TRAVEL BUG

Places to Visit This Spring With a Direct Flight Out of Houston

Stay at a beachfront hotel in Costa Rica, or explore Pittsburgh and Oklahoma City.

By Geneva Diaz March 2, 2022

Oklahoma City has reemerged as a booming city with innovative art, outdoor activities and adventurous food. 

Houston might be booming with activities year-round, but there’s nothing like a getaway from home base to make you feel rejuvenated, relaxed and inspired. One thing we don’t like about flying, aside from crowded airports, is having too many connecting flights. But living in one of the largest cities in America means having more than one airport and plenty of nonstop destinations to choose from. 

There are flights out of George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) that’ll take you straight to Toronto, Canada, or nonstop to San Jose, Costa Rica, in under five hours. Or take a straight flight from William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) to Oklahoma City in under two hours. Movies are longer than that! 

It’s time to switch things up and fly somewhere convenient, yet new, with these seven destinations in just five hours or less.

Monterey, California (4.5 hours)

Visitors viewing fish in the Kelp Forest tank at The Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Located just two hours south of San Francisco is Monterey; a beautiful coastal town with superbly scenic beach views that is packed with outdoor adventures. As the wet season of winter begins to wind down throughout March, you might be lucky enough to experience a nice beach day. If anything, the weather is prime for a long run on the sandy beaches of Monterey Bay, and surfers can rely on some great waves.

If you want to catch a close look at Monterey Bay’s marine life, the Monterey Bay Aquarium on the historic street of Cannery Row is an absolute must. If you’re traveling with the kids, be sure to find out the aquarium’s feeding times for the animals, which last about 15 minutes. If you have extra time, feel the salty air on your skin with a 45-minute coastal drive going south on Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur — a postcard worthy experience.

Stay in the heart of town at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa. Not only is it close to the ocean, with just a 3-minute walk to San Carlos Beach, but it’s walking distance to Cannery Row, where you can find great shopping boutiques and plenty of dining options. The hotel features a terrace with two hot tubs, two restaurants, a coffee shop, and top-floor spa with an outdoor sundeck and fireplace.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (1.5 hours)

If you're a history buff, the Oklahoma Railway Museum, American Banjo Museum and World War II 45th Infantry Museum can give you great lessons in Oklahoma’s history.

Oklahoma City has reemerged as a booming city with innovative art, outdoor activities and adventurous food. The city has cuisine available from around the world. For fine dining and a colorful tasting menu, Grey Sweater is the newest addition to OKC that you don’t want to miss. The city also has a local Asian District, where you can find some of the best Vietnamese restaurants in town. Between Uptown and the Arts District, there are plenty of options to eat your way through this city.

If you're a history buff, the Oklahoma Railway Museum, American Banjo Museum and World War II 45th Infantry Museum can give you great lessons in Oklahoma’s history. A family-friendly immersive and museum-like experience to enjoy is the Factory Obscura, an OKC art collective house with interactive installations, sculptures and light projections. You’re even encouraged to explore your curiosities by touching the art at the newest and permanent installation, Mix Tape, a 6,000-square-foot walk-through centered around music and human emotion.

The unique luxury hotel 21c is part hotel, part museum, with spacious rooms, high ceilings and an industrial-chic vibe. Spend all the time you want in the lobby’s museum, which features modern works of art, before heading to Mary Eddy’s, the hotel’s upscale American restaurant.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (3 hours)

From the Carnegie Library and Andy Warhol Museum to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh is a city worth a visit.

What was once the center of the American steel industry and still known today as "The Steel City,” Pittsburgh has more to see than meets the eye. From the Carnegie Library and Andy Warhol Museum to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh is a city worth a visit.

For the ultimate trip in Pittsburgh, you’ll want to rent a car to get around with ease. For an architecture lover, be sure to see the neo-gothic towers downtown called PPG Place, which are made of nearly one million square feet of glass and will certainly have you looking up to the sky, marveling away. 

Don’t forget to check out the Strip District for eclectic shopping boutiques, trendy bars and distilleries. For something really different, head over to Randyland, the most colorful landmark in the city filled with art to see for days. Another must-see is Bicycle Heaven, the largest museum in the world dedicated to bicycles.

Spend a couple of nights at The Industrialist Hotel, a newly revived skyscraper in the heart of downtown and just 3 minutes from PPG Place. The hotel features a 24-hour fitness center and on-site restaurant called The Rebel Room, with influence from the rebels who revolutionized Pittsburgh. A quirky perk to staying at the retro-style hotel is the social room called The Mark, a DIY activity center where you can learn candle-making and other hands-on workshops taught by local artisans.

