Houston is the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest in the United States. It is huge, both in population and in land area. "Urban sprawl" is a term tailor-made for this city, due to Houston being the largest unzoned city in the country. Houston is a multicultural city home to some of the nation's largest Asian, Arab and Latin American populations. But its culture is not limited to diverse population — it also boasts a world class symphony and theater district that includes a full-time ballet company and opera.
Houston is the largest city in the United States without any appreciable zoning. While there is some small measure of zoning in the form of ordinances, deed restrictions, and land use regulations, real estate development in Houston is only constrained by the will and the pocketbook of real estate developers. Traditionally, Houston politics and law are strongly influenced by real estate developers; at times, the majority of city council seats have been held by developers.
What this means to visitors is that Houston covers a larger land area with less population than might otherwise be expected. The city is primarily built on the energy industry and nearly everyone owns a car and drives everywhere they go. However, the city is becoming more dense and walkable, particularly in the Midtown/Montrose areas. With a few exceptions, almost everything to see or do is in Houston's urban core inside the 610 Loop and more specifically in between downtown, the Galleria, and the Texas Medical Center.
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The city has a number of districts. Historically, these districts were called "wards" and they tended to have distinct populations. Redevelopment has rendered most of those distinctions meaningless, but the modern version of Houston still has districts.
- Downtown (Skyline District, Theater District, Historic District, Warehouse District) - Center of the city, still the home of high finance and big business. Houston is second only to New York City in corporate headquarters of Fortune 500 companies. Many of them are located downtown including some of the world's largest energy companies. Downtown Houston also boasts the second largest theater district in the United States and the city has world class permanent organizations such as the Houston Symphony and Houston Ballet. The Houston Pavilions entertainment district opened in October 2008 between Main St. and the Toyota Center.
- Neartown (Montrose, Midtown, EaDo-East End) - Ideally bordered by Midtown, Heights, River Oaks, and the Medical Center. Montrose is Houston's longtime home of its LGBT population. Lower Westheimer (Westheimer in between Montrose Blvd. and Shepherd) offers an array of resale fashion shops, eclectic shopping as well as antique stores. The gay nightlife is centered around Pacific St. and surrounding streets. Many Montrose neighborhood pubs attract an eclectic and diverse crowd.
- North Loop (The Heights, Washington Corridor) - A large district of gingerbread Victorian homes as well as early 20th Century bungalows. Like its sister neighborhood Montrose, The Heights is home to a diverse population from artists and musicians to wealthy professionals. Parts of the Heights are still dry, fostering a large number of BYOB restaurants ideal for those who enjoy their own selected wine.
- South Loop (South Main, Museum District, Med Center) - To the south and east of downtown lie Rice University, the many attractions of Hermann Park, Reliant Stadium, and the Texas Medical Center (or just "the med center"), including some of the world's best hospitals. The Rice Village is a highly concentrated area of restaurants, bars, and shopping.
- West Loop (Uptown, River Oaks, Upper Kirby & Greenway, West U) - Uptown or The Galleria Area is known for its namesake, a huge high-end shopping mall complex and has the tallest building in the United States outside of a main downtown area, the Williams tower. Nearby River Oaks is home to Houston's most exclusive and affluent neighborhoods and businesses, home to eye-popping mansions and the River Oaks Shopping Center, one of America's first suburban shopping districts and a great display of Art Deco architecture. This area has many great restaurants, vibrant nightlife, and infamous traffic jams during peak hours.
George Bush Intercontinental airport
Houston is served by two major commercial airports and two smaller regional airports.
The large airports are:
- George Bush Intercontinental Airport , (IATA: IAH) . The larger of the two airports and is located 23 miles north of downtown near Beltway 8, between IH-45 North and US-59 North. It is a hub for Continental Airlines and serves 24 domestic and international airlines.
- William P. Hobby Airport, (IATA: HOU) . Located 7 miles south of downtown and is located off of I-45 South. It is convenient if you're travelling downtown or south of the city, such as to Galveston. Its main carrier is Southwest Airlines, and it also served by Delta Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, and AirTran.
The smaller airports are:
- Sugar Land Regional Airport, (IATA: SGR) . Located 25 miles southwest of downtown on TX 6, just north of U.S. 59. It is a popular choice among the well-heeled corporate aircraft set.
- Ellington Field, (IATA: EFD) . Located 19 miles southeast of downtown, just off I-45. Formerly an air force base, now used for general aviation, non-passenger commercial traffic, and government aviation (NASA, Texas Air National Guard, U.S. Coast Guard).
- Amtrak, 902 Washington Ave, . Amtrak's Sunset Limited line is the only passenger train route with a stop in Houston.
