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Destination of the Week: Houston

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For today’s Destination of the Week, TPG Contributor Casey Hatfield-Chiotti takes us to a Southern hub with a thriving arts scene, fantastic food, the Johnson Space Center, and where visitors get a healthy dose of good ol’ Texas hospitality. We’re headin’ to Houston.

houston-texas
Downtown Houston, Texas

WHAT TO DO

Houston may be better known for being the nation’s energy capital than for tourism, but the fourth-largest city in America is also a thriving metropolis, with delicious restaurants and great access to the arts. One of the only cities in America with resident companies in all the major performing arts, Houston has a theater district with 120,000 seats, second only to New York City. The largest port city in the South, Houston has abundant access to seafood; combined with bountiful local ingredients and a diverse array of cultures and cuisines, the result is an exciting, chef-driven food scene.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the world’s largest and draws hundreds of thousands of people over 20 days. This year’s rodeo is March 4-23 and includes a World Championship Bar-B-Que contest, Bull Riding and a star-studded concert lineup that will include Usher, Blake Shelton and Robin Thicke.

houston-livestock-and-rodeo-show
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Tram tours can be taken at the historic Johnson Space Center east of Houston, or you can make reservations for the behind-the-scenes Level 9 Tour. Limited to 12 guests per day, this takes four to five hours and allows visitors to see areas not typically open to the general public, such as ISS Mission Control. If you’re lucky, you may event get to have lunch with the astronauts themselves.

Mission Control at Johnson Space Center - photo by Christopher Ebdon
ISS Mission Control at Johnson Space Center – photo by Christopher Ebdon.

Houston’s vibrant Museum District is home to 19 different museums, including The Museum of Fine Arts and The Houston Museum of Natural Science. On the Rice University Campus next door, check out the “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace, a piece of dynamic public artwork by artist James Turrell. At sunrise and sunset each day, this pyramid-like structure made of grass, concrete, stone and steel projects a light sequence onto an elevated roof with a small cutout that’s open to the sky. While it’s free to visit the Skyspace artwork, reservations are required for the sunset showing and can be made online.

James Turrell's "Skyspace"
James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace

Biking is an ideal way to explore Houston’s leafy, sprawling parks. Look for Bcycle bike share stations throughout downtown and midtown, then go for a spin through Memorial Park and/or Herman Park (which contains the Houston Zoo).

Houston's Memorial Park
Houston’s Memorial Park

Texas’s oldest craft brewery, Saint Arnold Brewing Company, is also in Houston and offers tours, tasting and fixed-price beer pairing lunches on weekdays. Fifty miles southeast of Houston, a popular side-trip destination is Galveston Island, where you’ll find Victorian architecture, antique shops and 32 miles of sandy beaches.

Taps at Saint Arnold Brewing Company
Taps at Saint Arnold Brewing Company

WHERE TO EAT

Named one of 2013’s best new restaurants by Bon Appetit, The Pass & Provisions is two innovative dining concepts in one. Italian-inspired Provisions occupies most of the former warehouse space and serves dishes like mushroom truffle pizza and pumpkin conchiglie with beef short ribs. Tucked within the restaurant is The Pass, a more special-occasion-worthy spot that serves 5- and 8-course tasting menus. Elegant dishes include lamb with Swiss chard and coffee yogurt, and oyster mushroom chowder with harissa. Wine and cocktail pairings can also be added.

Another tasting menu option is Oxheart, set in Houston’s historic Warehouse District. Owned by native Houstonians, the restaurant uses Texas’s best ingredients in creative dishes like slowly roasted pickled okra with smoked black garlic and crème fraiche. The historic space features brick walls, white subway tiles and a repurposed wood counter with drawers that contain your serving utensils. Three tasting menus, including a vegetarian option, are offered nightly.

The historic exterior of Oxheart
The historic exterior of Oxheart.

