Best Place to People-Watch
Photo by Postoak at English Wikipedia via CC

With three million total square feet of space and more than 300 stores, an office tower, a hotel and a private health club, the Galleria is the largest mall in Texas and the best place to people watch in the city. Who knows how Houstonians fed their urge to ogle each other before the Galleria opened in 1970, but since then it has consistently offered incredible chances to see people from all walks of life as they come together to shop, see and be seen. Around Christmas time, you can do your own shopping while taking in the harried mothers trying to get infants to stop crying during their pictures with Santa, but the Galleria, which comes equipped with an indoor skating rink and is almost always packed to the gills, has year-round opportunities to look for actors, athletes and other famous people. Watch as people buy items from Chanel and Nordstrom's that cost more than your entire salary, as well as marvel at tiny children in sparkly spandex who defy gravity on the ice skating rink.

Best Public Art
Photo by optictopic via CC

Arguably Houston's unofficial motto, and definitely its most famous two-word slogan sprayed on the side of a rusting railroad bridge, "Be Someone" is, at its core, an invitation. Certainly a number of citizens have taken it upon themselves to alter the five-year-old graffiti from time to time — once to "Be Football," just in time for Super Bowl LI — but, thanks to anonymous neighbors, never for very long. Speaking to the Bayou City's wildcatter past and individualistic self-image, this singularly public-spirited vandalism has since made its way onto T-shirts and, as of this past St. Patrick's Day, H-Town rapper Paul Wall's chest. "I get inspired every time I drive thru downtown and see it sprayed on the bridge," he informed his Instagram followers. Visible just north of the Milam Street downtown exit, "Be Someone" could well be inspiring someone stuck on I-45 south right now.

Best Dive Bar
Houston Press file photo

When you're looking for a dive bar, what you're really after is a place where the stools are comfortable, the jukebox options are solid and everything, from the décor to the heavy drink pours has been comfortingly, reliably the same for as long as anyone can remember. That's where Warren's Inn comes in. Warren's has been satiating that specific dive bar longing since it opened in 1978. The bar, named after the late Warren Truesdale, moved into its current location on Market Square in 1987, and next to nothing has changed since. After all, why mess with perfection? Walking past the neon red sign into Warren's, you know that when you enter the bar everything from the chandeliers and mirrors that have decorated the place since it first opened to the solid array of jazz, blues, old school R&B and rock piping out of the jukebox will be just as it has always been. And as you sidle up to the bar to get a Shiner or a well-made Old Fashioned, you know that whether you're a lawyer, a dedicated drinker, part of a crew of ladies out for a night on the town or just a lonely guy who needs a place to stoically stare down into his beer, you'll be accepted. There's room for everyone at Warren's.

Best Small Museum
Photo by Myke Toman, courtesy of the National Museum of Funeral History

Surely there's nothing else like this in the country. The museum was founded in 1992, with, according to its website, the founder's dream to "preserve the heritage of death care." That highly unusual dream launched a highly fascinating museum, with 14 permanent exhibits, including the history of embalming, and "coffins and caskets of the past." It's only $10 for adults and $7 for kids age 6 to 11, so you won't break the bank while basking in the awesome history of death. It's something every Houstonian needs to see.

Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge

When your palate is craving a more elegant sort of libation, the kind of drink that is magicked up by someone with the title of mixologist who does strange and mystical things with various liquors, you'd best head to Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar and Spirit Lodge. It feels like walking into a speakeasy as you climb up the tall dark stairway to reach the bar, and once you've sidled up to the long gleaming bar and obtained some elixir, maybe the Penicillin or a perfectly executed Aviator, you'll stop wondering about where you are and fix your mind on simply contemplating the infinite, also known as just enjoying a darn fine drink. The bar is narrow and relatively small without much seating, but if you time it right you can snag a cozy booth or a seat on the patio where you can take in the distinctive grandeur of downtown Houston. Either way, you'll leave the place beautifully lubricated by drinks you will probably never entirely understand. It's best to just accept that and enjoy the experience.

Best Dance Company
Photo by Ben Doyle

With a team of professional dancers, a repertoire of more than 60 pieces, a robust center that offers an array of classes for children, teenagers and adults, and more than 20 years in the game, the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company (colloquially METdance) has the professional dance company thing down pat. The just-completed season, led by artistic director Marlana Doyle, included Breaking Borders at The MATCH, a program that featured four diverse dance offerings ranging from pieces inspired by Polish traditions to those set to New Orleans brass-band music. The company's upcoming season, its 22nd, will see METdance taking on the concept of "home," meaning that artists who have lived or currently live in Texas will showcase repertory and new works throughout this year and next.

Best Place to Relax
Photo by Francisco Montes

Hermann Park is the kind of place you go when you need to remind yourself that, to a certain extent, it's still possible to get lost in nature even inside the Loop. And whether your idea of relaxation is taking a hike through any number of the park's trails, exploring its various gardens, or taking a book and a blanket and a basket of food to the pond, you're bound to find a number of spots to take a breather.

Best Place (Intimate) to See a Concert
Photo by Marco Torres

Houston is full of great small rooms, but few can compete with the ambience of Cactus Music. In an increasingly digital world, live music is one of the few things you can't perfectly replicate in zeros and ones, just like you can't reproduce the feeling of flipping through stacks of vinyl looking for just the right release to take home. The sight lines are always good, the sound is nice and free drinks from Saint Arnold certainly don't hurt. When the musicians you love come to town, keep your fingers crossed that they're making an appearance at Cactus Music; you won't find a better place to get up close and personal with them.

Best Podcast
Photo by Patrick Breitenbach via CC

Mining Houston's creative community and the occasional extreme fighter for insight and laughs, the Dead Dialect Podcast duo of Brandon Clements (once a Houston Press music writer) and his friend Julian Lara prove that, with the right digital-age tools, the ancient art of conversation has lost none of its appeal. Clements and Lara's long-form, uncensored chats touch on a host of topics, for instance MMA, comedy, social media and, in periodic special episodes labeled "The Drunk Table," booze and its side effects. Mostly, though, the duo loves to talk Houston music, and since May 2014 has done so with dozens of stars like Kam Franklin, Gabe Bravo, Jon Black, Guilla, Handsomebeast, Devil Killing Moth and many more; out-of-towners Warpaint, Dandy Warhols and Silversun Pickups have stopped by as well. Pressing pause after an episode with Silicon Valley's T.J. Miller, Clements and Lara rebooted DDP on YouTube and ventured to Madness On Main and New Braunfels' Float Fest. Right now even greater things await — in July, Clements was chosen as one of 15 winners in skatewear outfitter Volcom's global #ThisFirst contest, which netted him $5,000 and six weeks with a pro mentor. Watch this space.

Catbirds

It's always a good sign when there's a mohawked punk rocker hanging out front, smoking a cigarette, while inside a jazz combo seemingly has its own band practice. The ever-relaxed Catbirds is also home to various regulars who know which side of the U-shaped bar to sit on for quick service (tip: saddle up on the right) and like to watch sports on the big screens or play NTN Trivia. The Dark and Stormy here is excellent, a true testament to a great neighborhood bar, and the editions of Trivial Pursuit on the shelf, which you can use to see which among your pals is the biggest geek, run deep. This is a no-frills destination with an okay happy hour and almost laughably ugly tables and chairs. There's even a popcorn machine that nobody ever seems to eat the popcorn from. Is it even real? Heaven knows the people here sure are, and that alone makes Catbirds a nice respite from the trendier destinations along Westheimer.

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