Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” These were the first words Neil Armstrong spoke when the Apollo 11 mission successfully landed on the moon in 1969. It created history and sealed the future for Houston, Texas.
The city, which has a 2010 population of 2.1 million, has a very mixed cultural heritage, being home to several ethnic groups. Majority of these are Whites and Latinos. Blacks and African-Americans, Native Americans, Europeans, Asian, Pacific Islanders and people with mixed heritage all find a place to settle in Houston’s 1,700 square kilometers of land area. Houston, the largest city in the state of Texas and the fourth largest city in the whole continental United States, has a growing international community and is home to some of Fortune 500 companies.
Houston is a melting pot of races and culture and each one has its own spot in the city. There are about 500 visual, cultural and performing arts organization in the city, with a large number focused on minority and multicultural arts. Houston is also a multi-language city, with about 90 languages spoken here. Although two-thirds of the population speaks English, a large section of the populace or 29% speak Spanish as their first language. The city comprises three counties, Harris County, Montgomery and Fort Bend.
The city is the seat of Harris County and lies in the northern part of the coastal plain of the Texas Gulf coast and 50 miles away from the Gulf of Mexico. The coastal areas are sand and prairie while the western and southern parts are largely prairie grassland areas. Forests cover most of the eastern and northern parts of the city. River, lakes, man-made canals and an extensive bayou system control the rainwater runoff in Houston. While the city has 86 active faults extending for some 149 miles, the clay beneath the surface prevents pressure buildup so Houston is free from earthquakes. The clay and sediments from the Rocky Mountains’ erosion compacted and solidified into porous layers over time, trapping oil and gas and brought these up to the surface.
The city is served by four airports. George Bush Intercontinental Airport and the William P. Hobby Airport (Houston International Airport) are commercial airports, while Ellington Field and Sugar Land Regional Airport are smaller airports that serve government, general aviation, non-passenger commercial flights and corporate aircraft. It is also serviced by Amtrak, Greyhound Bus and El Expreso from Mexico.
Houstonians love to eat out and there is an array of restaurants that cater to almost any taste. Tex-Mex, Texas steaks, seafood from the Gulf Coast, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Korean and Thai are just some of the local and international cuisine that you can order from the restaurants in Houston. You could also enjoy plenty of fresh farm produce including succulent peaches, watermelons and strawberries, together with a slice of local cheese and a mug or two of local beer brewed by the Saint Arnold Brewery. Some of the brews are only available at certain times of the year, like the Texas Wheat, Oktoberfest that is served from August until October and the Christmas Ale, which is available from November and December. When ordering seafood, try the local specialties like catfish, crawfish, blackfin tuna, grouper, tilefish, red snapper, black drum and almaco jack, as well as shrimps and blue crabs.
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After training and thorough background checks, residents of Houston are allowed to carry firearms and they act responsibly. Petty crimes do happen, just like in other cities, but is not related to those who are licensed to carry firearms. While you are in the city, do exercise caution as you would anywhere else and avoid deserted streets particularly at night. Remain safe by wearing less-valuable items of jewelry if necessary and keep your purses and other belongings close to your body while touring. Valuables are best stored in a hotel safe or left at home.
Before coming to Houston know that the climate in the city is classified humid tropical, which is like the climate in Manila in the Philippines and in Central America. The city receives about 51 inches of rain a year, and is prone to tropical cyclones during the hurricane season from June to November and severe weather disturbances cause flooding at times. Snow does not fall in Houston, although there are cold and chilling winds, as well as freezing rain or ice storms in December. The city has an average of 204 days of glorious sunshine but the spring weather can turn nasty when supercell thunderstorms bring tornadoes.
Spring is from late March until May where the average temperature during the day is between 24°C and 27.8 °C or 75 °F and 82 °F. Evening temperature goes down and could be somewhere between 13.3 °C and 17.8 °C or 56 °F and 64 °F. Lightning shows are frequent in Houston spring and mosquitoes and butterflies come back to the city. Summer is from June to August with July being the warmest month, when temperatures can go over 34 °C or 93 °F. On the average the summer temperature is within the 32 °C or 90 °F range for about 99 days. Summer in Houston is characterized by hot and humid weather when scattered thunderstorms and showers are frequent in the afternoons and relative humidity is around 90% in the morning and lowers slightly to about 60% in the evening. Autumn begins in September and lasts until November. It is a warm autumn in Houston with daytime temperatures averaging between 20 °C and 28 °C or 68 °F and 82 °F and between 10 °C and 17 °C or 50 °F and 63 °F at night. January is the coldest month in the mild and temperate months of winter, which starts in December and ends in the middle of March. There are 18 days during winter when the city experiences freezing temperatures, with the thermometer dipping to 2.2 °C or just 36 °F. January low temperature average is around 6.2 °C or 43.2 °F and an average high of 17.2 °C or 63 °F.
