What makes living in Houston so special? Why does Houston continue to grow faster than other cities? Perhaps it’s because—even though Houston is big, diverse and multifaceted—it can be experienced on many different levels, large or small, depending on what you’re looking for and how you like to live. One thing’s for sure: there’s no shortage of things to do, places to go, or events to experience.
Houston is one of a handful of cities in the United States that can boast major symphony, ballet, opera and theater companies of worldwide acclaim. In fact, the downtown Theater District—which includes the Alley Theater, Jones Hall, the Hobby Center and the Wortham Center—contains more seating capacity than is available in any other city except New York. Thanks to the Society for the Performing Arts, Houstonians routinely have access to some of the world’s best musical, dance, and theatrical talent. Cited by the New York Times as “one of the nation’s best ballet companies,” the Houston Ballet is the fourth-largest company in the United States. The ensemble of more than 50 dancers performs around the world and treats Houston’s ballet aficionados to more than 100 performances a year in the Wortham Center. An integral part of the local arts scene since 1913, the Houston Symphony performs more than 170 concerts a year at Jones Hall, Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands. One of the nation’s largest opera companies, Houston Grand Opera is internationally recognized for its innovative repertoire that blends the classics with contemporary works and world premieres. Houston Grand Opera is the only opera company in the nation to win two Grammy awards, a Tony and two Emmys. Da Camera of Houston, founded in 1987, brings together leading American and international musicians. It is nationally acclaimed for provocative chamber music, contemporary music and an annual jazz series that showcases renowned performers and emerging artists. Other musical offerings in Houston are performed by such groups as the Houston Friends of Music, the Houston Masterworks Chorus, the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston and the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University.
Sports & Fitness
The Houston sports scene has something for every fan. NFL football with the Houston Texans. NBA basketball with the Houston Rockets. Major League Baseball with the Houston Astros. MLS soccer with the Houston Dynamo. Plus college football, basketball, baseball, softball, track, tennis and volleyball with the University of Houston Cougars and the Rice University Owls of Conference USA and the Texas Southern University Tigers of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. And when it comes to high school sports, especially football, no other state does it better than Texas, and no other city offers more games on a given fall weekend than Houston.
Love the Theater?
Houston’s rich theatrical tradition began in 1947 with the opening of the Alley Theatre in, literally, an alley. Today the Alley is one of only a few professional theaters in the country to employ its own resident company of actors. Performances are year-round in the Alley’s two-theater complex—the 824-seat Hubbard Stage and the 310-seat Neuhaus Stage. Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), one of the largest non-profit producers of musical theater in the country, has cast more than 300 musicals in its 45-year history—to national acclaim. TUTS stages Broadway classics, world premieres and new works at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts downtown—also home to Broadway in Houston, featuring touring productions of Broadway hits. Other local theater groups include Stages Repertory Theatre, A. D. Players, Main Street Theater and the Ensemble Theatre, as well as the Rice Players at Rice University and the University of Houston’s annual Houston Shakespeare Festival.
Houston’s renowned Museum District lies just south of downtown near Hermann Park, the Texas Medical Center and Rice University. A dynamic testament to the city’s commitment to the visual arts, the district offers something for everyone—with special touring exhibits throughout the year. Eighteen museums are located within the district. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), opening in 1924 as the first art museum in Texas, features a collection of more than 56,000 works. Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, the restored mansion of Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg, houses decorative arts and contains one of the finest collections of American furniture, paintings, glass and textiles from 1620 to 1870. Another home, Rienzi, donated to MFAH by Houston philanthropists Harris Masterson III and his wife, Carroll Sterling Masterson, holds the Southwest’s most important collection of European decorative art, including ceramics, furniture, paintings and sculpture. The Houston Museum of Natural Science features more than a dozen permanent exhibit areas showcasing space science, Native Americans, paleontology, energy, chemistry, gems and minerals, seashells, Texas and African wildlife and ancient Egyptian culture. Included within the museum are the Wortham IMAX Theatre, the Cockrell Butterfly Center and the Burke Baker Planetarium. The museum’s satellite facility, the George Observatory, is located in Brazos Bend State Park, south-west of the city. It houses the largest telescope available for public viewing in the Houston area: a 36-inch, 10-ton research telescope, as well as two smaller telescopes. The Contemporary Arts Museum is a non-collecting museum for visual arts focusing on international, national and regional art of the last 40 years. And the Menil Collection displays an immensely significant private collection of nearly 16,000 works dating from the Paleolithic period to present day. Other museums in the district include Cy Twombly Gallery and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, which are parts of the Menil Collection, as well as the Rothko Chapel, the Children’s Museum of Houston and the Health Museum. Historical museums of interest include the San Jacinto Museum of History, within the San Jacinto Monument at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, featuring a wealth of artifacts and documents covering more than 400 years of early history. Within the Museum District are the Holocaust Museum, which tells the stories of Houston-area survivors of the Holocaust through film, photographs, and exhibits and the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, which preserves the history, tradition and contributions of African American soldiers since 1866. South of Houston in Clear Lake is the Disney-designed Space Center Houston, the visitors center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center. It features Texas’ largest IMAX Theatre, live demonstrations, space capsules, space suits and the world’s largest collection on moon rocks.
