You’re not doing it right.” That’s what Fort Worth Magazine’s last executive editor, Kendall Louis, wrote in the editor’s letter for our July 2018 issue. While the magazine’s cover story was about our city’s bucket list — things every Fort Worthian should do at least once — the sentence above was directed at someone who said they had visited Houston — Louis’ hometown, mind you — and didn’t like it.
Her point being, if you walked away from a weekend trip to Houston — or any city, for that matter — bored, disgusted, or disappointed, you didn’t do it right. You didn’t drop your Whataburger habit to eat at the right places. You didn’t mine the local influencers to find the must-see and must-do spots. You never gave the city a fighting chance.
Now, what IS the right thing to do is entirely subjective. A family might prefer a visit to the Space Center Houston or take in an Astros game. For me, a single 30-something, it’s staying at a great spot within an earshot of the hustle and bustle, being adventurous with my choices of local cuisine, taking in the art and culture, and, yes, experiencing what the city has to offer at night.
And, since I can only write off of my own experiences, here’s a hyper-personalized take on doing it right in Houston.
WHERE TO STAY
While Airbnbs and boutique hotels are all the rage, I chose a more traditional route, staying at the Marriott Marquis Houston in downtown. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a big fan of giant hotel lobbies, plush rooms that get cleaned on the daily, and a giant swimming pool with bar service. If the above fits your idea of a perfect place to stay, the Marriott Marquis Houston emphatically checks these boxes.
Located adjacent to Discovery Green, a modern urban park akin to Klyde Warren in Dallas, and a couple blocks from the Toyota Center, the glass-clad, high-rise hotel offers stunning views of downtown Houston and a lazy river in the shape of Texas to boot. You can also be assured that the hotel staff will take care of all your needs — I found my experience at the Marriott Marquis to be extremely pleasant.
Like most Texas cities, walkability is going to be a problem no matter where you stay. Fortunately, the hotel’s proximity to the Convention District METRO adds to its convenience. But, if you’re down for a quick afternoon stroll, I highly recommend hitting up True Anomaly Brewing Company, which lies just a few blocks from the hotel. Be sure to try their Beryl sour, which is one of the best sour beers I’ve had in the state.
Of course, this only matters if you wish to leave the hotel, which, at the Marriott, might prove challenging. The star of the show is no doubt the hotel’s pool, a Texas-shaped — and Texas-sized — lazy river with innertubes provided. Resting on the sixth floor, the river, at moments, takes you to the edge of the hotel where you’ll get a peek at sweeping views of the cityscape. Add a couple bars that offer stiff cocktails, and you can easily let the time fly while you catch some rays. However, because open seating is limited, I recommend booking a cabana or a few chairs well in advance (they sell out quickly). Otherwise, you’ll have to fight for a decent spot or be relegated to bar seating.
1777 Walker St., Houston, marriott.com
Where to Dine
The cuisine game in Houston is on par with every major city in Texas (if only Michelin would award some stars over here). The food is diverse but leans heavier on seafood and a little less on barbecue compared with Fort Worth.
If you do stay at the Marriott Marquis, you won’t have to travel far for one of the city’s best restaurants. The hotel houses Xochi, which offers small plates of Oaxacan-inspired fare. My company and I ate here when we first arrived, and the infinite number of moles hit the spot — be sure to check out the mole tasting, which offers four different mole sauces, each exquisite in its own right.
If you find yourself in the Galleria, a bourgeois, colossal shopping center on the east side, you must stop into Musaafer, a high-concept Indian restaurant with hints of influence from Mexico. The stunning spot made Time Magazine’s list of World’s Greatest Places in 2021, and understandably so. Located on the second floor of the Galleria, the restaurant is set up like a classic Indian courtyard with various themed rooms strewn about. The numerous design elements brought in from India gave the atmosphere an authentic aesthetic. The wait staff, eager to tell patrons the restaurant’s story, gladly waxed poetic about how the chefs traveled to all 29 states of India to gather stories, experiences, and recipes to construct the eclectic menu.
My company and I wound up having lunch at the famed spot, ordering the octopus, which comes in a dill jelly, and the butter chicken experience — highly recommended by our waitress. The butter chicken experience came in two forms of chicken curry. One was a more traditional Indian take on the dish, while the second was Mexican-inspired and came in a tomatillo sauce. The dishes offered a unique synergy of flavors that my palate rarely encounters and were delectable.
