A Few Days in the Capital of the Sunbelt

A Few Days in the Capital of the Sunbelt

Colorful Houston skyline | designed by Vexels

In a state where everything seems bigger, Houston looms particularly large. It is home to the world’s largest medical center, including 21 hospitals and 8 academic and research institutions. While on the topic of the world’s largest, Houston is also home to one of the biggest rodeos in the world, the month-long Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo which attracts over 2.5 million attendees each year. I have no doubt that the deep fried candy bars are the main draw for some of those supposed “rodeo” fans. It falls high on several other lists, including largest commercial port and parks and green space acreage. Just the loop around the city on Beltway 8 covers 88 miles. It’s metropolitan area covers 8,788 square miles making it larger than New Jersey and only slightly smaller than Massachusetts. As far as population, it has about 2.3 million residents, making it the largest city in Texas and the fourth most populous city in the nation, behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. I think you’ve got my point - the city is BIG so deciding what to do during a short 3-day visit was tough. 

We had spent a few days in and around Houston with my parents back in March. When we heard the Cleveland Indians were coming to town, Priceline and Stubhub to the rescue and all the sudden a little more Houston exploration seemed like a grand plan. 

We left the campground on Saturday and took the more scenic route to Houston via Texas-35. Texas Lakeside RV Resort is just about 130 miles from Houston and not much lies between us and the city limits other than a few small towns and lots of lots of fields and cows. We enjoyed the drive with blue skies and lots of sunshine. While we fueled up on breakfast and of course caffeinated with espresso before packing up and hitting the road, we were ready for lunch by the time we approached the Houston suburbs. Being Mrs. Thrifty, lunch would not come without a coupon in hand. We opted for 2 for $10 lunch bowls from Pei Wei thanks to perfect timing on their email coupon. Thanks Pei Wei!

With some time to spare before hotel check-in, we decided to get outside and explore some of the 50,632 acres of parks and green space in Houston. It ranks third in the United States only behind San Diego and Dallas in parks and green space acreage per capita. So with several options we decided on Buffalo Bayou, Houston’s main waterway. We headed to what was labeled Water Works on the GPS and after one wrong turn, ended up near the Buffalo Bayou park and landed a pretty convenient parking spot. We hopped onto the Sandy Reed Memorial Trail, a ten-foot  concrete trail which flanks both sides of the bayou to accommodate cyclists, walkers, and joggers. Often we opted for the five-foot wide asphalt Kinder Footpath, to stay out of the way of the exercising cyclists to play tourists on a leisurely stroll. We walked several miles and landed near the Wortham Insurance Visitor Center at the Water Works. Here we found restrooms, a staffed information desk, bike rental facility, a great view of the city from a roof-top sitting area and the most impressive thing from the day, which was me passing up ice cream served in a glazed donut cone. What what what was I thinking? The park had a lot to offer, an impressive skate park, cistern tours, boat tours, canoe & kayak launches, outdoor theater, volleyball courts, dog park, gardens and more.

After enjoying the southern sunshine, we headed to our hotel we booked on Priceline. Russ & I unloaded the car with way too many bags! After the luxury of having our entire home with us when we travel for the past two years, we have become totally horrible at packing light. We roll into the lobby looking like we are staying for several weeks. We were a little worried when the gentlemen at the front desk couldn’t find our reservation. Then, he had us double check the address of the hotel we booked and what do you know we were indeed at the wrong Crowne Plaza. So off we went to our actual hotel about 10 miles away. 

When we arrived, Russ dropped me off and I ran (Okay, I didn’t run. I eat too many cookies to really run!) into the lobby to check-in. There were lots of people in the lobby which seemed unusual for this time in the afternoon. When I arrived to the counter, we were notified that the hotel air conditioning was broken and they were offering refunds. With a quick call to Russ to make sure he agreed we didn’t want to stay at the hotel in 100 degree weather without A/C, I was on the phone with Priceline trying to cancel my reservation. They did have to call the hotel to verify I wasn’t pulling their leg, but it was a great customer service experience. However, even though that was easy peasy, we were still in Houston without a place to stay for the next two nights. Back to Priceline. We found another hotel quickly that was only slightly more and we considered ourselves lucky. We were bummed to realize we were going to have to pay a pretty penny for parking at this hotel, but it is what it is. After hitting up three hotels, we considered the third one our charm. 


