Help us be happy in Houston
July 7, 2009 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Moving to Houston - new job in the Sugar land area. *Sigh* Is there any reason to be positive about this?

My long term partner has a transfer to Houston for the next 3 years and I will be visiting for extended periods and doing some telecommuting. Neither one of us has ever been excited about Texas, and definitely not Houston. We're more Pacific Northwest in style, currently filling time with hiking, biking, running, and watching Mad Men on tv. We don't do church or entertain or have kids. We aren't enthusiastic about hanging out with Ken DeLay. We are thinking about buying a house and have heard that a pool will be a good thing, though sometimes they come with alligators. Well, the dog won't like that, though I might be amused from a distance if I can blog about it at a nearby coffee shop. Does anyone have any advice on how to fast-track our enjoyment of the place, including where to live?
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around Houston, TX (38 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My husband grew up in Houston and I just visited for his high school reunion. The things I liked were 1) great barbecue 2) tasty seafood 3) lots of good Vietnamese and Mexican food and 4) you can keep pretty much anything you like as a pet, probably including alligators. Also, houses and gas seem pretty cheap compared to many parts of the country.
posted by LadyOscar at 3:25 PM on July 7, 2009

I spent a month in Houston for work and was pleasantly surprised. It's not all cowboys and NRA bumperstickers, really. Between the excellent Mexican and Vietnamese and that pretty new baseball park, I was happy.

I'm not sure why you'd buy a house for only three years, but as LO said, real estate prices are pretty reasonable for a city of its size. The weather's also nice.
posted by rokusan at 3:28 PM on July 7, 2009

Tom DeLay is not in Congress anymore.

I went to high school in Sugar Land and never heard of anyone having alligators in their pool. (Maybe in Houston by Buffalo Bayou.) It's not that bad. If you get bored with the ticky-tacky, it's only half an hour to the fun parts of Southwest Houston from Sugar Land. Avoid the chain restaurants and hit up the ethnic food joints like LadyOscar mentioned. I had a friend whose family liked to go hiking in Brazos Bend State Park, which is not too far away.
posted by vilthuril at 3:28 PM on July 7, 2009

You shouldn't have to worry about alligators. Scorpions, on the other hand...
If you mean Ken Lay, you don't have to worry about hanging out with him, either. He's dead.

Most of the people I know who live in the houston area love it. The cost of living in texas is relatively low, compared to the rest of the country, and there's lots to love about texas in general. Austin is only about 3 hours from houston, which will make for nice long weekends. The vibe there is similar to the pacific northwest vibe, without the overcast skies. You'll find plenty of hiking and biking there.

My experience is Austin, I only went to houston a few times while I lived there. I have no reason to suspect the cost of living is much higher in houston. What I found in austin was that housing, gas, food and many other things were considerably cheaper than FL, where I lived before, and PA where I moved after. Everyone I knew there who grew up in Houston had great things to say about it. So, yeah, I think there are many reasons for you to be happy about moving there. I'd move back to Austin in a heartbeat if it were practical. Possibly would move anywhere in texas if it were practical for me.
posted by necessitas at 3:37 PM on July 7, 2009

there's plenty to enjoy in Texas in general, and what i took out of it is likely different than what you'll take out of it, but one thing i'm sure you'll agree with me on : it's hot. really, really hot. hotter than you are familiar with in the PacNo. hotter than it ought to be. you'll question whether or not you have moved to a place unfit for human habitation. during the late fall/winter/early spring, you will have ample opportunity for your outdoors fun. that whole period is roughly 5 months, though. the rest is summer, and during the summer you've got to really want that hike in order to bear the heat for it.

so if you're buying land and hunkering down, i wholeheartedly support a pool, if you can afford it. an ex of mine had a stepmom who wouldn't agree to the move unless she got a pool out of the deal, and i truly believe that for her it made the difference between being full-on crazy and just being bent-out-of-shape at Texas.

the food in Texas tends to be tastier than anywhere else i've lived, and certain styles in particular will be well represented. if you're from the great northwest, you've never had good mexican food in your life, i'd wager. i recenly moved just north to OK and have discovered that it's not present here, either. also, do you like steak? it's a fine place to enjoy steak. but by and large, foodies in general tend to like it 'round there. (Dallas, at least, which is a longish jaunt from Houston).

Austin might be more your speed poltically/socially, so maybe plan some trips up there when you're going stir-crazy.

