Let's be honest, there's one main reason visitors come to Houston -- to visit relatives. Or, if they're from the hinterlands of Texas, to see a major league baseball game (sorry, you'll have to settle for the Astros) or the rodeo.
But Houston, like every other city, has to sell itself as a tourist destination, chockful of places people are absolutely dying to visit, be they from Boston, Rome or sub-Saharan Africa.
As a result of the frenzied selling effort, a lot of the Houston area's so-called tourist attractions are vastly overrated. Here are five:
5. The Beer Can House
It's wacky!! So very, very wacky. So...ummm....wacky. Oh, and it's quirky, too.
Inevitably touted as an off-the-wall bit of unique Houston charm, the Beer Can House is actually nothing you'd really go out of your way to see. And all the learned talk about Folk Art and faux whatever doesn't much change the fact.
Guy surrounded his house with beer cans. In Minneapolis someone probably collected a lot of rubber bands. Doesn't mean we're flying there to see them.
4. The Children's Museum
You know what? Every freakin' city with more than four Starbucks has a Children's Museum. And a lot of them are better than the crowded, pedestrian one here in Houston.
It's great to have a Children's Museum handy in the city if you live here, of course; when it's a rainy weekend you can pack the kid up, take him over there and let him or her learn the wonders of basic concepts, get bigfooted by some birthday party, and pick up a bit of whatever's the latest bug going around. You can do it in Cleveland or Phoenix, too, so we're really not sure why you'd come here.
3. The Downtown Aquarium
The Downtown Aquarium is neither a) Downtown, if by "Downtown" you mean "the easily accessible, walkable, connected string of blocks with big buildings," nor is it b) an aquarium, if by that you mean "big museum-like facility with a wide array of sea life to enjoy."
What Houston's Downtown Aquarium is is an overpriced, inconveniently located restaurant with a lot of incredibly overpriced attractions attached to it.
If money's no object...you're still going to feel like you're paying too much for a small train ride through a shark tank. Or to see some white tigers. If money is an object, watch out.
2. The Water Wall
Built primarily for the prom- and wedding-photo industry, as near as we can tell, the Water Wall sits in the general Galleria area and is a wall of water. It also has some architecture dilly that looks like a kid's drawing of a house, for no apparent reason.
While the whole thing can be somewhat cooling, temperature-wise, on a brutal August day, it's still underwhelming and pointless. And getting to it involves waiting out a parking space or parking where you have to worry every second you're going to be towed. Which kind of takes away from the whole Zen calmness aspect we guess it hopes to inspire.
1. The Johnson Space Center
Then it all turned into SpaceCenter Houston, a cash-making machine.
Now if you want to get to Rocket Park, you're paying an entrance fee and being chaperoned there on a tram. And if you want a taste of NASA, you're going to have to settle for a sterilized, organized, focus-group-tested series of displays that could be anywhere.
And yeah, there's a gift shop. Just try to avoid it.