Top 10 Amazing Sites in Downtown Houston Texas

Houston is experiencing an incredible development burst in its downtown core. Houston is the home of the world’s energy industry with the nation’s second busiest port and the world’s largest medical district. As the nation’s fourth-largest city, Houston is a melting pot of peoples and cultures. As a Chicago native, I see many similarities between Chicago and Houston. Chicago has Millennium Park and Houston has Discovery Green Park, a 12-acre urban park. The park is adjacent to the George R. Brown Convention Center and Avenida Houston entertainment district. Discovery Green features a lake, bandstands and venues for public performances, two dog runs, a playground, and multiple recreational lawns.

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The geographic centerpiece of the historic district in downtown Houston is Market Square Park, the home of the original 19th century City Hall.

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The very walkable downtown area has an eclectic mix of historic architecture mixed with contemporary infrastructure. It has an active cultural and arts scene with world-class performing arts venues like Broadway at The Hobby Center for Performing Arts, The Houston Symphony and The Houston Grand Opera. There are plenty of outstanding steak houses and culinary destinations. In 2019, Houston earned 11 James Beard nominations.  There are more than 25 new bars and restaurants in the Historic District.

Houston’s James Beard Award Nominees

  • Anvil Bar & Refuge — Outstanding Bar Program
  • Chris Shepherd — Outstanding Chef
  • The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation — Outstanding Restaurant
  • Tracy Vaught, H-Town Restaurant Group — Outstanding Restaurateur
  • Hugo’s — Outstanding Service
  • Tony’s — Outstanding Service
  • Pappas Bros. Steakhouse at the Galleria — Outstanding Wine Program
  • Jonny Rhodes — Rising Star Chef of the Year
  • Kaiser Lashkari, Himalaya — Best Chef – Southwest
  • Ronnie Killen, Killen’s — Best Chef – Southwest
  • Trong Nguyen, Crawfish & Noodles — Best Chef, Southwest

Downtown Houston has Fortune 500 and continues to welcome new businesses to its central business district with many modern hotels contributing to its beautiful skyline. companies and plenty of entertainment options and attractions. Meander through the historic downtown area and you will be pleasantly surprised by how much Houston offers tourists.

  1. I love the five-sided Chase Tower skyscraper. It’s a 75-story skyscraper at 600 Travis Street in downtown Houston in the heart of the Financial District. Not only is it the tallest building in Houston but it is also the tallest building in Texas and is the tallest five-sided building in the world. It was built between 1979 and 1981 as the Texas Commerce Tower and it was designed by noted architects I. M. Pei & Partners.  The observation deck (sky lobby) is located on the 60th floor. The sky lobby is now permanently closed to the public and is only accessible by tenants.

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Under Chase Tower, you’ll find downtown’s famous food hall in the tunnel called Finn Hall. There are with 10 chef-driven food outlets, a craft beer and wine bar and a cocktail bar. Check out: Amaya Coffee, Craft Burger, Dish Society, Goode Co. Taqueria, Mala Sichuan, Low Tide, Oddball Eats, Sit Lo and Yong.

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Juxtaposition this steel skyscraper with one of Houston’s most iconic buildings, the Rice Hotel The building was built by the Westlake Construction Company on Oct. 14, 1911; named after Rice University benefactor William Marsh Rice. Well before the 1913 completion of the building, the site at 909 Texas Ave. was the location of the old Capitol of the Republic of Texas from 1837 to 1839, before it moved to Austin.

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Many luminaries have stayed there. President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy spent the day there on November 21, 1963, just a day before the president was shot and killed in downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy delivered a speech to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in Spanish at the Rice’s ballroom the night before her husband’s death.

Today, its a residential rental building with retail space on the ground floor called Rice Urban Lofts.

2. Visit the Heritage Society Museum in Sam Houston Park at 1000 Bagby Street. It’s nestled within 19 acres in the heart of downtown. As Houston entered the 20th century, it began tearing down historic homes to create space for office buildings.  The Heritage Society was created with a mission to save the historic buildings. Its the city’s only outdoor, interactive historic museum and park in the heart of downtown Houston.

The 10 historic buildings of Sam Houston Park have long seemed exceptional in a town that has never shown respect for its past. Including homes of various styles and a charming church, all restored and furnished in the styles of their eras, they serve as the primary exhibition spaces for a collection of more than 23,000 historic artifacts.

Here’s a list of Sam Houston Park’s historic buildings with a description of each site from the museum. Each historic structure is authentically restored to reflect its original motif.

The 1847 Kellum-Noble House, the oldest surviving building in Houston, has original brick walls made of mud from Nathaniel Kellum’s brickyard on the banks of Buffalo Bayou. Original to the site, and acquired by the city with the park property in 1899, it opened as the park’s first house museum in 1958.

