Hot Town, Cool City
July 9, 2006 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Hot Town, Cool City : You live in the best city in the U.S. and you want to go back to Houston, Texas? Maureen McNamara came home from San Francisco and has now produced a web "treasure map" and a film about the hidden gems of Houston. Love it, hate it, is Houston worth it?
posted by Robert Angelo (48 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My first FPP, be kind. :-) I was tempted to add in a link to Chamillionaire's Hate it or Love it Houston, but that seemed like piling on
posted by Robert Angelo at 9:53 AM on July 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Resources like this are great until the "hidden gems" are overrun by bored yuppies.

PS - Chamillionaire and Paul Wall are about all Houston has going for it right now and that's not saying much.
posted by wfrgms at 9:57 AM on July 9, 2006

I'd like to visit Houston (only been in the airport) if only to hang with the guys who get ganked on cough syrup and then ride around the beltway all night. That sounds like something approaching fun. Which is what I'm all about.

/preview: This kind of stuff.
posted by bardic at 9:58 AM on July 9, 2006

I enjoyed living in Houston for the few years I was there, and I'm looking forward to moving back in the fall. The real problem with Houston, though, is the requirement that you drive everywhere. Decent mass transit is sorely lacking, and the city is so spread out that it's virtually impossible to walk anywhere. The size and spread of Houston can also make it hard to locate cool spots. Because you're driving everywhere, the serendipitous discovery factor is unfortunately quite low. Once you find some things to do, though, Houston's a great place to live.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:04 AM on July 9, 2006

I grew up in Houston and now I live in San Francisco. I don't really miss Houston, more specifically I don't miss Texas. But Houston's big enough that it's got a lot of life. Almost all inside the loop. The Menil has one of the most amazing private art collections in the world, all for free public display. The food's good. The people are nice. And compared to San Francisco, Houston is much more functional. You can drive and park, there aren't thousands of bums living on the streets, and a place to live is affordable.
posted by Nelson at 10:08 AM on July 9, 2006

I grew up in Houston, and for restaurants, arts, and shopping, that city can't be beat (oil money buys pretty theaters and lots of Prada).

I moved to San Francisco after college and adopted some hobbies that I probably never would have pursued had I stayed in Texas (i.e. the ones that take place outdoors), but Houston still holds a very fond place in my heart. I went back a couple summers ago after an almost decade-long absence, and I re-delighted by all the little hidden wonders that exist there among the labyrinth of freeways populated by brand-new cars, big-box stores, and choking humidity.

Don't knock it, is all I'm sayin'; every place has its merits.
posted by pudders at 10:09 AM on July 9, 2006

Great first post!
posted by tula at 10:20 AM on July 9, 2006

I moved to Houston about ten years ago from Colorado, and I love it. Great food, great museums, ridiculously low cost of living, a lot of fun places to go, etc. It's also very easy to get around in by car; I would prefer better public transportation, but easy highway systems are my second choice.

I think that it's fashionable for a certain group of people to talk about how horrible it is, but I don't see it. If it's not your bag, its not your bag, but I think it's really a very good place to be.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 10:30 AM on July 9, 2006

A monstrosity as big as Houston has got to have many gems. It is probably one of the most underrated cities in the US. And it is very un-Texas for it to not be more big and self-boasting on itself like Dallas.

I've met many Houstonites that love their city. Or at least parts of their city.

Even though Houston is only 150 or so miles away, it is much more humid than Austin. In the summer, I'd take Phoenix over Houston any day.
posted by birdherder at 10:31 AM on July 9, 2006

About the only things I don't like about Houston: a) it's not Santa Barbara (where I left my heart a few years ago) and b) it's equivalent to Los Angeles in terms of sprawl, traffic, and insane drivers.
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:49 AM on July 9, 2006

The thing I look forward to most about visiting my parents in Houston is the food. Damn good food, and good selection.
posted by Bugbread at 11:53 AM on July 9, 2006

Er, the thing I look forward to most when visiting my parents besides the actual visiting of the parents. Hi dad.
posted by Bugbread at 11:54 AM on July 9, 2006

I love H-town!

The Orange Show is fabulous.

One fun new addition is Domy books which has a free movie night.

I wish the rail could get expanded. I use it to get in and out of the Texas Medical Center and it is excellent for that.
posted by dog food sugar at 12:02 PM on July 9, 2006

Again, we might have been totally lied to by our albums. All that sippin' lean, tippin', princess cuts all in yo' mouth, candy paint and woodgrain stuff seems to largely be an invention of a handful of artists (DJ Screw, Swisha House etc). I go down there and most people are not draped up and dripped out, and alas, do not know what I am talking about.