The Republic of Texas being an independent country came about during the end of the Texas Revolution at the Battle of San Jacinto. The leader of the Texan Army was General Sam Houston, who defeated the Mexican forces led by Mexican President General Antonio López de Santa Anna, in a battle that lasted only 18 minutes. San Jacinto is the location of present-day Harris County. That crucial battle on April 21, 1836 caused the death of 630 Mexican soldiers and the capture of 730 while only nine soldiers perished on the Texas side.
New Yorkers Augustus Chapman Allen and his brother John Kirby were real estate entrepreneurs who purchased about 26.88 square kilometers of land in Buffalo Bayou in August 1836. Their real intent was to create a city, which they eventually named after General Sam Houston, hero of the San Jacinto Battle, who became the Texan president in September of the same year. It was on the 5th of June in 1837 that the new city was incorporated and became the provisional capital of the Texan Republic, with James S. Holman as its first mayor. With a new port on Buffalo Bayou, the business community established a commercial chamber in 1840 to boost the shipping industry and other water-based businesses.
By 1860 cotton became a prime commodity and a major export product of Houston and the city became the commercial hub for the export trade with its extensive railroad system. After the American Civil War, the considerable network of bayous in the city was exploited by businessmen to increase commerce between Houston and the port in Galveston and by 1890, the city is already the country’s railroad center.
Houston’s port was turned into a deepwater port due to the devastation of the port in Galveston in 1900 and with the discovery of oil in Beaumont and the advancement of the petroleum industry in Texas, the Houston Port became an essential part of the industry’s growth, able to receive larger ships and thereby increasing the population of the city. Thirty years after the port was deepened, the city has turned into the highest populated area in Texas. Manufacturing plants and petrochemical refineries were built along the ship artery when shipping activities slowed down during the Second World War, supplying synthetic rubber products and petroleum.
The country’s largest medical complex, Texas Medical Center was established in 1945 by the M.D. Anderson Foundation. Houston went back to being a port-driven economy after the war although the size of the city was doubled with the annexation of unincorporated areas. The shipbuilding industry increased its production after the Second World War and brought an increased economic growth to Houston. NASA’s fully-manned spacecraft center was established in 1961, spurring the aerospace industry in Houston. The city made good progress and economy was so healthy during the 60s. The Astrodome, the first sports stadium with a dome that was built indoors was inaugurated in 1965. The city’s population also increased as people came to Houston for employment in large manufacturing firms specializing in industrial and heavy consumer products including transportation. Houston and more workers benefited during the embargo on Arabian oil as the country’s oil industry flourished.
The city did suffer a recession during the late 1980s when the prices of oil went down, and the disintegration of Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986 also affected the space industry. The city made efforts for economic diversity and focused more on health care and biotechnology as well as the aerospace industry.
The current population of Houston is 2,099,451 according to the census done in 2010. Persons under 18 account for 25.9% of the population, with 9% aged 65 years and over. About 8.1% of the residents are under the age of five. Females account for 49.8%. Median age is placed at 33 years.
According to the 2010 census, about 50.5% of the population comprises Whites and 23.7% are Blacks/African-Americans. The Alaskan natives and American Indians account for 0.7%, while about 6% are Asians. Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians make up only 0.1%. From these figures, about 3.3% reported coming from two or more races. Those with Hispanic or Latino origin comprise 43.8% while those who are White but not Hispanic account for 25.6%. Puerto Ricans, Salvadoran, Colombian, Honduran, Guatemalan and Mexican are some of the Hispanic groups living in Houston.
English is the lingua franca in Houston but a large part of the population speaks Spanish. In a city where people speak more than 90 languages, it is inevitable that you would encounter one that speaks your native tongue. However, if you are an English speaker and wants to reach out to the different communities in Houston, it is best to learn at least Spanish or use a professional translator and/or an interpreter for accurate translation when you want to establish a business in the city.
