Houston and beyond
Houston and beyond
Your flight from Auckland will arrive in Houston just after 12pm. Move into your downtown accommodation, then head off for your first taste of Houston hospitality. We recommend open-air dining, to help reset your circadian rhythms.7 days
Things to do when you first arrive
- Stretch your legs around Discovery Green, a refreshing city park with art installations, lawns, gardens and fountains. There are performance spaces here too, so you might even see a free show
- 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 the Monnalisa Bar at Hotel Sorella for a poptail (that's a popsicle cocktail)
- Choose an outdoor restaurant for dinner. You could go for a Tex-Mex favourite, like Irma's Southwest Grill, the Original Ninfa's or Spanish Village. Or maybe you'd prefer an ethnic restaurant, such as Huynh for Vietnamese, Phoenicia for Middle-Eastern or Coltivare for Italian
- If the weather's not ideal for outdoor eating, get cosy at Rainbow Lodge - a romantic log cabin restaurant, or Brennan's of Houston - creole fine dining at its best
- If you're still feeling lively after dinner, finish up at a late night venue - Poison Girl, The Dirt Bar or Indigo at Midtown
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 Alexrad Beer Garden for a relaxed sundowner.
Things to see and do today
- Kick the day off with a bigger-than-Texas stack of pancakes or try eggs benny Houston-style, with crab meat and lobster. Recommended breakfast joints include Main Street Bistro, Boondoggles, Red Oak Café and the Seabrook Waffle 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
- Stop off at the JPMorgan Chase Tower, for a trip up to the observation deck on the 60th From here you can also venture underground into the Houston tunnel system, which provides pedestrian access to the entire CBD - it's a great place for shopping and eating on a too-warm day
- Check out Houston's super-impressive City Hall, then find the Heritage Society within Sam Houston Park next door - it's a museum-like experience that includes 10 historic homes
- 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
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, find yourself a Houston day spa for a few hours of dreamy relaxation. Later, discover 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
- Many of Houston's best day spas are clustered in the space between Buffalo Bayou and Southwest Freeway. Massage is the general go-to for helping you to relax, but it can be fun to try out some different treatments and see how they help. Reflexology and a detox foot bath can provide soothing relief for weary bodies and feet
- 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 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, one of the best places to visit in the entire USA. At the end of the day, catch a very special sunset at RICE University, then finish with a farewell meal at a Texan BBQ restaurant.
Things to see and do
- Try a Mexican breakfast today at Habanero's Tacos, Dona Maria or the Teotihuacan Mexican Café. 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 Goode Company BBQ, The Brisket House or Ray's BBQ Shack for smoky, slow-cooked beef brisket and the best ribs you've ever tasted
Today you'll pick up a hire car and drive 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.
- 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), Roaring Fork or Perry's Steakhouse & Grill. 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, The White Horse and Donn's Depot are known for their lively dance floors
- Catch a live show at Moody Theatre, the 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.
- 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 Spanish tonight in the central city. There's the Original Blanco Café, Las Canarias, La Fonda on Main, Las Ramblas and El Bucanero - just to mention a few
Rise early today to drive back to Houston, a journey of about three hours. Move into your Museum District accommodation, then seize the afternoon. There are 19 museums in the area!
- On the drive 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
- Hunt down 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 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 late 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