by Amber Ambrose, Lauren McDowell, Lauren Patterson, Todd Green • March 12, 2021
In 48 Hours
Rediscovery is sometimes more thrilling than experiencing something for the first time. Revisiting what once felt familiar, we see things from a different point of view, uncovering details we missed before and finding surprise and delight in the process.
In a year of rejuvenation and new possibilities, there’s no better time to explore Downtown and discover the people and businesses that make up the core of a city that resists easy explanation or categorization.
Whether it’s a Houston staycation or just new appreciation for the neighborhood, we hope this guide to a fantastic 48 hours in Downtown offers a new lease on the amazing things the neighborhood has to offer.
2:30 p.m. Discover bygone Houston
In a city known for embracing the new and exciting, there’s a place that immerses visitors into Houston’s storied past. The Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park offers a glimpse into the city’s earliest residents, with authentically restored buildings and artifacts that date back to before Texas was a state. Visitors may tour the grounds themselves and learn about the buildings with a cell phone tour, but only those who make reservations for a guided docent tour will be able to go inside. The last guided tour of the day begins at 2:30 p.m.
4 p.m. Sit back and relax with a drink
Now that you’ve scratched that educational itch, take a short walk to appreciate a modern day happy hour at the C. Baldwin hotel. Aptly named for Charlotte Baldwin, the “Mother of Houston,” the hotel’s sleek, modern midcentury look extends from the glamorous rounded bar under a soaring ceiling to the spacious outside patio studded with greenery. Happy hour offers several affordable boozy options for just $5, including house wines by the glass, draft beers, and cocktails like the Persephone with rye, pineapple gum, lime juice and a fernet float.
7 p.m. Dinner and dessert, Oaxaca-style}
After a tipple or two, head to dinner at one of the city’s best restaurants. The latest offering from celebrated chef Hugo Ortega, Xochi specializes in the food and drink of Oaxaca, Mexico from a beautifully appointed space on the first floor of the Marriott Marquis hotel. Masa and mole take star turns on a menu that features a variety of intricately flavored dishes made in traditional ways, and the bar churns out some of the best, most inventive mezcal cocktails in the country. Don’t forget to leave room for dessert, which absolutely should include churros dipped in hot chocolate.
9:30 p.m. Market Square and Main Street meander
After dinner, you may feel the need to walk and take advantage of Downtown’s unique brand of nightlife before hitting the hay. Head to Market Square Park and Main Street to peruse a variety of late night hangouts to suit your vibe. La Carafe, a cash-only establishment serving beer and wine, is equally beloved for its laid back vibes as for its historic building, which dates back to 1860. On Main Street, you’ll find a variety of establishments to pass the evening, like cocktail bars Dean’s Downtown, Little Dipper and Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge.
10 a.m. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
Whether you opted to slip into bed early or need something to soak up the fun of a late night out, a meal at Osso and Kristalla serves up a variety of options to satisfy any brand of brunch goer. The breakfast-loving crowd can have their waffles, omelettes or French toast, while the lunch-minded might choose a wood-fired pizzetta, pasta or—why not?—shrimp and grits.
Noon Ballpark tour of Minute Maid Park
Most people inside a Major League Baseball stadium won’t go much further than their seats, much less into the dugout. Fortunately for Astros fans, Minute Maid Park offers All-Star Tours at an affordable price—$25 for adults, $20 for senior citizens and military and $18 for children. The two-hour tour takes visitors to the suites of the high rollers, in addition to the visitor's clubhouse and batting cage, the Astros dugout, and the warning track.
2:30 p.m. Discover the art of Discovery Green
There are many ways to wile away the hours at the 12-acre village green, but appreciating the public art is a must, whether it’s visiting old favorites or seeking out a new, limited time installation. Walk the park’s perimeter or wander along the inner paths for a dose of fresh air and thought provoking imagery, including Jean Dubuffet’s Monument Au Fantome, Margo Sawyer’s Synchronicity of Color, and Jim Dine’s The House (Heart).
5 p.m. Go off grid for a while
More specifically, go underground for a 30-minute guided tour of The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern. Once a drinking water reservoir built for the city in 1926, it was decommissioned in 2007 following an irreparable leak. After extensive renovation, the former reservoir now serves as a unique public art gallery and gathering space. Tickets for tours can be reserved up to 60 days in advance, via the Buffalo Bayou website: buffalobayou.org/visit/destination/the-cistern/.
7 p.m. Dinner and Prohibition-era cocktails in a building to match
Billed as an American bistro and craft cocktail lounge, Hearsay Market Square is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Houston, built in 1889. Exposed brick, wood panel artwork and vaulted ceilings give the feel of a speakeasy, with cocktails to match, but it’s the elevated comfort food that makes Hearsay’s dinner destination-worthy.
9:30 p.m. Nightcap in the sky
If you’re up for one last outing before bed, take in a night view of the city from Z on 23’s rooftop bar at the Le Méridien Houston Downtown hotel. Sip on a classic martini or an amaro digestif as you watch the world go by below.
Cap off your Downtown vacation at Bravery Chef Hall. Enjoy lunch at any of the chef-driven restaurants or maybe a little something from each. Make sure you visit Secret Garden for a coffee, glass of frosé or specialty cocktail.
There are some things in the city you’ll only find Downtown. Here are just a few:
In-room Peloton bikes for your hotel stay—at the C. Baldwin Hotel, you can enjoy Peloton rides right from your hotel room.
A Friday night firework show in the city limits—during Friday night home games at Minute Maid Park.
Swim 500 feet above the city in Market Square Tower’s glass-bottomed rooftop sky pool.
Play a pickup basketball game in close proximity to the Rockets at Root Memorial Square Basketball Court in the shadow of Toyota Center.
View coral reefs created by biologists and feed stingrays at the Downtown Aquarium.