Houston's major freeways include:
- IH-45 North ("North Freeway"): To Dallas
- IH-45 South ("Gulf Freeway"): To Galveston
- IH-10 West ("Katy Freeway"): To San Antonio
- IH-10 East: ("Baytown/East Freeway", not to be confused with "Eastex freeway") to Beaumont
- IH-610 ("The Loop"): Loop around downtown
- US-59 South ("Southwest Freeway"): to Victoria
- US-59 North ("Eastex Freeway"): to Lufkin
- US-290 West ("Northwest Freeway"): to Austin
- SH-288 South ("South Freeway"): to Freeport
- SH-225 East ("Pasadena Freeway"): to La Porte
- BW-8 ("The Beltway/Sam Houston Tollway"): Loop about twice as far out as IH-610.
Approximate mileage to nearby cities (in miles):
- Greyhound Lines, .
- Downtown station, 2121 Main St.
- Crosstimbers Station, 4001 North Freeway.
- Northwest, 1500 West Loop North.
- Southeast, 7000 Harrisburg Blvd.
- Southwest, 5690 Southwest Freeway.
- El Expreso, . Mexican trans-border bus line, also serves destinations throughout southeastern United States.
- Downtown station, 2201 Main St.
- Harrisburg, 7701 Harrisburg
- Southwest, Bissonett at Southwest Freeway (US 59)
You can get to Houston easily from Mexico (from as far as Mexico City and Michoacan) on a bus. In the bus stations of many major cities in Mexico you will see buses advertised to go to Houston.
There are many private bus companies in Houston that exclusively serve Mexico.
Houston has a number of major highways that make getting around Houston fairly easy. (See list of freeways under the "Get in" section.) A number of obstacles, however, can make driving in Houston a less than pleasant experience. One is construction, which seems to be ever-present, and the other is traffic. Evening rush hour in Houston begins as early as 4PM and can last more than 2 hours. Morning rush hour is between 7 and 9. During rush hour, traffic on the highways can come to a halt. The strip of the West Loop near the Galleria, between US-59 and IH-10, is an area you should definitely avoid during rush hour if possible.
- Houston Traffic Map 
- The outstanding freeways system 
Some of the freeways have an H.O.V. (High-Occupancy Vehicle) lane, which are limited-access lanes located in the median strip of the highway. The HOV lanes are operational Monday - Friday in the morning hours (5AM - 11AM) in the inbound direction and in the outbound direction in the afternoon and evening (from 2PM - 8PM). The HOV lanes are restricted to cars with 2 or more passengers, however some HOV lanes require 3 or more passengers during peak travel periods (6:45-8:00AM and 5-6PM, for the IH-10 west; 6:45-8AM only for US-290). The HOV lanes are marked with signs bearing a white diamond on a black background. Highways with HOV lanes are: IH-45 North, IH-45 South, US-59 North, US-59 South, IH-10 West (Katy Freeway), and US-290. In addition to its usual Monday through Friday hours, the Katy Freeway HOV lane also runs on Saturday in the outbound direction and on Sunday in the inbound direction.
- HOV lane map & schedule 
By public transportation
Currently, public transportation in Houston is limited to METRO , which operates bus lines as well as the new and very popular light rail line called METRORail .
METRORail is a seven and a half mile light rail line that runs between downtown, midtown, the museum district, the Medical Center, Reliant Park, and the Fannin South Park & Ride (which is a handy place to park and is located near the 610 loop). It costs $1.25 for a one-way ticket. (Also see the stay safe section.)
- Outside of Downtown, don't expect to catch a taxi on the streets, but there are various cab stands located at various parts of downtown proper. Taxis in Houston are generally dispatched by various companies the largest being Yellow Cab, 713-236-1111 or from their web page .
Houston is so enormous, spread out, and (most of the time) humid and hot that bicycles are only good for exercise or to get to somewhere that is closeby. It wouldn't be good to ride a bike to somewhere important as, by the time you're likely to get there, you will be sweaty and tired. Most city buses have easy to use racks in the front that can get traveler and bicycle near to a final destination. The city of Houston has 290 miles of marked bike routes, plus another 80 miles of hike and bike trails in city parks, with concrete plans for even more expansion. For more information on the Houston Bikeway program, including a complete map of all marked bike paths, visit the City of Houston Bikeway Program website . On the other hand, if you have a little bit of stamina and perseverence, Downtown, midtown, rice, uptown and the medical center/hermann park/museum district area are within a 30 minute ride.