Chef Anita Jaisinghani’s bright Indian street-food-inspired café Pondicheri is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and serves fresh juices along with smoked eggplant dosa and creamy cashew curry. Jaisinghani is also a pastry chef, so don’t miss desserts like chai pie and a decadent chocolate brownie.

Pondicheri's version of gulab jamun, an Indian donut
Pondicheri’s gulab jamun, an Indian doughnut.

The Montrose neighborhood just west of downtown, is exploding with great new bars and restaurants. Check out Underbelly, a new take on American Creole cuisine where you’ll find slow-roasted pork belly with cauliflower and sweet potato. The Hay Merchant has a great craft beer selection as well as comfort food like chicken-fried steak and gumbo. Anvil Bar & Refuge is the place to go for strong drinks made using fresh ingredients; the same folks own Blacksmith, a hipster-friendly coffee shop and café down the street.

The seasonal menus change daily at Underbelly
The seasonal menus change often at Underbelly.

For some of the city’s best seafood, head to Reef in midtown where the menu changes daily based on what’s available and includes dishes like crispy-skin snapper and a jumbo crab cake with pickled vinaigrette.

Raw bar offerings at Reef
Raw bar offerings at Reef.

GETTING THERE

Houston has two commercial airports – William P. Hobby offers only domestic flights on AirTran, American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest. Hobby is about 7 miles from Houston, and taxis to the central business district run about $27. Car rentals and shuttle service can also be arranged.

Interior of Hobby Airport
Interior of Hobby Airport

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is a United hub, and fields 800 daily flights, both domestic and international, representing all the major alliances. Alaska, American, Delta, United, US Airways, Frontier, and Spirit offer domestic service. AeroMexico, Air Canada, Air China, Air France, British Airways, Emirates, KLM, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Turkish Airlines and VivaAerobus offer international flights.

Terminal E at George Bush International Airport
Terminal E at George Bush Intercontinental Airport

IAH is 23 miles north of downtown Houston, and transportation options include SuperShuttle, rental cars, taxis and a bus that picks up at the south side of Terminal C and drops off at the downtown metro station. A taxi to downtown Houston from IAH should cost $52.50.

WHERE TO STAY

Club Carlson

Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Houston Intercontinental Airport East: This 62-room hotel, two miles from George Bush Intercontinental Airport, recently went through a $1 million renovation and now has more contemporary look and feel. Gone are the dated floral bedspreads in favor of textured solid red duvets.  There’s also enhanced lighting throughout the hotel and rooms have flatscreen TVs, refrigerators, microwaves, and free high-speed internet. The hotel also has a new fitness center, heated indoor pool and complimentary breakfast. In February, nightly rates at this Category 3 property start at $109 per night or 28,000 Gold Points.

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Renovated guestroom at the Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Houston Intercontinental Airport East

Other Club Carlson properties in Houston include Country Inn & Suites By Carlson Houston Intercontinental Airport South, Country Inn & Suites By Carlson-Katy and a Park Inn by Radisson in North Houston.

Hilton

Hilton University of Houston: The only hotel located on the Houston University Campus, this hotel is actually attached to the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, so students can get valuable hands-on training. Guestrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows providing panoramic views of the city, as well as 250-thread count sheets and contemporary furnishings. Eric’s Restaurant serves American cuisine with Mediterranean flair in a bistro-style setting. Guests also enjoy complimentary use of the nearby Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, which has basketball courts, an outdoor pool with waterfalls, and group fitness classes. WiFi at the hotel is complimentary. In February, nightly rates at this Category 5 property start at $179 or 40,000 HHonors Points.

Hilton University of Houston
Guestroom at the Hilton University of Houston

Hilton Americas-Houston: This hotel is connected to the George R. Brown Convention Center via two indoor skywalks and is sandwiched between Discovery Green Park and the Toyota Center, home of the Houston Rockets. The modern, largely glass structure has 1,200 guestrooms that feature sleek contemporary furniture and spectacular city views. The hotel has a grand lobby with Italian marble and Venetian glass chandeliers and dining options include a coffee shop, The Café (known for elaborate buffet breakfasts) and an opulent Lobby Bar that has an impressive tequila list and small bites. On the 23rd floor, the hotel has a 75-foot Olympic-size indoor pool, a spa and health club. In February, nightly rates at this Category 6 property start at $239 or 50,000 HHonors points. 

