The fourth-largest city in the United States, Houston is also the biggest city in Texas, a vast state synonymous with size in all shapes and forms.
Houston is a melting pot of cultures, thanks to its close proximity to the US–Mexico border and the nearby French Creole city of New Orleans. The city’s multiculturalism—it has the third-largest Hispanic and Mexican population in the US—has also resulted in it possessing one of the country’s youngest populations, making for a dynamic city with a youthful approach.
Houston's pancake-flat landscape is intersected by the trickling waters of the charmingly named Buffalo Bayou and is home to the NASA Space Center, the starting point for the US Space Program—hence Houston’s official nickname: Space City. Houston is also known for its aeronautical and energy industries, and the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, whose legendary Mission Control coordinates all of NASA’s Space Shuttle missions.
Houston’s two million residents are joined each year by more than seven million tourists, each keen to see what this sprawling city has to offer—suggesting that in Texas anyway, bigger really is better.
Although Houston is best known for being the heart of the US space program, the city is just as culturally rich as its other southern counterparts. Its Museum District is home to many globally renowned institutions and exhibitions, and the city has an active performing arts scene. In fact, Houston is one of just five US cities that offer year-round resident companies in all the major performing arts.
Head for the Theater District to enjoy the Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Ballet, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, and the Alley Theater. Whether you love arts or science, you’ll be enthralled in the Museum District; investigate the Museum of Fine Arts, the Contemporary Arts Museum, and the Museum of Natural Science. For a slightly more macabre experience, visit the National Museum of Funeral History. Owned by a funeral company, it houses the largest collection of funereal artifacts in the US and displays historic hearses and memorabilia from famous funerals, such as those of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Elvis Presley.
If you had another type of "out-of-this-world" journey in mind, visit the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, the home of a breathtaking array of space artifacts.
Houston’s combination of cultural diversity and uninhibited Southern charm boosts the local culinary scene; restaurants, like the city itself, tend to be cosmopolitan. Hundreds of excellent restaurants abound, from the ubiquitous Tex-Mex to the fiery gumbo of Cajun seafood. Primary influences come from Louisiana, Mexico, and Southeast Asia, but you can find restaurants serving just about any cuisine you can think of. But whatever you choose, the proper accompaniment—for the locals, anyway— is beer or ice tea. An extra large glass of ice tea is a cultural fixture in Houston, the perfect palate cleanser (and cooler) after a spicy Tex-Mex meal.
For some of the best food, stop by any nondescript taqueria and order at random; you won’t be disappointed. If you’re looking for upscale dining, you can’t go wrong downtown, where you can take your pick of the city’s numerous international restaurants.
Nightlife in Houston is said to be similar to its weather: if you don't like it, give it five minutes, and something better will come along. The city’s scene is bubbling over with casual bars, ϋber cool clubs, and a live music scene to rival New Orleans; however, as the hip venues and areas change frequently, consult a Houstonian or up-to-date listings magazine for the current hotspots.
About 200 kilometers southwest of Houston (a short drive in this vast state) is Matagorda Island. A welcome respite from urban activities, Matagorda Island is an offshore barrier island known for its wild, untouched beauty. The island is 60 kilometers long and varies in width from 1.5 to about 7 kilometers. Matagorda Island is a wildlife management area and supports a wide variety of migratory birds, a large herd of white-tailed deer, alligators, and other wildlife. Activities include salt-water fishing, birding, and picnicking; a lighthouse that dates from 1852 can be explored.