San Jose, Costa Rica (3 hours, 45 minutes)

 Take a horseback tour along the coast of Playa Jaco in Costa Rica.

Grab your passport and head south for some heat! Costa Rica, between Panama and Nicaragua, boasts extensive coastlines along both the Caribbean and Pacific. After flying into the capital city of San Jose, you’ll want to rent a car to have the freedom to explore all that the country has to offer. Stay oceanfront at Diamante del Sol Condominiums in Playa Jaco, the closest beach town just 45 minutes from the airport. Or opt for a resort-like getaway and book a room 15 minutes north of Jaco in Playa Herradura at Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort. Features include a fitness center, highly rated spa, Sibö Rainforest Spa; an 18-hole golf course and a pool complex with a lazy river. Book a romantic “swim-up” room that allows you access to the adults-only pool.

Immerse yourself in the beauty of the ocean by booking a fishing excursion with Los Suenos Fishing Charters. If fishing is not your thing, rent snorkel gear and kayaks, or take surf lessons with Adventure Tours Costa Rica, a highly rated tour company right off Jaco beach. Another activity to consider is a horseback tour along the coast.

You cannot leave Costa Rica without seeing the sunset and at Samudio’s Sunset Restobar, you can eat and gaze at the skyline all evening long. Order the mouthwatering ceviche served with plantains and try a Costa Rican-style michelada that contains fresh-squeezed limón mandarina, cerveza and a salted rim. In addition to top-of-the-line beaches, Costa Rica has some of the most bio-diverse ecosystems on earth. Head inland and book a wildlife tour to take it all in — it’s truly sublime.

Toronto, Canada (3.5 hours)

The Casa Loma mansion has three floors of elegant European decor, a classic car collection and a beautiful estate garden.

Explore Toronto, the largest city in Canada (around 3 million people live there), for some top-of-the-line museums and galleries; like the Bata Shoe Museum and the family-friendly Art Gallery of Ontario, which hosts a range of virtual courses for children and adults such as painting, screen-printing and drawing.

Don’t forget to take a tour of the CN Tower, known as Casa Loma, a castle-like structure and cherished landmark in the heart of the city. The mansion has three floors of elegant European decor, a classic car collection and a beautiful estate garden. After you’ve spent hours at Casa Loma, you’re likely ready for some fresh air. Grab a drink in The Distillery District, a hub for the best art galleries, shops and restaurants in Toronto. And if you’re looking for a quaint and intimate time for dinner, try Edulis, one of Toronto’s best hidden gems. 

Stay at the Bisha Hotel, known for its sleek interior and pop art-inspired rooms — some even contain a pool table. This luxury high-rise hotel features a rooftop pool and four on-site dining options, restaurants Akira Back and KŌST, and a bar and cafe.

Tucson, Arizona (3 hours)

If you’re feeling outdoorsy, Saguaro National Park is just 16 miles away and the perfect place for hiking and seeing some of the country’s largest cacti, the Saguaro.

Mexican, Native American and Spanish heritage all combine to make Tucson a melting pot of cultures. Foodies will enjoy inexpensive traditional Sonoran food, tacos, tortas and so much more.

If you’re feeling outdoorsy, Saguaro National Park is just 16 miles away and the perfect place for hiking and seeing some of the country’s largest cacti, the Saguaro. Another must-visit is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is listed on TripAdvisor as one of the top 10 museums in the country. The museum is a zoo, natural history museum, art gallery and botanical garden with 2-mile-long walking paths. 

Stay at the Arizona Inn, located just east of the University of Arizona campus. A Tucson gem! The family-run historic boutique hotel has homey and traditional casita-style rooms with perks like bike rentals (included with your stay), and a lush outdoor pool area with a cantina, two tennis courts, a restaurant and fitness center.

Veracruz, Mexico (2.5 hours)

View of Baluarte de Santiago, also known as bastion of gunpowder, a fort built in 1635 to defend against pirate attacks.

Houstonians love a quick flight to Mexico, and Veracruz just might be your next destination. Instead of a posh resort in Cancun, get closer to how the locals experience the Mexican coast and explore all that Veracruz has to offer.

Start your day with a Mexican cup of joe at the Museo del Cafe. Then make your way to Baluarte de Santiago, also known as bastion of gunpowder, a fort built in 1635 to defend against pirate attacks. Later, make your way to El Zocalo, the historic plaza, to enjoy local beer and — better yet — to enjoy the nightlife of Veracruz.

For lodging, the Hotel Meson del Mar is located in the historic center of Veracruz, just 20 minutes from the airport. You’ll be just a 5-minute walk to all of the city's bars, restaurants and local art vendors. Two blocks from the hotel, there is an open-air restaurant that serves local food as well as international dishes and seafood.

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