Ken Hoffman chides New York Times' Houston travel guide and explains why our city isn't a great place to visit
come for a lifetime
Here we go again, and again...
Another “36 Hours in Houston” article telling readers where to go and what to do if they have a short spell to spend here. The latest ran in TheNew York Times last week, written by Shannon Sims, who claims that she grew up in Houston and continues to live here.
Thing is, Sims' read just like the one the Times ran in 2016. And the one they ran in 2010. They might as well just move here.
Thirty-six hours doesn’t do Houston justice. They’re written by travel writers, who sometimes don’t live here, for tourists who’ve never been here. Houston isn’t that kind of town. First impressions aren’t our strength.
Out-of-state media had a field day the first time the Super Bowl was held at NRG Stadium in 2004. Sportswriters complained about the weather, the distance between their hotels and the teams’ practice facilities and the stadium, the traffic, complimentary food spreads in the media room, just about everything. Freeloading whiners.
Writers sent so many negative stories about Houston back to their hometown newspapers that it caught the attention of ABC World News Tonight. An ABC News producer got hold of my name and asked if I’d go on with World News Tonight anchor Forrest Sawyer to talk about the badmouthing of Houston.
Welcome to the real Houston
They asked me where I’d like to do the interview, somewhere that looked like Houston. I said meet me in the Galleria area, on the corner of Sage and Richmond. I positioned myself facing south so the big Men’s Club sign would be over my shoulder. If I’m going to talk about Houston … let’s get real about Houston.
Just before we started the interview, a Men’s Club bouncer ordered us to turn off the camera and leave. Even though we were on a public street, we left. He was a big’un. We went across the street and did the interview in front of Pete’s Fine Meats.
I delivered my usual pro-Houston talking points — most diverse city in America (which I do not believe, by the way), 80 golf courses, 10,000 restaurants (not sure I believe that one, either), Galveston Beach, Whataburger, on and on, etc.
Defending and promoting Houston became my thing. Whenever a major convention came to town, I would write the welcome letter, bragging about all there was to see and do here — pretty much a “36 Hours in Houston.”
Come for a lifetime — not a vacay
But truth, I would never recommend Houston as a short vacation destination. I would say, though, if you’re looking for a place to put down roots, raise a family, live your life … consider Houston for the long haul.
To paraphrase that sign outside Goode Company Barbecue on Kirby, “You might give some serious thought to thanking your lucky stars that you’re in … Houston.”
Spending 36 Hours in Houston is an empty promise. I’ve seen all those “Things to Do in Houston” and “Top 10 Attractions in Houston” lists provided by Trip Advisor, Time Out, Trip Savvy, Travelzoo and others: the Museum of Natural Science, Houston Zoo, the Galleria, Houston Arboretum, Menil Collection, Rothko Chapel, Bayou Place, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and more.
What’s a tourist supposed to do at Rothko Chapel – pray that Southwest Airlines finds their luggage before it’s time to go home?
I have friends visit from out-of-state. I’ve never taken them to any of those places. I’ve never been to most of them myself.
When friends tell me that they’re coming to Houston, I’m tempted to say, “Stay where you are, I’ll come to you.”
From the looks of most travel stories about Houston, the No. 1 (and practically only) thing to do here is eat. We do have limitless fine restaurants with international cuisines. That’s one reason, along with the number of convenience stores and movie theaters here, why Houston has won many titles as “America’s Fattest City,” which we’re not. It’s just a dumb algorithm.
We’re simply not a hot tourist destination. Several years ago, I wrote about the most-visited tourist attractions in Houston. You know what was No. 1? The Galleria. Now every city has a galleria and every city brags about its restaurants.
Houston, in a good year, attracts 18 million visitors, and most of them come from within Texas. San Antonio draws more than 30 million tourists. San Antonio has the River Walk, the Alamo, Natural Bridge Caverns, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and SeaWorld.
Houston’s top amusement park is in a Fiesta supermarket parking lot.
Do it right
This isn’t to say that spending 36 Hours in Houston is a waste of time. You just need to time it right. Come in March and spend a day at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. It’s a world-class event and tons of fun with a big name concert and funnel cake to close out your night.
Or, come during the summer when the Astros are playing at Minute Maid Park. There’s no more enjoyable sports experience in Texas than an Astros game. If you live up north, get here in winter to escape your deep freeze at home.
If you’ve got only 36 hours on your hands, maybe Houston isn’t for you. But if you’ve got the rest of your life, then Houston could be the place.