My Favorite 12 Things to do Houston - Understand
Houston feels like another country; the city is a mix of Los Angeles
. It is obsessed with cars, comfort and affordability and is a gigantic suburb that keeps sprawling in every direction. But unlike other cities, Houston has been very successful with this concept; it is clean, safe, affordable and traffic flows well.
Houston is a city for work that works very well. After almost two decades in California, I'd forgotten how easy it would be if everyone used a little bit of common sense (and not just raging bureaucracy) - this is exactly Houston. Everyone works exactly as you'd expect. Everyone is friendly but busy and there is really nothing in this city that a SimCity designer would have not done exactly the same. I was intrigued.
Houston gives you Downtown (skip it), Midtown, Uptown, Sidetown and more - but really focus on Montrose, the Galleria area, Washington Av and the Heights, plus some Midtown thrown in.
My Favorite 12 Things to do Houston - Get Around
is in town and for shorter distances it is a great way to get around. Drivers are super-friendly and tell you all about the city. However, a car is usually mandatory here and though parking isn't a big issue, you may have to pay for it.
In a city where everything works, traffic works too. No surprise there. There are so many streets, freeways and neighborhood roads that are all well-maintained and have lights that work. Some freeways get slow at rush hour but in the Bay Area we would call it midnight traffic.
My Favorite 12 Things to do Houston - Safety
With a few exceptions, I had a hard time finding any safety concerns in Houston. It is well-policed (though surprisingly, the freeways have very little policing) and Texans seem to take the state's law and order principle seriously. I never made it to an area in Houston called 'the Third Ward' but that's where you can get into some hairy situations apparently.
My Favorite 12 Things to do Houston - Sights
This one is short - there really is nothing to see in Houston. The best area is likely the Gulf Coast that makes for some exciting views. Houston simply does not have anything noteworthy to see.
My Favorite 12 Things to do Houston - Eat & Drink
Houston really shines when it comes to top-notch coffee and food. While it's not LA, there's still a lot of good, healthy food here and a ton of third gen coffee that Houstonians are in love with.
Karbach Brewing Co.
On the northwestern side of the city is this gleaming brewery that has a fantastic tasting room. It seemed brand new when I was there. It's Texas, so service was exceedingly friendly, the beers were cheap and the hummus I had was fresh and delicious. Loved this place.
The location of this place is the definition of random and the inside and outside give off a serious warehouse vibe. If you just came out of the bathroom you could have landed inside a USPS distribution center.
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Picture courtesy of LocalSugar
However, the Thai food here is legit and I loved the huge curry that I got for just $10. It was enough food for two people and it was done to perfection. I can't fault this place. Come early or make a reservation, as lines are long even on a random Monday.
Local Foods takes the Southern California vibe to Houston (without saying that of course). There are so many quinoa dishes that you'll think meat has gone out of fashion. It's good food, though, and portions are huge for fair amounts of $$$.
Salata is likely the best salad bar I have ever been to. There are easily 100 options for your meal and you get to customize everything. The result is a delicious, filling and awesome salad for under $12. I wish I could come here every day!
Catalina is rumored to be Houston's best coffee and I tend to agree; the coffee was done to perfection and the vibe here was perfect.
It's a block away from a storage facility, a graveyard and auto body shops; you get the picture - this is Houston.
A 2nd Cup
This huge coffee shop resembles a coworking space in SF. However, it has less of a corporate vibe, better coffee and some excellent pastries.
Pondicheri is an upscale sit-down Indian restaurant that becomes an order-at-the-counter lunch place. It's modern Indian cuisine that is done to perfection. I liked it.
Agora gets rave reviews for its vibe and coffee, but I could not find out what it was all about. I did not like the vibe or food on offer so I skipped it.
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Picture courtesy of Chris F
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Picture courtesy of HBJ
Common Bond Cafe & Bakery
Common Bond is one of the best bakeries I have ever seen. The design is fantastic and it's super bright with lots of warm colors. The bakery items are superb and presented very well, too.
I had a huge Kouign-Amann - easily 3x the size of what you get anywhere else.
There is fast WiFi and a really cool atmosphere (I mean that temperature wise too) and you can avoid the sweltering heat outside. Loved this place.
You would never guess it from the outside but this is another excellent coffee shop. The inside is a little dark but the friendly staff and lovely coffee make up for this and there's a fantastic selection of donuts. Plus the WiFi is fast and the other patrons are usually jolly.
Snooze, An A.M. Eatery
A breakfast-only place on a workday Monday at 2.30PM should be empty - right? Not here - the line was 30 minutes long for this popular sit-down place. Seemingly great American breakfasts can be had - but come really early or come patient.
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Picture courtesy of Houston Chronicle
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Picture courtesy of CultureMap Houston
I only discovered this place on my last day; it likely has the best vibe of any coffee shop in Houston and beyond. It has friendly staff, great coffee, fantastic pastries and a good food menu. There is free WiFi too and the other patrons are a good mix of students, hipsters and business folk.
Pho Saigon Noodle House
/ Les Givral's Sandwich & Cafe
The Vietnamese realms of Pho Saigon and Les Givral's (both on Milam St) attract hundreds of lunch and dinner guests with fresh, original and incredibly cheap food in a nice Midtown location.
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Picture courtesy of Houston Press
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Picture courtesy of Mapio
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Picture courtesy of David T