AOL PICK from our Editors
You can find anything your heart desires when you're shopping in Houston, and people come from all over the world to shop at the 3-million square foot Houston Galleria with its flagship Neiman Marcus and Saks, plus premier boutiques like Gucci and Fendi. Rice Village and River Oaks have many—though not all—of the same stores but outside of a shopping mall. The Greater Houston area has many shopping malls, but for a more eclectic experience we recommend Houston shopping in the antique and artsy stores in the Heights, boutiques in Montrose and River Oaks or even Midtown. To the north of the city up I-45, The Woodlands Market Street is a lot of fun, and north of that (40 miles north of downtown) is the Conroe Outlet Center. Don’t miss the Heights Saturday Markets for eclectic local artists’ crafts and artwork on the first Saturdays of every month. And even though you’re traveling, you should not miss the Midtown Farmer’s Market especially since it gives you a chance to visit t’afia and Monica Pope’s free Green Plum Cooking School, which starts at 9:30AM (arrive 30 minutes early to get a number). And then there’s Harwin Drive, where you can find knockoffs of designer purses, plus electronics and other products straight from Asia while on your Houston shopping expedition.
Neighborhood: Rice Village
Near Rice University, the Rice Village core covers ten blocks and has over 300 shops plus dozens of hip restaurants and pubs. From chains such as the Gap and Banana Republic to independently owned boutiques, you can enjoy Houston's shopping scene all day without getting bored. Candylicious’ display of treats from around the world will make your eyes pop, and the Chocolate Bar next door makes it own gourmet treats. D’Amicos Italian Market Café’s weekday lunch special includes three different foods in one plate for just $6.95—and it’s excellent. For something entirely different, visit the Naked Body and Bath for a free foot soak complete with bath bomb in this locally-owned boutique that sells create-your-own scented lotions, potions, and perfumes using natural ingredients. Project Runway fans will want to stop at Lot 8, since owner Chloe Dao starred in season two. The online Rice Village map is a bit outdated, as some shops and restaurants have changed, but it will still help you orient yourself to the area before you start shopping.
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The Galleria is to Houston what Rodeo Drive is to Beverly Hills. It has every store you can imagine, from Abercrombie to Zara’s and from Ferragamo and Fendi to Charming Charlie and Payless. If you’re feeling sporty, head to the lowest level of this four-story mall and slip on some skates at Polar Ice rink—made famous by Olympian Tara Lipinski who trained here. The Galleria has 375 stores, two hotels, a private health club, and the Galleria Office Towers complex. Park near Macy’s off of Westheimer, near Nordstrom off Hidalgo, or pay just $5 for valet near Neiman Marcus.
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Every Saturday morning, you’ll find a panoply of colorful vegetables sold by vendors just outside of Chef Monica Pope’s t’afia Restaurant. Besides feasting your eyes on the colorful vendor’s displays of locally grown vegetables, eggs, and homemade cheeses, you can also find natural lotions, jams, dips, and other gifts to bring back home. It’s also the only place to buy squares of absolutely divine Brown Paper Chocolate (words cannot explain the experience—you simply have to try it). Simply put, this is a unique experience you can only get while shopping in Houston. During the Saturday market, Pope teaches a free cooking class—the Green Plum Cooking School—in the upstairs room of t’afia at 9:30AM—the only catch is that you need to arrive early enough to get a number (usually if you get there by 9AM, you can nab a spot).
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Neighborhood: River Oaks
Home to celebrities and socialites, some Houston visitors spend time driving around and gawking at the River Oaks mansions, but this upscale area is jam-packed with established (if slightly more mature) shopping options as well, like Talbot’s, Jos A. Bank, and Chico’s, as well as individually owned boutiques. The River Oaks Shopping Center has 76 shops and several restaurants, mostly along West Gray. If you're on a Houston shopping mission, check out Em & Lee’s, a fun juniors boutique where you can shop without emptying your wallet. Or stop into the higher-end 301 Rosemont, which has a free full-on stocked liquor bar so you can sip while you shop at the jeans bar, featuring nearly 100 different brands. Sales staff are friendly and don’t mind if you shop and don’t buy. The River Oaks Shopping Center has two Starbuck’s directly across the street from one another—one on Gray and one on West Gray— distinct enough to earn a mention in one of comedian Lewis Black’s skits. Guess what? There’s a third one around the corner in the new Barnes & Noble bookstore.
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Situated in the southwest part of Houston in a no-frills location, Harwin is known mostly to locals and is the place to go for inexpensive knock-offs of designer handbags, perfumes, electronics, rugs, clothing and more. You can purchase a Coach purse costing only five to fifty bucks that would run you $1,500 at the Galleria. Vendors sell right on the street or in warehouses and back rooms. To gain access to the private rooms with more items not publicly displayed, the code word is apparently to ask if they “sell Chanels.” A whopping 300 stores are here, all with no dressing rooms or bathrooms available. You can haggle with the vendors; in fact it’s expected if you're shopping in Houston's Harwin Drive. Saturdays are the busiest, but you can shop Harwin every day of the week. Bring cash or checks. Most stores do not accept credit cards.
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