On a brighter note, Pimp C is out of jail and his new album is superb. Check out the single "Free", which chronicles his story to the tune of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'".
posted by First Post at 12:10 PM on July 9, 2006

Houston has Logan's, if you're travelling for peanuts. If you fancy a hot dog, there's always James' Original Coney Island. Want to feel like King of the Hill? Eat at Whataburger. There's 3, count'em, 3 Bennihanas, and a Benihana Grill. Of course, if you decide to eat at Ra Sushi (flash), you're still eating at a Benihana franchise.

If you'd like to open your mind, you could always seek the Atropos Key...which would be the 102nd Fun Thing in Hermann Park.

And that's not including the museums.
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:24 PM on July 9, 2006

I moved from SF to Houston for the amazing difference in the cost of living. And the jobs. Oh, and the food. Wow, look at these great museums. Hey, there's theatre. That Superbowl sure jumpstarted the club scene downtown, and you can actually drive downtown and park or even live there because they're building condos inside the loop like nobody's business.

Houston is the Rodney Dangerfield of major US cities - it don't get no respect! It's hard to build a PR campaign around something like "Houston! It's not as bad as you think!"
posted by Standeck at 12:28 PM on July 9, 2006

From my own observations, San Francisco seems to be nearly universally loved throughout the US by people who don't live there. I wonder if native San Francisco-ians feel that way, or do they pine after places like Houston, St. Louis, and Detroit?
posted by bjork24 at 12:37 PM on July 9, 2006

Well, I'll be the negative guy I guess.

I grew up in Houston, and still have friends and family there. While, it's nice to be able to make a travel brochure on film, this type of documentary could be about almost anywhere.

What about the pollution, horrible public transit, the mega-churches, the ghettos right next to the financial center, suburbs designed by oil companies, and one of the things that bugs me the most -- there is only one newspaper, which means no one is reading and the city is functionally illiterate.

There's also Enron and the massive social-program-for-engineers -- NASA.

The food is good though I will give you that. Ashianas might be the best Indian food I've ever had =)
posted by lslelel at 12:52 PM on July 9, 2006

Smart Dalek I'd like to add to your lists: Museum of the Weird, the Museums of Funeral History, and Printing History.
posted by dog food sugar at 1:06 PM on July 9, 2006

That Superbowl sure jumpstarted the club scene downtown

If that's true it's a rare exception to the experience of most cities. When panhandling for public dollars to build ther sports arenas, developers claim it will revitalize [area of town], but try actually visiting one of these areas five years after it goes in. They bring a flood of cars in before a game, and a flood of cars out afterward, and the rest of the time the whole area is an asphalt and concrete desert devoid of humanity, and the dome is basically a gigantic cenotaph for the life that used to exist there. If Houston avoided that outcome I'd love to know how they did it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:18 PM on July 9, 2006

I live about an hour's drive away from Houston, and I have several friends who live in the area, so I've been quite a few times. Houston has its bright spots (I love the museums), but by and large I find it very depressing. Give me Austin any day over Houston.

(Not that the legendary hobo population in Austin isn't depressing in its own right, but god what a great city.)
posted by kryptondog at 1:24 PM on July 9, 2006

Now, my life's between exceptionally good, free from strife, worry, etc. But there's no question, after the five or six trips I made to Houston, I can safely say it's the worst place I've ever been in my life.
posted by jonson at 1:53 PM on July 9, 2006

In fact, if I owned Hell & Houston, I'd choose to live in Hell & rent Houston out.
posted by jonson at 1:54 PM on July 9, 2006

houston needs to do something positive after putting up this statue in their airport
posted by afu at 2:00 PM on July 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

There's a legendary hobo population in Austin?
posted by birdherder at 2:03 PM on July 9, 2006

If Houston avoided that outcome I'd love to know how they did it.

They closed Main Street and threw street parties and concerts for the weeks leading up to the Supebowl. Plus, the Metro Light Rail was completed just in time for the game to whisk people from the game venue up to where the parties were. Plus, two words: No Zoning!

Seriously - if three restaraunts fail in the same location, the next guy is perfectly free to open up an auto parts store and see how that works out! Likewise, two of my favorite downtown watering holes, Dean's Credit Clothing and Char Bar are or were dual purpose establishments, haberdashery by day, hangout by night.

If evolution works on biologicals, it also works on businesses. Two years after the SB38 jumpstart downtown is still humming. There's always a newer fresher trendier nightspot waiting in the wings to take the place of a club that's getting tired. Keeps things fresh and interesting and keeps people coming downtown just to see what's new. A virtuous cycle if you will.
posted by Standeck at 2:20 PM on July 9, 2006

There's a problem with the premise of the "Houston. It's Worth It." project. A city is a lot more than it's "hidden gems." What I like about good cities is a culture, a vibe you get, a lifestyle, and not just the places to go.