Nearly half of the population of Houston has religious affiliation. 20% of the population is of the Catholic faith while 0.58% is affiliated with the Latter Day Saints. Other Christian religions such as Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Episcopalian and Baptist have about 2.28% following. The Jewish faith has about 0.88% following while Buddhism and other Eastern religions are followed by 0.04%. Islam is followed by 1.29% of the population.
The city has about 40 institutions of higher learning. Rice University is famous as a research university where the undergraduates are some of the most select in the United States. The University of Houston is equally noted for being a research university and ranks as one of the Top 50 American Research Universities and the third largest in the State of Texas. There are three community colleges in Houston, two of which belong to America’s 10 largest institutions of higher learning.
The internationally-famous Texas Medical Center, based in Houston is the largest research and healthcare institution in the world and provides employment for over 73,600 people. The system provides research, education as well as patient and preventive care to local, national and international communities and comprises two medical schools, four nursing schools, 13 hospitals, schools of dentistry, pharmacy, public health and two specialty institutions. This is where Life Flight, the air emergency service, the first one in the world, originated.
Informally, Houston is called the energy center of the world because of its booming energy industry, its major income earner, although the aerospace and biomedical research industries are not far behind. Its strong economy is backed by several industries that have been established after 1945. It has the world’s largest petrochemical manufacturing area, where insecticides, fertilizers, resin, metals and synthetic rubber are manufactured. It also leads in building equipment used in oilfields. Overall the city has 3,000 establishments that are energy-related with some of the world’s top gas and oil exploration and production companies.
Twenty-three companies on the Fortune 500 list are in Houston as of 2011. Manufacturing firms in Houston number around 10,700 and the city has been ranked by Industry Week Magazine as a Gold Medal World-Class Community for Manufacturing for four years in a row. There are over 5,000 energy companies in Houston and the city leads in all segments of the gas and oil industry from exploration, production, transmission, offshore drilling, technology, service, supply and even marketing. Thirteen of the 20 largest natural gas transmission companies in the United States are in Houston and it also is home to over 170 pipeline operators and 600 exploration and production companies. The Port of Houston plays a very large part in the development of the gas and oil and other petrochemical industries in Houston.
The city also has a well-established coffee industry that adds to the city’s coffers. Tourism in the city is also booming and more attractions are being developed to bring more visitors to the city. Local, national and international conventions and conferences increase the city’s revenues and so too its increasing retail trade.
Houston is a large city that does not have formal zoning. Therefore you might find areas that are sparsely populated compared to others that are teeming with residential homes and a multitude of business offices and tall buildings. Being a melting pot of races and its historic beginnings, the city is a center of business and entertainment. It is among the few American cities with professional and permanent resident companies in major art disciplines – opera, musicals, theater, symphony and ballet, with over 500 visual, performing and cultural arts organizations.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is Texas’ largest art museum and one of the largest in the United States, with a permanent collection that spans about 6,000 years. Its collection came from six continents and number more than 63,000 items. It is also the oldest art museum in the State of Texas. The various programs organized by the museum benefit more than 1.25 million residents of Houston annually.
Its well-developed arts scene is truly showcased in the theater district of Houston that encompasses 17 blocks, offering 12,000 seats, ranking second to New York. So if you are a patron of the arts, Houston will be a perfect destination for you. If you are after cultural arts and want to view Houston’s multicultural heritage, there are so many places you can visit that will give you a good glimpse of the lives of different ethnicities. Asia Society Texas Center just opened in the spring of 2012 and includes an art gallery, classroom and conference room, a theater, spaces for public receptions, gift shop, café and three gardens.
Also recently opened is the Houston Museum of African American Culture. The Ensemble Theatre on the other hand is the largest and oldest African American theater in the Southwest while the Talento Bilingue de Houston, is a bilingual theater group that organizes ballet folklorico, art exhibits, festivals and video and film productions. The Gente de Teatro performs mainly for the Hispanic community of Houston.
Events and exhibitions celebrating the culture of Slovakia, Silesia, Moravia and Bohemia are seen at the Czech Cultural Center. There is a museum, genealogy resources, library, chapel, archives and language classes in the center. Rare porcelain and glass items that were produced only for 20 years are on exhibit at the museum as well as beautiful glass, pottery, antique furniture, folk costumes, jewelry and crystals from the Czech Republic.
Cowboys are part of life in Texas and Houston is no exception. The American Cowboy Museum preserves this heritage of Hispanics, women, Blacks and Native Americans with tours and exhibits, including oral historians to regale you with lectures and stories as well as hands-on activities, made more authentic as they are dressed in native costumes.