After a little bit of relaxing in the room, we walked to White Oaks Kitchen at the Galleria for dinner. Since we walked to dinner, it seemed acceptable to stop at Creamistry for a sweet nightcap. Creamistry serves up made-to-order liquid nitrogen ice cream. As a science geek and an ice cream fan, this combination is right up my alley! It’s like chemistry class with ice cream. With all the science classes I took in high school and college, why wasn’t this every a required assignment? Or maybe all the courses prepared me to someday work as a Creamologist! We did eat quick as their was a Cleveland Cavs Finals game to watch, but if we would have known the end result, it probably wouldn’t have been necessary to watch. Since we are late to write this post, I am just going to say I’m sad to hear Lebron is heading to L.A. I just don’t want to be a Lakers fan, but he may just make me into one. We had a day full of exploring scheduled for Sunday, so we didn’t last long after the game ended. 

We started Sunday with a delicious brunch at Dish Society. It was our kind of restaurant dedicated to sourcing the majority of its items locally. They feature a seasonally changing menu with healthful modern twists on traditional favorites. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a modern industrial atmosphere. Russ ordered up a house favorite, Pork Belly Hash - pork belly, skillet potatoes, onions, jalapeños, roasted red peppers, two cage free sunny side eggs & house avocado hollandaise. I went for the breakfast sandwich on a house made biscuit with skillet potatoes. Since our morning was without coffee so far, we both ordered up an iced coffee that was served over my all time favorite “pellet” ice. We will definitely try to make a return visit during a future trip to Houston. It would just be heard to decide if that trip should be for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 

If you’ve been following along with us, you know we always first look for the free things to do when we visit a town. Sometimes, these are some of the best finds. It also allows us to see a bit more when we go to a new place. If we are paying to do something, we feel obligated to spend the majority of our day seeing all there is to see. If we stop by a free attraction, we feel like we can just see what we want and move along! We had a rather lengthy list of free things to do in Houston, so we strategically mapped out the few that made the most sense. After all, we had a Cleveland Indians team to cheer on later that evening. 

We started with one of Houston’s most photographed sites and one that many tourists probably never come across, the Water Wall. The Water Wall is a dramatic 64-foot U-shaped fountain that has water rushing down its walls. It stands at 64 feet to mimic the 64 story Williams Tower that it faces on the opposite side of the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park. It was designed and created by an acclaimed architectural team and pumps 78,500 gallons of recycled water every three hours and 20 minutes. That’s a lot of water and that impressive number is apparent in the impressive sight the Water Wall creates.The water cascades down both the inner and outer walls of the u-shaped structure. It falls in long channeled sheets providing both a powerful sound and light mist which is welcomed by most on a summer day in Texas! The inner section delivers a more waterfall-like feel with the walls of the semi-circle serving as acoustical panels.  Along with the grand water feature, are hundreds of live oak trees that immediately reminded me of Charleston, South Carolina. Creativity and uniqueness are high on my list of cool things and this local site provides both. As a bonus for reading about our visit, let me give you these tips. There is free parking one block west of Waterwall Park at the Galleria Mall which is also where you can find your morning cup of joe or your afternoon caffeine jolt at multiple Starbucks inside the mall. You’re welcome! 

Our next few stops were food related, we appreciate good food and unfortunately it shows! You have probably heard me talk before about how my family has always enjoyed checking out unique and local groceries stores when we visit a new area. Lucky for me, Russ plays along nicely because often times it means a new gluten free product to try. So we headed to the Central Market which is a gourmet grocery store chain owned by H-E-B grocery company which is based in San Antonio. The chain has only nine locations, all of which are located in Texas. H-E-B is where we have done our grocery shopping for the last 8 months, so I was curious to check out their Central Market Store. I think I was in love even from the parking lot as you could smell wood-fired grills and hear a guitarist performing on the patio outside.