Austin, for example, has a dismal arts scene. It has no city art museum to speak of, and the visual arts scene is very spotty. (Yes, there's the Austin Museum of Art, but it sucks, and the new UT art museum, which I've heard is so-so.) Houston has a fantastic collection of art museums (Menil Collection, Houston Modern, and the Houston Fine Arts Museum all within a short distance of each other).

But I'd still rather live in Austin, because of the culture. "Hidden gems" do not equate to culture.
posted by jayder at 2:25 PM on July 9, 2006

Correction to my post: I should have said "a dismal visual arts scene."
posted by jayder at 2:26 PM on July 9, 2006

"Hidden gems" do not equate to culture.

Houston culture is really more about people than art, about life than lifestyle. Houstonians have genuine warmth, friendliness, and generosity, exemplified by their response to Katrina. True, they're not always the brightest bulbs in the lamp, exemplified by their response to Rita... ;-)

No snark intended, I'm just happy to be 'round here.
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:56 PM on July 9, 2006

My best friend has lived in Houston for about five years. He says the crime rate, especially murders, has gone way up since Katrina refugees relocated there. A quick google search backs him up.
posted by letitrain at 3:14 PM on July 9, 2006

Grew up in Houston, moved to Austin, moving to San Fran in two weeks. I wouldn't move back to Houston if you paid me to do so.

Houston has zero scenic beauty. I've looked. Also, thanks to the gigantic population of chemical plants, pollution and just plain strange smells are extremely common.

Isn't a town about more than food and money? Because that's pretty much all Houston is about. Food and money.
posted by Cycloptichorn at 3:23 PM on July 9, 2006

Cycloptichorn : "Houston has zero scenic beauty. I've looked."

No, Tokyo has no scenic beauty. Interesting aesthetics, maybe, but beauty? Nope. Whenever I visit Houston, I'm reminded that, as shitty as I thought it looked when I lived there, it's not so bad. No Vancouver, by any means, but certainly a few steps above "zero".
posted by Bugbread at 3:29 PM on July 9, 2006

According to "Money" magazine, there are more millionaires in Houston than in the Silicon Valley by around 3 to 2. That is what Houston is 99.999% about--making money.
posted by bukvich at 3:44 PM on July 9, 2006

"In fact, if I owned Hell & Houston, I'd choose to live in Hell & rent Houston out."

That's cuz Hell would be cooler. Why would anyone wanna live in Houston? I live in Dallas and it's too hot up here. It might snow in February and if it does, the snow hits the ground and melts into ice, which then just melts. The laws of physics don't even wanna be in Texas. First chance I get I'm heading north. I don't know WHERE north, but anything'd be cooler than here. Besides my ex-wife went to Houston. You're welcome to Houston and you're welcome to her.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:48 PM on July 9, 2006

I love Houston. The folks live there, and so did I for a year. It's the only American city with any sense of mystery to it. Unpretentious, hardworking and fun.
posted by atchafalaya at 3:57 PM on July 9, 2006

It's the only American city with any sense of mystery to it.

Please explain. How is Houston mysterious? (Not snarking, honestly curious.)
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 4:42 PM on July 9, 2006

there is only one newspaper, which means no one is reading and the city is functionally illiterate.

Uhh, you saying that Portland, Oregon, is an functionally illiterate city because they have one newspaper? Guess all those purchases at the largest bookstore in the United States are by people from that two paper city to the north.
posted by dw at 4:54 PM on July 9, 2006

letitrain, the second link in your search results (when I looked, anyway) was to a white supremacist site. FWIW.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:54 PM on July 9, 2006

I live in houston... I called my mother on the phone today, and she told me about "hot town cool city"... I was going to look it up, and then checking mefi, I see a FPP about it!

I am not sure what that says about mefi... or my mom... hehe.

I like my city... there are plenty of things to do no matter what you are into, from art, to great food, diverse culture, nightlife, and even an active BDSM and alternitive lifestyle scene... a very large gay/lesbian community for those applicable... and did I meantion food! hehe, you won't go hungry here anyhow.

There are also other little touches that I would not want to give up. For instance, the B&M location for is here, so I can go to the store and still get online prices.

There is a local bewery that rocks... St. Arnolds beer. The brewery even has open parties every now and then with free drinks on tap.

We are close enough to anything that may not be actually here... the beach is about an hour or less away, the largest renaissance fair in the country happens not far aswell.

Cost of living is another factor. There lots of options... from downtown to the suburbs. I love the apartments that cover all utilities.

Make sure you own a car!