Texas is filled, literally FILLED, with good music. around every corner, practically. also, the eccentric artists tend to be genuinely eccentric, instead of that faux, posed eccentricism often seen in more liberal areas. the artists and poets and musicians seem to have a streak to them that doesn't much come up elsewhere. figure out whatever sorts of things you like best (music, painting, what have you), and then just look for Texan examples of it. you'll find things of interest, i'm sure.

don't talk about God in public unless you're praising him, by and large, but this really applies everywhere these days.

also, gun carrying laws may be looser than you are used to. this never once became an issue of any kind during the 13 years i lived in Texas, but i was glad to learn that those little signs on doors saying "no guns allowed inside" were placed there to inform all of the people who were legally carrying concealed handguns.

which segues nicely into "you can legally shoot people who break into your house". that's a change of pace for a lot of people, certainly.

it's big, it's hot, and it's really flat in a lot of places. you'll be driving everywhere, all the time. conservative mostly, tech heavy, and some of them believe Texas to be a soverign nation (i'm not kidding). it sounds like a crapshoot when you spell it out on paper, but i honestly had a pretty great time (actively cursing it the whole while) living there.
posted by radiosilents at 3:40 PM on July 7, 2009

You seem to have developed a pretty negative image of the place already, is it based on actually visiting? If not, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. I've lived lots of different places, but have been happy to call Houston home for 11 years now. I like the people, the food, the weather for 9 months of the year, the low cost of living. The gulf is close for fishing, some of the beaches are pretty good, the water's warm. There are very active biking and running communities and lots of good hikes within easy driving distance.

Get a house with a pool, what's your price range and what are some other requirements? Working in Sugar Land you have a massive amount of areas to choose from, traffic's all heading into downtown.
posted by IanMorr at 3:45 PM on July 7, 2009

I've never lived there, and I'm pretty Austin-loyal, but Houston has a lot of cool stuff. They have great museums, restaurants, and even a good gay scene in the city, which reflects that it's not all bible thumpers. It's not all rednecks in ten gallon hats riding around in trucks with Jesus stickers (though there are some of those). When I was a kid, on an episode of 90210, a character was in the Houston airport and they showed nothing but people in cowboy clothes. I asked my parents if that's what people thought Texas was really like.
Houston has a large immigrant population, mostly Mexican and East Asian (esp. SE Asian). This means cool cultural stuff, and awesome food.

Also, Tom DeLay is no longer in Congress, he's just some asshole who lives in Sugar Land now.
posted by ishotjr at 3:50 PM on July 7, 2009

Texas! No income tax = awesome!!!!!!!! (I think there's no income tax in TX. I could be wrong, but I think I'm not wrong.) Also, cowboy boots and faking a Southern accent.
posted by anniecat at 3:53 PM on July 7, 2009

I moved here from Portland, OR. I love the sun, don't mind the heat after I got used to sweating and not wearing wool all the time, and found that there's a lot more to do in a state that is this big and has this diverse of a climate.

Try to move with an open mind. You will be within two-three hours drive of hill country, which has awesome limestone caves and a beautiful arid climate. You're in a giant metropolis that has tons to offer, from wine bars and fine dining to cultural history. Texas is big enough to be it's own country, and that's a lot of stuff to explore.

A good example is gardening. I garden year round. Wintertime is cabbages and greens and other spring veggies in other climates, and I get tomatoes all through the summer now that I've figured out the drip irrigation thing with my raised bed.

If you like Portland, you'll love the Montrose area of downtown Houston. It has that PNW vibe to it even though it's warm. There's even a vegetarian restaurant called The Hobbit, and from what my aunt tells me, a vibrant LGBT community in that area.
posted by SpecialK at 3:56 PM on July 7, 2009

Oh, and there's no income tax, and the sales tax is relatively easy to work around if you're smart. Property taxes tend to be high, but houses aren't really that expensive and the economy is largely stable.
posted by SpecialK at 3:57 PM on July 7, 2009

Wow, are you in for a treat!

No, really. You've got a few misconceptions about Houston. I live slightly north of Sugar Land. In Houston, we also have hiking, biking, running, and Mad Men on TV. Now, you gotta be able to handle the heat and humidity, but these are all things you can continue to do.

We've rustled up the last of the 'gators, since this is a metropolitan area of about 5 million people and we don't like to be eaten by 'gators either, so you and your dog should be safe.

