Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Take 5 Houston - Spots to Cool Off for Free

1. Along the MetroRail in downtown Houston there are places where water is spritzed into the air, falling along the rail tracks in graceful arcs. We don’t encourage people to get anywhere near the MetroRail tracks (PLEASE DON'T!) but pedestrians and bikers in the area will experience a nice wet breeze walking by at the Main Street Square stop, in addition to other water features along the MetroRail's route.

2. Discovery Green downtown includes a massive splash fountain that’s usually full of kids running through but don’t let your age stop you from enjoying this incredible fountain that makes cooling off so much fun. The water emerges in spurts, but in syncopated times, leaving you guessing which is part of its fun.

3. The Williams Waterwall near the Galleria rises above the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park as a multi-story horseshoe-shaped fountain. It’s both cooling and dramatic (we’re talking TALL) and makes for a great day trip. Visitors can enjoy a picnic in the park, then cool off by the waterfall. Be sure and bring a towel, you will get wet enough. 

4. The Buddy Carruth Playground for All Children is a massive playground within Hermann Park that offers a handicap accessible playground with interactive water play area that’s fabulous. This is a must for young children, but that didn’t stop us adults from jumping in with our kids.

5. We probably shouldn’t mention Tranquility Park downtown because more than likely jumping in this collection of fountains is frowned upon, but on the many visits we’ve had to Houston, particularly in the summer when heat indexes soar, we’ve seen lots of people cooling off in this oasis amid the concrete. Just to be on the safe side, we’ll not post a photo. But here’s another hint, there are fountains all over Houston and if you’re brave enough to “fountain jump,” you can start with Tranquility Park and spend all day visiting others.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hip Houston

           In only a few years Downtown Houston has reinvented itself. Once a place to do business during daylight hours, in addition to some nightlife and the Astros, today downtown Houston owns a thriving shopping and dining scene, the remarkable, sustainable Discovery Green park and hip new places to live and stay overnight.

            The new EmbassySuites is a prime example, sporting fun colors and modern furniture and designs, plus complementary amenities of free Wifi, manager’s reception at night and a full “cooked-to-order” breakfast with friendly, helpful staff. The hotel features 262 all-suite rooms in this hip high-rise, with a sitting area separate from the bedroom, both very comfortable and arranged to accommodate any mood, whether business, entertaining or a family gathering. All rooms offer a kitchenette, sofa bed, MP3 connections and flat-screen TVs with HBO and Showtime.

            Swim through fountains in the indulgent pool or soak in the terrace spa, both of which overlook Discovery Green, the George Brown Convention Center and Minute Maid Park, or work out in the 24-hour fitness center. A shuttle is available to take visitors throughout the downtown area until about 10 p.m. each night.

            Because of the location, visitors should take advantage of Discovery Green and its almost daily activities, whether learning yoga or zumba or listening to a free concert. Also close by is Houston Pavilions, Houston’s Theatre District (fourth largest in the country) and Bayou Place. Houston Pavilions is home to many dining options, including the House of Blues. Since we arrived mid-afternoon, we voted for Guadalajara, another colorful hip spot downtown, and its Happy Hour, enjoying margaritas and appetizers for a discount.

            Along that vein I would recommend “Houston Classic Mexican Recipes” by Erin Hicks Miller (Pelican Publishing), a collection of recipes from the city’s many great Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants.