For when palm trees and piña coladas aren't in your immediate future, a solid plan for a staycation in your extremely cool city should be. Downtown Houston has seen its fair share of ups and downs over the past few years, but for now it's on the rise, with a noteworthy new flock of restaurants and bars on the already popular scene. A Texas-chic hotel with a historic backstory sits smack dab in the middle of the action, welcoming guests to enjoy more than just one late evening downtown. After all, there's much more to do these days than bar-hopping and an after-hours stop at Frank's Pizza (although that should definitely be on your list).
220 Main St., 713-224-4266, hotelicon.com
Located at the busy corner of Main and Congress, Hotel Icon made its debut downtown in 2004. Originally built to house the United National Bank in 1912, the transformed property now offers 135 guest rooms over 12 floors, and still spotlights many of the original fixtures from its days as a prominent Southern bank—including a massive bank vault behind the reception desk. Complete with a wine cellar, fitness center, luxurious suites with intimate views of downtown and eve a three-story penthouse with rooftop terrace, Hotel Icon is a true Houston gem. Steps from the Metro light rail line, guests have accessibility to all that downtown has to offer, though some of the most charming places are just walking distance from the hotel lobby.
Market Square Park
301 Milam St., marketsquarepark.com
Less than a block away from Hotel Icon is a petite park that packs a punch. Situated on the site of Houston's original town center, Market Square Park once housed Houston's first city hall (as well as its second and third, all of them lost to fires) and currently houses a collection of public art, historical displays, a small off-leash dog run, a public green and even an outdoor cafe, Niko Niko's. Grab a cold Greek frappe at Niko Niko's and settling in for one of Market Square Park's many weekend activities, such as Blanket Bingo or the Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow that screens cult classics al fresco for free.
1500 McKinney St., discoverygreen.com
While we're at the peak of our scorching summer temps now, the remainder of the summer will have us back to the low 90s when you won't necessarily melt at the thought of being outdoors. And if the outdoors is indeed your cup of tea, then a long stroll through downtown to Discovery Green is a must. The park has no shortage of events on the summer calendar, including yoga and kayaking on the weekends. With over 12 acres of lush green landscape in the heart of downtown, the park is known for its ever-changing activities calendar, two off-leash dog parks (separated for big and small dogs), world-class restaurants and stunning views of the city at every turn. From sunrise until sunset, Discovery Green is a great place to get a sense of the local color during your downtown staycation.
Eat & Drink
The Honeymoon Cafe & Bar
300 Main St., 281-846-6995, thehoneymoonhtx.com
One of my favorite parts of any staycation is exploring some of the local joints. And in downtown, The Honeymoon is a fantastic place to start. A cozy choice for diners and drinkers (coffee or adult beverages) alike, The Honeymoon Cafe & Bar is the quintessential sidewalk cafe that turns into a hip nighttime destination when the sun goes down. Right across the street from Hotel Icon and surrounded by the lively bars and restaurants which line Main Street, The Honeymoon welcomes guests as they stroll in throughout the day. Open late on Fridays and Saturdays until 2 a.m., The Honeymoon is known for its coffee (roasted on site) and unique craft cocktails (some made with coffee and espresso!), but the eatery also features hearty breakfast, lunch and brunch items. The latkes topped with smoked salmon, poached eggs and tarragon aioli is a favorite for breakfast, while options like the roasted veggie and Texas goat cheese salad and the egg tartine sandwich are popular for lunch.
1201 Caroline St., 713-635-7101, reserve101.com
There's no shortage of great bars to indulge in downtown, but few are as refined in both quality and service as Reserve 101. In close proximity to the Toyota Center and the House of Blues, the bar is often a meeting point before and after events. Catering to both seasoned whiskey drinkers and the novice South Texas College of Law student looking to score a whiskey cocktail at happy hour (which is seven days a week, by the way!), Reserve 101 offers over 300 selections of whiskey from 14 different countries. Owner Mike Raymond makes it a point for every guest to feel that they are receiving a quality experience, from choosing a whiskey to learning about where it came from, even the proper way to sip and savor the flavors of a fine spirit. The intimate, two-level space houses a private room which can be reserved for parties, and the bar regularly invites guests to attend tastings hosted by master distillers.
Prohibition Supperclub & Bar
1008 Prairie St., 281-940-4636, prohibitionhouston.com
While downtown is bustling with activity from the diverse bar and club scene, you may be looking for more in the way of nightlife on the weekend. Prohibition Supperclub & Bar, located a mere two blocks from Hotel Icon, is known for fabulous 1920s-style burlesque shows and a dinner theater unlike any other in Houston. And beginning August 16, Prohibition will introduce its first ever immersive murder mystery production. The intriguing show, Magnolia City, will transform the theater that's typically reserved for burlesque performances into "The Golden Key," a speakeasy casino where guests can mingle with the cast and collect clues from the scene of the crime to figure out "Whodunnit?" Guests are invited to dress in time period costumes and join in the debauchery at Magnolia City every Sunday evening from August 16-October 4. Tickets are available online and include options for dinner.
417 Travis St., 713-225-5656, frankspizza.com
For me, no visit to any downtown destination is complete without a stop at the local pizza joint after a night out. And in Houston, Frank's is, and always has been, the place to go for a late night slice. On Friday and Saturday nights, you can enjoy giant, thin crust New York style slices of pizza until 3:00 am in the restaurant's two level space or as an order to-go. Walking distance from all of the downtown hot spots, it's at its peak after 2 a.m. when post-party appetites are at their peak as well. A staple for college students and native Houstonians alike, Frank's is the type of place where if you end up face-deep in a slice at the close of the night, you know you've had a good time.