Itinerant Fan

Houston city guide

Home to four professional teams in the five major leagues, Houston has a significant place in the nation’s sports scene — and its profile is ever-growing. Space City (or Clutch City, if you’re a hoops fan) played host to the 2016 NCAA Final Four and, 10 months later, hosted Super Bowl LI — the third time the big game was played in Houston.

There are plenty of reasons for the sports fan to visit Houston. There are also plenty of things to do when the games aren’t going on. Read on to explore all the happenings in Texas’ largest city.


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The landscape

Houston is a spread-out city, but its sporting landscape isn’t quite so spread out. Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park are both downtown, with BBVA Compass Stadium not far away (all three venues are within reasonable walking distance of each other). About seven miles south of downtown is NRG Stadium, the city’s behemoth football venue. You’ll get a sense of how large it is when you spot the Astrodome, the one-time “Eighth Wonder of the World,” next to it, looking completely dwarfed.

For some more Houston sports history, head a few miles west of downtown along the Southwest Freeway (U.S. 59), where you’ll see a large but rather nondescript-looking building called the Lakewood Church straddling the north side. This building was once known as the Summit, and it was the home of the Rockets before Toyota Center was built and hosted the franchise’s two NBA championship years, 1994 and ’95.

The venues
BBVA Compass Stadium: Home of the Dynamo. Located at 2200 Texas Avenue in East Downtown.
Minute Maid Park: Home of the Astros. Located at 501 Crawford Street downtown.
NRG Stadium: Recently renamed from Reliant Stadium; home of the Texans. Located at One Reliant Park.
Toyota Center: Home of the Rockets. Located at 1510 Polk Street downtown.

Minute Maid Park

Minute Maid Park

The strategies

Getting in
Houston has two major airports. George Bush Intercontinental (IAH) lies about 20 miles north of downtown and is a United Airlines hub, while Houston Hobby (HOU) lies about 10 miles southeast and is largely served by Southwest. Buses, shared-ride vans and taxis are available from both airports for those who don’t have access to cars.

The city is served by Amtrak, with a station just outside the downtown area at 902 Washington Avenue. One route runs through the city, the Sunset Limited that travels between New Orleans and Los Angeles.

Bus service to and from Houston is offered by Greyhound (its station is at 2121 Main Street), and by Megabus, which has three departure/arrival points around the region, depending on the route. Both companies offer service to major Texas cities and beyond.

For drivers, the major routes into Houston are Interstate 10, which leads west to San Antonio and east to New Orleans, and I-45, which offers a direct link to Dallas about 3 1/2 hours to the northwest.

Where to stay
Houston is a spread-out city with several popular hubs of activity, so where in the region you choose to stay can be as much a function of where you plan to spend your time as it is price. Downtown is a convenient spot for Toyota Center, Minute Maid Park and BBVA Compass Stadium, but for NRG Stadium, a better bet is the Medical Center area of town just north of the venue.

Another section of the city worth exploring for hotels is near the Galleria, an upscale shopping mall that has many familiar brand-name hotels nearby.

Getting around
Houston is a fairly car-centric city, but its network of streets and highways isn’t difficult to navigate. The downtown area is surrounded on all sides by freeways, and nearly all points of interest are within a few miles of a freeway exit.

The city also has a light rail system known as METRORail, which consists of three lines. All of Houston’s sports venues can be accessed via light rail — get off at Bell (Red Line) for Toyota Center, Convention District (Green and Purple lines) for Minute Maid Park, EaDo/Stadium (Green and Purple lines) for BBVA Compass Stadium and Reliant Park (Red Line) for NRG Stadium.

Parking
Because they’re located downtown, the parking options for Minute Maid Park, BBVA Compass Stadium and Toyota Center consist of venue/team-owned lots and private lots and structures. Minute Maid Park and BBVA Compass Stadium share two large parking lots that sit between the two venues. Toyota Center operates its own parking garage that is connected to the arena by a pedestrian skybridge.

At NRG Stadium, there is a wide expanse of parking as part of NRG Park, the complex that also houses the Astrodome and other buildings. You’ll also find other lots west of the stadium, across Kirby Drive.

George R. Brown Convention Center

George R. Brown Convention Center

The extras

Local attractions
As befitting the largest city in Texas, Houston is home to the world’s largest livestock show. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo takes place every March at NRG Park, and it’s more than just horses and cattle — there’s a concert series that runs the length of the festival as well.

Houston has an extensive museum scene, with most of them concentrated in the Museum District southwest of downtown. The most popular ones include the Museum of Fine Arts, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Houston Zoo.

Johnson Space Center (photo from destination360.com)

Johnson Space Center (photo from destination360.com)

Explore space
The Johnson Space Center is one of Houston’s top visitor attractions, drawing nearly 1 million visitors to the adjacent Space Center Houston, from which tours of the NASA complex begin. Explore the history of the U.S. space program at the two facilities, view the mission control room (why astronauts always refer to “Houston”), see a replica Space Shuttle and more.

Houston’s eats
From Texas BBQ to Tex-Mex to Gulf seafood to Chinese and Vietnamese food, Houston offers a wide array of food choices. It has been called the “Dining Out Capital of the Nation” for its residents’ propensity for eating out.

Here are a few of the city’s more well-known eateries worth checking out:

The Breakfast Klub (3711 Travis St.): Known primarily for that soul-food favorite, chicken and waffles, it’s open only during breakfast and lunch hours (as its name suggests). Not long after signing with the Rockets, Dwight Howard picked up the tab for the entire restaurant one morning in July 2013.
Brennan’s of Houston (3300 Smith St.): This sister restaurant of a New Orleans institution offers up Creole specialties.
Goode Company BBQ (several locations; original at 5109 Kirby Dr.): Brisket, ribs, sausages and more — this chain is one of the most well-known purveyors of Texas BBQ in the city.
Hugo’s (1600 Westheimer Road): A good spot to sample Mexican fare and margaritas.
Taste of Texas (10505 Katy Freeway): Giant steaks are the norm at this restaurant that houses its own butcher shop.

More sports
Houston is home to two universities with major athletic programs, the University of Houston and Rice University. The Houston football program, which competes in the American Athletic Conference, is occasionally a threat to break into the “New Year’s Six” bowl games (as it did in 2015), and its basketball program is known for the “Phi Slamma Jamma” days of the early 1980s, when Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler played for them.

College Station, home of the Texas A&M Aggies, is about a two-hour drive to the northwest.

The Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League plays its home games at BBVA Compass Stadium.

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