Houston, like many American cities, is diverse. As the state's largest city and the nation's fourth largest, Houston is home to more than 100 languages. Signs can be found in Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese, among others, but English is the lingua franca. Knowing some Spanish may help in certain neighborhoods, but most people will speak English.
Travelers planning to visit multiple attractions may benefit from Houston CityPASS , which grants admission to 6 Houston attractions within 9 days of first use for a much reduced rate and includes expedited entry in some cases. The included attractions are: Space Center Houston; Downtown Aquarium; Houston Museum of Natural Science; Houston Zoo; Option Ticket One with choice of either Museum of Fine Arts or The Children's Museum of Houston and Option Ticket Two with choice of either George Ranch Historical Park or The Health Museum.
Events & Festivals
Many of the shopping malls are concentrated to the west of downtown in Uptown.
In general, prices in Houston are lower than in other major US cities.
Houston is a huge city, so all individual listings should be moved to the appropriate district articles, and this section should contain a brief overview. Please help to move listings if you are familiar with this city.
Houston has outstanding dining options, and is widely considered the most restaurant-oriented city in the United States, with a wide variety of ethnic restaurants, superb Tex-Mex, a great number of steakhouses, fine dining, as well as chain restaurants. For some of the best surprises, stop by any nondescript taqueria and order nearly anything at random.
- Brooklyn Pizzeria, 9467 FM 1960 Bypass Rd. West (Suite 300), ☎ 281-446-5500. 11:00-10:00. 100% Authentic New York style pizza.
- Goode Company Barbeque, 5109 Kirby Dr. One of the city's most reputed barbeque restaurants. $5-10.
- 100% Taquito, 3245 IH-59 (Southwest Fwy. at Buffalo Spwy.), ☎ 713-665-2900. Trendy, authentic Mexico City-type taco joint.
- Tokyo Bowl, 2402 Bay Area Blvd, ☎ 281-480-5311. Japanese fast food. $10.
- Mai's, 3403 Milam, ☎ 713-520-7648 (fax: 713-523-9043), . 10-3AM Su-Th, 10-4AM Fr-Sa. Vietnamese food, popular with the late night crowd. Burned down in Feb 2010. $10.
- Pappas Bar-B-Q, 1217 Pierce St, . Texas barbeque by the Pappas brothers.
- Taqueria Del Sol, 8114 Park Place Blvd. Authentic Mexican food.
- Mission Burritos, 2245 West Alabama. A few (two?) locations, but 2245 West Alabama has more charm. Biggest, best burritos in town; they always have a 'Burrito of the Month' that is a sure bet.
- Amy's Ice Cream, 3816 Farnham (Off Shepherd, just north of US-59), ☎ 713-526-2697, . 11:30-midnight Su-Th, 11:30-1AM Fr-Sa. Texas' own super premium, all natural ice cream. $5.
- Nee Hao, 5797 N. Belt East, ☎ 281-442-3402. Mon-Sat, 11:00-8:00. Serving Chinese cuisine.
- Aloha Joe's Grill, 8550 FM 1960 Bypass Rd W, ☎ 281-540-0110. Authentic Hawaiian & Chamorro style food
- Frank's Grill, 4702 Telephone Rd, +1 713 649-3296. One of the city's best places for a great breakfast on a budget. Texas size pancakes, a heaping plate of grits and the best bacon around.
- Benjy's, 2424 Dunstan Rd, (713) 522-7602, Modern American dining. This is a favorite of many locals. They have a location on Washington and in Rice Village.
- Kanomwan, 736 1/2 Telephone Rd, ☎ 713-923-4236. Wonderful Thai restaurant in historic 3rd Ward; home of the "Thai Nazi" (a la "Seinfeld").
- Taste of Texas, 10505 Katy Freeway (IH-10 between BW-8 and Gessner), . The finest steaks and prime rib (only certified Angus Beef) money can buy. Award-winning wine list, lobster, freshly baked breads, etc. Menu is translated into 12 different languages.
- Nit-Noi, 2426 Bolsover, ☎ 713-524-8114, . Thai cuisine that has franchises in several locations.
- Chuy's, 2706 Westheimer Rd, . Tex-mex with flair.
- Chabuca's, 316 NASA-1, Webster, ☎ 281-554-8000 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 281-332-5029), . South American style food and buffet served in a great atmosphere.
- Kim Son, 2001 Jefferson St, ☎ 713-222-2461 (email@example.com), . 11-midnight Fr-Sa, 11-11 Su-Th. Houston's biggest Vietnamese restaurant that has several other locations in town.
- McGonigal's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk (Near Shepherd and US-59), ☎ 713-528-5999 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Pub atmosphere and great food. $10-15.