Hilton Americas-Houston
Indoor pool at the Hilton Americas-Houston

Other Hilton properties in the metro area include Hilton Houston Plaza/Medical Center, Hilton Houston NASA Clear Lake, Hilton Houston Westchase, Hilton Houston Southwest, Hilton Houston Post Oak, Hilton Houston North, and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Houston Hobby Airport.

Hyatt

Hyatt Regency Houston: Guestrooms at this downtown Houston hotel have a contemporary look, with modern furniture, a simple, neutral color palette and 32-inch flatscreen TV’s. Built in 1972, the Hyatt’s rotating glass-walled restaurant, Spindletop, has become somewhat of a local landmark; make reservations for dinner and enjoy elegant seafood dishes and a 360-degree view of the city. Other dining options include Shula’s Steakhouse, owned by for former NFL Coach Don Shula, and an Einstein Bros Bagels.  The outdoor heated pool is an oasis in the city, but if Houston’s infamous heat and humidity start to get to you, you can always seek refuge in the air-conditioned, seven-mile tunnel system; there’s an entrance to the underground shopping and dining destination in the hotel lobby. In February, nightly rates at this Category 3 property start at $239 or 12,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points.

Spindletop at Hyatt Regency Houston
Spindletop at Hyatt Regency Houston

Other Hyatt properties in Houston include HYATT House Houston/Galleria, Hyatt North Houston, Hyatt Place Bush Intercontinental Airport, HYATT House Houston Energy CorridorHYATT Place Houston/Sugar Land, Hyatt Market Street The Woodlands and Hyatt Place Houston/The Woodlands.

IHG Rewards

Hotel Indigo Houston at the Galleria: Located in the trendy Uptown District, this boutique hotel is walking distance to upscale shopping at The Galleria, Texas’s largest shopping center. The 131-guestroom hotel features cheerful coastal-inspired décor, including a blue-toned color palette and furnishings like white Adirondack chairs. Vibrant guest rooms have hardwood floors, colorful wall murals and spa-inspired showers. Popular with both vacationers and business travelers, there’s a workspace in each room and a business center on-site. The Cross Roads Bar & Bistro offers pizzas, salads and paninis, and the Fitness Center has a good array of equipment including treadmills and stationary bikes. WiFi is complimentary. In February, nightly rates at this Category 4 property start at $162 or 25,000 IHG Rewards points.

Hotel Indigo Houston at the Galleria
Lobby of the Hotel Indigo Houston at the Galleria

Crowne Plaza Houston-Downtown: This 259-guestroom hotel is located next to a pleasant green space with a reflecting pool, and the large, light-filled lobby with floor-to-ceiling glass allows you to take in the urban surroundings. The hotel is centrally located downtown near Minute Maid Park (home of the Astros), the Toyota Center and the Convention Center. The property’s newly renovated guestrooms have a tasteful, muted-brown color scheme featuring velvet pillows and cherry-wood headboards. Rooms are also designed to give you the best night’s rest possible, with Tempur-Pedic mattresses, lavender spray and eye masks. The hotel’s restaurant, Brazos, serves American fare, as well as Tex Mex dishes like sizzling fajitas and tacos al carbon. There’s also an outdoor pool and free WiFi. In February, nightly rates at this Category 3 property start at $199 or 20,000 IHG Rewards points.

Guestroom at the Crowne Plaza Houston-Downtown
Guestroom at the Crowne Plaza Houston-Downtown

There are 62 IHG properties in and around the Houston area. Others include Crowne Plaza Houston Galleria, Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Houston-Downtown Convention Center, Holiday Inn Houston Reliant Park Area, and Candlewood Suites Houston by the Galleria.