Seeking Something Different? Cultures from all over the world come together in Houston, and the city celebrates this diversity with exciting annual festivals and one dazzling rodeo. Every late February and early March, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo comes to town at Reliant Park. The largest livestock show and the richest regular-season Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo in the world, the event attracts nearly two million visitors who come to view the animal exhibits, watch the cowboy competitions, and see their favorite music stars performing onstage. The Livestock Show and Rodeo provides millions of dollars in scholarships to area students. Each year a “Go Texan Day” and a spirited rodeo parade through downtown Houston kick off the main events. Beyond the “true Texan” culture of the rodeo, various festivals throughout the year celebrate the heritage and traditions of the international community. Among these are the Original Greek Festival, Fiestas Patrias, the Asian American Festival, Festa Italiana and the Houston International Festival. Other annual events include the International Jazz Festival, Art Car Weekend and the Texas Renaissance Festival.
Need a Breathe of Fresh Air? Of all the things that make living in Houston so enjoyable, high on the list are the city and county parks. Whether you’d like to relax beside a tranquil lake as ducks glide silently by, jog amid an urban forest of tall pines, kayak down a freshwater bayou with glistening skyscrapers as a backdrop, or take the family for a picnic and listen to live music, you can do it in Houston—practically year-round. According to the Trust for Public Land, in 2007 Houston was ranked third in the nation for total green space among cities of comparable density and fourth in the nation for total land devoted to parks. The watersheds that drain Harris County contain more than 800 miles of natural streams and 3,000 miles of human-made waterways. Major city parks include the 445-acre Hermann Park nestled between the Museum District, the Texas Medical Center and Rice University. Hermann Park is the home of a Sam Houston statue, the Houston Zoo, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Lake McGovern, Miller Outdoor Theatre, a miniature train, the Houston Garden Center, an 18-hole golf course, and more. Memorial Park, encompassing nearly 1,500 acres, is about four miles west of downtown. It features a three-mile tree-lined jogging trail, 18-hole golf course, driving range, an 18-court tennis center, fitness center, 33-meter swimming pool, playing fields and picnic areas. The park area includes the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, a 155-acre preserve with more than five miles of quiet, self-guided trails. Discovery Green, Houston’s new 12-acre urban park, is set within the confines of the city’s dynamic downtown skyline. Its features include a lake, a children’s playground, an amphitheater stage, dog runs, public art displays, restaurants, an ice-skating rink and a promenade. For more information, visit Discovery Green online. Cullen Park, Bear Creek Park, and George Bush Park offer tens of thousands of acres of recreational opportunities in west Houston. For more detailed information on all city and county parks, check out the City of Houston’s website.