As we walked in we were greeted by the hustle and bustle of the lunch crowd in their impressive cafe area. Against my better judgement, we passed through this area quickly and soon realized Central Market was designed in IKEA style. After departing the cafe area, we began our journey through the maze from one department to the next. Friendly staff were there to greet, help and offer the many samples throughout the store. The IKEA-like store layout was a dream for this grocery-store loving gal as it pretty much guaranteed I would get to see almost every aisle without feeling guilty dragging Russ down them all. It wasn’t my fault, just the store’s design. However, I think this layout would be mildly maddening as you realized you missed something in the first section and having to backtrack the already confusing path. But just like IKEA, they do create the shortcut escapes along the maze that automatically take you to a certain section. I tried not to let Russ see these shortcut signs along the way, distracting him with coffee and chocolate and gluten free delectables. 


Central Market deliberately limits floor space allocated to packaged products, allowing more space for fresh produce, meat and seafood and chef-prepared items. The produce section was beautiful and filled with produce you often have to go searching for crab-apples, meyer lemons, lychee, pink lemons, dragon fruit, jack fruit and several produce items I’ve never heard of before. Their olive bar may be the biggest selection I have ever seen (it just kept going and going) which for this olive lover was an overwhelming site. To give you an idea of how much I love olives, I put them on my Christmas list as a kid and yes Santa brought them to me!

 I do feel mildly guilty about about writing three paragraphs about a grocery store and I feel like I am leaving a lot on the table, but let’s move on for the majority of people who despise grocery stores. 

Our next food-related stop was a local farmers’ market which is always in my search protocol when visiting a new place. Houston has a bunch of markets, but not many of which worked with our schedule; so when I tracked one down for Sunday afternoon, we headed that way. After a quick drive by, we opted not to stop. It is not often I pass up a farmers’ market and I think Russ was tempted to check my temperature or just transport me straight to the E.R. From the looks of their Facebook page, we just caught them on a bad week, so in all fairness this market will go unnamed. Darn you Phoenixville Farmers’ Market we blame you for spoiling us big time! 

Next on our list of free attractions was the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and big puffy white clouds which is my favorite celestial landscape. On days like this, I always tell Russ that I want to live where the sky is always this color! So far, Florida has been the closest to providing us with the most days with that bright blue sky. After missing the entrance the first time around due to some construction, we were able to loop ourselves back around and found a parking space at the Arboretum. We started out at the Nature Center building which included a Discovery Room of interactive displays and a gift shop. From there, we headed out on the natural trails that took us through forest, pond, wetland, and meadow habitats. While we were hoping to see some wildlife, we settled on just these lovely blooms instead.

It was a nice little escape from the hustle and bustle of the highway. Russ and I enjoy urban environments, but always like when cities have lots of green space to enjoy in the midst of the nearby high rises. 

While I had a few other free attractions on my list, including the ArtCar Museum the draw of an afternoon relaxing by the pool and reading won the battle. I think the ArtCar Museum would have been kind of cool, but my car-appreciating hubby said cars don’t deserve to be treated that way! He would have liked it, but I couldn’t argue when his objection including a trip to the pool. I’m always on board for that! I’m sure the ArtCar Museum packs a lot of personality in a small space and I love the creatively given nickname of “Garage Mahal!” As I was floating in refreshing pool water, I quickly forgot about the ArtCar Museum. After a few hours, it was time to head toward Minute Maid Park for the main reason we were in Houston — to see the Cleveland Indians battle the Houston Astros. We had already decided to head down toward the stadium early in hopes of finding good parking and dinner before the game. 

After a easy 10-minute drive toward Minute Maid Park, we got close to the stadium and started a target type approach to find parking. Start in the bullseye (stadium) and circle until you find somthing. Now when we say find parking, not just any parking space is okay with me. Remember I’m thrifty, paying beaucoup bucks for a parking space is like taking a dagger to the heart. I had tried to do my research and knew there was free street parking, but just wasn’t confident we would be able to find any. We circled several streets and then there it was a FREE space right at the END of a row of streetside parking spaces within a few blocks of the stadium. Now Russ spent lots of time living in Philadelphia, so parallel parking is no issue for him, but who can truly say they enjoy parallel parking so the lack of needing to do so was not disappointing. Are you still with me here? I’ve now in the same post written 3 paragraphs about a grocery store and a paragraph about a single parking space. Stop right here and pat yourself on the back because you are a dedicated reader. Also, can I tell you something - thanks for sticking around. I like you.

Still on the emotional high from our parking spot find, we were in search for dinner and ended up with another winner, Batanga. This industrial-style eatery is located in an old 1800s saloon serving Latin-American small plates or tapas. Before we knew it, our table was being graced with small-plates of savory combinations with great presentation.

