Destinations

5 reasons to visit Houston

With much gravity, I sent Lifestyle Director Vanessa Marshall on a mission to Texas!
5 reasons to visit Houston

With Air New Zealand flying direct to Houston from December, I packed my bags for the city ranked as the most diverse in the US.

1. Texan rub

When they say everything is bigger in Texas, they mean it, particularly when it comes to a barbecue. There’s a joint on virtually every corner and you can almost smell them before you see them, but it’s best not to judge the food by the décor or whether or not it comes on a plate. Butcher’s paper does just fine for the locals – and that includes Beyoncé, a Houston native who is rumoured to eat the local brisket every time she visits her hometown. Go with an appetite and time to digest. Most meat cuts are lathered in spicy rub and slow-cooked for over 12 hours, and you’ll need to allow that time again to recover from the generous portion sizes.

Vanessa discovers her inner Trekkie as she gets beamed up to the original Starship Enterprise!

2. Zero gravity

Confession. As someone who has never seen Star Wars, had a Close Encounter of any kind and only watched Gravity to see George Clooney in a spacesuit, the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center was my final tourist frontier. We arrived early to avoid queuing in the hot Texan sun and took a NASA tram tour over to the astronaut school, where we saw a mock-up of the International Space Station and got to spy on real spacemen-in-training. Highlights included touching actual moon rock, seeing the original Star Trek Enterprise and leaving with a bag of dehydrated space food.

3. Underbelly

Is it a restaurant? Is it a meat shop? One thing’s for sure – chef Chris Shepherd’s Underbelly is a Houston food movement unto itself, responsible for reinvigorating the region’s foodie community and easily one of the best places to eat in the city. Creole in style, using only local produce and every part of the animal they butcher in-house, we allowed our enthusiastic waiter to choose our menu for us, a treat I totally recommend. Everything about Underbelly is a production, so it wasn’t a surprise to be handed a “programme” on leaving, listing every food supplier, staff member and ingredient featured. The food, however, remained centre stage.

Holy smokes: The divine smells of a classic Texan BBQ prove irresistible. Hands off, Beyoncé!

4. Galleria

As one of the fastest-growing cities in the US, malls and shops are popping up all over Houston. So to make things easy, we headed to the city’s most-visited attraction, the Galleria. Forbes magazine rates it one of the best malls in the world and it didn’t disappoint. With only two hours to get around 375 stores, I ticked off Saks, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s and Nordstrom before a quick zoom around Zara and Nike. What I didn’t do was stop off at the Tesla store to pick up a new car or do a quick lap of Polar Ice, the indoor ice-skating rink, though I was tempted.

5. History lessons

After shopping, eating and dreaming of far-off galaxies, Houston’s museum district offers an educational smorgasbord of over 20 galleries, museums and cultural centres all located within walking distance from each other. Yes, some locals walk, but you may find yourself alone on the hot boulevards, as Houston is a very car-centric city. But with urban planning inspired by New Orleans’ leafy French Quarter and a nod to the St Germain area of Paris, there is a push to make this area more pedestrian and cycle-friendly. For a city with no zoning regulations, that’s an idea that’s surely bigger than Texas.

The NASA tram tour includes a close encounter with a model space station.

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