A huge statue of noted drunk and Texas pioneer Sam Houston commands the
entrance to this 407ac (165ha) wooded park, south of downtown. Inside
the park, Houston Zoological Gardens feature gorillas, tropical birds,
lions, bats and a menagerie of other critters. This large zoo takes
advantage of the area's climate to grow many tropical plants and palms.
There's an adjoining aquarium.
JOHNSON SPACE CENTER
While manned US space missions such as the Apollo and shuttle programs
have their high-profile launches from the Kennedy Space Center in
Florida, the planning and most of the training happens at NASA's Johnson
Space Center (JSC), just outside of Houston.
The glory, guts and cigarette butts of the NASA experience have been
theme-park packaged as Space Center Houston, the tourist gateway to the
JSC. Heavy commercial sponsorship has led to exhibits featuring Saturn
automobiles with 'space age plastic components' and a collection of Lego
rockets (with kits for making them available at the gift store).
The blocks northwest of Hermann Park, southwest of downtown, are home to
Houston's major museums. Old trees overhang the streets, and some of the
city's grandest old homes take shelter in the deep shade of over-hanging
Spanish moss. Many restaurants and cafes line the district's streets.
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts is the oldest art museum in
Texas. The large collection features French Impressionists, American
Modernists and Texan Postmodernists. The sculpture garden across the
street contains works by Rodin and others.
Nothing stays put for long inside the stainless steel walls of the
Contemporary Arts Museum. With no permanent collection, the museum
presents 10 or more temporary shows a year. Travelers with inner or
outer children in tow should visit the crayon-colored playground for the
mind known as the Children's Museum of Houston. Adults should have no
problem having fun watching the tots milk the mechanical cow.
The Holocaust Museum is an excellent though sobering memorial. 'Our
destination was extermination,' says Houstonian holocaust survivor Siegi
Izakson on one of the many videos shown at this excellent museum, opened
in 1996. The permanent exhibition, housed in a black cylinder meant to
evoke the ghastly image of a smokestack, traces the lives of European
Jews from before WWII, through the holocaust and after the war as the
survivors tried to rebuild their lives.
MUSEUM OF PRINTING HISTORY
An often missed gem, this carefully curated museum has rare and unusual
printed works that range from the Dharani Scroll, which dates from 764
and is one of the oldest printed works in existence, to the 4 March 1887
San Francisco Daily Examiner, which is the day William Randolph Hearst
(of 'They kidnapped my granddaughter and turned her into a terrorist'
fame) became a newspaper publisher. If the word 'kerning' means anything
to you, you'll enjoy the vast displays of typography through the ages.
The museum is in the southern part of downtown.
THE ORANGE SHOW FOUNDATION
Beginning in 1954, the late Jeff McKissack began building a monument to
honor the orange. Starting with a simple house, he added sculptures,
wishing wells, folksy sayings, observation decks and lots of wheels.
Everything's painted orange, naturally. Some call it art, others
madness: we say it's both.
Home of one of the largest concentrations of recreational boats in the
US, the lake isn't all that clear anymore (gasoline has a way of doing
that to water), but it's still a great place for a day trip. Surrounding
this inlet near the western shore of Galveston Bay are beaches, harbors,
jetties and scores of laid-back waterfront joints that attract
fun-seekers in droves. Visitors can rent jet skis, go parasailing or
head over to Lance's Turtle Club, a rowdy floating bar surrounded by
customers' boats. The lake is
southeast of downtown Houston
and accessible by Metro bus.
SAN JACINTO BATTLEGROUND
It was a late spring afternoon on 21 April 1836, and the Mexican army of
General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was taking a break in the shade of
some scruffy oaks. Suddenly Sam Houston and his ragtag army appeared in
a surprise attack. The Mexicans surrendered in only 18 minutes, but the
killing continued for two hours as Houston's men 'remembered the Alamo'.
The final tally was 630 Mexicans dead and hundreds more injured, as
opposed to only nine Texan casualties. Victory was total: Santa Anna's
troops were routed and Texas had its independence.
Over 1000ac (405ha) of the battleground are now preserved as the San
Jacinto Battleground State Historical Complex. Away from the two major
sites, the land is pretty much as it was. A walk on one of the trails on
a hot day is a good introduction to the conditions endured by the area's
early settlers. During the elevator ride to the high observation deck of
the San Jacinto Monument, the operator will inform you in typical Texas
fashion that the monument is '5m [15ft] higher than the Washington
Monument.' There's an excellent view of the surrounding park and the
prosaic sight of petrochemical plants stretching in all directions just
beyond. On many days you can admire the Houston skyline through the
clouds of gaseous emissions.
The museum at the base of the monument has a collection of historical
Texas artefacts. An adjoining theatre has a multimedia show called Texas
Forever! The Battle of San Jacinto, a 35-minute spectacle narrated by
actor and National Rifle Association shill Charlton Heston. The park is
east of downtown Houston and is accessible by Metro bus.
THE HOUSTON LIVESTOCK SHOW & RODEO
The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo goes for 17 days from mid-February to
March. Big-name cowboys ride bulls and broncs in the Astrodome, then
there are big-name country music acts in the exhibit halls next door.
This event is well worth seeking out if you want to two-step right into
Texas culture. April's Houston International Festival is a multicultural
celebration of food, art and music that lasts for 10 days, beginning the
third week of the month. Events are held all over the city and include
the Houston International Film Festival. Also in April, the Westheimer
Colony Arts Festival shows off the Montrose District at its flamboyant
best, with blocks of booths selling arts, antiques, food and items that
defy classification. There's usually a parade or two to keep the
nipple-ringed residents amused. Dates vary and the event repeats in