{Grilled Avoado}  chorizo + queso fresco + cilantro + lime

{Yucca Fries}  yucca + banana ketchup + cilantro 

{Albondigas}  braised meatballs + tomato sauce

{Empanda de Carne} Colombian style beef + potato + aji verde

{Cauliflower & Chayote Cazuela} manchego + toasted bread crumbs

This place could get dangerous fast when ordering as our instinct was to order one of everything or at least for Russ one of every menu that had his magical {GF} beside it. Oh how I hope we can fit a return trip to Batanga into our last four months here in Texas. The marinated beet salad and mushroom croquettes were basically begging for me to try them and to be fair to everyone, I need to go back. As Ellen says, “Be Kind to One Another,” so we need to be kind to those remaining tapas-dishes. That’s what she means when she says that, right?

We had opted to either stop for ice cream or coffee while walking back toward Minute Maid Park. These two things is one of the main reasons, I insist on finding cheap parking.  A $5 cup of coffee or ice cream cone brings me way more joy than a $5 parking space will ever provide. Coffee won out as we passed the cutest little coffee shop / cafe, Boomtown Coffee, serving small-batch, house roasted brews in a modern setting. The iced Mayan Mocha nearly jumped off the board as a plea for us to order it, so how could we ignore that kind of sign. We finished off our walk back to Minute Maid Park with a shared Mayan Mocha in tow. Considering our day had been pretty great, it almost seemed like an Indians victory would have made it slightly too great. Regardless of the final score, it was a fun game to watch and I did so proudly sporting my Cleveland Indians cap.

Houston has it right building a domed sports stadium. The Astrodome opened in 1965 and was the first domed sports stadium ever built. Next up, came Houston’s first retractable-roofed stadium, Minute Maid Park, featuring a natural grass playing field. Since rain was in the forecast, we were certain the dome would be closed for the game and that was accurate. I am a big baseball fan, but even a bigger baseball fan when it includes a climate-controlled stadium.


We slept well on Sunday night and thought something healthy like donuts and coffee would get us going on Monday morning. Russ was a happy guy with his pack of gluten-free mini donuts from River Oaks Donuts. Since we had a little too much fun yesterday, we were slow to get started which resulted in River Oaks Donuts being sold out of the majority of their regular donuts. When finding this out, I felt my cholesterol give my heart a fist bump. We had a few errand-type of stops we wanted to make in Houston before heading back to our small-town home of Port Lavaca. 

The first of those stops was LA-Z-Boy where we were looking into some replacement furniture for Charlie. While we love him dearly, his furniture leaves a lot to be desired. I’m sure the RV companies just want to say “Why don’t you take your lazy self outside and enjoy the camping life.” Well that’s all well and good and something we love to do, but sometimes we just want to Netflix & Chill or usually in our case Redbox & Chill. Obviously furniture searching is a little more specific when looking for a small space such as an RV or tiny home. The good news is this narrows down the options which is good for both Russ and I’s frequent indecisiveness. Jamal at LA-Z-Boy in Sugarland was able to help point us in the right direction and lend us his measuring tape. We found a couch and a loveseat that we really liked, but upon returning to Charlie are fairly certain it would take some modifications to even get the furniture into the camper. So here we still sit on two chairs whose padding now feels like sitting on wadded up towels. Oh joy! 

A stop at Costco and the bank rounded out our errands for the day. To fuel our road trip home, a visit to Torchy’s Tacos was in order. We first experienced Torchy’s when we visited Austin back in November. In this post, we ventured a guess that our November visit would not be the last time we would eat at a Torchy’s. That statement was 100% accurate as we try to fit in a Torchy’s Taco stop anytime we venture into a larger Texas town. 

We had a great few days adventuring in the city of Houston and there is still a lot that we could see and do in the Houston area on any future visits. One of which would be to check out the underground pedestrian tunnel system, located about 20 feet below the ground and running for seven miles, linking 95 city blocks. Pretty cool! We have taken a few trips to Houston for a variety of reasons and have come to the conclusion that while we like cities, Houston is too big and too spread out for our liking. While this won’t keep us from visiting again, we know to not include it on our list of places to do any condo searching!

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