My First Steps in Texas
On August 12, 1964, I became one of the newest residence of the great city of Houston, Texas, which that year boasted a population of about a million people. More than 58 years later, another 1.3 million have moved to the most populous city in Texas and 4th largest city in the U.S.
Since that time, I’ve lived in 19 other cities and towns in the Lone Star State and Houston, of course, remains the largest. I’ve also lived outside the city limits of most of the places I’ve cohabitated with my husband a majority of our 23-year marriage. We much prefer the sound of the rooster crowing in the morning to honking horns and traffic passing by any time, day or night.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Houston and am happy to say I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the traffic or the large number of people living there. In fact, I found it both interesting and enjoyable, something I don’t say a lot about larger cities, and I was pleasantly surprised.
I came to the Bayou City on a multi-city tour of the greater Houston area, along with colleagues who work for the Texas Department of Transportation Travel Information Division. Houston was our first stop along the way. I’ll share future stories about other communities we visited at a later date.
Our stops were extremely short, very similar to past trips I’ve taken, including when Debra, Morgan, and I drove the perimeter of Texas in eight nights and nine days or when Darla and I visited all of the Texas Buc-ees locations in 3 1/2 days.
While I saw a number of attractions this time around in the city, I decided to include a few other spots I’ve visited on other trips to the area. In a city that covers more than 670 square miles, it would take years to explore everything there is to see and do.
Before I get started, I do have to share the fact that a lot of great Texans join me in being able to say they, too, were born in Houston, including Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard, as well as the late Dusty Hill, all from ZZ Top, Beyonce, Robert Earl Keen, and one of my favorites, Lyle Lovett. Nice to share company with these great performers. If any of them are reading this, feel free to give me a call. I’m available for lunch any time.
Space Center Houston
Many people when they hear the word Houston when thinking of space and NASA, remember the phrase “Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” spoken by astronaut Jack Swigert, followed by Jim Lovell. And while “Houston” was not officially the first word spoken on the moon, those words were “contact light” stated by Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong did indeed say the phrase, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Semantics. The fact remains that Apollo 11 made it there first and the city of Houston in the great state of Texas was represented.
In 2012, I had the good fortune to be visiting Space Center Houston when the Space Shuttle Endeavor left the city for its final destination in California. The plane carrying the shuttle flew over the center several times in a final farewell.
I also met NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, when he spoke at a travel conference I was attending in the area. And in 2014, I got to watch the replica of the space shuttle Independence being placed on the NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft. While I have never had a desire to be launched into space, I am absolutely fascinated by the process and the scientific minds who make it happen. A visit to Space Center Houston should be at the top of your list when in H-town. Exhibits include NASA experiences like Breakfast with an Astronaut and Astronaut Mission Memories. What better way to delve into space without leaving the Earth?
Of course, if you’re a conspiracy theorist who believes going into space was all a hoax created by big Hollywood producers, I would suggest you skip it. It’s definitely not for you.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
While I didn’t get a lot of time to spend at the Houston Museum of Natural Science this time, I have visited before. Entering the museum, you can choose from any number of exhibits like the Morian Hall of Paleontology, Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals, Herzstein Foucault Pendulum, and a great gift shop. You can also enjoy the Cockrell Butterfly Center, but you’ll have to wait as it is currently going through renovations. I had actually visited the museum years ago and I explored the Center then.
When we arrived at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and since our time was limited, I headed straight to the Morian Hall of Paleontology. There’s something about seeing the skeletons of dinosaurs that is an amazing sight to me. I can picture these animals roaming the earth back in the day. If you have little ones or are just a kid at heart, you will love this place. I know I could spend hours here.
Houston Botanic Garden
I’ve visited some incredible gardens all over the state. Some of my favorites include Zilker Botanical Garden in Austin, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, Gage Gardens in Marathon, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center in Orange, the Tyler Rose Gardens, the International Waterlily Collection in San Angelo, and the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.
