the 11 Below Brewing Company, and Spindletop Brewery. All transportation is included in the price of the tour, allowing visitors to taste some of these great specialties without having to worry about driving afterwards.
The Chocolate Bar
Residents of Houston understand—and have experienced firsthand—the delicious things happening at the Chocolate Bar, one of the city’s best kept and tastiest secrets. Operating at its Rice Village location, this decadent business has, for many years, continued in its mission to produce a gastronomic paradise of all things chocolate, including ice cream, cakes, pies, cookies, candies and other chocolate-covered novelties that are difficult for customers to resist.
Once inside the always-pleasant and uniquely decorated Chocolate Bar, guests feel as if they have stepped into the magic and deliciousness of the Willy Wonka Factory. The patterned walls, all painted a bright shade of purple, combine with the treat-filled display cases, ice cream freezers, candy jars and towering cake stands to produce an atmosphere in which one can’t help but smile. Along with the shelves that are neatly lined with an assortment of chocolate goodies, there is also a traditional candy counter, with large jars that are filled to the brim with chocolate covered pieces of fruit and the gooey goodness of bonbons. There is even a jaw-dropping trompe l’oeil “pizza” that is so realistic you can almost smell the cheese and pepperoni—except the entire pie is made of multi-colored chocolate.
The Houston-based Chocolate Bar is open seven days a week, typically beginning at 8:00 AM until roughly 9:00 PM or 10:00 PM, even later on certain event nights. For instance, be sure to hop over to Rice Village and the Chocolate Bar on Thursday nights each week, when this fun establishment features live music and swing dancing—as well as swing dance lessons for those new to the style.
Space Center Houston
Roughly 25 miles southeast of the very metropolitan city of Houston, on the west side of the popular waterway known as Clear Lake, visitors to the city will find the attraction Space Center Houston—the official visitor center of NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.
Space Center Houston offers a number of great attractions for guests to explore, including Independence Plaza. Presented by Boeing, Independence Plaza is the newest attraction at Space Center Houston, offering guests an experience like no other. Here tourists can climb aboard the shuttle replica Independence, mounted on top of the historic and original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft, and then explore the intricacies of the giant plane. It is the world’s only shuttle mounted on an SCA and the only one allowing the public to enter both.
There are many different exhibits and attractions at Space Center Houston that grant the general public a rare glimpse into the historic shuttle era of NASA and describe its impact on current and future exploration. All of these exhibits fit Space Center Houston’s educationally focused mission to explore problem-solving concepts; possible career paths in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and examples of innovation from the shuttle era.
The landmark experience is offered at no extra charge as part of the general admission ticket, but timed access ticketing will be used to manage the number of people entering the shuttle’s smaller space in order to enhance the guest experience.