People in Dallas often joke that there’s a long-standing rule that if you live in Dallas, you’re required to hate Houston…and I’m told the feeling is mutual. Having been to Houston only a few times in my adult life, usually for business meetings or to visit my late Granddaddy when he had his heart surgeries there, I can’t say that the rule doesn’t ring true for me. It’s never been one of my favorite places.

Despite that, the kids and I decided to hit the open road last month for a quick trip down I-45 to spend a couple of days exploring the Bayou City. My opinion of the city has largely changed for the better.

WHAT WE DID:

The Menil Collection
I’ve always heard great things about the arts scene in Houston, so that was at the top of our list. Because the weather was outstanding — warm, sunny and barely a hint of humidity (rare for Houston) — I decided that The Menil Collection and its 40 acres of surrounding parks and smaller galleries in the Montrose area would be more fun than hours in one of Houston’s more traditional museums. It turns out that the main gallery of The Menil Collection was (and still is) closed for refurbishment, but all of the surrounding spots were still open so we were actually “forced” to wonder outside more…a blessing in disguise!

First stop was Menil Park with its fab sculpture and adorable red swings hanging from majestic live oak trees. Then we wandered down the quiet streets lined with quaint cottages and some of the most beautiful and gigantic crepe myrtles I’ve ever seen (one of my favorite trees) to Cy Twombly Gallery and the famed Rothko Chapel.

Rothko Chapel (No photography allowed inside, so this is all you get.)

At that point, we almost headed back to the car but ever-observant Claire noticed another small gallery down the street called the Byzantine Fresco Chapel…and I’m so glad she did, because it turned out to be our favorite of the whole trip. (I’ve totally buried the best part!)

At the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, they are currently showing The Fabiola Project by Francis Alÿs. It’s an enormous, one-room exhibit of more than 400 reproductions of the same painting, an 1885 painting of 4th-century Roman Saint Fabiola by French artist Jean-Jacques Henner that’s believed to have been lost in the big San Francisco earthquake.

Source: The Menil Collection/Paul Hester

In what began as a casual collection, Alÿs has been acquiring them at flea markets and other street fairs since the early 1990s. It’s fascinating to see so many versions of the same painting, most done by amateurs and hobbyists, side-by-side. The kids were really into it.

Coincidentally, they’d just been learning about shading, depth and perspective in art class at school and were excited to share their knowledge with me about it. (I know, I know, I sound like one of those humble-bragging parents.)

Mason leaving his artist mark in the gallery’s guestbook

Pro Tip: If you visit, be sure to watch the introductory video behind the front desk to have a real appreciation for the collection before you see it for yourself in the main gallery. Had we not watched that video, I don’t think we’d have enjoyed it nearly as much as we did. (Here’s their entire brochure, with all the details, in case you’re interested in reading more about it.)

Hermann Park & Rice University
We also bummed around some in Hermann Park, Houston’s version of Central Park, and the beautiful Rice University campus.

Ice Skating & Sushi
Because we were staying at The Galleria (more on that later), we couldn’t skip ice skating…and the kids weren’t about to let me forget it, even if I could! Afterwards, we popped into a cute sushi spot overlooking the ice rink where all of the food circulates on a conveyor belt. Not the pinnacle of the Houston dining scene, but it was quirky and the sushi was terrific.

 

The Rainforest Cafe: All I can say is it was next to the hotel — and Daddy was tired and needed a drink (or seven). I never said we came to Houston for the food!

WHERE WE STAYED:

The Westin Oaks
I’m a big fan of the Westin brand (plus we have about a million Starwood points), so we made Westin Oaks at The Galleria homebase for our two-night stay. (Not to be confused by the other Westin that’s also located at The Galleria.)

TWO King beds! (Source: Westin Oaks)

In addition to the terrific location and the overall Westin experience, I really liked The Westin Oaks in particular for its enormous rooms — about 400 square feet! In fact, they’re so big that the double rooms actually have two king-sized beds with plenty of space to stretch out. The Westin Oaks also just finished a massive renovation that updated all of the rooms with new upscale finishes and amenities.

Speaking of plenty of space: Mason with an out-of-this-world friend that we picked up at some point along the way.

THE TRIP HOME:

Sam Houston Memorial
No road trip back from Houston is complete without a stop to see Big Sam, the ghostly giant towering over I-45 in Huntsville.

When you’re 9, all the jokes seem to be about boogers…
Sorry, new friend, we’re goofy, but not enough to take you to see our leader.

Ten Minutes After We Got Home…

Finally home and I’m beat! This shirt sums up what driving across the state feels like: Texas (goes on) Forever!

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