Marriott

Hotel ICON Houston: This newly renovated 135-guestroom hotel is in a historic building and draws a crowd of well-heeled travelers and local movers and shakers. Built in 1911, the neoclassical structure was originally the Union National Bank building. Period details like large columns and ornate ceilings in the lobby have been kept intact, while guestrooms are completely modern, with accents of orange and teal, as well as geometric carpets. Line & Lariat serves dishes that reflect the bounty of the Texas coast and the L & L Bar has cowhide bar stools, small bites and craft cocktails like the “Texas! Texas! Margaret” with moonshine, maraschino, green chartreuse and fresh lime. The Icon has a day spa and is the only downtown hotel on the METROrail light rail line that provides service to the Museum District, Rice University and Hermann Park. Guestrooms are served with complimentary WiFi. In February, nightly rates at this Category 6 property start at $289 or 30,000 points.

King guestroom at the Hotel ICON Houston
King guestroom at the Hotel ICON Houston

JW Marriott Houston: This 23-story hotel is located across the street from the Galleria and has 515 contemporary guestrooms with down comforters, colorful art and well-lit work areas. There’s also an indoor-outdoor connecting pool, a sauna and a fitness center. Dining options include a Starbucks and two restaurants – South Coast Grill, an American breakfast restaurant and Destino, which serves regional Texas cuisine. A new downtown JW Marriott location is opening in August. In February, nightly rates at this Category 5 property start at $139 or 25,000 points.

Lobby at the JW Marriott Houston
Lobby at the JW Marriott Houston

There are a whopping 74 Marriott hotels across 8 brands in and around the Houston area. Other hotels include Residence Inn Marriott Houston Downtown/Convention Center, Courtyard Marriott Houston Downtown/Convention Center, Houston Marriott West Loop by the Galleria and Houston Marriott Energy Corridor.

Starwood

The Westin Galleria Houston: A good choice if you’re in need of some retail therapy, this 487-guestroom hotel is connected to the Galleria, Houston’s premier upscale shopping destination. Guestrooms have cherry-wood furnishings, gold accents and lots of light. There’s also a heated rooftop pool and in-room spa treatments. The hotel’s restaurant, The White Oaks Kitchen & Drinks serves lunch and dinner, as well as a popular Sunday brunch where the menu includes chicken and waffles, as well as a smoked salmon benedict. The Galleria has 350 stores and restaurants including a Neiman Marcus, a Cartier, a Saks Fifth Avenue and a Nordstrom. The Westin Oaks Houston is located at the opposite end of the mall. In February, nightly rates at this Category 4 property start at $225 or 10,000 Starpoints.

White Oaks at The Westin Galleria Houston
The White Oaks Kitchen at The Westin Galleria Houston

The Westin Houston Downtown: This hotel enjoys a central downtown location near the Convention Center and across the street from Minute Maid Park. It’s also close to the Toyota Center and BBVA Compass Stadium. The 200 tastefully decorated guestrooms and suites have leather couches and chairs, crisp white linens and black marble countertops, while the plush lobby has cozy armchairs and Asian-inspired art. Dining options are limited and include the casual Ballpark Café. Guests can enjoy complimentary high-speed internet in the lobby. In February, nightly rates at this category 4 property start at $199 or 10,000 Starpoints.

Corner Suite at The Westin Houston Downtown
Corner Suite at The Westin Houston Downtown

Other Starwood properties in Houston include the St. Regis Houston, Sheraton Suites Houston Near the Galleria, Sheraton Houston Brookhollow Hotel, Four Points by Sheraton Houston West, Sheraton North Houston at George Bush Intercontinental, Four Points by Sheraton Houston Hobby Airport, The Westin Houston Memorial City, Four Points by Sheraton Houston Southwest, Aloft Houston by the Galleria and Element Houston Vintage Park.

Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts

Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.

