Travel Tips, Insights, and Resources
HAPPY TRACKS BLOG
Travel Tips, Insights, and Resources
HAPPY TRACKS BLOG
Experiences are my favorite gift to give. A few years ago at Christmas, I gave my niece and nephew each a solo trip with me. The trips involved flights and fun in places they’d never been but wanted to go. The result was incredible. Bonds were formed and memories were made.
Unfortunately, gifts of travel were not in the budget this year, so I came up with an alternative. I gave them both a coupon for a future day to be spent exploring Houston neighborhoods as tourists in our own our town. They’re teenagers, so I’m not quite sure how they felt when they read those words, but they enjoy exploring new places, and they were intrigued.
A few weeks later, on a clear January day, we headed into town. They still had no idea what was on the agenda. I, however, had the entire day mapped out. My goal was to expose them to areas of Houston they may never have experienced or even seen, grabbing snacks and pics along the way, while hopefully making memories like we made when we traveled together.
First Stop: Houston’s Asiatown & Lee’s Coffee
Houston’s Asiatown (formerly known as Houston Chinatown because it originated from the Chinese but has since expanded into other Asian cultures) is home to one of my favorite coffee shops. I’ve spent lots of time there, but I knew the kids had probably never experienced anything like Lee’s. Lee’s is in the heart of Asiatown and is a bustling, bright café with loads of tables filled with retirees on weekdays and families on weekends. Old men congregate at the outside tables to play checkers. It’s the kind of place I can sit in for hours because it mentally takes me to another place and reminds me of my trips to Asia. I’m often the only person speaking English, and I have to ask what’s inside the goodies for sale next to the register. Lee’s gives me that feeling I usually only feel when I’m on an adventure overseas, and I love it.
I knew the kids would be intrigued there. Plus, Lee’s sells candy and sodas filled with sugar, so I knew that even if they didn’t capture the international soul vibe, they would enjoy the snacks.
After discussing my love of Lee’s for a bit, Elizabeth grabbed some photos, we all grabbed our treats, and we headed to our next stop. I could have stayed for days, but we had an entire city to see in eight hours.
Second Stop: Lucky Feet
My nephew loves massages. He even owns a fancy back massager to place in his chair where he does his homework. He’s easy to please. So, I was thrilled when I realized we could stay within my budget while incorporating a foot massage at Lucky Feet into our day.
As we ventured inside, we were met with those long mysterious bead door coverings and a bowl of candy with wrappers written only in Vietnamese. The place was dark, but inviting, and about two minutes into the quiet relaxation, I wished I’d planned this stop for the last one of the day. Thirty minutes later, we rolled out of there in a comatose state of bliss. I knew we needed more sugar.
Third Stop: Tiny’s Milk & Cookies
Tiny’s is located in the heart of Houston’s West University neighborhood and serves up the best chocolate chip cookies in town. In fact, they could be some of the best cookies anywhere. Trust me on this one. I’ve done my research.
In rare form for Houston, Tiny’s is an outdoor walk-up place with nothing but a giant ordering window filled with friendly faces, loads of carbs, and a cash register. This is the type of place you find in California, where the weather is perfect year-round, not in Houston. And this was the reason I wanted to stop here (besides the cookies, of course). Tiny’s makes you feel like you’re somewhere else completely.
With warm gooey cookies and melting ice cream cones in hand, we moved on.
Fourth Stop: Murder By The Book
Our family loves to read, so when I’d found the Murder By The Book bookstore in Rice Village, I knew we needed to stop in. With a name like that and the tagline “Where a Good Crime is Had By All”, how could we go wrong?
Agatha and Sherlock would be proud to have this little gem representing them. The small shop mystique and comfy chairs lure you in to stay awhile and solve something. My nephew spied the spots of whimsy scattered about while my niece detected herself a new must-read. A pair of Edgar Allen Poe socks hung next to the register. We were sold. We loved this place and planned to return soon.
Fifth Stop: Williams Tower Water Wall
To my surprise, I learned my niece and nephew had never been to “the Water Wall”, an iconic Houston waterfall in the heart of the Galleria area. Adjacent to a comfy green space and tucked beneath a tower bearing the Williams name, the water wall is a famous spot for photos. Since golden hour was upon us, we headed there immediately.
