I jokingly bragged about the excellent Houston tour I gave to my cousins last year and received so many requests to share the wealth! I love my hometown and take great pride in showing it off to out-of-towners. Many people do not know much about the city outside of NASA, Beyonce and our sports teams. So I consider this a challenge and I must say most of my visitors go home with a new appreciation for the great city of Houston. As I started to think about how I can share my guide, I realized this deserved several posts. I previously gave you all a Houston Food Guide and this go around I am sharing my Houston Neighborhood Guide Pt. 1.
The Setup of the City
If you are new to Houston remember this, Houston may be the fourth largest city, but in area it is larger than Chicago, NYC and LA. I am sure those who coined the terms “urban sprawl” visited Houston at some point. The “city” as we locals call it, is within the loop i.e. the 610 highway which makes a loop around the city. Most of the neighborhoods below are located within this loop or right outside of it.
Now that “urban sprawl” goes about 30 miles outside of the city in every direction. Depending on what you direction you go, you will encounter a Houston suburb dotted with tons of shopping malls and subdivisions with homes that all look alike. No shade, cause I grew up in one of those areas! Anywho there are a lot of those anddd I don’t love them all so I will not be covering most of them. Final note, Houston is HUGE and although I have lived here most of my life I do not know everything, okay? These are just MY personal favorites and/or reasons to go to these neighborhoods. So enjoy!
For part one we will explore Third Ward, Galleria/River Oaks, Downtown and EADO!
Let’s start out with the Historic Third Ward, a neighborhood that I think everyone should visit when they come to Houston. Third Ward is a historically African American neighborhood rich with so much culture and home to so many Houston legends like Beyonce, Solange, Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad and Roland Martin to name a few.
What to do– They don’t call it the historic third ward for nothing! On a visit to Third Ward be sure to stop and take in some history. First up there is Emancipation Park which recently received a few upgrades! The park was purchased by former slaves to commemorate the end of slavery which we celebrate as Juneteenth down in Texas. The center includes a pool and gym plus hosts events throughout the year. Also take a stop over to the Project Row Houses. The organization transforms the row houses in to art installations which discuss topics such as gentrification and the history of Third Ward.
Third Ward is also home to Texas Southern University and University of Houston. Both Universities play host to many events. Finally, like I said above Beyonce and Solange grew up in Third Ward and their home, which we have seen in many documentaries, is still there and beautiful. I won’t post the address here because it is a private home not owned by the Knowles family, but you can google and swing by. (Please be respectful of the current owners!) When you do, take note of the beautiful neighborhood occupied by upper middle class African American families!
Where to Eat – Let me go ahead and start with my favoritest place in third ward, Crumbville, TX. Ella, the owner, is baking up some of the best cookies in town! Stop by Crumbville for unique cookies and vegan desserts. If vegan is your thing, be sure to visit Soul Food Vegan or Green Seed Vegan. For a fun meal, stop over to the French Fry House for loaded fries. The Turkey Leg Hut is another really popular spot in Third Ward. There are lines, but it is GOOD. It has recently become a must stop for celebrities visiting Houston, so you may see some famous folks there. If you love a brunch party be sure to swing by Bar 5015 on Saturday and Sundays for the Etta’s Brunch Popup. For a weekday happy hour check out Grooves. Finally, soon the new Frenchy’s will open further down on Scott Street, so you all can still enjoy boudin in the parking lot.
Where do I begin? Now please note that Houston’s downtown is much like Los Angeles. It is only popping during the work week unless there is an Astros game or something. Restaurants tend to close earlier after the office crowd heads to the burbs. For that reason, downtown isn’t the first neighborhood I would recommend for out of towners to stay. If you must, there are great hotels like the Lancaster Hotel, Hotel Alessandra, Marriott Marquis, Aloft, Hotel Icon or the Magnolia.
Where to Eat & Drink– There are tons of good spots in Houston’s Downtown! If you are with a larger group start with our food halls, Finn Hall and the Conservatory. Each have several dining options plus wine & beer plus they are open late. The Phoenicia Speciality Foods grocery store is another good option. For fancier dining head to Potente ,Xochi , Kulture, Three Forks, or Hearsay.
Houston ebbs and flows when it comes to bars/clubs in Downtown Houston. Currently there are quite a few options like Lawless Spirits & Drinks, the Cottonmouth Club, Dean’s, Sambuca for live music, Nightingale or Okra Charity Saloon.