In summery, I don't think Houston is a tourist town... or the best place to live in the world... but if your career ties you to Houston, there isn't really any reason you cannot be satisfied in whatever you are into.
posted by LoopSouth at 5:24 PM on July 9, 2006

I'm not a native, but I do live in the Bay Area. San Francisco is not the best city in the US. Huge swaths of the city consist of dilapidated stick frame houses, the cost of living is obscene, the public transit system sucks rocks, and the people are passive aggressive in the extreme. There are some good restaurants, some nice parks, some really nice museums, but I wouldn't trade Cairo for San Francisco.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:16 PM on July 9, 2006

It’s good to see that Anderson Fair is still around. I hung out there a lot in the late seventies before I went off to college in Austin.

My Dad was transferred to Houston from the Bay Area when I was 10. While I generally had a good time there, I’m happy I moved away. There’s way too much freeway and too little nature. They even turned our old scout camp into a subdivision.
posted by jabo at 6:41 PM on July 9, 2006

I only went to Houston one time for about five days, so take this with a grain of salt.

Traffic: the absolute worst I've ever seen.

Food: some of the best I've ever had.

People: actually pretty friendly
posted by rougy at 7:01 PM on July 9, 2006

Houston? Hot, humid, smelly, concrete-y, and the beach (last time I visited) prone to tar-balls from the occasional oil spills. The whole Texas coast has this problem, though.

Food all over Texas is great. And it's too hot to walk, and we don't have any way to get around but our cars. That's why it's a state full of fat people (not exempting myself, here; moving back from Brooklyn has had a real impact on the waistline).

There are some very nice people in Houston, and some nice places, and some good food. And you'd have to pay me a hell of a lot of money to live there.

posted by emjaybee at 7:21 PM on July 9, 2006

I moved to Houston a year and a half ago after almost nine years in Austin, and I wish I'd done so sooner. I love this town, and don't miss Austin at all.

As someone else said, "Austin is just too full of itself".

People are just *nicer* here, and traffic isn't a problem at all (I live 2.4 miles from work). Anything I want can pretty much be found somewhere on Westheimer (I live off Gessner/Westheimer), and if it's not on Westheimer, I can find it *somewhere* in Houston.
posted by mrbill at 10:49 PM on July 9, 2006

Also, one of our favorite things too when bored is drive the short hop down to Galveston and take the ferry over to Bolivar Island, drive around, grab a Coke, and then take it back. I'd never ridden on a car-ferry before and it rocks.
posted by mrbill at 10:54 PM on July 9, 2006

From my own observations, San Francisco seems to be nearly universally loved throughout the US by people who don't live there. I wonder if native San Francisco-ians feel that way, or do they pine after places like Houston, St. Louis, and Detroit?

I'm not a native either but have lived in the Bay Area off and on for years. San Francisco is not the "best city in the US" unless you're a tourist. Even the tourists are appalled and frightened by the batallions of homeless on the streets. The infrastructure is in some cases over a hundred years old and is falling apart. City government is inefficient and enamored of lost causes. The mayor is a well-meaning but ultimately empty shell. Longtime residents are rapidly being forced to move because of the outrageous cost of housing. When a major earthquake occurs, SF will be in deep trouble.

Every city has its problems. Every city has its glories (including Houston, which people love to slag on). San Francisco is problematic, but I will also say that it while may not be one of the best cities in the world (what does best mean anyway? livable? affordable? SF is neither of those things), it is undoubtedly one of the most hauntingly beautiful, and that is what some people may confuse with "best."
posted by blucevalo at 8:28 AM on July 10, 2006

From my own observations, San Francisco seems to be nearly universally loved throughout the US by people who don't live there.

That was my thought on seeing the 'best city' tag. Last year SF was indeed voted that again (13 years in a row now), but by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler.

According to the 2005 CNN/Money rankings, it's not only not one of the Top 100 places in the U.S., it's not even one of the Top 10 places to live in California.

(Even though I don't live there, i don't love SF at all. Every time I visit I just want to get out quickly, probably because a) I can't afford anything and b) the bums are aggressively demanding from me the money I don't have.)
posted by LeLiLo at 9:38 AM on July 10, 2006

San Francisco is very photogenic, has a beautiful early 20th century housing stock, and has that hippie/gay/wiccan mythos going for it. It really is a nice tourist town.

But it is also run down, filled with packs of homeless and addicts, and has one of the most disjointed road and mass transit systems in the US. The housing costs are obscene. People are commuting from Modesto and Manteca because housing out there is cheaper than anything on the other side of Altamont. And the town smells of urine.

San Fran is mystical and all that, but I wouldn't trade it for Seattle. Cleaner, newer, less overloaded by mythical history.

Portland's not bad, either. It's a smaller, cleaner version of SF.
posted by dw at 1:26 PM on July 10, 2006

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