The D.E.A.L.: Dining, Entertainment, Attractions & Lodging
by Jeanne Brei
Houston, home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the training base and home for our nation’s astronauts and the site of Mission Control, has taken tourist sightseeing to new heights using the latest augmented reality technology. A brand-new, free VisitHouston AR app takes the view you normally see through your cell phone camera and adds a layer of “augmented reality.” By using the app, you can just point your phone camera in any direction and little labels pop up automatically displaying what’s there, what type of business it is and how far away it is. Clicking on a label reveals even more information about that place, like restaurant descriptions, ratings and more.
In 1969, “Houston” was the first word spoken from the moon by The Apollo 11 mission when astronaut Neil Armstrong said, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Houston is also home to Space Center Houston, the official visitor center of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, which is NASA’s center for spaceflight activities. The Space Center’s Independence Plaza is the only place in the world where you can enter a space shuttle replica resting on top of the original shuttle carrier aircraft, NASA 905. The exhibit immerses visitors in the science and history of the shuttle era and only here can visitors walk through the flight deck, mid-deck and payload bay of a shuttle replica and the seven dynamic areas within the aircraft.
Also going high-tech is Houston’s CityPASS Tickets good for five of Houston’s top attractions. By purchasing the CityPASS tickets online you get instant delivery with mobile tickets that can be used right away or within a year of purchase. Visit the attractions at your own pace, in any order, over nine consecutive days. They offer Space Center Houston, the Downtown Aquarium, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and a choice between the Houston Zoo or the Museum of Fine Arts and a choice between Kemah Boardwalk and the Children’s Museum Houston.
Unique to Houston is a Buffalo Bayou Boat Tour. The 90-minute private, relaxing ride along the Buffalo Bayou takes you along the heart of Downtown, historic Buffalo Bayou past Allen’s Landing, Sesquicentennial Park and Sabine Promenade, McKee Street Bridge and the industrial side of the city. Due to current restrictions, only private charters are available, but the tour can accommodate up to 20 people and be scheduled at your convenience based on availability.
A few more unusual attractions include the Galleria area Water Wall, a 64-foot-tall fountain—built to look like a “horseshoe of running water”—that sits among 186 oak trees at the base of the 64-story Williams Tower. Designed by architect Philip Johnson more than 20 years ago, it offers a refreshing moment of Zen or a perfect Instagram selfie setting.
More free attractions include catching a sunset or sunrise 40-minute LED-light show at James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace on Rice campus (no show on Tuesdays). The grass-covered pyramid illuminates and changes colors as the natural light reflects off the structure. Or watch 250,000 bats emerge at dusk from under the Waugh Drive Bridge, located over Buffalo Bayou between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive.
Finally, the 84-acre Glenwood Cemetery is the resting place for some of Houston’s most iconic residents with ornate headstones and sculptures, including more than 20 mayors, past governors, oil tycoons and Howard Hughes, the famous aviator, engineer and movie director.