Tom DeLay will almost definitely not be your neighbor, so you can forget about him (I have!).

And, not surprising for a city of our size, we aren't all anything. Not everyone goes to church. Not everyone has kids. Not everyone entertains (although we are generally friendly).

If you choose to live in Sugar Land or the neighboring areas, and you really like hiking and biking, you might want to look at a master-planned community. These are developed with plenty of hiking and biking trails, greenways, unobtrusive commercial ventures, swimming pools, lakes, and golf courses. First Colony is one in Sugar Land. I live a few miles north of there, in Cinco Ranch (another master-planned community).

I wish you had written more about what you like to do, so we could help you get excited. Do you like sports? We've got that, hockey included. Do you like restaurants? We are a town that is serious about our food. Museums? Check out our Museum District. Concerts? Take a look at the Houston Press to find the latest. And, you'll get to go to (your first?) rodeo: It's a big one, and don't be shy -- we won't laugh when you wear your boots and hat with pride.

And, this is a great state. Like camping? Beaches? Hills? You'll be a few short hours away from all of that.

So you get all that, but wait! There's more! We also have jobs. Lots of them. And we have a low cost of living. There's a good chance you can make money here, and have a good quality of life.

Welcome to Houston!
posted by Houstonian at 4:00 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hate Houston -- born and raised there -- but it has its upsides. There is a ton of good food, and real estate is cheap. Make sure to get Tex-Mex and BBQ. Steak is cheap and good.

And I guess that's really it. The weather is miserable so you're not going to be able to go hiking or anything. Trust me on this, my husband and I love hiking but it was barely pleasant in Austin, which is much better suited to hiking than Houston is. Anything outdoors in Houston is, unfortunately, a no-go. If you like thunderstorms, though, you'll get plenty of those; it's one of the few things I miss about Houston.

I guess I can try for some other upsides:

Sugar Land is pretty, because it is all rich people.

I got along fine in Houston as a bisexual democrat atheist; it's seriously not that bad. I think people get the wrong impression of Texas because of our gerrymandered political districts. Every major city in Texas is pretty well-balanced politically, it's just the rest of the state that's overwhelmingly Republican. Sugar Land, though... well, it's Republican, but seriously, don't worry about it. There are Democrats that live there, too. Tom DeLay is gone, Ken Lay is dead.

Houston is also way multicultural if you care about that. We live in LA now and really, I don't have any statistics to back this up, but Houston felt even more multicultural than LA does.

One thing to help you avoid disappointment:
If you miss the beach, going to Galveston after having been to the Pacific ocean will just make you depressed. Corpus Christi and all the other little cities along the gulf aren't any better. The Gulf of Mexico sucks, it is ugly and smelly. Yes, you're probably going to want that pool.

Accept that you're going to have to drive half an hour to do anything cool. It's not that bad when you just accept it.
posted by Nattie at 4:04 PM on July 7, 2009

I have never been to Houston, but I am a more-or-less lifelong Northwesterner who lived in New England for a couple years, so I feel like I am qualified to give this one piece of advice, which I give 100% snark-free because ignoring it bit me in the ass when I moved:

Leave your stereotypes behind when you move.

The things you like about the NW can be found anywhere - good coffee shops, good bars if that's your thing, good restaurants. Museums. Pool halls. Out-of-the-way places. They're everywhere, honestly. You may have to go a little further afield to find them - they're not on every block, like in some 'hoods in the NW - but they're there. The surest way to never make a new friend or solid contact in your new location is to constantly talk about the way things are back where you used to live and marvel that they're not that way in your new place. Nobody will care.

Living in this part of the world tends to give people a healthy dose of the smugs. Be open-minded about going to Houston and I think that you'll probably have a good experience; expect it to be like the big-hair-church-and-guns stereotype and that's exactly what you'll find, because it's all you'll see.
posted by pdb at 4:05 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I asked a similar question last year when we transferred in. We're PNW in origin and mindset. After a year here, we love Houston.

Yes, it's damn hot and humid, and some of the surface aspects aren't great such as the traffic and the concrete, but look beyond that and you'll find it's a nice place to live.

We ended up renting in the Inner Loop, next to Greenway Plaza. Close to work for both my wife and I, proximity to Montrose, S Shepherd, Rice Village and the Museum district. If your partner is working in Sugar Land, then you might want to consider a planned community or you might want to live Inner Loop and commute against the flow of traffic.

