[This is part of my vanlife series. I've spent 7 months and 25kmiles on the road in 2 years, exploring and rock climbing around the US.]
I never thought I'd be writing this post in the light I am. I lived in Houston for college and wasn't a fan, but now 10 years later, it's not so bad [for a visit]. Let's get the shit out of the way first:
- It's fucking hot and humid in the summer. There's 6 months of unbearable humidity, 3 months of rain, and 3 months of gorgeous, crisp temps.
- Fire ants will eat you. The moment I was back in town, even after 10 years, I instinctively started looking at my feet when walking across grass.
- Sprawl. Houston's the only major US city without zoning, so you get industrial buildings right up against residential, sprawling for miles.
- Not much climbing nearby. It's so hot you wouldn't want to exert energy working out anyways.
- It's fucking hot and humid. This deserves another bullet.
But Houston's honestly worth a stop for a couple days if you're in the area and if it's not summer.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
I'm really not a museum fan unless it's raining, but I got to HMNS every time I'm in town just for their gem exhibit. The museum has a ton of other stuff, from the largest butterfly arboretum I've ever seen, to a giant fulcrum, to fossils, and gems.
HMNS's gem exhibit has literally over a hundred gemstones you've never heard of. There's also gemstones growing on gemstones, like those cactus transplants you buy from your local Lowe's, only these are natural. We're talking raw gems from the size of your fist to the size of your torso. The gem exhibit is seriously mind-boggling and worth the journey itself.
Then after you've spent an hour staring at gem formations, there's gemstone jewelry starting at over 100 karats for a single stone on a necklace. Or there's 300 to 1300 karat polished gemstones. It's really pretty, and pretty sickening thinking about the value.
Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country, and has a shit ton of restaurants, making the food scene pretty epic for traditional cooking. There's no Michelin restaurants, but no matter you're looking for, Houston's got a restaurant...or a hundred...of what you're craving, with great prices, large portions, and legit ethnic cooking.
Ok, plug for the Owls. I went to Rice for my undergrad in Electrical Engineering. It's an awesome school deserving more awareness than it gets. There's 6600 students, 4000 of which are undergrad, on a 300-acre campus lined with oak trees, with a $5.5B endowment (aka scholarships), and they're consistently ranked in the top 20 universities in the US.
Rice's 45, 90, 180 degree slabs in the engineering quad. Too bad I didn't know what rock climbing was in college. I only studied under them! Fun to scale and mantle now!
Possible it'd go up the face. But no chalk allowed, and you'd have to skirt Rice police. FA up for grabs...
Texas Medical Center
The TMC is the world's largest medical complex on 1350 acres with 18 miles of streets. It's freaking huge. My dorm was right across the street and I worked one summer for Baylor College of Medicine back when I was debating pursuing Biomedical Engineering. I'd stare at the buildings wondering what on earth could possibly take up all that floor space. A lot of Houston revolves around the 24/7 med center lifestyle. This is a shot of hospitals lining just one street. The hospitals are GIGANTIC.
Johnson Space Center
Houston, we've got a problem. The Space Center should be on the list if you've got extra time, and especially if you have kids. The main exhibit is the tram tour, which takes you through the original mission control, the International Space Station identical mechanical and electrical replica where they can troubleshoot any problem they have in space, the astronaut training facility, and the actual Saturn V rocket.
They're the real thing, soon to become an actual exhibit you can walk through:
Original mission control:
ISS exact replica down to the mechanics and electronics:
Bottom right person to get perspective of Saturn V:
The Galleria shopping
2.4 million square feet, 400 fine stores and restaurants, two high-rise hotels, and three office towers. Houston's just great for shopping, even outside the Galleria.