North America

How many names does Houston have!?

Photo credit: Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

There are many nicknames for the city of Houston, the largest city in Texas and fourth-largest city in the United States.

The city’s nicknames reflect its geography, economy, multicultural population, and popular culture, including sports and music.

Houston received its official nickname of “Space City” in 1967 because it is home to NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. The first words transmitted by Neil Armstrong from the moon, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed”, are written in 15 languages on bronze plaques placed along the main entrance of Tranquility Park in downtown Houston.

Houston is also popularly known as “The Bayou City”, “H-Town”, “Magnolia City”, The “Capital of the Sunbelt” (also “Golden Buckle of the Sunbelt”), “Clutch City” but especially as the “Big Heart”, a nickname Houston earned in 2005 / 2006. Houston housed, fed and mended more than 150,000 survivors of Hurricane Katrina in an effort that won acclaim throughout the United States.

It all began in 1836, when Houston was founded on land near the banks of Buffalo Bayou. It was incorporated as a city on June 5, 1837, and named after then President of the Republic of Texas former General Sam Houston, who had commanded at the Battle of San Jacinto.

The burgeoning port and railroad industry, combined with discovering oil in 1901, has induced continual surges in the city’s population.

In the mid-twentieth century, Houston became the home of the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where the Mission Control Center is located.

And BTW, the name Texas comes from the Hasinai Indians. The word means “allies” or “friends.”

If you enjoy the sites, sounds and comings and goings of a big city, rather than New York, Chicago or L.A., you can consider visiting Houston. Why? Touted as one of the best cities in the country to live, work and play, Houston is a thriving urban metropolis that supports some of the most vivid cultural, art and culinary scenes in the country. Perhaps the best thing about Houston is that is Houston …

There are hundreds of things to do in the Houston area, and countless opportunities to be culturally enriched, shop at the best of the best, and find things that are novel and, entertaining and, best of all, new and different.

Being the fourth largest city in the United States, it would take weeks to visit every interesting attraction Houston, so plan your visit and time accordingly. And given that Houston is not New York City, where one tends to know about everything to see and do, do your research. For visitors, its well-endowed museums, highly regarded performing arts scene, and culturally diverse nightlife mean there is always something to do. You will, no doubt, discover many interesting things to see / do that you were not aware of – especially if you are travelling with the kids. Here are some highlights …

Johnson Space Center

The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, home of the NASA astronaut corps, is located in Southeast Houston. The center spans 1,620 acres and consists of 100 facilities. Visitors can experience a simulation of a zero-gravity environment in the Living in Space exhibit, or encounter a virtual rocket launch complete with exhaust at the Blast Off Theater.

George Ranch Historical Park

Houston’s largest living history site, George Ranch Historical Park, aims to educate Texans about their rich history by means of hands-on experiences and costumed interpretations. The George Ranch Historical Park consists of two original homes and two replica homes arranged in chronological order spanning one mile and over 100 years of Texas history. You can visit the Jones Stock Farm of the 1830’s to witness pioneer men tending to the garden or the animals and women weaving or preparing corn for supper. The Davis Mansion, which also acts as a museum, includes the share cropper’s farm, the blacksmith’s shop and a cemetery. George Ranch Park is an outstanding destination for education-based school field trips as well as for casual adult tours. Event space is available to rent and the facility includes a rodeo arena, an open-air pavilion, dance hall, a restored chapel and acres of open space.

Houston Museum District

Photo credit: Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau/Hugh Hargrave

The Houston Museum District refers to the collection of museums, galleries, and cultural centers located within a 1.5 mile radius of Herman Park. The Museum of Fine Arts which also houses the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, boasts a collection of some 56,000 pieces. Just a few blocks away is the John P. McGovern Health Museum which is home to Houston’s first and only 4D theater. Other area attractions include the Holocaust Museum, Houston Center for Photography, and the Lawndale Art Center. Admission at many of the museums is free.

A must visit is the American Cowboy Museum on the Taylor-Stevenson Ranch. The museum was established for the preservation and understanding of western multicultural heritage, introducing groups to the contributions of Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and women to the development and culture of the west. The Taylor-Stevenson Ranch is one of the oldest African American ranches in Texas. The one and a half century old ranch is run by residing descendants, including Mollie Stevenson, Jr., who was one of the first living African Americans inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum Hall of Fame, along with her mother, Mollie Stevenson, Sr.

Old Town Spring

Located in North Houston, Old Town Spring is a community of shops, restaurants, and museums designed to resemble America during the early 1900’s. Take some time to enjoy a nostalgic walk through the town’s many Victorian-style antique shops, or catch a live music performance at the Jailhouse Saloon. There are nearly 150 shops in Old Town Spring with merchandise ranging from Amish collectibles to Shabby Chic home furnishings. Each shop is built in charming Victorian style. Old Town Spring hosts five major events throughout the year including Springfest, the Texas Crawfish and Music Festival and Pet Fest.


Montrose was home to the legendary aviator and film producer Howard Hughes, as well as former U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson. Ishmael author, Daniel Quinn lives and works in the Montrose neighborhood. One of Houston’s most demographically diverse regions, Montrose has become the city’s hub of vintage shopping, live music, and gay and lesbian activism. Restored mansions and bungalows, tree-lined boulevards, and an antique mall make this neighborhood a unique, pedestrian-friendly destination. On Halloween night, the neighborhood hosts the annual Montrose Crawl, a pub crawl that takes place along Westheimer Road.

Discovery Green

Opened in April of 2008, Discovery Green Park is 12 acres of green space in the heart of Downtown. The park’s features include a one-acre lake, an interactive splash pad, an ampitheater, and restaurants. Throughout the year, Discovery Green offers an array of free entertainment and fitness opportunities. Park visitors can join hundreds of others for outdoor Zumba, Yoga and Pilates after a long day at work. On most Saturdays, the entire family can come out for a live musical performance on the sloping grass hill. And from Thanksgiving Day until MLK Jr. Day, the model boat basin at Discovery Green is transformed into an ice-skating rink.

Buffalo Bayou

Buffalo Bayou (Not the same as Bayou Place) is one of Houston’s favorite in-town locations for outdoor recreation. Along the bayou exist several well-maintained parks including Memorial, Allen’s Landing, and Sam Houston Park. This is an unusual opportunity to experience Downtown Houston by way of kayak or canoe along the Bayou. In 2003, the Northside Trail, which stretches from Sesquicentennial Park to UH Downtown, was completed along with the planting of 75 trees. Buffalo Bayou, one of the few bayous left in central Houston, contains over 100 species from three ecosystems including sunflowers, black willow and yaupon holly.

Multicultural Houston

Nine times out of 10, Houstonians describe their city as “diverse” or “international.” With more than 90 consulates and an international business community that continues to grow, Houston truly is an city of international confluences.

Houston’s African American community plays a vital role in the overall culture of the city. From world-renowned arts programs to western multicultural heritage, the influence of this community is strong throughout the city. You may want to visit the Kuumba House Dance Theatre. “Kuumba” is a Swahili word which means “creativity,” and the Kuumba House Dance Theatre performs a repertoire of traditional and contemporary African dance, while the Kuumba House Singers and Drummers perform songs from the African Diaspora enhanced by live drumming and other indigenous instruments. But be sure to visit the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, which is the oldest African-American Baptist Church in Houston. The congregation includes members of many of Antioch’s “first families”.

And a bit off-the-wall …

Photo credit: Sarah Fleming

If you are looking for something to use your (empty) beer can for, the visit the Beer Can House for inspiration! The story goes that a certain Mr Milkovisch in 1968 got the bright idea that an excess number of beer cans would make good house siding, and a folk art legend was born. Milkovisch didn’t stop with the house. You’ll just have to drive by to see his creations. It’s been years in the making …

The Art Car Museum is a private institution dedicated to contemporary art and an exhibition forum for local, national and international artists. Its emphasis is on art cars, other fine arts and artists that are rarely, if ever, acknowledged by other cultural institutions.

Only in Houston can you find a coffin shaped like a Mercedes Benz and a 4,500 lb. hearse that is eight feet high and 19 feet long. The National Museum of Funeral History was founded in 1992 to educate the public and preserve the rich heritage of the funeral industry. Visitors to the museum can explore a 1900s casket factory through original design plans and photographs, or can learn more about embalming during battle in the Civil War Embalming exhibit. As the museum states in its tagline, “Every day above ground is a good one.”

The Sporting Life

If you are a fan of sports, and even if you are not, it’s fun to attend a major league gam e in another city. Except this IS Houston! Consistently ranked as one of the enthusiastic sports towns in the USA, you can witness the sights and sounds (and perhaps a home team win) for yourself.

You can attend a Houston Astros baseball game at Minute Maid Park, where a retractable roof affords fans open-air seating during a sky-blue day or balmy evening.

The Houston Rockets take on basketball competitors at Toyota Center. It’s raucous!

But if you prefer the greens and climes of the outdoors, not far from the city’s skyscrapers are dozens of superb daily-fee facilities. Drive in any direction from downtown, and you will find not oil fields but a number of golf courses set on rolling, wooded lands. With an average annual temperature of 70 degrees and 250 sunny days per year, the weather is ideal for golf, especially in spring and fall.

All-in-all, you could spend 365 days in Houston and still not experience everything this city has to offer. From world-class museums and theaters to family-friendly activities, you may after just a few days want to move here and add one more nickname to this vibrant and pulsating city!

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