A Paper Town
In 1836, the Allen Brothers spent $5,000 to purchase the site on which Houston would be located. They placed this 'paper town' on the market, issuing attractive advertisements touting Houston's resources, proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, and healthy spring waters. Before the dream of Houston had even become a reality, these enthusiastic speculators had already gotten it named as the capital of the new Republic of Texas. Unfortunately, this was only temporary. In 1839, the capital was moved to Austin, partly because Houston's bad weather, mud, and sickness made the city less of a paradise than the Allens had led folks to believe.
But that didn't stop them...
In the 1840s Houston was a crude frontier town. No one besides the Allens really expected or foresaw that one day it would be a major commercial distribution centre, with a functioning ship channel and railroad tracks and highways fanning out as far as the eye could see. Perhaps the Allens didn't really see it either. Still, Houston managed to grow and become the fourth largest city in the United States. The largest city in the second largest state in one of the largest countries in the world.
Modern Houston is a burgeoning metropolis. It has an international community which supplies every kind of ethnic/international food, probably prepared by people who really know what it's supposed to taste like. In spite of this eclectic mix of nationalities and ethnicities, Houston remains a conservative town by many standards. Most things are closed, or at least have reduced hours, on Sundays so people can go to church. It's also against state law to sell hard liquor on Sunday. Houston is an interesting place.
The buildings in the Downtown Business District are almost entirely connected together by a series of tunnels and skywalks. It is possible to get from one end of downtown to the other without ever stepping into the hot Texas sun. Inside the tunnel system are a series of restaurants, movie theatres, shops and other attractions for Downtown workers to amuse themselves during their lunch breaks. Downtown is currently in a state of revival, due to the construction of Enron Field, the new home of the Houston Astros baseball team. New shops and restaurants are popping up all around the new field, mostly in renovated buildings that had been falling into disrepair.
The Museum District
The intersection of Montrose Boulevard and Bissonet is the location of the Museum District. You can visit the Museum of Fine Arts, the Contemporary Arts Museum, the Menil Collection and Rothko Chapel, Rice University galleries and some of the better art dealers, restaurants, and residential architecture you're likely to find in Houston. The Museum District is one of the few places in Houston which lends itself to a walking tour, aside from the tunnels downtown, because of the proximity of the various attractions. No matter what time of year it is, bring an umbrella. You never know when a thunderstorm might whip up.
The Astrodome Area
Visit the Astrodome, former home of the Houston Astros and current home of many different shows and conventions at different times of the year, as well as highschool and college football games. The Astrodome put Houston on the map, so to speak. In the mid 1960s, Houston had very little to call attention to itself before NASA. The Harris County Domed Stadium was the largest indoor arena ever built and stayed that way for over a decade. Adjacent to the stadium are (Six Flags) AstroWorld and (Six Flags) WaterWorld, Houston's own amusement parks.
The Medical Center
The Texas Medical Center is almost like a city all by itself. It is the largest medical complex in the world. It has more than 41 member institutions covering more than 600 acres of land. Doctors and patients travel there from all over the world. Hundreds of thousands of people pass through the various medical facilities every single day. The first successful heart transplant in the United States was conducted there in 1968 by Dr Denton Cooley. There Dr Michael DeBakey performed open heart surgery on live closed-circuit television for an audience of doctors on six continents. Along with the various hospitals and clinics, the Medical Center is also home to the Michael E DeBakey Center for Biomedical Education and Research, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and dozens of other research facilities.
One of the major things Houston is known for is the NASA complex located just south of the city. Rocket Park, Mission Control, Space Center Houston, and other attractions are located at 2101 NASA Road 1 in the Johnson Space Center. You can come take a tour of the facilities or sign up for space camp.
Clear Lake and Galveston
The Clear Lake area is located on I45, the gulf freeway, south of NASA. An entire sport and recreation complex has grown up around the waters of Clear Lake and Galveston Bay. There are dozens of clubs, restaurants and antique stores to visit. Thousands of sailboats are docked nearby. Galveston is located a little further south, with beaches and more restaurants and antique shops.
Houston is a car town. Dominated by the petroleum industry, Houston has never made a full implementation of public transportation. If you come to Houston, plan to rent a car or find someone you know to drive you around. Otherwise, you'll miss most of the fun sights and sounds of this paper town.