What to do– Houston has been intentional in making our downtown a destination spot. If you are in town for a conference you will likely be at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Visit Houston often puts art installations right outside of the convention center so look out for that! Right outside of that is Discovery Green, a beautiful greenspace/park right in the middle of downtown. Keep an eye out for concerts or festivals hosted here. Two of our sports venues Toyota Center (Rockets) and Minute Maid Park (Astros) are also downtown. There is also Bayou Place which includes Revention Music Center and an AMC theater. Downtown also has great murals that are perfect for an Instagram photoshoot. Finally there is the Downtown Aquarium which has outdoor activities including a ferris wheel.
For the cultured folks, a visit to Houston’s Theater District is a must (Jones Hall, the Alley Theater, the Wortham Center and the Hobby Center). We have the second largest theater district in the country so plenty of options! The music folks may enjoy a show over at the House of Blues. Also keep an eye out for events at Market Square Park like blanket bingo and movies in the park or concerts at the Jones Plaza. For the history lovers take them on a tour of Houston via Buffalo Bayou starting at Allen’s Landing where Houston was discovered. Just beyond Downtown there is Buffalo Bayou Park which has a skate park and also the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, a recently discovered underground water storage used during Houston’s early days. You can even take a Segway tour of downtown if that is your thing!
WHEW that’s a lot of stuff to do in Downtown Houston!
What to do – Every trip to Houston must include a trip to the Galleria Mall. One of the largest malls in the country, it features tons of shops, restaurants and even an ice skating rink. Also, if you are feeling like some Prom style photos, be sure to visit the Water Wall which is walking distance from the mall.
Just beyond the Galleria, you land in River Oaks one Houston’s most expensive neighborhoods. I take guests for a drive down River Oaks Boulevard to ohh and ahh at the mansions. Bonus points if it is Christmas because the homes are decked out extravagant holiday decorations. When the weather allows, the Rooftop Cinema is a fun outdoor experience and if you are one of those “outdoor running” types, Memorial Park is a good stop.
Where to Eat – Start within the Galleria for good spots such as Peli Peli (South African food), Blanco Tacos & Tequila, Nobu, Fig & Olive, Yauatcha, Del Frisco’s Steakhouse and Oceannaire. Outside of the mall you have great places like Mastro’s, Caracol, La Table. Over in the River Oaks District you have great places like Hopdoddy (burgers), Steak 48, Le Colonial and Ipic Theaters (dine in movie theater), East Hampton Sandwich Company and Amorino for gelato! I also recommend Prospect Park Bar, if you are looking for a nice black owned sports bar, West End if you like a good patio and Moxie’s if you like to see and be seen. A few other popular spots that I love around the Galleria/River Oaks are Dish Society, A’Bouzy, Local Foods, Ginza Japanese Restaurant, Bebidas and State of Grace.
Where to Stay – The Galleria area is generally where I recommend people get a hotel. So many good options, pretty centrally located and it doesn’t go dark on the weekends like Downtown Houston. The Post Oak Hotel is Houston’s latest fancy boutique hotel. If your coins allow it, then go for that one. The Westin Galleria, Hotel Derek, Royal Sonesta and the JW Marriott, and the Omni Houston remain popular options as well. There are also tons of nice moderately priced hotels in this area too.
East Downtown (EADO)/Second Ward
In my lifetime, I have watched second ward be gentrified in to a hipster area that we affectionally call EADO. Jokes aside, it has so many of the new and great places to see, eat and drink.
Where to Eat & Drink – For drinks, stop by the beer garden Truckyard. If you are fancier swing over to Chapman and Kirby. Around the Corner and Leeland House are good chill spots plus you have Eadeaux’s food truck nearby offering good fusion eats. Other restaurants include Seaside Poke and Rodeo Goat. In the part we still know as Second Ward, we have Houston institution, Ninfa’s on Navigation. A MUST stop for your Tex-Mex loving visitors.
What to do around these parts? Warehouse Live is one of our popular reasonably priced music event spaces. There is also an amazing mural area that popped up in EADO. Plenty of Instagram worthy murals here. The We Love Houston sign also finds its home in EADO over by 8th Wonder Brewery which is another great stop for the beer lovers. If you love soccer, BBVA Compass Stadium plays host to Houston’s Dynamos.
Whew! That was a lot of information and we are only halfway done! If you have other places that you LOVE in these neighborhoods please share them in the comments below! Also keep a lookout for part two coming soon!