We were thrilled to find a sparse crowd on this beautiful day. We spent some time testing our photography skills and performing gymnastics on the lawn. My niece showed off her cartwheels while I showed off my old lady attempt at a headstand in public. These are things they’ll remember, right?
Sixth Stop: Art Car Museum
A thousand laughs later, we realized we had to book it to our next stop to get inside before they closed. We raced to the Art Car Museum in The Rice Military neighborhood, where we were greeted by an old station wagon covered in brightly colored plastic fruit. This was going to be interesting.
Inside, and free admission later, the cheerful curators told us about the history of the museum, the annual “Open Call Exhibition”, and their renowned car parade. The place reminded me of something you would find in Amsterdam or Austin and was, by far, the most eclectic of our stops so far. As we self-toured, we encountered artwork of every kind- from photos to batiks to zombie doll creations. This place was a rare gem and seemed to be hiding right in our own city.
Closing time hit about the time that our sugar high crashed, and I knew the next stop was imperative.
Seventh Stop: Star Pizza
I was honored to share my favorite Houston pizza place, which was right around the corner, with the kiddos. The pizza love runs deep in our family, and they needed to know this jewel existed. The glorious smell of the infamous deep-dish hits you when you walk in the door, followed by the sounds of Sunday night football on the TV screens above.
This was our first time to rest our feet since they were massaged, and it felt good to sit for a while. As we awaited the arrival of our pizza, a comeback and win by our Houston Texans played out on the big screen. We enjoyed watching the wait staff scurry out of the kitchen to check on customers and the score.
After devouring our pile of melted cheese and goodness, we headed out into the night for our final destinations. I was thankful this wasn’t a school night.
Eighth Stop: The Heights
The Greater Heights neighborhood is tucked close to downtown Houston and has more of a walkable feel to it than other parts of this sprawling city. The streets are lined with old homes that have been replaced with modern homes, creating quite the architectural hodgepodge. The retail shops scattered about have a similar feel. You might pass an expensive dress boutique, only to stumble into a vintage vinyl record store next door. Street art shines from every brick surface, making this area truly unique.
We took a long stroll down one of the main retail streets, peering into shop windows and pausing for pics in artwork-filled alleyways. It was dark now and the shops were closed. We appreciated the way the street lights, assisted by the occasional strand of party lights, spotlighted the essence of this area- energy, artwork, and love.
Knowing our energy was waning and needing a respite from the cold, we popped into a glowing ice cream shop buzzing with warmth.
Fat Cat Creamery welcomed us with an array of freshly-made ice cream, including some for the 21+ crowd. In keeping with the rest of the neighborhood, the menu was far from ordinary. While none of us were hungry, we couldn’t resist and walked back into the cold with cones in hand.
Ninth and Final Stop: Downtown
Arriving back to the car and realizing it was nearly ten PM, I took the short drive to our next stop, downtown H-town.
I had a couple of activities planned here, but we were stuffed and ready for bed, full of enough calories and memories to last us for months, so we did a quick drive-through instead.
Downtown Houston really comes alive during the winter months. With cooler weather and a seasonal electricity in the air, Houstonians venture downtown to enjoy outdoor ice skating, holiday musicals, and unique art installments.
We joined the fun by rolling down the windows and gazing at the sights from the warmth of the car. We observed huge geometric shapes all aglow, massive wind chimes, and families. Lots and lots of happy families.
As we left downtown and headed home, we discussed all the places we’d been. We discussed how different the areas were and how we didn’t feel like we were in Houston, Texas. The city offered a chance to travel without ever leaving town.
I asked each kiddo if there was an area they would like to explore more one day. To my surprise, my nephew wants to go back to Asiatown. The foot massage must have sealed the deal. He said it was fascinating and completely different than anywhere he’d been. My niece sees potential for more memories everywhere, but she seemed to really enjoy The Heights. As a talented creative, the idea of discovering more local artistic expressions while eating more ice cream speaks to her immensely. To my heart’s delight, they both asked to take more “tourist in our own town” days, even recommending one adventure per month. I couldn’t agree more.
Have you ever been a tourist in your own town? I challenge those of you who love to travel to get out and explore your own neighborhood. Take your friends and family with you. Who knows what you’ll discover about your city and yourself and each other?
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Hi, I'm Brooke. I travel the world at every opportunity, and I hope to help you do the same. I offer travel tips and insights from a real world, every day perspective. Read more about me and my vision for Happy Tracks here.