People are amazingly friendly and there's a good mixed of natives and expatriates. This means that you can pretty much find anything if you look for it hard enough. The Aeros are a fun night out, and cheaper than going to the Astros or Rockets.

We too were nervous about moving here, but after a year we're glad we did (and it took only a matter of weeks to feel comfortable). Feel free to MeFi mail me if you want any pointers.
posted by arcticseal at 4:21 PM on July 7, 2009

I lived in Houston proper for four years, and ended up liking it quite a bit. This was ~10 years ago, but on my visits since it's seemed like the place has gotten (if anything) better, not worse.

It was, for one thing, a pretty fantastic food city -- and I say that as someone who's lived in cities (Berkeley, Chicago, Boulder, Toronto) that are probably better known for having good food. You could get great casual food (bbq, taquerias, etc) for crazy cheap, good meals for less than $20/person, great meals for $50/person. Everything, literally everything, was cheaper there than in the places I've lived since -- rent, food, gas, whatever.

Houston also had a quirky side -- random art installations (the Orange Show, the Beer Can House), parades (Art Car), bizarre coffeehouses/ opium dens (Notsuoh) -- that seemed bizarrely at odds with my own preconceptions about what the city would be like. It sounds to me like you are imagining Houston as I probably did before I moved there, as a kind of hot wasteland of country music and swamps and bad politics. It has all those things, but it is also a city of over 2 million people (~6 million in the "metro area" that encompasses Sugar Land) -- and some of those people are bound to do something that enthralls you. Just keep your eyes open. Houston, more than anywhere I've lived since, rewarded relentless exploration.

There are downsides to the place, of course -- e.g. the terrible, sweltering summers, when we would try very very hard not to set food outside during the middle of the day. And some of my friends who stayed there for longer periods -- 10 years, 15 -- eventually did grow tired of it, for a variety of reasons. But you're there for 3 years! There's no way you can exhaust the fun things to do in Houston in 3 years! Admittedly, I suspect Sugar Land is an entirely different beast than Houston proper -- but then I wouldn't be singing the praises of suburbs around San Francisco or Chicago, either. At the very least you can explore the city on the weekends.

So yeah. Go, have fun, explore. Eat well. Report back to us in a couple of years.
posted by chalkbored at 4:23 PM on July 7, 2009

Every place has its good points and bad points. I am from Oakland CA and for the first 21 years of my life could not imagine living anywhere beside the bay area. I lived in New Orleans for 20.

Right now I live in Houston and I like it just fine. July - September are for staying indoors and travelling to places like the Colorado Rockies for a breather. If you are an obsessive runner or tennis player or golfer you will have to take it easy for those three months, but there are not many places where the weather is nice 365 days a year.

I have a friend who lives in San Diego. What goes for 200 000 in my zip code is 1 400 000 in hers.
posted by bukvich at 4:26 PM on July 7, 2009

Houston is huge and diverse, and you'll find everything there that you'd find in any other major urban area in the US, plus you've got two airports for when you need a quick jaunt away.

I'm going to assume that these people telling you to get a pool have pools, but you'd have to hold a gun to my head to get a house with a pool. It's too hot to spend that much time in the sun when it's really hot out, and when it's not you have to heat it to make it comfortable. Alligators are not a major issue, but frogs and other wildlife are, as well as tree debris after tornadoes/severe storms and hurricanes. It's not cheap to have a pool.

It IS hot when it's hot, that's a fair stereotype. It's not even safe to conduct outdoor activities some days. In the summer, you go to a lot of movies and try to do your grocery shopping in the late afternoon/early evenings. You do need air conditioning in your car. You should probably pick up a generator and window unit to run on it for the hurricanes.

If you peruse Yelp and other social rating sites, you may get a better idea of the range of activities available to you. Embrace the things on offer that you like, ignore the rest.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:30 PM on July 7, 2009

I grew up in Houston, and am familiar with many different parts of the city thanks to various schools, homes, commutes, clubs, etc.

You might consider the value of living in Houston proper, just up US 59 a bit into the West University/Buffalo Speedway area -- rather than in Sugar Land, an affluent, conservative suburb with lots of master planning, HOAs and churches. Your next door neighbors in Sugar Land would almost exclusively be people who voted for Tom DeLay.

West U. isn't cheap, but it backs up to Rice University and therefore is full of great funky bars, local shops, and all that you are worried you won't find in Houston. Or go across 59 to the north, and check out the West Alabama/Westheimer areas, Montrose and the neighborhoods near University of St. Thomas. You can do your running in Memorial Park.