- Ruggles Grill, 903 Westheimer Rd, ☎ 713-524-3839, . An American bistro with several different locations.
- Mystery Cafe, 2400 West Loop South (Sheraton, IH-610 at Westheimer), ☎ 713-944-2583, . "Where MURDER is always on the menu!" $52.95/person.
- Niko Niko's, 2520 Montrose, ☎ 713-528-4976, . 10-10 Mo-Th, 10-11PM Fr-Sa, 11-9 Su. Authentic and tasty Greek food.
- Vargo's Restaurant, 2401 Fondren, ☎ 713-782-3888. Beautiful 9-acre garden and delicious steaks in a historic 40-year-old restaurant. Reservations recommended.
- Mark's American Cuisine, 1658 Westheimer Rd, ☎ 713-523-3800, . Lunch: 11-2 Mo-Fr, Dinner: 6:00PM-11:00PM Mo-Th, 5:30PM-midnight Fr, 5:00PM-midnight Sa, 5:00PM-10:00PM Su. Award-winning four-star restaurant by owner and chef Mark Cox. Housed in an old church for a unique atmosphere. Reservations are required.
- Tony's, 3755 Richmond Ave, ☎ 713-622-6778, . Houston's ultimate dining experience. Tony Vallone has set the tone for fine dining in Houston for decades. Parisian chef Olivier Ciesielski interprets contemporary cuisine with classic French care. Reservations required.
- Da Marco, 1520 Westheimer Rd, ☎ 713-807-8857, . One of Houston's best restaurants--known for great wine and Italian fare. Reservations required.
- Cafe Annie, 1728 Post Oak Blvd, ☎ 713-840-1111, . Insanely expensive prices, but very good American cuisine. Reservations required.
- Monarch Restaurant & Lounge, 5701 Main Street, ☎ 713-527-1800, . A fine dining option at Hotel ZaZa Houston serving seafood and steak entrees with Mediterranean flair. The Lounge is available for dancing and Monarch Terrace overlooks Main Street & Mecom Fountains.
- Catalan Food and Wine, 5555 Washington, ☎ 713-426-4260, . Catalan offers a Spanish-influenced menu and an extensive wine list. Reknowned restaurateurs Grant Cooper and Charles Clark have been wowing Houstonians and food critics alike at Catalan. Reservations required.
- Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella Blvd, ☎ 713-861-8666, . Raindow Lodge serves wild game dishes and seafood selections in a 100 year old log cabin perfect for the dining experience. Reservations required.
- VOICE Restaurant & Lounge, 220 Main Street, ☎ 832-667-4470, . Breakfast: M-F 7AM-10:30AM, Sat. 7AM-11AM, Sun. 7AM-12PM; Lunch: M-F 11:30AM-2:30PM; Dinner: M-Thurs. 5:3-pm-10PM, F-Sat. 5:30PM-11PM; Lounge Menu: M-Thurs. 11:30AM-10PM, F-Sat. 11:30AM-11PM, Sun 12PM-10PM. Hotel Icon’s new restaurant, VOICE, offers a fine dining experience and contemporary American cuisine with private rooms for events and special occasions, in room dining and a luxury wine vault.
- America's Restaurant, 1800 Post Oak Blvd, . The menu draws from the foods and cooking techniques of North, Central and South America, to make one New World Cuisine; as you pass under its Mayan-inspired door, you quickly realize that nothing about this place is ordinary.
- The Saint Arnold Brewery , located in Houston, is billed as Texas' oldest microbrewery. Their brews are often sold in local bars. Very popular beers are the Texas Wheat, Oktoberfest (August through October), and Christmas Ale (November through December). Brewery tour every Saturday at 1:00.
Houston has multiple telephone area codes and mandatory 10-digit dialing. For any number, even within your own area code, you need to dial areacode + number. For local calls, you do not dial a 1+ or a 0+ before the number. Some calls within Houston are considered long distance, and for those you need to dial 1 + areacode + number.
Houston's area codes are: 713, 281, and 832.
Like most large US cities, Houston has its share of crime. Residents of Texas are allowed to carry concealed firearms after completing training and a thorough background check. Almost all people who possess a firearm do so responsibly, and crime among this group is practically nonexistent. Like many other US cities, certain areas of Houston are considerably less safe, these include areas within Loop 610 and some areas in Southwest Houston.
