The best of Houston
Get a taste for the Deep South by exploring Houston's special brand of food, science and culture. Enjoy a sassy two-day stopover or a mind-broadening week of discovery.
Two days in Houston
Your flight from Auckland will arrive in Houston around 4:00pm. Freshen up at your stopover accommodation, then head off for your first taste of Houston hospitality. We recommend open-air dining, to help reset your circadian rhythms.
Many of Houston's hotels are located downtown and around the museum district. By staying central you'll be able to use light rail, buses and jitneys (mini buses) to get around. After you've checked in, head out for drinks and dinner.
- Find a high place for a drink - there are some great open-air rooftop bars and upper-level terraces in the city. Consider El Big Bad for a margarita, Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar for a whiskey sour or Sunset Rooftop Lounge for a whole range of sunset-themed cocktails.
- Choose an outdoor restaurant for dinner. Centrally-located Tex-Mex favourites include Irma's Southwest Grill, Pappasito's Cantina and Spanish Village.
- If you're still feeling lively after dinner, finish up at a late night venue – The Dirt Bar, Reserve 101 or Lone Star Saloon.
After a full night's sleep, you'll be ready to hit the Houston highlights. Start with a Texan-size breakfast, then use the hop-on hop-off double decker buses to get an overview of the city. Later on, find your way to a bar for a relaxed sundowner.
- Kick the day off with a bigger-than-Texas stack of pancakes or try eggs benny Houston-style, with crab meat and lobster. For a sweet start to the day, check out the Press Waffle Company Co.
- Houston's Hop-on Hop-off sightseeing services uses double decker buses that are open air on top. They circuit around six stops, including Buffalo Bayou, the theatre district, historic Texas Avenue, the Aquarium and the mid-town museum district.
- Hop off to visit the Houston Museum of Natural Science - it has a superb permanent collection, including a wicked array of dinosaurs, as well as world-class visiting exhibitions.
- Another great hop off is the Museum of Fine Arts, which embraces masterworks as well as mind-boggling modern collections.
- Finish the afternoon at Axelrad Beer Garden, where you can lounge in a hammock while you sip a craft ale or two. If you want a casual dinner, you're welcome to buy pizza from Luigi's next door and bring it into the garden.
Today has a space theme. Fuel up with another Texan breakfast - maybe wings and grits or chicken and waffles - then head to the Houston Space Centre. At the end of the day, catch a very special sunset at RICE University, then finish with a plate of slow-cooked smoky deliciousness at Texan BBQ restaurant.
- Try a Mexican breakfast today at Dona Maria or Emma's Kitchen. Huevos Rancheros, breakfast tacos or a breakfast burrito will energise you for the day ahead.
- Launch yourself at the Houston Space Centre. See the space shuttle, numerous rockets, the facility where astronauts do their training and lots more. A guided tour is a smart idea, if you want to hear all about the various space missions. You'll be here for much of the day, so grab some lunch at one of the on-site eateries.
- Before the sun goes down, get yourself over to Rice University to see James Turrell's masterpiece 'Twlight Epiphany'. It's a massive art installation that uses space, sky and lighting to create a mesmerising show.
- Top the day off with the ultimate barbecue dinner. Get yourself to somewhere like The Pit Room, Rays Real Pit BBQ Shack or Goode Company Barbeque Hall fo Flame for smoky, slow-cooked brisket and the best ribs you've ever tasted.
Seven days in Houston
Use the two-day itinerary above, then add these extra days.
There's no better way to see the great state of Texas than by taking to the air. Local hot air balloon operators are known for their experience and knowledge, not to mention their entertaining stories and good sense of humour. After your flight, discover the USA's upmarket mall life with a visit to The Galleria. Later on, find some crawfish for dinner.
- Typically you'll have an early morning start, which is totally worth it for the stunning Gulf Coast sunrise. Make sure you've got warm gear with you, as it can get chilly up there. The grand finale is a champagne toast to the success of the flight.
- The USA invented the shopping mall in 1956. Since then the concept has been polished and perfected year after year. See how far malls have come at The Galleria, the largest and most luxurious multi-store destination in Texas.
