The Houston Guide
Houston is a proper Texan city. In other words, it’s massive, folksy, and utterly charming. The nineteen museums within the Museum District are all world-class, Chinatown here is a mini-metropolis within the city, shopping requires its own itinerary, and extra days tacked onto your trip are never a bad call. As for the food, we’ll put it this way: Houston managed to bring home twelve James Beard nominations. And that was just last year.
Rothko Chapel1533 Sul Ross St, Montrose | 713.524.9839
This small church in the compound of the Menil Collection doubles as a gallery for fourteen all-black tableaux by Mark Rothko. The somber paintings create a haunting, womblike interior that has a way of bringing instant calm to the spirit and the mind. The church is sparsely outfitted with a few wooden benches and a skylight to let just enough natural light seep in without disturbing the peaceful gloominess. There are weekly events for the Zen-minded, like sound meditations and yoga on the plaza, but a moment alone is the best way to experience it all.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston1001 Bissonnet St., University Place | 713.639.7300
Split across seven buildings, Houston's Museum of Fine Arts is one of the largest museums in the US, with a catalog that chronicles over 6,000 years of history. And while you're unlikely to get bored no matter where you begin, the Caroline Wiess Law Building is the main attraction. It is the permanent residence of artworks ranging from pre-Columbian and Oceanic artifacts to modern and contemporary works by artists such as Jackson Pollock and James Turrell. Outside, stretch your legs in the beautifully landscaped Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen sculpture garden, dotted with pieces by Henri Matisse and Louis Bourgeois.
Houston Museum of Natural Science5555 Hermann Park Dr., Museum District | 713.639.4629
Since 1909, the Houston Museum of Natural Science has been committed to making the wonders of science an interactive adventure to pique imaginations regardless of age. Inside, a surreal, glass-encased tropical rain forest protects over sixty varieties of imported butterflies flitting around a cascading waterfall. (Be careful not to unintentionally sneak one out—the butterflies have a habit of taking brief repose on the backs of visitors.) Robotics nerds will find joy in a virtual reality simulation promising to deliver the sensory experience of flying like a bird. Or visit the Burke Baker Planetarium for a 3D introduction to the universe, black holes and solar superstorms included.
The James Turrell SkyspaceSuzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion, University Place | 713.348.4758
Breathtaking and romantic, James Turrell's installation on the campus of Rice University is your own private multiverse of color. Let us explain: The sleek steel-and-stone structure projects an LED light sequence from an open ceiling, so you can gaze up and see the muted pastel lights interplay with the changing colors of the sky above. Plan ahead to reserve the most coveted time slots, at sunrise or sunset. During these hours, the inflamed sky melds with Turrell's installation for a hallowed hour of gorgeous light.
Houston Arboretum & Nature Center4501 Woodway Drive, Washington Ave./Memorial Park | 713.681.8433
Bikers and joggers are forbidden at this nonprofit park dedicated to the preservation of Houston's flora and fauna, but that's okay—the site's quiet, meandering trails are better enjoyed at the slowest pace possible. The two-mile Outer Loop wraps around the park's exterior and is good for a light stroll, but if you're in the mood to explore, bring bug repellent and some water-resistant boots, then head toward the ponds. It's the best place to observe the resident hummingbirds and dragonflies dancing over the Buffalo Bayou.
Miller Outdoor Theatre6000 Hermann Park Dr., Museum District | 832.487.7102
Bring a picnic basket with the evening's snacks, a bottle of Pinot Noir, and a heavy blanket for the tricky Houston weather—cold on winter nights, damp on summer days. Miller Theatre's performance calendar ranges from kid-friendly musicals to Shakespeare performances, but whatever you plan for, remember to arrive early. Parking is notoriously hellish. To hit the home run of kid-friendly outings, go extra early: The Museum of National Science is right next door.
Buffalo Bayou Park105 Sabine St., Fourth Ward | 713.752.0314
This urban oasis draws comparison to New York City's Central Park, but when the sun sets behind Rosemont Bridge and the Houston skyline lights up the sky, it's impossible to think of being anywhere else. Joggers and cyclists commit miles to the park, thanks to the generous, ten-foot-wide paths and a landscape peppered with hidden art installations. Look for the lunar lights that change from blue to white in accordance with the phases of the moon, or the breathtaking Tolerance sculptures—hollow human figures constructed of letters by artist Jaume Plensa. But the park's best secret is the underground cistern, which once served as Houston's first underground drinking-water reservoir. Carve out some time on a Sunday morning to book a meditation session over the quiet pool of water.
Sawyer Yards2101 Winter St., Washington Ave./Memorial Park | 713.993.9823
Across fifty-five acres of once-abandoned industrial concrete, Sawyer Yards has sprouted as Houston's artsy playground. Now this collection of studios, galleries, murals, and boutiques represents the city's finest creative talent. The community has resulted in unexpected ventures like Workspace, a literary arts organization hoping to provide MFA-quality creative writing classes to writers who cannot afford to earn a degree. Or RacePace, an instructor-led running class, equipped with treadmills and usually packed with marathon runners hoping to improve their performance. Plan to come for Open Studios, held on the second Saturday of every month in the Silos, when artists open their studios to the public. Grab a beer on tap from Holler Brewing Co., mingle with the crowd, and introduce yourself to the artists displaying their work.
The Menil Collection1533 Sul Ross St., Montrose | 713. 525.9400
Imagine thirty acres of art and you begin to get the scope of the Menil Collection. First, get your bearings. The Menil Campus is comprised of several buildings: the Rothko Chapel, the Cy Twombly Gallery, the Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall, and the main building (of permanent collections) designed by Renzo Piano. But put that part out of your mind for the moment—the main building will be closed for next few months for renovations. No matter. You’ll still want an entire afternoon, if not a whole day, here. Good thing there’s also Bistro Menil—perfect for a bite between taking in the exhibitions.
Cy Twombly Gallery1501 Branard St., Montrose | 713.525.9400
Just across the street from the Menil’s main building, the Cy Twombly Gallery pays tribute to the late modern artist best known for his enormous, graffiti-esque abstract paintings. Opened in 1995, the museum is another Renzo Piano commission, and sticks faithfully to the Menil’s minimalist aesthetic of natural light, wooden ceilings, and white oak floors. Inside, you’ll find a retrospective of Twombly’s impressive career dating, from 1953 to 2004, with a collection of paintings and sculptures handpicked by the artist himself.