The honor and legacy of African-American soldiers are preserved at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, the only museum in the United Stated built for such a purpose. The ferocious fighters from the 10th cavalry were called by the Cheyenne warriors as Buffalo Soldiers in 1867 and the name stuck and became the moniker of all soldiers of African-American heritage.
A temple that also functions as a Buddhist research and study center for educational institutions such as St. John’s School, the University of Texas, the University of Houston and Rice University is the Jade Buddha Temple located in southwest Houston.
Arab resources, language lessons, museum and different programs and activities showcasing the heritage of Arab-Americans are the focus of the Arab-American Cultural and Community Center. If you are interested in exploring the Asian culture in Houston that ranges from calligraphy to food tasting to even lessons in herbology, join the Asian Heritage Tours.
Souvenir items are plentiful in Houston. If you are a collector of one-of-a-kind items, you might want to drop by Casa Ramirez where you would find these types of items from Mexico, Peru, Guatemala and other Spanish-speaking countries. There is also the Ten Thousand Villages, a market that sells items from Africa, Middle East, Asia and Central America.
Houston boasts of about 18 museums scattered around the city limits. The Menil Collection features 16,000 items in four separate displays – Antiquity, Tribal, Twentieth-Century, Medieval and Byzantine art. Fine examples of modern art are shown at the museum of the Rothko Chapel. For something truly unique, jaw-dropping and avant-garde, head over to the Art Car Museum. Unique gifts and books as well as new works of art by international and national artists are available at the Contemporary Arts Museum while nostalgia and moments of sadness might be what you will experience when you visit the Holocaust Museum Houston. Contemporary art pieces are on display in different art galleries and museums such as the Houston Center for Contemporary Crafts, Station Museum, Lawndale Art Center, Project Row Houses, Heritage Society Museum, Houston Center for Photography and Blaffer Art Museum.
After a massive dose of cultural experience you might want to rest a bit and enjoy the outdoors. The city has several water parks, lakes, beaches and splash zones that provide locals and visitors with a very welcome respite from the summer heat, such as Gateway Fountain at Discovery Green, Pirates Bay at Baytown, Wake Nation, Sylvan Beach Park and Palm Beach at Moody Gardens, There’s also Splash Town, Schlitterbahn Galveston Island, Gene Green Beltway 8 Park, Bane Park, McClendon Park and Edna Mae Washington Park. Numerous water-related activities are offered in these parks and beaches, including jets of cooling water, water slides, wakeboarding and interesting features that spray water.
The city of Houston encourages people to keep healthy and has provided numerous and scenic bike trails. Even some buses are equipped with storage area to transport cyclists and their bikes to different city locations. Bike rentals are also available for visitors and temporary residents.
Houston also encourages people to go out and have fun outdoors and there are numerous areas where you can have a quiet stroll, view live entertainment, dine and shop and to just simply enjoy the cityscape particularly when the sun is about to set, to see the changing colors of the buildings, fixtures, landmarks and trees around the city as the waning sunlight bathes the city in a warm golden color. The Armand Bayou Nature Center has guided tours. Hiking trails, early-morning canoe rides, 1890s farm life, Bison Observation Deck, moonlight cruises, hayrides and the chance to see nocturnal animals such as armadillos and raccoons are some of the things you are bound to experience when you visit the center and sign up for a tour.
Six million annual visitors definitely find Hermann Park a wonderful place to spend quality time. The park is right smack in the middle of Rice University, the Houston Medical Center and the Museum District. It sits on a 445-acre urban area and has several features for the young and old. There are rides on antique miniature trains, paddle boats on Lake McGovern, picnic areas, an 18-hole golf course and an amphitheater for live shows. The Houston Zoo is also located in Hermann Park. It showcases over 4,500 animals from around the globe, including big cats, primates, Asian elephants, rhinos, giraffes, cheetahs and other African animals.
You might also want to experience a different view of Houston by touring the Buffalo Bayou in a canoe or a kayak. This is the bayou where the founders of Houston, the Allen brothers John and August landed in 1836. You could also take walks at the Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Garden where native and cultivated plants are collected and provides a habitat for local flora and fauna.
Buildings created in different architectural styles are also plentiful. There are the art deco buildings like the 32-story JPMorgan Chase Building, Houston City Hall, and the River Oaks Shopping Center. Modern skyscrapers that give a wonderful contrast against the blue skyline are Pennzoil Place and the Menil Collection among others. The Bank of America Center is Gothic-inspired while Rice University is an example of Neo-Byzantine architecture.