- The quintessential southern eat is crawfish. Essentially fresh-water lobster, these little mudbugs (also called crawdaddies) are for those who are prepared to get their hands sticky. You'll need a bib for sure. If you're travelling with kids, they'll love this hands-on approach to eating. The best crawfish restaurants are concentrated around Sharpstown.
Today you're heading to Austin, an awesome Texas city that calls itself 'the live music capital of the world'. You're here to see (or do!) some boot scootin' and catch some western-style live acts. The quickest way to Austin is a domestic flight, which takes under an hour. Other options include catching a Greyhound bus (about three hours) or hiring a car. If you decide to drive, remember the roads in Texas are wide and multi-lane, so driving is relatively easy.
- Get some fresh air after the drive with a hike or bike around Lady Bird Lake - you'll get a beautiful view of Austin. The lake is actually a wide point in the Colorado River.
- Tuck into a big Texan dinner somewhere like Matt's El Rancho, the Salty Sow (tail to snout dining) or Roaring Fork. Austin is famous for chicken-fried steak, brisket, tacos, burgers and fluffy pancakes
- If you're feeling frisky, learn to do the Texas two-step or try your feet at line dancing. Broken Spoke and The White Horse are known for their lively dance floors.
- Catch a live show at the Skylark Lounge, Continental Club, Cactus Cafe or one of the many other venues in Austin. You're spoiled for choice in this music-crazy city.
Get a look at big sky country as you drive from Austin to San Antonio, the oldest (and some would say the most beautiful) city in Texas. There will be time for exploring the world-famous San Antonio Spanish missions before you check-in at your accommodation. If you're not driving, a Greyhound bus takes about 1.5 hours.
- San Antonio's number one attraction is the four 18th-century Spanish frontier missions in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Remember the Alamo? It's another incredible Texas historic site in San Antonio. Located close to downtown, it's a mission, a battle and a legend.
- Eat American in downtown San Antonio. There are many great options, including Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery and Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse.
Rise early today to bus, drive or fly back to Houston. Move into your Museum District accommodation, then seize the afternoon. There are 19 museums in the area!
- If you're driving to Houston, have a snack stop in Schulenberg for traditional European pastries. This town was settled by German, Austrian and Czech families in the 1870s. In and around Schulenberg are the famous painted churches of Fayette County.
- You're staying in the Museum District, so get busy with museums. Favourites include the Museum of Fine Arts, which embraces classic works as well as mind-boggling modern collections; the world-famous Menil Collection, with around 17,000 masterpieces; and, if you're travelling with kids, the Children's Museum of Houston.
- Get yourself the ultimate sun protection - a cowboy hat, modelled on the animal-skin hat made popular by John B Stetson in the 1800s. There are some great, lightweight examples available these days - check out Cavenders Boot City or Boot Barn and try a few for size.
- Get your chilli fix tonight. There are literally hundreds of Tex-Mex establishments in this city. Some are franchises, where you can count on consistency; others are old school, with menus based on fine-tuned family recipes that date back decades.
Buffalo Bayou Park opened in 2015 to provide Houstonians with a wonderful new green space for exercise and relaxation. It's a civic treasure that's close to other things to do in Houston, including Ima Hogg's amazing mansion on Bayou Bend.
- Rent a bike and cycle the main trail of Buffalo Bayou Park. It starts at the University of Houston-Downtown, then follows the bayou west through a collection of connected green spaces.
- Visit 'The Cistern', an eerie underground reservoir built in 1927. The tour is just a few bucks and comes highly recommended.
- Close to Buffalo Bayou Park is the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens. It focuses on the elegant former home of Ima Hogg (1882-1975), a Houston civic leader and philanthropist. Inside the mansion is a aluable collection of American furnishings, silver, ceramics and paintings.
- As evening approaches, check out the Waugh Drive bat colony underneath the Waugh Drive Bridge. These Mexican free-tailed bats hang around during the day, then launch themselves after sunset.
- Houston is a culture hub for the USA, so catch a live production if you can. The acclaimed Houston Ballet puts on a year-round calendar of productions and there's always something on at the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts.