Millennials have learned to associate Houston with big business and big city living. These may be true, but the city's appeal lies in more than just industry and shiny skyscrapers. It's also home to a flourishing art scene, stunning architecture, good food, and exciting nightlife. Downtown Houston is the developing urban heart of the city. An eclectic mix of old and new-fashioned glamour with vibrant outdoor spaces, Downtown welcomes new businesses and demographics without compromising the Houstonian tradition. Whether you're traveling solo or with family, Downtown Houston is an exciting destination with something for everyone's interests.
Allen's Landing on Buffalo Bayou is the undisputed birthplace of the city. In 1836, two brothers from New York stepped onto the land and claimed it as their own. The spot eventually became the first port in Houston, and the city developed into one of the most important business centers in the country. These days, Allen's Landing is the focus of a rejuvenation project and renewed cultural interest. A small park dedicated to Houston's founders sits on the banks of Buffalo Bayou, where you can relax on the grass and watch the water flow. A renovated promenade, concrete-paved wharf, and terrace overlooking the bayou beckon visitors to spend time at this secluded and tranquil space.
Houston's modern skyline is a constant reminder of the city's affluence. It's easy to forget about the classic architectural gems tucked in between the skyscrapers and sleek residential buildings that line the streets. Exploring Downtown on foot is a sure way to discover some of the best architecture in Houston. The Julia Ideson Building in the Civic Center District wows visitors with its Spanish Rennaissance style and Depression-era murals. The Jones on Main features a large bank hall in the entryway, with gold leaf ceilings and terrazzo floors. The most famous Art Deco building is City Hall, located in Hermann Square. If you're feeling hungry, head to the Conservatory. This former theater now serves the community as an elegant, Art Deco food hall.
The Heritage Society in Downtown manages some of the most historic buildings and homes in the city. Located in Sam Houston Park, you can view several renovated buildings dating back to 1823. The docent-led tour invites you into the lives of Houston's first settlers. You'll browse some of the renovated buildings on the 10-acre complex and learn the fascinating history of frontier life. If you don't have time for the docent-led tour, you can take the self-guided cell phone tour. Instructions for connecting to the audio tour are at each building, and the service is free.
Downtown Houston is one of the most dog-friendly destinations you could visit. Market Square Park in the Historic District is the hub of the neighborhood and a photogenic spot for a picnic and roll in the grass. Buffalo Bayou Park is in the green belt, a hotspot for outdoor activity and exercise. Stop by the dog park to socialize your pup with some furry friends. Discovery Green is Downtown's premier outdoor space. With tons of eateries, entertainment venues, sports arenas, and a lake, you may never have to leave this 12-acre complex.
Houston's drinking water reservoir in Buffalo Bayou operated until 2007 when an irreparable leak forced its closure. Local groups campaigned to repurpose the strangely beautiful structure, resulting in a spectacular public space with rotating art installations. The Cistern is an extraordinary venue for Houston artists to share their work and help put this historic community on the map. Guided tours are available for a small fee with reservations, or you can join a walk-in tour while spaces are available. Every Saturday and Sunday for one hour, the Cistern is open for photography sessions. You don't have to be a professional as long as you are creative and open to unusual experiences. Check online for rates and scheduling.
With all the shopping and architecture to behold in Houston's lively Downtown, it's easy to forget that the city is home to two of professional sports' biggest teams: the Houston Astros and the Houston Rockets. Located in the Discovery Green complex, each team's venue is unique from the other and worthy of an afternoon tour. Toyota Center hosts some of the biggest touring acts in the business and spans six city blocks. Minute Maid Park is home to the 2019 and 2107 World Series Champions, the Astros. The park's cavernous entryway, with its soaring columns and old clocks, hearkens back to its days as the Union Train Station. One glimpse of the immaculately-kept infield will remind you that this is, in fact, a modern baseball park.
Public transportation isn't the only way to get around the city without a rental car. Houston's parks provide ample space for cyclists and joggers to share the smooth paths and inspiring scenery. Bringing your bike to the city will ensure that your exercise routine isn't interrupted. If you aren't able to bring it, the city's bike-sharing program manages over 100 rental stations throughout Central Houston. Renting a bike is easy: use your credit card to pay at the kiosk and unlock your bike. When you reach your destination, dock the bike at the nearest station to end the rental. Rates are per half-hour; check online for current rates and a map of the stations.
The Warehouse District in East Downtown used to be a heavily industrialized neighborhood before its transformation into one of Houston's most eclectic communities. Converted warehouses serve as lofts, galleries and art studios, and in response, commercial and retail spaces are popping up all over the district. Established art collectives, such as Motherdog studios, are the heart of the Downtown art scene. They oversee the annual Artcrawl, an open studio event that takes place throughout the city. Hardy and Nance Studios encourages creatives from elsewhere to apply for their artist residencies. In exchange for volunteer work, an artist in residency has the opportunity to create work rent-free for three months. Support this vibrant community by visiting the Warehouse District to find some original artwork.
Most visitors have never heard of the vast network of tunnels underneath Houston's business district. Originally, these subterranean paths provided local businesses with a shorter route between buildings. Today the tunnels are a labyrinth of retail stores and restaurants. These walkways are mostly frequented by local commuters, but tourists can have fun getting lost in the maze. Find a seat at a café or restaurant before the lunch rush begins and watch the crowds. To access the tunnels, use the entrances at Wells Fargo Plaza or McKinney Garage on Main, or descend from the lobby of a connected building. For a map of associated structures and routes, visit Downtown Houston's website.
The nightlife in Downtown Houston is happening; with artsy bars in the Warehouse District and upscale establishments along Main Street, it can be tough to decide where to hang out. Luckily, you can sample a few drinks in more than one Downtown neighborhood without getting behind the wheel or having to wait for an Uber. The Houston Light Rail runs through Downtown and beyond from early morning until well after midnight. Feel free to start your night in Midtown or near the University, and rest assured you'll get back to Downtown safely. The bus is another option if you'd like to tour the city from street level for a low price. Check online for exact schedules and fares.