The nice benefit to living in town is that your partner will be commuting against traffic, since many Sugar Land residents drive into the city for the workday, then back home at night.

Other areas you might check out for better livability and reasonable proximity would be Bellaire, Braeswood, the Heights. (Those are listed in order of "closest to Sugar Land, out to farthest." I love the Heights, myself, but that 5-day-a-week commute would kill me so I couldn't do it.)

The heat and humidity will be hard, but you'll acclimate. We all did. You'll learn how to minimize your time outside during the heat, and how to shop and dress only in natural fabrics that resist wrinkles. I agree with Lyn about the pool -- it's almost too hot to enjoy in the summer, and then it's too much work the rest of the year, but YMMV.

I love Houston. It's a city that doesn't take itself too seriously. It knows what its strengths are (and plays to them), and what its weaknesses are (and shrugs them off). It's the birthplace of NASA, the home of incredible art, food and culture, and the 4th largest city in the nation... if you can't find something wonderful in it, it will be for refusing to look. Sugar Land all by itself would probably be indeed a bitter pill, but it's just a bedroom community -- the real treasure is up the road.

If you do end up making the move, I look forward to your eventual return to AskMe to answer a similar question for another skeptical, southbound MeFite.
posted by pineapple at 4:37 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Shade. Buy a house with trees. I am not kidding. It's all the difference. This son of a bitch is hot.

Sugar Land should be close enough to pick up KPFT, Pacifica radio there in Houston. TONS of great music programming, tons of good programming period. A friend told a friend "hey, check out KPFT, it's really interesting, diverse" and her friend checked it out, so happened there was a coven of lesbian witches on there and no, I am not shitting you. Her friend didn't tune into KPFT anymore, it just made me love it all the more.

Music. You're in Texas now. It's an entirely different world, music wise. I'm not talking about that jive-ass drugstore cowboy jerkoff junk, I'm talking about heartfelt and wise and strong and funky music. Music is the heart of Texas. Nope; correction -- music expresses the heart of Texas, the soul of Texas.

Someone upthread noted that Houston isn't but two hours from Austin. They're wrong; two and a half hours, even in traffic. I made it early one Saturday morning in two hours, rocking on down the road. DON'T go 290; take I10 on out to Columbus, pick up 71 and you're almost half way there, and the worst of it is behind you, the Houston drivers now not near as much a presence.

Ah -- Houston drivers. Completely insane. Berserk. I came up on the most dangerous stretch of road in the Chicago area, 55mph through what was mostly a residential area in it's way, and Chicago area drivers aren't shy either, truth be told. But. Houston. It's completely insane. They will GET ON YOUR ASS for no reason at all. They will cut in traffic RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR CAR and I do mean they will give you a foot, or two, and you're rolling at 70 to 80 mph or you'll be holding up traffic. It's total aggression. When I go back to Houston -- which I love to do, more on this later -- I'm still astonished by it, though I lived there fifteen years. Get ready. It's a trip.

Museums. World class. Two spectacular collections and lots more here and there -- let me know if you're interested, I know the scene inside out. The Museum of Fine Art has a great collection and ten years ago FINALLY built a decent space, a pleasure to go there. Fun. The Menil also has a great collection, and it's one of my all time favorite spaces for art -- well designed, funky, soaring halls, natural light. The Rothko chapel is right next door -- it's a fun little neighborhood. Rothko (supposedly) said he could die happy, having created that. It's a thing of beauty, a place of beauty. Sadly, ten years ago they remodeled and opened it up to more light than it had; it was one of the solemnest places in the world, it's much less so now. And: Used to be able to go in and sit and pray or meditate or think or whatever blows your skirt up, in total privacy, this beautiful, solemn, deep place all to yourself. But now there is ALWAYS some mope standing there, watching you. I've told them "Hey, I'm okay, no problem, buzz off" but it's just what they do now. A sadness.

Used to be, I'd hop in my pickup, ready to go out and about, I'd look at my condo door and wonder if I was ever going to see it again. Houston is a very, very random city. The violence is not contained in any one area, though mostly it's in poor areas of course, but fact is that everyone drives and often they take their gun and their violence with them. One that I always think about: A woman, nurse, sitting at a stop light in the Med Center. Some guy walks up to her window and blows her brains out. No rhyme, no reason. Random. I'm not saying to walk around frightened all the time, you'll miss the fun in it. But it is one random city.

