Houston is massive so you will need to do some planning to find the best Houston neighborhoods. The U.S. Census Bureau defines the 10-county greater Houston region as just under 9,000 square miles; that’s bigger than the state of New Jersey. Locals refer to the Houston neighborhoods inside of 610 as “inside the loop.” Outside the loop, suburbs sprawl in every direction. Most of the attractions, hotels, and restaurants we’ve highlighted here occur inside the loop, although outdoor recreation opportunities abound in the areas skirting central Houston. Downtown includes the Central Business District and the Theater District. Going counterclockwise from Downtown, the up-and-coming Midtown lies just southwest of downtown. Moving west is funky, diverse Montrose with shopping, restaurants and several city parks. Next, the mansions of River Oaks—one of the wealthiest zip codes in the nation and home to socialite Joanne Herring whose story was told in the Tom Hanks movie, Charlie Wilson’s War. Memorial and Memorial Park lie just north of River Oaks. Next is Uptown with the world-famous Galleria, just outside the 610 West loop. These Houston neighborhoods all occur north of Highway 59 (the Southwest Freeway). Continuing in a circular pattern, just south of 59 and Uptown lies Bellaire and Chinatown. Moving east from there, you’ll arrive in West University Place near Rice University with its own share of amply sized homes, Rice Village, the Museum District and the Texas Medical Center. East of these locales lies both the Greater Third Ward and East End, not typically visited by travelers. The historic and artsy Heights is the most northern neighborhood inside the loop, just west of I-45. Like we said—it’s a big city.
Investors have spent billions reinvigorating central Houston neighborhoods—which include the Central Business District and its 45 skyscrapers. The area is home to the world-class Theater District, Bayou Place Entertainment Complex, the brand-new 12-acre Discovery Green Park, the George R. Brown Convention Center as well as venues for Houston’s sports teams: Minute Maid Park (home to the Astros) and the Toyota Center (where the Rockets and Aeros play). Many don’t know that Houston has the second most theater seats in one location, behind Broadway in New York City. The city has resident performing ballet, opera, theater, and symphony companies, which perform at the Wortham Theater, Alley Theater, Jones Hall and the Hobby Center. Houston also brings in Broadway shows and other visiting productions. Part of the renovation has been spent beautifying Buffalo Bayou, including the Sabine-to-Bagby Promenade with its hike-and-bike trails along the bayou, and canoe-and-kayak trail in the bayou.
Houston’s Museum District includes 17 museums, the 50-acre Houston Zoo, and the 445-acre Hermann Park—which includes the lovely hilly, grassy area with picnic tables near the Miller Outdoor Theater, a Japanese garden, and a 740-foot long reflection pool. Some of the most popular museums include the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Holocaust Museum, and the Children’s Museum (which is phenomenal), and the most visited Health Museum in the nation. The Natural Science museum has an IMAX theater and Planetarium, as well as permanent and travel exhibits. On Friday night during summer, they have a fun Mixers and Elixirs, where you catch an IMAX movie and mingle, with cocktails. Right around the corner is the massive Texas Medical Center complex with 49 different institutions, including two medical schools, world-renowned hospitals, and biomedical research centers.
Montrose is to Houston what present-day Hollywood is to Los Angeles—in vogue and eccentric and sometimes like a walk on the wild side, especially on the Westheimer Curve. Montrose has a large Hispanic and gay population and everything from funky boutique shops and fine dining to tattoo parlors and jumping nightlife. Contrast this with the presence of the finest private art collection in the nation, The Menil, and the famed Rothko Chapel which also reside in Montrose.
Historic Houston Heights is rumored to have the highest concentration of artists in Texas. The funky, hip Houston neighborhood has many Victorian homes, which date to the 1800s. In fact, over 117 spots in the Heights have listings in the National Register of Historic Places. Although it’s residential, many of the homes are now shops, antique stores, bed & breakfasts or foodie joints. The main drag is on 19th Street, although shops spill onto other avenues. On the first Saturday of every month, they have a great ‘First Saturday Arts Market’ with live music, local arts and crafts, and more.
Trendy Midtown has blossomed over the past decade, since developers turned abandoned buildings into trendy loft apartments. Midtown is home to celebrity chef Monica Pope’s t’afia restaurant, plus the Midtown Farmer’s Market she started, art galleries, and shops. The Ensemble, the oldest professional African American theater in the southwest, is in Midtown, as well as the Center for Contemporary Craft. At night, it’s a hot scene for nightlife.
You may not find the up-and-coming EaDo labeled on many maps yet. EaDo refers to ‘East Downtown’ and lies due northwest of the University of Houston. Home of Houston’s original Chinatown, most Asians had left the area and moved to its present locale near Bellaire, and this area started to fall into disarray. Developers and investors have recently rebranded this Houston neighborhood and shops and restaurants are jumping at the low rent. EaDo’s Management District dubs it the “art and soul of the city.”