FLIGHTS ARE EXPENSIVE and fuel isn't that cheap, either. So what are those of us with wanderlust and limited funds to do? Try taking a vacation in your own city by immersing yourself in a different neighborhood for the weekend—and, potentially, seeing a whole new side of your hometown.
This new summer series serves as a guide to experiencing all that Houston's various enclaves have to offer, so book that Airbnb from the oil-and-gas dude who's never in town and get to exploring.
The Downtown Experience
How epic do you want to make this weekend? If you feel like gathering up a dozen or so of your closest friends, y'all can split the $1,500 per night it costs to rent this massive apartment in Market Square Tower, the new highrise famous for having the "world's tallest pool." That pool includes a transparent overhang that allows you to imagine what it would feel like to be mere seconds from plummeting to your death; the apartment also includes three giant TVs, DJ equipment, and a private jacuzzi on the patio. Again, however: It's $1,500 per night.
For a homestay that's more reasonably priced, Skyhouse, on the southwestern end of downtown, offers a highrise experience—complete with a pool on the 24th floor—for $126 per night. It accommodates three people (not 14, as above), and is geared towards those who want to have a more low-key weekend (i.e., no parties).
7 p.m. Check in to your deluxe apartment in the sky, then head downstairs for dinner. In case you hadn't heard, downtown's dining scene is flourishing thanks to both the Super Bowl and Houstonians' increasing willingness to head into the CBD after business hours, drawn there by the parks and their clever cultural programming, concerts at the House of Blues and the Toyota Center, grocery stores that host DJs by night, and free street parking after 6 p.m.
Tonight's slate of activities keeps you in and around the Market Square Park area, starting with a light, summery ceviche dinner at La Fisheria. With nine different iterations of the coastal dish to choose from, you might want to start with the trio sampler. Whatever you choose, your meal must start with the homemade guacamole that comes with pineapple pico de gallo and chicharrónes.
8:30 p.m. Stroll over to Market Square Park—especially if it's July 7, which is when the Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow will be screening Dirty Dancing for free under the stars. Didn't bring a blanket? You can always post up at Niko Niko's in the park for a post-prandial Greek coffee and baklava while you watch.
10 p.m. The nightlife should be in full swing, with patrons spilling in and out of La Carafe, Warren's Inn, Char Bar and all the old favorites off the square. A recent addition to the mix is actually quite old itself: Henke & Pillot was the city's first grocery store and chain when it started up in 1885. Today, it hosts a gastropub/nightclub that boasts a heady amount of energy as DJs spin on Friday and Saturday nights.
11 p.m. Keep the party going at The Nightingale Room, a block away on Main Street. Old-school vinyl is on the turntable when DJs play the intimate, two-story spot. You can also catch live acts depending on the club's line-up that weekend.
Midnight Soak up the evening's debauchery with a couple of Mexico City-style street tacos at La Calle, which is conveniently open until 3 a.m. on the ground floor of the Bayou Lofts building. The cute, colorful taco spot is smack between Barringer Bar and Public Services Wine & Whiskey if you want to make a mini bar-crawl out of it before crawling home later.
9 a.m. Sweat out any toxins your body, ahem, accumulated last night at Discovery Green, where the park hosts a free hatha yoga class every Saturday morning from 9 to 10 a.m.
10:30 a.m. Leave those sweaty clothes on; you're going to see downtown by B-Cycle today, so there's no sense getting all gussied up. Rent a couple of bicycles from one of the 15 stations downtown (including three stations along Discovery Green) and head out for a restorative morning meal at The Honeymoon, where everyone comes exactly as they are to the charming, New Orleans-inspired cafe for strong coffee (roasted on-site!) and big plates of bananas foster French toast or brunch BLTs on fresh-baked croissants.
Noon Cycle down a few blocks to Allen's Landing to witness the birthplace of Houston itself. Soon, the adjacent Sunset Coffee Building will rent out kayaks and canoes for paddling down the bayou. For now, take your bikes down the path that leads from Allen's Landing up Buffalo Bayou back towards downtown.
12:30 p.m. Along the Buffalo Bayou Park bike path, you'll pass the infamous art installation Big Bubble, the colorful (and very Instagram-worthy) Sesquicentennial Fountains outside the Wortham Center, and The Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park, which houses 10 historic Houston structures dating from 1823 to 1905. When you're done (or too hot keep going), pedal your way through the silent stalks of steel skyscrapers on your way back to the apartment.
3 p.m. It's the heat of the day and your Airbnb has a pool. You know the drill. Fry like bacon.
7 p.m. Put on your party attire for dinner at the festive Xochi, the newest restaurant from Houston's most recent James Beard Award-winner, Hugo Ortega. Adventurous souls will want to try the insect-garnished Queso del Rancho, while everyone will enjoy the melt-in-your-mouth tacos de cabrito and slow-cooked suckling pig. Complement your meal with a Mexican wine; yes—Mexico makes wine, and it's damn good.
8 p.m. After dinner, head to Phoenicia's MKT Bar for the weekly Soul Sessions Saturdays that run from 8 to 11 p.m. That's when the grocery store portion of Phoenicia closes for the evening and soul sets take over in the adjacent restaurant/bar. You'll find just as many people dancing as drinking; we suggest you do both—especially since all cocktails $5 until close.
10 p.m. Chances are your dancing shoes are done for at this point in the weekend. Trade them in for some bowling shoes and play some frames until the wee hours of the morning—2 a.m., that is—at Lucky Strike. You can reserve your lane online ahead of time, but be warned: There's a $20 food/drink minimum. We suggest hitting that minimum with fried mac 'n' cheese bites and blueberry-ricotta cakes baked in coffee cups and topped with vanilla ice cream. You know...for sustenance.
10:30 a.m. If you're the church-going type, check out the modern worship service hosted by City Church inside the House of Blues every Sunday morning. Yes, the House of Blues turns into a tabernacle for an hour every week—though if you can't make it up that early, the concert venue also hosts its monthly Gospel Brunch with mouthwatering buffet on select Sundays at 1:30 p.m.
11 a.m. You'll want to be at the head of the line when Quattro's legendary brunch buffet opens on Sunday morning. The Italian restaurant inside the Four Seasons Hotel goes international for this lavish weekly spread: an omelet station features a selection of caviars; Belgian waffles and French toast are made to order; mesquite-smoked brisket and Tuscan roasted chicken are sliced on request; a sushi bar offers California and spicy tuna rolls; and on the raw bar, you'll find everything from Norwegian smoked salmon to Peruvian ceviche.
12:30 p.m. Work off some of that brisket downstairs at the hotel, where you'll find two TopGolf Swing Suites. These air-conditioned chambers are outfitted with a range of golf simulators and games on HDTV screens. You can reserve the suites for groups of 15 or more, or simply walk in and sign up to play.
1:30 p.m. Wind down your weekend with a spa afternoon at the nearby Hilton Americas. The serene Skyline Spa & Health Club sits on the 23rd floor, overlooking Discovery Green and all the new activity outside the George R. Brown Convention Center. With whatever service you sign up for—we recommend the $125 Spa Express package that gets you a massage and facial in an hour—you get access to the infinity-edge swimming pool on the 24th floor, just in case you haven't had enough pool time this weekend.
3 p.m. Head home, rejuvenated, refreshed and probably still very full from brunch.