Guns. Lots of people carry guns, damn sure lots of them carry guns in their car. I did, some of the time -- that random thing gets you to thinking, right? I like guns, enjoy them, I've shot them all my life, and I've a blue collar background and I know tools and I'm not afraid of them, guns are just tools. When I moved to the south from the white-bread suburbs of Chicago in my long-ago, faded youth, I was astonished by the caviler assumption and acceptance that there might be violence and, hey, I might be the cause of it, some mope sitting there on the construction site with you, burning a joint, sucking down a few beers, a pistol in his van, close at hand -- YOW! And knives, too, casually walking around with knives, no big deal. I moved first to Florida and then back to yankee-land and then back to Texas thank god and Texas, if anything, has even more of this stuff than Florida. It's interesting.

I never travel in Texas without a handgun in my truck, damn sure would never go to Houston without one.

And lots of people will say "Hey, it's not like that, we're all civil and shit!" and yeah, maybe they are. But not everyone is. Gun culture. Go to a gun show -- it's one of the most amazing things on the planet, it's the one place where cops and peace officers of every description come together with gang bangers and survivalist nuts and just wackos of every description and then here's Melvin and Myrtle, walking around drinking a soda, and their little kids with them, and it's totally normal. I took a friend of a friend was here visiting from the Netherlands, she was absolutely blown out of her shoes, she was shocked, she was so mad she couldn't see straight, I said "No, calm down, just breathe, let's not leave" -- she wanted immediately to leave, felt pretty much how I feel around baptists, disgusted and frightened and appalled. So we hung in, she caught her breath, got the feel of it, began talking to these people, and they are people, just like regular people, right, except their somewhat, um, different? She learned a lot about the US that day and damn sure a lot about Texas.

Cold water swimming: You're going to have to get away from Houston for this -- water and everything else in Houston hugely polluted -- but in the hill country and here around Austin there are swimming holes and creeks and rivers that are great fun to swim in. It's one of my fave things about it here. Who'd have guessed, right? Great fun.

San Antone? A real bore. Don't waste your time at that silly river walk, a bunch of corporate restaurants and trash, a tourist trap. I go to San Antone only for the art museums, which is I believe one of the largest secrets on the planet -- San Antone has two world-class collections, and one of them in an old Lone Star beer distillery, really a super cool exhibition space, really, really done well. It's a good day trip. There is great tex-mex in SanAntone, just stay away from the tourist traps, eat where the Texican-Mexicans eat, right? Makes sense to me. And: San Antone has the only tex-mex health-food restaurant I've ever seen -- talk about a strange juxtaposition. Tex-mex and health food? Huh? Adelante. Don't miss it.

I'm going on. I love Texas. Especially Austin. If Texas cities were women... Dallas would be a bankers wife with a razor in her purse, a pistol under her pillow, beautiful, phony, hard; Houston a trashy, slutty lying whore, lying in the muck there in the coastal flats, her makeup running in her sweat, you'll have fun but she'll take your money; San Antone a pretty but lifeless, uneducated and sometimes just dumb Hispanic gal, the lights are on but nobodies home, dumb as a sackful of hammers, but Austin... Austin is the girl next door. Pretty. Smart. Bright. Fun. Happy. Doesn't wear make-up. Won't fake orgasms. Wears funky clothes but not dirty ones. Austin is art its own self, walking on down the road, smiling in the sun...

Um, ok. I do love Austin. I bet you will, too.

I love Houston too, but I know it, real well. I mean, you can love a whore, right? Happens. Just be aware, is all.

I like to visit other places but there is nowhere in America than I would rather live than Texas, most particularly Austin. It's just different, it's a strange land in between. It's huge, that's part of it -- twice the size of Germany. It's beautiful, in spots. It's got just the best heart you can imagine but it doesn't come to you -- or it didn't come to me -- doesn't come to you immediately. Culture shock, right? So much to assimilate...

I'm headed on out the door, gonna hop on the mountain bike and take a spin, meet up some friends. A good thing, probably, as I'd write all night here -- I do love Texas, and I love to try to give people a sense of why, and what it is here. The women as just the best, so strong and mean and fun and good; yeah, you can find heartless bitches anywhere you go, and there's sure lots of them in Houston and Dallas and points in between, but even in Dallas you can find these soulful women, with these great eyes, fun smiles, nice boots.