Dedicated to the 10th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon, the Tranquility Park was created in honor of the moon’s Sea of Tranquility. The park has depressions and mounds that emulate the surface of the moon and Neil Armstrong’s first words in several languages are engraved on plaques located at the park’s entrance. Of course if you are only in Houston for a short vacation, you should visit the Space Center Houston. It’s the visitors’ center of NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Here you will see hardware and artifacts from different spacecrafts such as Mercury 9, Gemini 5, Apollo 17, the Lunar Rover trainer and Skylab trainer mock-up. There are also artifacts from Saturn V and Lunar Module. Aside from these there are play spaces for children, large-format theaters and Level 9 tours.
Being a multicultural city, Houston is very eclectic when it comes to its culture, festivities and events. This is a city where you will see signs along the streets in different languages. Larger communities like the Chinese have two Chinatowns, with a Little Saigon for the Vietnamese community.
One of the largest events held in Houston is the 20-day annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo from late February to the middle of March. Trail rides, barbecue cook-offs, rodeo events, carnival rides and live concerts are part of the festivities around the event. Towards the end of June the city celebrates the Gay Pride Parade. The Theater District of Houston is second to New York in terms of movie and theater seats. Located in the downtown area, there are six halls for the performance arts and nine performing arts organizations in the city and is one of five cities in the US that have a permanent professional resident companies that take charge of Houston Ballet, Alley Theatre, Houston Grand Opera and Houston Symphony Orchestra. It’s a center for visual arts and a favorite touring place for different groups including those from Broadway, concert performers and exhibitors for a wide range of interests, from auto, boat, guns and homes to arts and crafts like quilting.
The 17 blocks that comprise the Theater District is also a bustling area where you would find the Bayou Place Entertainment Complex, plazas, parks and restaurants, bars and billiard halls.
Houston also has a Museum District that is visited by around 4 million a year, and a number of multicultural arts organizations such as Kuumba House Dance Theatre, Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say and the Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts or MECA.
With over 3,000 parks within the city limits, Houston is a green playground, where you would also be able to visit several museums and halls, including the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Cockrell Butterfly Area, the Memorial Park, George R. Brown Convention Center, the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts and the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts.
A skating rink could be found in the Galleria, the largest shopping mall in Texas in the Old Square Market of the Uptown District of Houston. There’s also the Sam Houston Historical Park and the San Jacinto Battlefield at Deer Park that are worth exploring.
Cars are part of everyday life in Houston and these vehicles also make for one unique event in the city, the staging of the annual Art Car Parade, an event that is best seen to be believed. This is where you would find cars that have been uniquely modified into different wheeled pieces of art, some colorful, some bizarre, some downright funny and some that boggles the mind. You can see this at the neighborhood of Heights. In the inner city neighborhoods of Sunnyside, Acres Homes and South Park is another car culture called SLAB, which is linked to the music of hip-hop artists. Here the cars are customized and restored, mostly those that are manufactured by General Motors such as the Cutlass and Delta 88 models of Oldsmobile, El Dorado, Buick and Cadillac Fleetwood.
The city of Houston is very large and with the absence of formal zoning laws, the number of attractions and things of interest are scattered all over the city. The city, through its history has accumulated quite a number of interesting facts that are good to know and may prove beneficial when you decide to relocate to or just take a vacation in Houston.
- Sam Houston, Texas and Harris County Hero was not a native Texan. He was actually born in Virginia and previously served as governor of Tennessee.
- There are more than 335 parks within Houston and over 145 golf courses.
- Houston is host to 92 countries with consular offices in the city, which ranks third highest in the United States, coming after New York and Los Angeles.
- Professional sports teams represent Houston in hockey, men’s basketball, soccer, football and baseball.
- The world’s largest rodeo, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo attracts more than 1.8 million spectators annually.
- The city has the third-largest Mexican and Hispanic population in the US.
- The Port of Houston is the world’s 10th largest port. It is number one on the United States in terms of international water-borne tonnage and comes in second in terms of handled cargo tonnage.
- It is in the same latitude as Cairo in Egypt.
- It is said that the Williams Tower is the world’s tallest building in the world that is located outside a CBD (central business district).
- There is a seven-mile system of tunnels snaking under the downtown buildings of Houston that is filled with shops and restaurants.