For brunch, I recommend hitting up a’Bouzy, which is on the edge of Montrose in the west side of Houston. If the city has A brunch spot, then this is THE brunch spot. The champagne flows pretty steadily, so pace yourself if you plan on doing any sightseeing before taking a nap. The menu is diverse with everything from Cajun Popcorn Shrimp to Onion and Bacon Tartine to a simple Grand Slam with a couple eggs and bacon. For an easy lunch or dinner, head up north to the Heights area to check out Field & Tides. As the name suggests, the menu is heavy on both seafood and locally sourced vegetables, poultry, pork, and beef. The atmosphere is quaint, and the restaurant offers patio seating if you manage to visit on a day with decent weather.
What to Do
The brevity of my stay required a pickiness with the sights I was able to take in. I typically lean toward local art, culture, and museums, and I was able to pack a few great spots into my itinerary.
The city’s most impressive collection lies in the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, which, naturally, is located in the city’s museum district just west of downtown. The museum, which will set you back $19 for an entrance fee, had nine exhibitions going on simultaneously. We chose the Matisse to Monet exhibit that included a magnificent collection of impressionist, expressionist, and modernist works of art from the likes of Renoir, Modigliani, Picasso, and, of course, Monet and Matisse. If you have the time, you should at least stroll through the museum’s permanent collection, which spans over 300,000 square feet and includes nearly 70,000 pieces. Its massive size is Louvre-esque.
Kitty-cornered from the Houston Museum of Fine Arts is the Contemporary Arts Museum, which houses your modern, high-minded, and high-brow pieces. The museum includes paintings, photography, mixed-media art, and immersive installations. It might be easy to compare the museum to Fort Worth’s own Modern Art Museum, but I would argue this Houston iteration is far more eclectic and grounded in an immersive experience.
If you aren’t museumed out by the time you’ve traversed the gargantuan pair that is the Museum of Fine Arts and the Contemporary Arts Museum, I highly recommend checking out the Menil Collection. It’s a solid 1-mile jaunt from the Museum of Fine Arts, but we found the stroll enjoyable on a surprisingly mild July day, even grabbing a mocha latte at Black Hole Coffee located at the tail end of an innocuous strip mall. The spot appeared to be a favorite among Rice graduate students (a clear sign you’ve struck gold).
The Menil Collection, located in a building designed by Renzo Piano (the same architect who designed the pavilion at our own Kimbell Art Museum), has the most diverse collection of art I’ve ever seen in a museum its size. It’s a true global collection that celebrates works across millenniums and continents. The 17,000-piece collection includes galleries on surrealism, Africa, the Pacific Islands, the Americas, and more.
We headed out on a Saturday night to Main Street in downtown — braving the bevy of 20-somethings we were sure to encounter. Similar to our own West 7th district, the area was full of bars, clubs, students, and obnoxious young professionals. Whether this area at this hour piques your interest is dependent on your ability to embrace what the night throws at you. It’s not for everyone. But, if you’re like me and live in a perpetual state of FOMO, you’ll want to check Main Street out.
Taking a clue from our Uber driver, we stopped into the Pastry War to get some mezcal. Located next to a nightclub called Cherry (more on that later), the vibe was laid back and the clientele a little older. Their tequila and mezcal options were on point, and the drinks were stiff, making for a good spot to kick off the night. Next door was an eclectic spot in an old clothing store called Notsuoh (Houston spelled backward). The hodgepodge of design elements (tackily dressed mannequins, old family photos, furniture that had been collected through the decades, and a plethora of elephant trinkets [622 to be exact]) made for an oddly cozy environment. It was a quiet bar with older, hip patrons — the kind who play chess while sipping on absinthe. Through the night, I came to find out that Notsuoh was a family establishment — as in, every eclectic piece of décor was stuff inherited by the current owner — that doubled as an art space and installation. We eventually made our way upstairs where an impromptu deejay set was taking place inside of a planetarium (no joke).
With the night slowly winding down, we headed two doors down to Cherry, the nightclub mentioned earlier. The red-on-red-on-red aesthetic and ’80s vibe were a whiplash-inducing departure from Notsuoh, but also welcomed. The crowd was a solid decade younger than the previous two bars and the energy, obviously, more chaotic. Since I visited the nightclub right before the new Delta variant steamrolled across the state, I’ll admit that the crowd would be triggering if I visited today. But, if you’re after a solid spot to dance and grab some halfway decent drinks, I can’t see why Cherry wouldn’t be near the top of your list.