Champagne Lifestyle on a Beer Budget in Houston, Texas
What do most people in Boston or New York City ask me when I say “I’m from Houston, Texas?” Well, it’s usually “Did you ride a horse to school?” or “I’ll bet you have quite the gun collection.” Sorry to burst your bubble, Yanks, but Houston is not some wild-west yonder filled with trigger happy cowboys – in fact, it’s quite the metropolitan big city (fourth-largest population in the U.S., as a matter of fact) – filled with fantastic tres-chic eateries and an evolving cultural community, all at a fraction of the prices on the East Coast!
After almost two years away, I had the pleasure of heading home a few weekends ago to not only visit family but also to reacquaint myself with all the marvelous sights, sounds, and tastes down South. Check out some of the highlights (and money saving tips) I uncovered!
What to see
During my life, I’ve been to a total of five symphony performances. However, I only remained fully awake for one of them (partially because I was seated so close to the front I was afraid to be called out for slumbering). I was afraid the same fate would befall me at the Houston Symphony’s “Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy” concert at Jones Hall.
Surprisingly, I got a huge treat! A part of their annual Summer Concert series, the multi-media sold-out show featured classic tunes like “Dancing Mad” (Final Fantasy VI), “Theme of Love” (Final Fantasy IV) and, my favorite of the night, Final Fantasy X’s melodic “Suteki Da Ne,” which was sung by the ever-enchanting vocalist Susan Calloway. There was even a special celeb appearance that night! Masashi Hamauzu, one of the main composers on the Final Fantasy soundtracks, won over the throngs of fans in the crowd when he jumped on stage and joined the chorus for a rendition of “One Winged Angel” from Final Fantasy VII.
And before I forget — the best part was that tickets were beyond reasonably priced. Three hours of beautiful music cost only $20 per ticket for orchestra view (the most expensive tickets, the Premium View, were only $95 per person, compared to $200-plus for the Boston Pops or New York Philharmonic). Plus, if you are a student with a valid campus ID, tickets are only $12 for classical and POPS series concerts. I don’t have my graduate-studies ID yet, but you can bet I’ll be back when I do!
615 Louisiana St # 102
The Houston Zoo, located in Hermann Park and home to a brand-new 6.5-acre African Forest featuring chimpanzees, rhinos, and giraffes in an environment reminiscent of the forest landscape of western equatorial Africa. General admission for adults is normally $12 per person, but admission is free to guests on the first Tuesday of every month from 2 p.m. until closing (admission is free all day on national holidays).
6200 Hermann Park Drive
Spa Trellis at the Houstonian Hotel, possibly Houston’s most luxurious spa, which houses 21 treatment rooms, seven hair styling stations, and an indoor float pool and lounge with a fireplace in its 17,000-square-foot facility. Going to the spa is obviously a splurge — especially if you’re going to one that’s ranked #6 in Travel + Leisure’s list of Best Hotel Spas — but reserving any of the discounted combo packages (such as the three-hour Trellis Delight, which includes a Trellis Facial, Classic Manicure, and lunch or dinner for only $155 per person) is a great way to get more relaxation for your hard-earned bucks.
Spa Trellis at the Houstonian Hotel
111 North Post Oak Lane
What to Eat
When going out for sushi, there’s usually two options – you can go economical and risk “stomach troubles” during the night, or go extravagant and risk an inability to pay the credit-card bill the next month. Luckily, neither applies to the cheap and chic RA Sushi in Highland Village, which dishes up some fantastic Japanese cuisine in a fun and hip atmosphere. My salmon bento box from RA’s lunch special menu was not only fresh to death, but it also set me back only $9.
For those who can’t make it to lunch, be sure to check out the super-popular Monday – Saturday Happy Hour from 3-7 pm, where selected food and drink items are up to 50 percent off. My recommendations? The “RA”cking Shrimp, crispy shrimp served on a bed of mixed greens with a creamy ginger teriyaki dipping sauce, for $7 (regular price: $11.25) and the $6 Baby Umani Punch, a mini “SoCo jungle juice bowl” that’s two bucks off the usual menu price.
3908 Westheimer Road
Also don’t miss:
Benjy’s in Rice Village, for American comfort food in a casual-yet-modern setting. Don’t let the run-of-the-mill exterior fool you – the ambiance inside is pure luxe, with plush white leather seats and mirrored walls. The Sunday Supper special is not to be missed, where $19 will get you a three-course dinner and the 4-7 pm weekday Happy Hour ($6 appetizers and $5 mixed drinks) is the bomb dot com.
2424 Dunstan Road
Where to Stay
What’s the best place for a classy-yet-reasonably priced night’s stay in Houston? Look no further than the beautiful and stylish Hotel Derek. Getting around Houston as a tourist can be a nightmare, but this boutique hotel’s prime location next to the Houston Galleria shopping center and the West Loop intersection really made sightseeing easy breezy (and gas-consumption friendly)!
Want another money-saving tip? Check the hotel’s “Specials & Packages” section of their website when booking a room – they always have a plethora of savings! For example, the Shop ‘Til You Drop deal I used gives patrons free valet parking (a $20 value), free breakfast for two (a $40 value), and tons of discounts for shopping at the Galleria and starts at only $129 a night!
2525 W Loop S Fwy