houston skyline

After leaving Houston to go to college in North Carolina, I realized how deep and vast the misconceptions about my hometown were. When people imagined Houston, they pictured a desert with cacti and tumbleweeds. At best, they pictured a town flooded with cowboys spitting tobacco and making their way to markets on horseback. Until Hurricane Harvey, it seemed no one had even seen a photograph of Houston.

Despite being the fourth largest city in the United States, Houston is rarely considered one of the major US cities for attractions, and there are virtually no tourists.

Allow me to paint a new picture for you — Houston is a giant, sprawling, metropolitan area filled with people from all over the world. There are award-winning restaurants, engaging museums, and 70,000-seat arenas that host shows featuring the world’s top artists and performers.

This is not me trying to say that Houston is just like New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Houston is like Houston. It’s its own thing, and that’s what makes it great.

Not convinced? Here I’ve listed the top three reasons you should visit my hometown.

1.) The Food

If you’ve ever met a Texan, it is likely you’ve heard a Texan complain about the Mexican food outside of Texas. I wish I could condemn this kind of behavior, but once you try the fajitas at Houston’s El Tiempo Cantina, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.

Mexican food isn’t all Houston has to offer— cuisine from all over the world thrives throughout the city. A few of my favorites are Fufu in China town, Seoul Garden, and Cuban food from El Ray Taqueria. There is no lack of delicious Italian, Indian, Japanese, and Mediterranean restaurants as well (I linked to all my favorites). Houston’s outstanding food culture has won the city awards and attention from major publicans, and for good reason. It is one of the main reasons I love to come home — that, and visiting my family, of course.

2.) The Arts

I know art isn’t the first thing people think of when they imagine this city, but Houston is actually really into art. In fact, there are over 150 museums in the greater Houston area, and some of them are free!

If you’re looking to see art at no cost, my favorites are The Menil Collection and the Contemporary Arts Museum. If buying a ticket doesn’t bother you, then the Museum of Fine Arts is a must-see. And if you have kids, I guarantee they will love the Museum of Natural Science. I loved it as a child and still enjoy it as an adult.

You don’t even need to walk in a building to experience Houston’s arts. The city is full of murals, gardens, and fountains. There’s even a very Instagram-able Water Wall.

3.) The attractions you’ll find nowhere else

Food and art are in every big city, but there are some things in Houston that are one-of-a-kind. I’m just going to highlight my two favorites:

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a 20-day entertainment extravaganza. Many people I’ve met outside of Texas imagine the Rodeo as a bull-riding arena and nothing else. The Rodeo is actually a huge event with many parts. Yes, there is “The Rodeo” or a show that features bull riding, barrel racing, calf roping, and various other equine and ranch sports. But before you sit down at the Rodeo, you can experience a myriad of other things, including an extensive livestock show, a full-fledged carnival, horse shows, shopping, art galleries, and (of course) lots of delicious BBQ. At the end of the night, there’s even a concert held by a famous artist, which has been anyone from Beyonce to Taylor Swift to Cardi B.

If the rodeo isn’t your scene, you may want to check out Space Center Houston and get up close to NASA’s historic mission control. There is a ton to see on the various tours — you can go behind-the-scenes and see astronaut training facilities, explore the inside of a space shuttle replica, and even eat lunch with astronauts. Space Center Houston offers experiences for all ages, but if you are at least 14 years old, I would highly recommend buying a ticket for a Level 9 tour. It’s the priciest and longest of the tours, but it is absolutely worth it as you get guided through the Apollo Mission Control Center, the current Mission Control, Rocket Park (home of the massive Saturn V Rocket), the giant swimming pool the astronauts train in, and much more. You even get to walk through the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility and see engineers working on the next regeneration of space vehicles.

I could go on and on, but I’ll end things here. Even if you don’t decide to visit my hometown, I hope you imagine it a bit differently than before. Houston is a vibrant city full of arts and cultures, and even after reading this article, I think it could surprise you.