I finally had the opportunity to see the Houston Botanic Garden on this trip. I highly recommend it at this time of year. Located near Sims Bayou, it consists of 132 acres of displays, trails, and ecosystems. You can literally spend hours here, learning about plants of all kinds. If you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, come to the gardens and enjoy nature, as you learn about the variety of flowers and plants along the trails.
Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern
I knew we were planning to stop at the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern and I was a little interested, but it didn’t really tick any boxes for me prior to arriving. However, when the guide takes you through the subdued lighting and then the pitch darkness of the cisterns, you sense the beauty of the place. The reflections caused from the few inches of water in the cistern are breathtaking. We were also fortunate to have a guide who sang. I don’t have a video but when you hear the song, Shenandoah, being sung a cappella with a 17-second echo, it’s a worthwhile stop while in Houston that you won’t soon forget.
I have always found graffiti to be such an interesting form of art and Houston’s Graffiti Park takes it to the next level. With a view of the city’s skyline in the background, the variety of artistic expression in this small open-air outdoor gallery of walls tucked away in the largest city in the Lone Star State is a discovery worth viewing. Lots of selfie opportunities are available, too.
National Museum of Funeral History
I don’t know that any museum has been more interesting to me than the National Museum of Funeral History. In fact, when deciding to talk about it in this post, I had trouble even figuring out what to include since there’s so much.
I had very little expectations about the museum prior to my arrival. I didn’t bother to check their website for details, as I wanted to be surprised. And, let me tell you, I was blown away. This place is over the top and they are serious about their funeral history.
Exhibits include a History of Embalming, Presidential Funerals, and Celebrating the Lives and Deaths of the Popes. That’s only a few. There are actually 17 exhibits to experience. In case you’re wondering, there was nothing really squeamish about the place, in spite of the museum’s interesting title.
I spent almost as much time in the gift shop of the museum as I did in the actual exhibits. I was fascinated by the idea of someone searching for items to sell in a funeral museum store. They didn’t disappoint. A couple of my favorites included a cremation grilling apron (which I bought for my husband) and a book entitled Fancy Coffins to Make Yourself. This stuff is gold and so is the museum. I highly recommend it. Plan for at least a 1/2 day here.
Eat in the Heart of Texas – Houston
No trip to Houston is complete without stopping to check out the local cuisine. According to TripAdvisor, you have more than 6,000 options.
We had a great breakfast at Dish Society. Offering a unique menu with items including shrimp and grits, avocado toast, brisket and eggs, Nutella french toast, and house beignets, you should be able to find any number of items to please your palette and those who might be joining you. Delicious!
POST Houston was another culinary stop during our tour. Located in downtown Houston with a magnificent view of the Houston skyline, the building was formerly the USPS headquarters. Featuring a food market of international vendors, a skylawn with games for family and friends, and a music hall, this place is busy, busy, busy. You can enjoy mediterranean, cajun, ramen, tacos, thai, burgers, and ice cream from the variety of exceptional food vendors. On my visit, I enjoyed Ramen Moto followed by homemade ice cream from Flower & Cream Market, which helped tremendously to cool me down from the hot ramen I had enjoyed earlier. I loved the number of options available. If you’re not a fan of crowds, grab your meal to go and take it up to the rooftop and sit at one of the many spots available to enjoy the fresh air. You won’t be disappointed.
Big State. Big Tastes. Big Adventures.
While I focus primarily on small towns much of the time when I’m traveling and blogging, I do enjoy visiting large cities, especially in the Lone Star State. Whether native born or transplanted, those who call Texas home either know or are learning what it means to offer true Texas hospitality. The people of Houston are no exception. I enjoyed my short time in the city and look forward to visiting again. With the holiday season coming up and the stress that family visiting can sometimes cause, you might consider loading up the car and driving them to Houston. It might be the best holiday gift you’ve ever given to them…and to yourself.
Until next time…in Texas…safe travels!