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Houston
 
Welcome to the Bayou City! Ranked the "third most livable city in the country" by Places Rated Almanac in 1996 and 1997, Houston is famous for offering a vast range of opportunities and cultural experiences to its 3.8 million residents. Often described as a "sprawling Texas town", the greater Houston area covers more ground than any other major city in America. This spread-out effect creates a sense of living in a medium-size town that just happens to offer big-city convenience and opportunity. There aren't a lot of cities where an industrial giant and a creative genius can both thrive and live in harmony, but this is definitely one. The friendly and open nature of residents welcomes newcomers from all walks of life into the growing fold.

No matter where you are in the city, excellent dining and entertainment are certain to be nearby. If you're interested in doing the city right, be sure and visit the sections outlined below. Although the entire city certainly has plenty to offer, these areas contain the greatest concentration of actual tourist attractions and points of interest.

Downtown

During the day, the downtown skyscrapers are alive with activity and the sidewalks are filled with bustling executives in designer suits. A lot of the city's industrial wheeling & dealing takes place at some very ritzy restaurants. Grab a bite to eat at Clive's, DeVille, or Dover's and you'll probably have a front row seat for observing numerous power lunches. If you miss the big-wigs in action, you'll still enjoy the elegant surroundings, first-class atmosphere, and cutting-edge cuisine.

Don't let the daytime business atmosphere fool you, however. This city cares about much more than business, and it's out to prove it. When the sun goes down, the downtown area comes alive with an entirely different personality. The Theater District and numerous bars are nestled among the high-tech skyscrapers, giving the area an entirely different feel in the evening. Seventeen blocks of theaters and performance halls offer over 800 performances and attract more than two million visitors a year. The Alley Theatre literally opened in an alley in 1947, but it's certainly come a long way since then. It was the recipient of the 1996 Special Tony Award and offers the latest Broadway and Off-Broadway productions to patrons. Jones Hall is home to the critically acclaimed Houston Symphony, which has been performing classical productions for patrons since 1913. The Houston Grand Opera, currently the fifth-largest opera company in the U.S., is entering its 45th season with numerous Grammys, Tonys, and Emmys to its credit.

Bayou Place, which features restaurants, nightclubs, theaters, and concert houses all under one roof, is the hottest new addition to the downtown entertainment scene. You can catch an art flick at the Angelika Film Center and grab a bite to eat at Angelika Café, or you can head over a couple of streets to Ruggles Bistro Latino and jam to Latino music while dining on an assortment of Latin, South American, and Caribbean specialties. If you're on a date, don't forget to take a romantic carriage ride through the area. It's an experience your date will treasure.

If all of this isn't enough to impress you, then give the underground tunnels and some shopping a try. A trip through this "city under the city" is an interesting experience that shouldn't be missed by anyone...tourist or resident. You're also welcome to simply relax in one of the downtown area's 53 parks or public spaces. And don't forget to take a peek at the brand-new Enron Field while you're in the area. The Astros are scheduled to start playing in this incredible stadium for the 2000 season.

Galleria

The prestige and glamour of the Galleria area is undeniable. Office space in one of the nearby skyscrapers is expensive, and the shopping consists primarily of exclusive shops offering designer merchandise. Even the sports facilities in the area are world-class. Just ask the former NBA Champs and the current WNBA Champs. Compaq Center, home to both the Rockets and the Comets, stands proudly at the eastern edge of the area.

If money is no object, definitely put a trip to the Galleria Mall on your list of things to do. This glamorous shopping center showcases the best names in American and European design with over 300 shops and restaurants in residence. If your shopping expenditures tend to be a bit more low-key, this outing still offers a world of fun in the form of window-shopping. It's truly a mall that's worth visiting just to take in the sights. The ice skating rink on the bottom floor is also a popular attraction, especially at Christmas when a lavishly decorated, three-story tree is placed in the middle of the ice.

Restaurants and clubs, like most things in the area, tend to be fairly sophisticated and cosmopolitan. The Capital Grille serves up some of the biggest and best steaks in the city and has a flair for a rather bold style of elegance. The former Executive Chef of New York's Tavern on the Green recently opened Masraff's, an elegant Tuscan-style establishment that serves an impressive selection of Continental cuisine. City Streets features seven first-rate nightclubs under one gigantic roof and always attracts a remarkable crowd.

Montrose

If you enjoy things "eclectic", the Montrose area is by far the most interesting section of the city. Considering that it blends right into the Museum District, it's no great surprise that numerous artist hangouts line the streets. If you happen to be in the right place at the right time, you can probably walk away with a quickly done caricature or other pieces of original art at a price that will amaze you.