Travelers to Houston should follow common safety procedures such as staying away from deserted areas in the middle of the night, keeping their valuables in sight, keeping purses/wallets in a secure location, and always put valuables in a car trunk. For emergency assistance, travelers can contact Houston Police Department by dialing 911. In addition, travelers should dial 911 to report most crimes in progress. For non-emergency assistance and for crimes not in progress such as minor assault, car theft, home invasion, property damage, and theft, dial 713-884-3131 and request police assistance. The Houston Police Department also allows citizens to file online reports for minor property damage and theft of they are under $5,000 in damages.
Houston os like much of the Gulf Coast in that it is very vulnerable to hurricanes in the summer and fall. If a hurricane is forecast to make landfall anywhere near Houston, listen to officials and heed mandatory evacuation orders if one is ordered. The last major hurricane to hit Houston was Hurricane Ike on September 13, 2008.
Houston is very hot and humid in the summer, with temperatures around 31°C-38°C (87°F-100°F), and summer climate in Houston is easily comparable to the average climates in tropical cities like Manila or Panama City during the summer. However, in the winter, Houston can be mild with temperatures ranging from -1°C-18°C (30°F-64°F), and winter climate is usually comparable to winters in the rest of the Southern United States or Southern California.
METRO Rail is the starter line of an expanding system which starts at UofH Downtown, through downtown proper, into Midtown, the Museum district, the Texas Medical Center, and the Reliant Complex near the south side. Houston natives have a tendency to park along the rail line or the south side lot to go into downtown or medical center as it is easier to get in and out of those areas with the train without the hassle of parking and traffic.
Please be careful when coming near the METRO Rail track, especially at intersections.
Follow the signs since the trains move very quickly and run at almost all hours of the day and night. It runs almost silently. At many streets, left turns are not permitted. Also watch the signs and signals, because some will change as trains approach. Do not drive on the tracks as there are large raised white domes that separate the roadway and the rail line. In some areas signs may indicate driving (or walking) on the tracks is permitted (currently only in the Texas Medical Center) but make sure it is safe to do so.
Drive across the tracks only when you are sure it is safe to do so, especially at night as the train's whistle is quiet and is often not heard by a driver inside a car.
- Meditation Classes for Beginners , . Relaxation meditations and meditation classes to increase inner peace.
If that isn't your thing. try the simple thing most Houstonians do when they need to release tensions of big ciy madness: take a walk in the beautiful parks or go walking and shopping downtown. If you know someone who lives in Houston, you can have a lunch on a gorgeous spring day outside. Sometimes the most relaxing and peaceful things don't always involve money.
- Australia, 4623 Feagan St, ☎ +1 713 782-6009 (fax: +1 713 862-8364), .
- China, 3417 Montrose Blvd, ☎ +1 713 520-1462 (fax: +1 713 521-3064), . M-F 9AM-11:30AM, 1:30PM-3PM.
- Germany, 1330 Post Oak Blvd Ste 1850, ☎ +1 713 627-7770 (fax: +1 713 627-0506), . M-F 9AM-noon.
- India, Three Post Oak Central, 1990 Post Oak Blvd Ste 600 (Uptown/Galleria district), ☎ +1 713 626-2148 (, fax: +1 713 626-2450), .
- Ireland (Honorary), 2630 Sutton Ct, ☎ +1 713 961-5263 (fax: +1 970-925-7900).
- Japan, 2 Houston Center Bldg 909 Fannin St Ste 3000, ☎ +1 713 652-2977 (email@example.com, fax: +1 713 651-7822), .
- Mexico, 4507 San Jacinto St, ☎ +1 713 271-6800 (fax: +1 713 271-3201), .
- New Zealand (Honorary), San Felipe (45 mi W of Houston), ☎ +1 713 973-8680 (Kkelly@corpdiplomacy.com, fax: +1 713 973-6679).
- Portugal (Honorary), 3300 S Broad St, ☎ +1 713 953-1255, .
- United Kingdom, 1000 Louisiana Ste 1900 Wells Fargo Plaza 19F, ☎ +1 713 659-6270 (fax: +1 713 659-7094), .
- Galveston— Only about an hour's drive southeast from the city, Houstonians go to Galveston island for its beaches, the Strand, Schlitterbahn Waterpark Galveston, and Moody Gardens.
- Surfside— Another beach, less crowded than Galveston. About an hour from Houston.
- Schlitterbahn , in New Braunfels(about 174 miles west of Houston). Huge waterpark, rated #1 waterpark in America by the Travel Channel.
- Kemah— Nice boardwalk with great restaurants and amusement rides that is south of Houston and on the way to Galveston Island.
- Bluebell Creameries—  See the Texas countryside in Brenham and tour the creamery. About one hour (75 mi) north west of Houston along US 290.
- A Taste of Coastal Texas— An itinerary leading you through sights along the Texas Coast down to Corpus Christi.
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