Houston might not seem like much of a tourist town to locals — people come here to work or go to school, not sightsee — but it does attract thousands of tourists every year. With the conventions going on at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the rodeo at Reliant Park, the various "districts" (Museum, Theater and such), and year-round schedule of professional sports, Houston is on the vacation map for people from around the world. Here are our favorite tourist attractions. As usual, there's a caveat — these are attractions inside the Houston city limits. There's another list for the must-visit sites outside of the city (Moody Gardens, Galveston's Strand District and the like).
10. The Houston Astrodome 8400 Kirby Dr.
The Dome gets on our list even though it's not open to the public any longer. Before officials flatten it into another parking lot or remake it into apartments/a museum/homeless shelter/business complex (or any of the other ideas that get bandied about every time we start to wonder what to do with the icon/relic), visitors should get a look at it. There's lots of history to the Dome; it was the site of dozens of important concerts and sports matches; it was the first of its kind; and along with the now-gone Astroworld, it anchored much of the city's entertainment for years.
Drive around the Dome for a good idea of its size. And feel free to toss your suggestions for its renovation. (They couldn't be any worse than the ones we've already heard.)
9. The Downtown Tunnels A six-mile long maze of tunnels connects many of Houston's downtown buildings, but the tunnels are more than just a way to get around. With dozens of shops and restaurants, and a lot of pride by building owners, the tunnels are cheerful and attractive (experienced tunnel users can ID their location from the materials used for the walls and floor — Shell buildings boast travertine marble). Get a haircut, grab a burger or indulge in a massage.
You can take a tour of the tunnels, which we recommend. And a word of warning, get the best map you can before you head out — one wrong turn and you'll go blocks out of your way. The 'you-are-here' maps that dot the walls range from helpful to indecipherable. Thankfully, there's always a restaurant or shop you can pop into for a breather.
8. The Galleria 5085 Westheimer 713-966-3500
Mega-malls have become commonplace, but the Galleria continues to stand out because of its classy veneer. The mall has some 400 shops, including Gucci, Apple and Tiffany & Co., spread out over several levels, making window shopping a day-long adventure. Take a break at any of the dozens of restaurants or watch the newbies try to navigate the ice skating rink. Expect every holiday to be commercialized to the max (Christmas and Valentine's Day here are way over the top) and everything you see to have a price tag. (Bonus points for its excellent air conditioning system; strolling through its cool corridors is a welcomed respite from the Houston heat often waiting just outside the door.)
Houston has a special relationship with artist James Turrell, one that was cemented by the installation of his Twilight Epiphany Skyscape at Rice University. There are two free "light shows" a day (reservations required), but the structure is enchanting between shows, too. Tranquil and meditative, Twilight Epiphany is among the best public art in the city.
6. Market Square Park 300 Travis
We like Market Square Park because it has lots packed into a small space; park just one time and enjoy a variety of activities. There's the park, an adjacent dog park, on-site restaurants, a full schedule of events and the entire thing is ringed by some of the oldest buildings in Houston ... which just happen to house some fun, funky bars and eateries.