Beyond the artistic, shopping in the area is on the funky side. You'll find lots of stores that feature vintage clothing, retro resale items and some of the most interesting jewelry creations you'll ever lay eyes on. If you're curious about what the future holds, visit one of the area's psychic specialists for a palm or tarot card reading. The area also holds a special place in the hearts of the gay and lesbian community and boasts quite a few of the city's most popular gay and lesbian nightspots. Both Chances and Mary's Lounge have been Montrose fixtures for years.

The numerous restaurants that dot the area are typically known for unique qualities as well. Take Boulevard Bistrot, for example. Its "sidewalk café in Paris" appearance is loaded with charm and appeal, which proves that "unique" does not necessarily mean "weird". So if you happen to find yourself gawking at a passerby with flaming pink hair, just remember that artistic genius often asserts itself in unusual ways, and it suddenly won't seem so strange. The key to enjoying the Montrose area is to remember that anything is possible and you should be prepared to see plenty that proves it. It will make for an interesting and fun afternoon. By the time you leave you just might find yourself wondering what your own hair would look like in a different shade.

Museum District

As you veer off from the heart of Montrose into the Museum District, the sights will still have a distinctive artistic flavor, but the overall package is a little less funky. After all, both the Museum of Fine Art and the Contemporary Art Museum house some of the finest masterpieces in the world. A sense of class and distinction is inevitable. If your interest in museums leans toward the historical, don't miss the Houston Holocaust Museum. It's recognized worldwide as a leading source of information about the horrifying events of the Holocaust.

Medical Center

Six of the Texas Medical Center institutions were ranked in the 1998 U.S. News & World Report survey of the top hospitals in the country. When you're in the area, you can feel the professionalism and sense of urgency in the air. Don't be surprised if you feel the need to whisper everywhere you go. Something about all those bustling white coats inspires a very deep-rooted respect. If you have an interest in the medical field and the latest medical breakthroughs, definitely take the Medical Center Tour and visit the Museum of Health and Medical Science. It's a learning experience that you won't soon forget.

Although it's completely unrelated to anything medical, at the south edge of the Medical Center you'll find an architectural wonder that represents one of the proudest moments in Houston's history. Dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" upon its completion in 1965, the Astrodome revolutionized the concept of sports stadiums in the U.S. It's been home to the Astros, the Oilers, and the annual Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, and has hosted the talents of many of the century's greatest musical performers. A trip to Houston simply isn't complete without an Astrodome Tour. A short hike across the bridge that runs over the freeway will take you right to the gates of Six Flags AstroWorld and Six Flags WaterWorld. If you've got the family along, these three attractions can keep you busy and entertained for days.

Hermann Park

Running alongside the Medical Center, in what can only be described as an odd blend of technology and nature, is Hermann Park. Or perhaps the blend isn't as odd as it might seem. When striving to maintain a position as a leader in the healthcare industry, a peaceful view of a nearby park might be just what the doctor ordered for stress relief.

Besides providing a peaceful view and getaway for medical personnel, the park offers a variety of fun options to tourists and residents. Sports fans can commune with nature while exploring the bike and jogging trails, or hit the golf course for the afternoon. Families enjoy spending the afternoon riding the train around the park and pumping up their leg muscles on the paddleboats. For a little cultural enhancement, Miller Outdoor Theatre offers exceptional evening performances from the Spring until the Fall. Grab your cooler and arrive early, because the grounds are usually packed with fans.

If you enjoy learning a thing or two while having a good time, visit the Houston Zoo and the Museum of Natural Science. But don't try to do both in one day! The museum features three levels of amazing sights that will keep you busy for hours, and it also houses Burke Baker Planetarium and the Cockrell Butterfly Center. Combined, they definitely represent an all-day adventure. The zoo also features an assortment of exhibits that will require a full afternoon to experience them all. The white Bengal tiger habitat is just one of the many popular exhibits.

Clear Lake/Kemah

If you head south past the Loop on I-45, you'll run into the Clear Lake/Kemah area. Unless you're a boat-loving outdoorsman, the greatest attraction in this area is Johnson Space Center, Houston's famous NASA home. Tours through various NASA buildings (including the original Mission Control room) and other exhibits provide a full day of activities that are both fun and enlightening.

