Lifestyle and Shopping in Houston
It’s fair to say that the lifestyle in Houston is whatever an individual makes of it, a statement that can only be applied to the most impressive and the most developed metropolises.
With its mild winters and hot summers, Houston is a city that places sports and recreation firmly atop a pedestal. For those who would rather safely relegate themselves to voyeur status, there are countless professional teams to follow and support, but for the expat who places a high priority on the great outdoors, Houston is, arguably, the best American big city to live in.
Local government has spent an obscene amount of time and money on the beautification and maintenance of public space, and the result is 350 well-kept parks, 200 green spaces and over 100 miles (160km) of bike and walking trails. As a result, chances are it won’t be long before expats pinpoint their favourite patch of greenery, and make activities under a big Texan sky part of their daily lives.
That said, for every fitness enthusiast, there is a resident whose lifestyle revolves around something of far greater weight – their stomachs. For many, eating is a sport in itself, an impassioned activity that takes hard work and discipline.
At one point, the New York Times cited that Houstonians dined out more often than any other population in the country. New restaurants are popping up everywhere in Houston, and even if eating out doesn’t suit the bank balance, expats may just as well find themselves joining the masses that migrate to the local farmer’s markets on the weekends for home-grown produce and homemade fare.
In line with the burgeoning emphasis on life’s great tastes, those living in Houston have also developed a cultural conscience. Art galleries are occupying former factory space, downtown Houston is enjoying an architectural breath of fresh air, and the performing arts companies in the city are among the country’s best. The newfound creative spirit in the city is contagious, and expats will likely find themselves incorporating at least some part of it into their routines.
Shopping in Houston
Shopping in Houston is top-notch, as it should be in a city that plays host to over 20 Fortune 500 companies. People have money to spend here, and if even those with a smaller budget can take advantage of the antique markets, outlet malls and seasonal sales.
Though there is nothing akin to Madison Avenue or Oxford Street in Houston, the city is home to the seventh biggest mall in America, The Galleria, and a number of “shopfront neighbourhoods”.
Burberry, Christian Dior, Gucci and all the prominent designer labels can be found in the Galleria, along with all the recognisable department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, the home décor regulars such as IKEA, Crate and Barrel, Williams Sonoma, and the odd high-end specialty boutique. Memorial City is another well-known one-stop shopping centre, though it’s not nearly as ritzy and upmarket.
For expats who prefer a shopping experience with slightly more character, the downtown pavilions can be a nice change of pace, and the areas of Post Oak, Highland Village and Uptown Park also offer a healthy assortment of aisle-cruising options.
Those with an itch for something a little more eclectic should spend some time antique-hunting in the Museum District, where one can also find a smattering of galleries peddling the work of local artists.
And for those who are keen to make a day out of it, Katy Mills Outlet Mall on Interstate 10 is a hotspot for low-cost shopping options that are slightly out of season, or that have ended up as surplus. Nike, Nine West, GAP and Tommy Hilfiger are all outlet residents.
Similarly, the Antique Center of Texas is located just outside the city and boasts 150 dealer spaces, affording patient shoppers the opportunity to go home with something special, and one-of-a-kind.
Eating out in Houston
Houstonians have big personalities, and appropriately big bellies to balance out their egos and their attitudes. Locals love to eat, and after years of a restaurant culture marked by mediocrity, restaurateurs are getting innovative, infusing classic Texan flavours with bits and bobs of the culinary cultures of the eclectic populations that have come to call the city home.
The tree-lined Montrose area is a hotspot for dining establishments, and the recently revitalised downtown area, the Market Square Historic District and Bayou Place, in particular, have also become host to great restaurants and comfortable cafés.
Apart from sampling the local Tex-Mex and barbecue fare, expats should also spend some time partaking in a great local pastime – big breakfasts. Brunch spots are in no short supply, and it won’t be difficult to find a nearby favourite.
Arts and culture in Houston
Expats may be surprised to find that when the dust of relocation settles, the famed cowboy and cattle culture of Houston actually gives way to a thriving artistic community. The city boasts major symphony, theatre, ballet and opera companies of national acclaim, and performances are always on the horizon.
The Wortham Centre, Alley Theatre and Jones Hall frequently play host to the companies, but outdoor venues, like Hermann Park and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in Woodlands, present fantastic opportunities for expats to see a show under the open Texan sky.
For those who prefer the hushed hallways and darkened corridors of museums, Houston has an entire museum district with 18 separate establishments. Ther is a Museum of Fine Art, a Museum of Natural Sciences, a Contemporary Arts Museum and even a Children’s Museum, among others. Admission is reasonable at museums in Houston, and the collections and exhibitions are remarkable.
Needless to say, the tendency to associate Houston with gun-toting, horse-riding hillbillies is far from truth. There is plenty of enriching activities that revolve around the arts for those who consider themselves more “cultured”.
Sport in Houston
Houston is home to ten professional league teams, and a culture of locals that would like nothing better than to drink a beer and watch the game; and that's not to mention the countless collegiate and high school teams that compete at a slightly lower, but no less exciting, level of play.
The Houston Astros (MLB baseball), the Houston Texans (NFL football) and the Houston Rockets (NBA basketball) all clash against opponents in world-class stadiums. Even if one is not a fan of these sports, it’s definitely worthwhile catching a game or two on site just to get a glimpse of the local pastime.
Tickets vary in price, and if entrance to the larger events is too expensive, try attending a continental league baseball game or a women’s game, as fees tend to be less.