Budget Travel magazine's editors recently highlighted Houston as one of only two U.S. destinations "as fun as they are affordable." Even if you only have a short time in Houston, you can experience many of its highlights. These are among the top attractions for couples. Note: A Houston CityPass (buy online) provides access to particular attractions and can save money if you use it for multiple admissions.
Before you begin to explore Houston's highlights, you'll need a place to stay. Don't spend your time at just any place: Choose one of Houston's exceptional hotels to highlight your visit. Whether you're shoppers, spa aficionados, sensualists, or something else, I've got a hotel to recommend. See Best Hotels >
Greater Houston's Metro light-rail system starts downtown at the University of Houston on the bayou, travels through midtown and the Museum District, has a stop at the Houston Zoo, and extends to Reliant Park, site of the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Downtown's Museum District, a grest place to stroll, encompasses the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Contemporary Arts Museum; and Czech Center Museum, among other institutions. The best known is the Menil Collection, its epoch-spanning collection housed in a building designed by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano. The Cy Twombly Gallery across the street, also by Piano, is dedicated to the 20th-century abstract master. And the nearby Rothko Chapel, a non-denominational place of reflection commissioned by the de Menils, provides a deceptively simple space to contemplate works by Mark Rothko.
The city's largest greensward, 1,500-acre Memorial draws runners, bicyclists, and swimmers. And 600-acre Memorial Park Golf Course rates among the nation's top municipal golf courses.
Paddle along on a three-hour trip that reveals the Houston that the earliest occupants saw. A living watershed, Buffalo Bayou cuts through Houston, stretching for 52 miles from the suburb of Katy to the northern edge of downtown and emptying into the Port of Houston's waterway. Pontoon boat rides are another way to take in the local flora and fauna backed by Houston's cityscape.
There's no need to cross the border when there's plenty of fine Mexican fare in Houston. Upscale Hugo's in the Montrose area is considered the city's best purveyor of true regional Mexican cuisine. Irma's is popular for Tex-Mex, and the claim to fame of Ninfa's on Navigator Street is that it invented the fajita.
Want to learn more about America’s space program and the astronauts? Approximately 25 miles south of downtown Houston, this is the Official Visitor Center for NASA's Johnson Space Center. Exhibitions — like the gallery of authentic spacesuits and the 30-foot mockup of the International Space Station — and films and interactive activities such as the Space Shuttle Flight Simulator tell the story of our exploration of the cosmos. Warning: Expect this highlight to swarm with kids.
With 375 stores, including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and not one but two Macy's, Houston's Galleria is the fourth-largest shopping mall in the USA and the largest in Texas. There's also a section of better restaurants where weary shoppers can refuel in style.
More interested in bargains and serendipitous finds? Head to Traders Village, open on Saturdays and Sundays. Some 800 vendors display wares over 60 acres, and there's usually live entertainment and lots to eat.
Lovebirds flock to this genteel brick-and-wrought iron building on special occasions. It's revered for its scenic Buffalo Bayou views and deep wine list. Steak prevails, along with traditional dishes, and proposals both decent and less-so are murmured over dessert. It's also popular for rehearsal dinners and as a reception space. Couples who love to cook can sign up for Brennan’s Chef for a Day program. Other romantic Houston restaurants include Mark's, Da Marco, RDG Bar Annie, Chez Roux, Tony's, and the revolving Spindletop atop the Hyatt Regency.