If you happen to prefer the "splashier" side of life, you'll undoubtedly love this area for its water sports and boating activities. Both Clear Lake and Galveston Bay offer ample opportunities to get your feet wet. In fact, this area has been labeled "the nation's third coast for boating" and contains one of the largest concentrations of pleasure boats in the country.

Of course, an area with ocean access has to provide delectable seafood offerings, or it simply wouldn't be worth its "salt". The Kemah Boardwalk excels in this respect. The Aquarium and Bay Brewery are among the many restaurants that showcase delicious culinary ability along this extended stretch of beach, wood and concrete.

East Houston/San Jacinto

A visit to San Jacinto State Historical Park is a must for history buffs. The park encompasses the actual fields where General Santa Anna's troops were defeated by the troops of Sam Houston and other Texas patriots at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836. If you've watched the old movies and "remembered the Alamo" with regret, you'll definitely appreciate the 570 foot monument that stands as a reminder of Texas' hard-won independence from Mexico. The history of Texas and its prominent leaders, both before and after this battle, has been fully captured in the Museum of Texas History, located in the base of the monument.

The Battleship Texas is from a different era, but it's equally impressive. Docked on a branch of the Houston Ship Channel that runs adjacent to the park, it stands as a proud reminder of its wartime service. The ship was commissioned in 1914 and is both the last of the World War I era dreadnoughts and the only surviving combat ship to have served in both World Wars-an impressive accomplishment to say the least. Tours are self-guided and guests are free to roam most areas of the ship.

You'll also get a chance to see the famous Houston Ship Channel while you're traveling through the area. While it's not necessarily as scenic, the sight is certainly splendorous in its own way. Depending on the route you take, you can cross the channel via a toll bridge or a ferry. Naturally, the ferry is recommended for the best view.

West Houston/Katy

As the newest section of the city, the west side has the distinction of being fresh and modern. You won't find a lot of tourist attractions on this side of town, but you will find excellent restaurants and shopping centers. Town & Country Center, a modern three-story shopping mall, offers the perfect blend of traditional mall retailers and unique specialty stores. The Center's newest neighbor is Town & Country Village, a sprawling shopping center that wisely followed the same pattern. You'll find many designer and specialty stores situated next to the names you recognize.

A little further out in Katy, an impressive entity just opened its doors in the fall of 1999. Katy Mills Mall has been humming with both shoppers and gawkers ever since, but you can't blame people for standing around staring. It is a sight to behold. Ladies will probably even be able to coax their "wouldn't-be-caught-dead-in-a-mall" mates into coming along for this trip. The mall is home to the first Bass Pro Shop in the Houston area. And if you have the kids along, definitely grab a bite to eat at Rainforest Café. The wait is typically long, but the mechanical jungle animals, steamy waterfalls, and simulated thunderstorms create a dining atmosphere that's worth waiting for.

While contemporary restaurants still tend to gravitate to the downtown and Galleria areas, the west side holds its own when it comes to a juicy cut of steak or spicy Tex-Mex. Lynn's Steakhouse and Taste of Texas are two of the highest rated steakhouses in the city, and Pappasitos and Guadalajara fare equally well in the world of Tex-Mex. This side of town is also home to Wild West, an immensely popular Country & Western dance club.

Richmond Strip

Although a few other businesses have managed to squeeze into the crevices here and there, the number of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that line this strip is phenomenal. The western portion of Richmond Avenue is fairly tame and civilized, but once you cross Hillcroft on your way downtown, the fun and games begin.

With so many choices available, it's hard to nail down the most popular spots in the area, but City Streets would definitely have to qualify. Inside this vast nightclub, you'll find seven distinctly different clubs, including a 70's Pop Disco, a piano bar, and a huge Country & Western dance hall. If you enjoy perfecting your gaming skills with the latest in hi-tech virtual reality and video game equipment, head to Dave & Busters. They also feature a full-service restaurant, numerous pool tables, and both a Karaoke and a traditional bar.

Restaurants along the strip are diverse and impressive as well. The Outback is a popular bar/restaurant hangout with the twentysomething and the thirtysomething crowd. One word of caution - most of the establishments on the strip focus heavily on boisterous fun. The atmosphere gets a little classier at a few select spots (Ruth's Chris Steakhouse is a prime example), but if you're truly in search of peace, quiet, and luxury, you'll probably prefer the choices in the Galleria and downtown areas.

As long as glitz and glamour aren't on your agenda, the strip offers the perfect solution when you "just can't decide what sounds good". So don't waste time sitting around thinking about it! Head to the strip and you'll inevitably stumble across the perfect spot.

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