Fine Hotels and Resorts is a hotel program specifically for American Express Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders. By booking through this portal, you receive added perks and benefits thrown in with your stay – sort of like you would with elite status or by booking through a travel agent with great contacts at a hotel.

Four Seasons Hotel Houston: Located in the heart of downtown, this 20-story tower features 404 spacious guestrooms and suites. Rooms feel more like apartments than hotel rooms, with a mix of traditional and contemporary décor, and extra-large bay windows. The 65-foot pool has a tropical feel with Brazilian ipe wood decking and a waterfall. Quattro Italian restaurant uses locally sourced ingredients in homey Italian cooking and the adjoining wine bar, Vinoteca Quattro, has 25 wines by the glass. Try the spa Happy Hour (Monday-Thursday 12:00-6:30), when fun treatments like a Watermelon Vodkatini Body Scrub are offered; you’ll be treated to a body polish comprised of Square One vodka, fresh watermelon and basil oil, and afterward you’ll get to indulge in a similar adult beverage. February rates start at $229 a night.

Pool at the Four Seasons Hotel Houston
Pool at the Four Seasons Hotel Houston

The St. Regis Houston: This luxury hotel prides itself on its Southern-style hospitality, and with butler service and afternoon tea, a stay here is a bit like stepping back in time. The 232 classic and elegant guestrooms start at 500 square feet and include floor-to-ceiling windows, pillow-top mattresses, and fine Italian linens. The hotel is situated between River Oaks, an exclusive residential area, and the Galleria shopping center. At the hotel’s restaurant, The Remington, the focus is on seasonal, sustainable ingredients and dishes include lobster and pumpkin risotto and bacon-wrapped venison loin. The St. Regis’s legendary butler service includes packing and unpacking, morning tea and coffee delivered to your room, and a traditional shoe shine. The St. Regis also has a holistic spa, a pool and original works of art by California artist Jon Prud’homme. February rates start at $202 for Texas residents and $335 for all other guests.

The afternoon tea room at The St. Regis Houston
The afternoon tea room at The St. Regis Houston

Visa Signature

When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase SapphireInk BoldInk PlusBritish Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One VentureCiti Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors ReserveUS Bank FlexPerksCiti AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.

Hotel Zaza Houston
Hotel Zaza Houston

Hotel ZaZa Houston: Located in Houston’s Museum District, the Hotel ZaZa is walking distance to some of Houston’s most popular  attractions, including the Natural History Museum, the Rice University Campus, and Herman Park. The modern design hotel’s 315 guestrooms include eclectic, globally inspired décor like leopard-print rugs and chandeliers. If you really want to get away, book one of 10 “Concept Suites” that transport guests to settings anywhere from a Parisian apartment to a geisha’s house in Japan. The property features a dramatic pool in a courtyard setting and a sultry, candlelit spa. Monarch, the hotel’s signature restaurant, serves dishes like shrimp ‘n grits and volcano-salt fries. Try to reserve a seat on the terrace, a scenic spot that has views of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Mecom Foundation. WiFi at the ZaZa is complimentary. In February, rates start at $220 a night.

Exterior of The Houstonian Hotel Club & Spa
Exterior of The Houstonian Hotel Club & Spa

The Houstonian Hotel Club & Spa: This historic hotel is surrounded by the city’s biggest parkland area; paired with lush wooded views and three pools, the hotel provides a true oasis in the city. Each of the property’s 289 guestrooms have plush bedding, floor-to-ceiling windows, and rustic-chic furnishings. The Houstonian has several restaurants, including Mediterranean-inspired Olivette, upscale lunch spot Manor House and the new al fresco Arbor Grill, which serves healthy offerings like grilled veggie wraps, as well as fresh strawberry margaritas. Private shuttles take guests to the nearby Uptown area and the Galleria Shopping Center. Guests also get access to the world-class Houstonian Fitness Club, a 30-year-old membership-only club that offers group fitness classes, racquetball and aquatics. In February, rates start at $189 a night.

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