What else......................
posted by dancestoblue at 5:32 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, they have barbecued crab.
posted by ormondsacker at 7:17 PM on July 7, 2009

Native Houstonian, currently living in Austin (moved back to Texas after a few years in NJ).

You sound like you'd be happier inside the Loop, in Montrose or the Heights, than out in Sugar Land, which is cookie-cutter suburbia and was even when I was a kid. I was living in the Heights in 2000 and my precinct went Nader, so you can find hotbeds of raging liberalism in Houston. And you can run and bike during the summer either on urban hiking trails or somewhere like Memorial Park. Just do it in the evening, which is plenty doable since it'll be light until close to 9 PM. The food is fantastic, so you'll need to exercise to keep the weight down! And yes, there are crime, rednecks, and guns, but my PNW-bred ex, who grew visiting kin in Grant's Pass (OR) proved to me that those are everywhere. He still lives in metro Houston, by the way.

Outdoor activities are better in central Texas (Austin/New Braunfels), except in the dead heat of summer. If nobody has recommended tubing on the river, let me be the first. It's a bit of a drive for a day trip--it's about three to four hours out here--but quite doable as a weekend. Aside: get used to people measuring distance by time.

If you move to Houston with the attitude you'll hate it, I'm sure you will. You may not be from Houston, but to misquote a Lyle Lovett song, Houston wants you anyway. We're like that. But there's a lot of good times to be had if you'll go in with an open mind and the sense that you should enjoy your time as a tourist.
posted by immlass at 7:48 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a town where nearly everyone is from somewhere else, and they're here for the opportunities, just like y'all will be. People don't come here to visit and be tourists, they come here to work. It's a cheap place to live for a big city, so you can live it up in an expensive neighborhood, or move to a place that's like what you are accustomed to and save your money. Houston is so big and diverse that you can pick your culture. I hate guns and don't go to church and this isn't a problem. I do love tacos and driving really fast. If you get out of my way, I'll wave hello at you.
posted by zinfandel at 8:00 PM on July 7, 2009

Not sure if Sugar Land - the part you'll be in - is actually in Houston. But there is a mayoral race that may interest you.

"Annise and her life partner, Kathy Hubbard, have been together since 1990. They have two children."
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:26 PM on July 7, 2009

I *love* Houston (as much as I love NYC currently) and lived there for 8 years, living hella cheaply and fun-ly in the Rice Village or Montrose or Historic 9th Ward. The Vietnamese and Indian and Mexican and pie are amazing (better than here, no joke). The radio is a godsend. The record stores are phenomenal. The Orange Show, the Beer-can House, the Cy Twombly gallery (OMG LOVE!!), the crazy Byzantine Chapel, the Rothko Chapel, the Aurora Picture Show, the Art Car Museum & Parade? And that crazy Dan Flavin space where you can roll on the floor and watch the fluorescence spin.

Um, but you can't be a complainy jerk in Houston, or you're gonna be miserable. Like, people will be *sincerely* friendly, and fine with where you're from and what you like, and if you are like "OMG TEXAS IS FULL OF RACISTS AND HOMOPHOBES AND WHITE TRASH AND KEN DELAY (WHO DOESN'T EXIST)" and you don't even think about how the gay pride parade in Houston is bigger than the one from wherever you're from (not kidding) and involves an 8' diameter disco ball suspended by a crane? And that the mayor of Houston commented on my friend's Facebook profile about how awesome Deadwood is? Or that the top floor of the Warwick Hotel has a view that Bob Hope called "the best in the world"? If it's going to be like that, you should just buckle down for The Duration, and escape to Austin whenever you can.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:35 PM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

Houston is the only city I've seen in America with any mystery left to it. Because there was no zoning as such for a long time, you can still find odd little one-off places to go in Houston. Two of my favorites were The Last Sunset Cantina and the Lizard Pub. The first, which appears to be gone, was a Mexican restaurant hidden in a warehouse district north of downtown. A lone red door in the white wall of one warehouse was the only demarcation. Inside it was all pavilions, open air patios and music. The Lizard Pub was one house on a street of Victorian homes. Inside was a bar, with a series of living rooms complete with couches and bookshelves.
posted by atchafalaya at 9:31 PM on July 7, 2009

Don't tell me the Lizard Pub is gone. It's one of my favorite bars in the whole city.

