As a California transplant, I’ve found myself surprisingly enamored with this sprawling Texan city! Here are my recommendations — most of which are inside the “Inner Loop,” the circle of highway that neatly encloses Rice University and my favorite (and arguably the most fun!) neighborhoods.
- Asia Society Texas Center. I love this smaller museum, especially because it is incredibly active in the community. I’ve stopped by randomly for their night markets and festivals.
- BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. A breathtaking Hindu temple, carved entirely out of white marble and limestone. A bit of a drive, but admission is free!
- Brazos Bookstore. This is a thoughtfully curated space for readers — but I think its programming deserves special recognition. It regularly brings in incredible authors for readings, including Roxane Gay and Viet Thanh Nguyen.
- Buffalo Bayou Park. The city recently built up this beautiful outdoor space. On a nice (read: not swelteringly hot day), bike or stroll along the walkways lining a lush bayou.
- Discovery Green Park. A lovely oasis of an urban park, hosting events year-round.
- The Galleria. I know, it’s a bit of a cop-out to include a huge mall on this list — but people love shopping, and there’s no better place to go than this huge, central collection of boutiques and chain retailers.
- Kaboom Books. When I got to Houston, I knew I’d need to find a small, locally-owned bookstore — preferably with books stacked to the ceilings and a four-legged resident. This is it.
- The Menil Collection & the Rothko Chapel. Art: free, beautiful, and in a truly gorgeous setting.
- Miller Outdoor Theatre. When the weather’s nice, come here (with a picnic blanket and snacks!) for amazing outdoor live performances and movie showings.
- NASA Johnson Space Center. No list can be complete without a mention of the headquarters of one of Houston’s major industries.
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. If you love art, this is the place to be. Come on Thursday evenings for the happy hour event (cocktails in the lobby) and free admission!
- Rice Village. This neighborhood adjacent to Rice features cute, walkable strip malls with plenty of boutiques, eateries, and bars.
- Showboat Drive-in Theatre. If you can brave a strange (and slightly creepy) drive outside the loop, you’ll find a charming, old time-y drive-in theatre featuring films old and new. Check the schedule to see what’s currently playing.
- White Oak Bayou. If you like road biking, this is the place to do it. While training for my century ride, I’d hit these paved trails for stretches of 5-10 uninterrupted miles.
- Axelrad & Luigi’s. Axelrad, an absolutely amazing beer garden/community hub, collaborates with Luigi’s, an excellent pizza place that’ll deliver to your table (or hammock!). There’s something happening every night of the week: movie projections, live performers, good music. A neighborhood must.
- Bellagreen (formerly Ruggles Green). One of our favorite places for a health-conscious, and more importantly, delicious, variety of food. Their veggie burger beats out meat patties any day of the week.
- Boheme. Great for a first date (my SO and I can attest :)! This hip bar serves up excellent cocktails and interesting appetizers (Vietnamese fries and truffle flatbead pizzas). Be sure to check out the outdoor patio, lit by string lights, in the back.
- Central Market. I love perusing this huge grocery store with an A+ produce section. The deli section is excellent and actually offers some of my favorite salads and sushi in Houston.
- Common Bond Bakery. The bakery that convinced me I could move from San Francisco to Houston and survive. A gorgeous, glass-walled space with beautiful, buttery viennoiseries. (The gift store next door, Space Montrose, is my one-stop shop for artsy, hip, unique and unbearably cute goods.)
- Coltivare and Dolce Vita. Excellent Neapolitan pizza and Italian dishes, fired in wood-burning ovens. Even my favorite New York snob approves!
- Harry’s. I like to head to this dependable diner for a nice brunch without the crazy queues. While they offer standard American fare, I dream about their special chilaquiles.
- Himalaya. Anthony Bourdain-approved, heaping portions of Indian & Pakistani food. My favorites are the biryanis, complete with garlic naan.
- Killen’s Barbecue. It’s a bit of a trek from the heart of Houston, but worth it for arguably the best barbecue in the metropolitan area!
- Local Foods. My go-to for a healthy, wholesome meal. You can’t go wrong with the menu here, but my default order is their vibrant, sizable and seasonal salad.
- Mahajarah Bhog. If you want to feel like royalty for under $20, come here for lunch and watch as your all-you-can-eat thali (assortment of small plates) gets filled with a dozen delicious things.
- Niko Niko’s. Featuring healthy Mediterranean specialties, this restaurant is a Houston staple. My little sister loves their addictive Greek salads.
- Phoenicia Specialty Foods. A small, specialty food shop in Midtown, this place has a full-service bakery and hot foods bar. I love browsing the aisles for new and imported goods and finishing up my trip with shawarma.
- Pupusa Buffet. This hole-in-the-wall restaurant serves pupusas (corn masa cakes stuffed with cheese and other fillings) and other Latin American comfort foods. Filling, cheap, and super satisfying.
- Shri Balaji Bhavan. In the heart of the Mahatma Gandhi District, this place serves up cheap and delicious vegetarian Indian fare. Their mysore masala dosa is my favorite, but you can also ask for the menu with pictures if you’re a first-timer!
- Teapresso. My new favorite place to get a boba fix, this is the first “mainland” location of a Hawaiian, all-organic tea company. If I need to stay closer to campus, I head to Teahouse (note that the location on Shepherd and Westheimer often has free popcorn).
- Velvet Taco. Austin-transplant Torchy’s Tacos gets a lot of love, but my heart belongs to this Dallas stronghold. Their creative tacos are a bit more fusion-y and (slightly) less gutbomb-y.
- West Alabama Ice House & Tacos Tierra Caliente. My favorite tacos in all the land! Order at the taco truck (al pastor is the bees’ knees if you’re a meat eater), walk across the street to the Ice House and grab a (very Texan) Topo Chico sparkling water at the bar. Sit at a bench and go to town.
Last updated: September 16, 2018