"If a man's from Texas, he'll tell you. If he's not, why embarrass him by asking?" -John Gunther
Houston is my hometown and so I have quite the softspot for it. I have always loved the zone-free randomness, bustling diversity and oh-so-delicious food. But, I will admit I did do a double take when this summer I saw Forbes magazine name Houston as America's Coolest City. Houston is cool? When did this happen? It's apparently been happening. In the last dozen years while I have lived away from my hometown, the city has built upon its diverse foundation and now boasts a super cool art scene, chic shopping and scenery to enjoy. Austin may be everyone's hip Texas darling, but Houston has slowly and quietly become her chic, sensible and yet slightly funky older sister. Everytime I go home, I try to visit or try out some of the buzzworthy hotspots friends and family rave about. I decided to keep track and the list has grown quite long (at least 5 posts worth) and spans many areas of the city. But, if you only have one day to get a quick taste of Houston's new found coolness, here are my top 5 favorite things to do in the Downtown and Upper Kirby area.
1. Morning Stroll
The perfect way to start your Houston morning is a visit to Discovery Green. Only a couple of years old, this new, buzzed about city park (Travel+Leisure named it one of the coolest city parks in the US. This is like a cool overload) has a lake, gardens, public art, hosts concerts and weekly farmer's markets and the park's focal point and is my favorite, a mist tree (pictured above).
2. Feed the soul
After a brisk walk around the park, breakfast at a Houston institution will definitely hit the spot. But be warned: 1) There will be a crowd, but do not let that discourage you. Breakfast Klub is worth the wait (even though the line moves quickly). 2) You will be glad you got in some physical activity, because we are talking about some gut busting food here. Breakfast Klub's must try dishes are their wings and waffle and catfish and grits. The soul food is a great reminder of Houston's roots.
Since you kept it real for breakfast, for the rest of the day, we will now head over to the most posh zipcode in Houston: Upper Kirby/River Oaks. Despite the old money pedigree of the area, Upper Kirby has both high and low end shopping and delicious food and has quickly become the hub of buzzworthy spots.
3. Peruse for inspiration
Houston boasts all kinds of great shopping, but if you are a design lover, Kuhl-Linscomb is a must visit. The design store is a village with a main building that has stationary, jewelry, home accessories and furniture while surrounding buildings also have tons of great finds and inspiration.
Houston has plenty to offer when it comes to dining, and when I say plenty, I mean plenty. (Remember, unfortunately, Houston was the fattest city before it was the coolest city). But that means more than just bbq, Tex- Mex and traditional ethnic fare. Think green, fusion, innovative and even vegan friendly. Some of my favorites are in the Upper Kirby area and include the Indian inspired fusion cafe, Pondicheri. It's perfect for a quick lunch while you enjoy the unique art and decor. For something different, try the thalis (chef's sampler platters) or the chicken frankie (a roti stuffed with tandoori style chicken). Another notable item on the menu are the delicious lamb mint burgers. Another great option for lunch is the green spin off of a famous Houston restaurant, Ruggles Green. Try to stay in the area for dinner and head to Backstreet Cafe. The beautiful patio makes for a memorable experience.
Beer Can House
Before heading to dinner, to round out your five things to do that day, make a quick stop at a quirky landmark right in the middle of River Oaks. It is a great reminder that Houston has some personality. The Beer Can House is the former home of a retired upholsterer named John Milkovisch who decided to cover the house in aluminum beer can siding. But in true Houston fashion, what makes the house cool, is that he wasn't even trying. John Milkovisch said, “Some people say this is sculpture but I didn't go to no expensive school to get these crazy notions.” After John and his wife passed away, the home was preserved as a Houston treasure.The eclecticness of the house may just be enough to get you interested in checking out the growing Houston art scene.
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image source: Discovery Green and Beer Can House images by Sujohn Das
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