The largest city in Texas may be faulted for its lack of zoning. But the urban sprawl that marks the brash cosmopolitan landscape of Houston is what makes it such an exciting place to discover. Not only does Houson have a Downtown, it has an Uptown (although it hasn't been called that since the 1970s), a Neartown, a North Loop, a South Loop and a West Loop as well. And that's only in Houston's urban core. East Houston, West Houston and North Houston may not be in on any regular tourist itinerary but they have their unique charms as well. With a population of 2.1 million, Houston is also known as the Space City, an allusion to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center located here. It is also home to large groups of Asian, Arab and Latin American populations.
Don't be fooled by Houston's ultra-modern urban vibe. Sure, make time to visit Space Center Houston, the tourist gateway to the Johnson Space Center and the Chase Tower Observatory, dubbed as the tallest five-sided building in the world. But don't forget to immerse yourself in the art and culture that is distinctly Houston. Check out the unique collections at the Art Car Museum, the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, the Cullen Sculpture Garden and the Rothko Chapel. Bring the kids to the Children's Museum of Houston or to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The family will surely enjoy a day at Hermann Park or Discovery Green, a popular downtown park that features a lake, bandstands for public performances, and multiple recreational areas.
There are restaurants that cater to every taste and budget in Houston. If you're craving some international cuisine like Japanese sushi, Italian antipasti or Vietnamese pho, head out to Montrose in Neartown. For Tex-Mex cuisine, Downtown Houston has plenty of great choices. Washington Street in the Greater Heights area of the North Loop is also home to lively restaurants and a mushrooming night life. More restaurants and bars can also be found at the Rice Village in the South Loop.
Shopping is a joy in Houston since prices are usually lower than in other major U.S. cities. With over 400 malls, good buys can be found at The Galleria Area off I-610. If you're in the market for antiques and artsy furniture, head straight for 19th Street in the Heights. And don't miss the Texas Junk Company if you want authentic cowboy gear like belts, boots and other second-hand goods.