Discovery Green A 12-acre park in downtown Houston, Discovery Green opened to the public in 2008. The long-awaited destination fulfilled a commitment from Mayor Bill White and major private Houston foundations to create and preserve green space within the center of Houston. With its proximity to the George R. Brown Convention Center, Minute Maid Park and the Toyota Center, Discovery Green is in an ideal location. “Discovery Green is a wonderful attraction for our city,” said Mayor White. “We are proud of the commitment from the Discovery Green Conservancy in creating this unique destination in the heart of downtown Houston. For a long time to come, Discovery Green will be an asset to Houstonians of all ages and visitors from everywhere.” Prominent features visitors can enjoy include a one-acre lake, a children’s playground, interactive water features, an amphitheater stage and slope, small and large dog runs, artworks, the HPL Express (a multipurpose Houston Public Library facility), open lawns and great restaurants (the Grove and the Lake House) operated by Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group. In addition to surface lot and park perimeter parking, the Convention District Garage, operated by the City of Houston, lies beneath the park. The Andrea and Bill White Promenade forms the heart of the park and offers a 360-degree view of Houston’s skyline. Kinder Lake, encompassing more than an acre of the park, features water gardens and a model-boat area, a shallow pool specifically designed to accommodate remote-controlled watercraft operated by parkgoers of all ages. Overlooking the park’s live oaks, Schiller Del Grande’s restaurant, the Grove, and its rooftop bar, the Treehouse, offer patrons exceptional food, service, and views of the park. The Lake House offers fast, casual, family-friendly food, with views of Kinder Lake and the Jones Lawn. The Performance Space amphitheater hosts a variety of performances, such as music, theater, film and dance, and is oriented toward a sloped lawn for audience seating. When the platform is not in use, it is open to all parkgoers, as space for working, lounging or dining near the Lake House. The Jones Lawn is the park’s largest green space, providing ample area for major events or pickup sports. The Brown Foundation Promenade is shaded by hundred-year-old oak trees, the largest of which is the Nancy G. Kinder Oak near Avenida de las Americas, one of four large live oaks that were moved to the park. The John P. McGovern Children’s Playground is carved into an existing, tree-shaded hill, which shields youngsters from the surrounding streets and integrates the theme of the major migratory bird flyway over Houston. Individual species are represented in the play sets, and accompanying signs educate visitors. Overlooking the Gateway Fountain and the children’s playground, the Alkek Building houses the park’s staff offices, information center and public restrooms. The fountain itself offers a visual entry to the park for visitors approaching from McKinney Street and is an extension of the playground area. Two systems of jets create a variety of water activity atop a gently sloping granite surface, with 14-foot-high arching jets serving as gateway landmarks and with smaller jets cycling on and off to invite visitors for a closer look or some fun in the spray. Discovery Green features public art such as new works by artists Margo Sawyer and Doug Hollis. Great care was taken to ensure that the installations would be visually prominent, yet at home in the park’s environment. In addition, Jean Dubuffet’s Monument au Fantôme, an iconic sculpture by the world-renowned artist, has been relocated to the park. But Discovery Green is more than a beautiful green space; it is an experience waiting to be enjoyed. The park comes to life with active programming during its spring/summer and fall/winter seasons. Regularly scheduled music, dance and theater performances, as well as films, exercise classes, children’s events and an urban market, constitute the backbone of park programming. Park spaces also may be reserved for private and public events.
Emerald City Pine trees in Houston? Newcomers to Houston are pleasantly surprised to discover the abundance of trees in the region. In addition to the extensive green space and parkland, a 2005 report from the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition (CEC) noted that the region has 663 million trees, with a replacement value of more than $205 billion. According to the CEC report, Houston trees store $721 million worth of carbon, generate $456 million worth of environmental benefits each year, and save $131 million in residential energy costs and avoided power emissions each year. Trees in Houston remove more than 60,000 tons of air pollution annually. The region contains eight major and distinctly different ecosystems: the Big Thicket, the Sam Houston National Forest, coastal prairie and coastal marshes, the Columbia and Trinity bottomlands, the Galveston Bay estuary system, and the Gulf of Mexico. Over the course of the year, some 500 bird species can be seen in a 10-county area that includes Galveston. Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to the region’s rich ecology, many of the colleges, universities and graduate schools in the area offer environmental studies and research programs. Among these are the University of Houston’s Environmental Institute of Houston, the Environmental Law and Justice Center at Texas Southern University’s law school and the Sealy Center for Environmental Health and Medicine at the nearby University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Harris County has numerous natural streams and human-made channels, that are referred to locally as bayous. A local initiative, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership—a nonprofit organization that oversees Buffalo Bayou improvements, preservation and restoration—serves as a regional and national role model. The Buffalo Bayou Partnership coordinates the integration of major amenities and restoration projects into the bayou greenbelt and seeks ways to increase community involvement through pedestrian, boating and biking amenities; educational, volunteer and recreational activities and tours; permanent and temporary art installations, and other natural and built attractions. Among the partnership’s notable successes is the Sabine-to-Bagby Promenade, a 23-acre waterfront park downtown. With dramatic blue and white lighting, hike-and-bike trails, lush landscaping and public art, the park has been lauded as one of Houston’s best-designed public spaces. Greater Houston Partnership is actively involved with public policy issues that enhance the 10-county region’s quality of life and quality of place. It is dedicated to creating a city that is clean, green and prosperous, a place that is aesthetically appealing and offers healthy recreational opportunities. The development of scenic enhancements will continue to have a direct positive impact on this area’s image as a quality place to live and do business, making Houston an even better place to live, work, earn and play. Learn more about the Partnership’s outreach efforts here.