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The Greek Revival 1850 Nichols-Rice-Cherry House was originally located on Courthouse Square in downtown Houston. William Marsh Rice’s business partner Ebenezer Nichols first lived there, and later Rice himself. Emma Richardson Cherry, one of Houston’s best-known early artists, moved the house to Montrose; it then became the first house moved to the park, in 1959.

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The 1868 Pillot House (below) was relocated from McKinney Street, was donated to the city in 1965. One of the first homes in Houston to have an attached kitchen with running water, closets and gas lighting, it was designed with full-length windows and wrap-around porches to accommodate Houston’s hot temperatures. Eugene Pillot, who was in the lumber business, his wife Zeolide and their six children lived in the house.

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The 1868 San Felipe Cottage reflects Houston’s German working-class vernacular. Fire chiefs, successful business owners and city council members were among its residents when the home was at 313 San Felipe (now West Dallas); and ownership passed through the hands of three different women. It was moved to the park in 1962.

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The 1823 Old Place, an example of early Texas frontier architecture, illustrates the hardships faced by immigrants permitted to settle in colonial Texas in Austin’s Colony. The original one-room building was encapsulated inside larger additions in later years. It was moved from the bank of Clear Creek to Sam Houston Park in 1973.

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The Staiti House, built as a spec home in the Westmoreland Addition, was purchased by oil pioneer Henry T. Staiti in 1905. After damage from a hurricane in 1915, the house was renovated and expanded by Alfred Finn’s architectural firm. Its modern amenities included early electric lighting, an intercom system and a built-in ice box. Moved to the park in 1896, it is furnished to depict the lifestyle of the Staiti family in the early 20th century.

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The 1870 Yates House, originally located at 1318 Andrews Street in Freedmen’s Town, is a simplified Greek Revival home built just five years after Emancipation by the Reverend John Henry Yates, an emancipated slave who became the minister for Antioch Baptist Church, founded Bethel Baptist Church and helped to organize the Houston Academy. Donated by the Yates family and moved to the park in 1994, its furnishings include some of the original possessions.

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The Fourth Ward Cottage, previously located at 809 Robin Street and brought to the park in 2002, was home to a German immigrant family in the middle of the 19th century. It was a rental house for more than a century (1883 to 2001) as part of the thriving African American neighborhood known as Freedmen’s Town. Exposed layers in the walls illustrate changes made to create the “shotgun” structure over the years.

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The Baker Family Playhouse, built c.1893 by Captain James A. Baker for his daughter Alice at 1104 San Jacinto. moved with the family five times and entertained four generations of Baker children. It was moved to the park in 2010.

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The 1891-built St. John Church was moved to its current home in Sam Houston Park in downtown Houston in 1968 where it is maintained by the Heritage Society.The Heritage Society was founded in 1954 by renowned Houstonians Faith Bybee, Harvin Moore and Marie Phelps in order to save the 1847 Kellum-Noble House from demolition. They had one goal in mind: preserve the hastily disappearing past of this great city for the education of future generations.

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3. Like many cities around the country, Houston decided to use sport stadiums as a gentrification tool. Minute Maid Park is a ballpark in Downtown Houston at 501 Crawford Street. It opened in 2000 as the home stadium for the Houston Astros of Major League Baseball fame.

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It is built where Union Station, Houston’s rail hub once stood Today, it’s integrated into Minute Maid Park and the main concourse is now the stadium’s lobby. Whenever the Astros hit a home run, the miniature train chugs around the park’s perimeter.

The station building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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4. The Houston Rockets are an American professional basketball team based in Houston. They compete in the National Basketball Association as a member team of the league’s Western Conference Southwest Division. The team plays its home games at the Toyota Center, located in Downtown Houston. Here’s a link to the schedule:

Check out the Houston Sports Authority Walk of Fame from House of Blues to Green Street that honors world-class athletes like Nolan Ryan.

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5. The Houston Aquarium features thousands of fish swimming in 500,000 gallons of water; a Ferris wheel, a train ride, a carousel, dancing fountains and tanks loaded with hundreds of fish. One of the most impressive and exciting aquariums anywhere, it includes games, rides, a restaurant serving seafood with a view of the wall-to-wall aquarium and a train that travels through an underwater tunnel. You can experience the Louisiana swamp; alligators, turtles, and bullfrogs. Check out the sunken hull of a 17th-century shipwrecked Spanish galleon and immerse yourself in the rain forest. Dine at the Landry’s seafood restaurant on the premises.

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6. Buffalo Bayou Park is a 160-acre city park perched on the edge of downtown Houston. Buffalo Bayou is the 52-mile slow-moving waterway that was the site of Houston’s founding in 1836 when the Allen Brothers got involved with the sprawling swamp.  Buffalo Bayou Park is one of the Bayou City’s largest and most exciting green spaces with sweeping views of the downtown skyline with easy pedestrian access. The park is a haven for walkers, runners and cyclists.

Here’s a map

Here’s a video:

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7. Explore Houston’s six-mile long Underground Tunnel System. If you’re wondering where all of the workers are in downtown Houston, look 20-feet below, in the tunnel system.  The financial district’s 150,000-employee workforce can make doctors appointments, conduct banking, dine, shop, and visit the post office and salons in temperature controlled tunnels. Access the network via street-level stairs, escalators, office-building elevators. Head to Wells Fargo Plaza for direct street-to-tunnel access.  You can also access the tunnels through the Bank of America Building, in the corner of Milan St and Capitol St, were you can find a grand entrance to these peculiar tunnels. The Tunnel System is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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8. Visit Houston’s Theater District. The 17-block area is home to Houston’s resident performance companies including the symphony, opera, drama and ballet. Houston’s Theater District occupies a small section of the north side of downtown, where the city’s major performance centers are all within easy walking distance from one another.

The Houston Symphony, Broadway at the Hobby Center and the non-profit Theatre Under the Stars  provide a wide variety of musical theater shows. The Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera offer performances on most weekends, and the Alley Theatre offers live stage performances of both contemporary and classic plays throughout the week.

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9. Houston has more than 12,000 restaurants representing cuisine and culinary customs from more than 75 different  countries and American regions. It is a haven for foodies with a restaurant scene as ethnically diverse as its more than 6-million residents. Houston was named the “newest capital of great food” by Food & Wine and the country’s most exciting food city by Tasting Table magazine. Make reservations to dine at some outstanding steakhouses downtown. I like Vic and Anthony’s and III Forks.

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Here’s a link to the Houston Restaurant Scene:

10. Visit Historic Market Square Park at 301 Milam Street. Nestled in Houston’s Historic District, Market Square Park sits on the site of the original City Hall with plenty of space for entertainment, dining and public art. The land was donated to city by Augustus Allen in 1854 so farmers and tradesmen could sell their wares. His intent was for the location to be an oped-air market. He was married to Charlotte Baldwin Allen in 1831. She is known as “The mother of Houston”  who used her inheritance to found the city. She grew her real estate empire by selling properties that would become the site of  The Rice Hotel and deeding her home on the site of Market Square to the city for what would become the first Houston City Hall. History suggests that her funds likely helped bankroll the 6,000-acre land deal in 1836 that was made by her husband and brother in-law (The Allen Brothers) who were real estate speculators from Upstate New York.

The Hilton named the C. Baldwin Curio Collection Hotel after her in 2019. It’s located across the street from Sam Houston Park at 400 Dallas Street. They offer their complimentary Tesla house car for transportation within the immediate downtown area. Dine at the Rosalie Italian Soul restaurant from San Francisco super-chef Chris Cosentino. He was the winner of Season 4 of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.” If you book one of 14 special corner accommodations will have an in-room Peloton bike.

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Restaurants and bars border the perimeter of the park, including the legendary Wine Bar called La Carafe.The La Carafe building is located at 813 Congress Street and is listed on the National Register for Historic Places and is believed to be the oldest bar in Houston, and is the oldest continuously operating commercial building still in use in Houston. Built by developer Nathaniel Kellum in 1847, the La Carafe building has remained a two-story public venue since it’s construction. Check out the exposed brick, stained glass windows and old paintings. I hear it’s haunted. Stop in for a Vino con Vista. You’ll find La Carafe at 813 Congress Ave, Houston, TX 77002. It’s open daily from 1 p.m. to 2 a.m.

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the ceramic tiled benches, they reminded me of Gaudi’s Park in Barcelona. They were created by Malou Flato in 1991, and augmented in 2000. The artist hand-painted ceramic tiles to evoke the feel of Market Square during the late 19th and early 20th century.

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Behind the benches, you can see a water feature with three fountains. Former Houston-area resident, Lauren Catuzzi Grandolas, was killed on board United Flight 93 on the day of the September 11 attacks. A memorial bust figure of her is positioned next to a water feature and plaque created in her honor at the Congress Street side of the park.

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The centerpiece of Market Square is a sculpture  by James Surls called “Points of View.”

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The walkways at Market Square are paved with masonry salvaged from demolished (and some standing) buildings as a reminder of the neighborhood’s history.

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Check out the glass-bottomed sky pool at Market Square Tower — a luxury apartment complex in Houston.

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