I think Houston's lack of zoning is a feature, not a bug. (Not that you are saying bug, atchafalaya -- but a lot of people lament it. I tell those people to go back to Pleasantville.)
posted by pineapple at 10:55 PM on July 7, 2009

As a Houstonian, I would just like to thank everyone here for saying such nice things. I don't think I could have said it better myself. If you let it, Houston will surprise you. It is most definitely a Hot Town, Cool City.
posted by nimsey lou at 11:43 PM on July 7, 2009

As suggested above, live in the city and do a reverse commute down to Sugar Land. Or come here to Pearland in the sections either side of 288. My suburban neighborhood is ethnically and internationally diverse, welcomes everyone, and voted over 60% for Obama.

Houston is a huge, huge city. There are quaint urban neighborhoods, their are hipster hang-outs, there are poor crime-ridden slums, there are exurban cookie-cutter subdivisions, and there is much, much, more. The people here are truly the warmest, friendliest, and most generous of any I've seen anywhere I've lived. I say that as someone who has also lived on both coasts, Great Plains, and overseas. Houstonians are genuine, unpretentious, and welcoming.

Take the time to come and visit for a week or two before you move here, and leave all your preconceptions behind. If you do so, you will be surprised.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:16 AM on July 8, 2009

I grew up in Houston. I live in Austin now and have for a long time, and I definitely like it better, but Houston was pretty cool too. Your stereotyped view of what it will be like is completely retarded, frankly. Yes, there are some rednecks, but there are rednecks in Oregon and Washington too. Houston is a huge multicultural city with an awesome music scene, great restaurants, great museums, and everything else you would expect to find in a large city. One thing you may not be used to is that there are real, scary, dangerous straight-up ghettos where it's not safe for non-residents to walk down the street alone, but those are easy to avoid (and it may be better now, I moved away in the 90s). There are top-quality drugs available if you're into that. The greatest college radio station on Earth (KTRU Rice Radio) is there. You definitely don't want to live in Sugarland. Check out Montrose (the heart of a huge gay community, and a hip neighborhood for straights and gays both) or the Heights.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:19 AM on July 8, 2009

Oh, and if you're into nightlife, be sure to visit Numbers, one of the greatest sleazy snort-coke-off-the-toilet-tank one-night-stand nightclubs in the US. When I lived there, it was like a Texas version of the Hacienda.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:28 AM on July 8, 2009

An apochryphal story ...

It was 1836, and Gus and J.C. Allen, brothers who were real estate speculators from the Northeast, had just purchased 6,000 acres of mosquito-infested swamp from a soldier's widow. Puzzling over possible names for their new city, they happened upon the notion of naming it for Sam Houston, recently a hero for leading a ragtag band of "Texians" (outnumbered 10 to 1) against the army of Mexican General, Santa Anna, and not only defeating them, but capturing Santa Anna who (according to legend) was entertaining a young lady in his tent who later came to be memorialized as the "Yellow Rose of Texas" - but that's another story.

Gus and J.C. just knew that if only they could get Sam's permission to use his name, they stood a good chance of attracting the first capital of the new republic which, of course, would bring a windfall of commerce their way. They went to visit Sam and found him to be several sheets to the wind, which was Sam's wont.

After several unsuccessful attempts at pleading their case, they finally said, "Mr. Houston, if you'll grant permission for us to name this city after you, we'll promise that your name will be the first word man ever says on the moon."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The point: Houston has always been touted not on what it is, but what it will become. As bad as the economy may be, there is still more opportunity in Houston than anywhere else on earth. Enjoy yourself!
posted by John Borrowman at 10:39 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I lived in Houston for five years. A few general notes:

- Rent or buy, make sure your residence has air conditioning
- There's lots of good food
- Great place for seeing and doing things (do lots of day trips and overnighters)
- The weather can suck much of the time (heat, rain, ice storms) but you learn to work around it
- Learned to keep my mouth shut re: politics, sexuality, religion (I'm very liberal/socialist)
posted by deborah at 1:33 PM on July 8, 2009

@Decemberboy. I have happy memories from 1995 of Liam from Oasis getting pelted with cans in Numbers after he came over all stroppy at Americans.
posted by arcticseal at 6:47 PM on July 8, 2009

I moved to Houston almost ten years ago for the same reason. Houston (and Texas) was the last place I wanted to live. But I grew to love Houston almost immediately for many of the reasons stated above, and when we were transferred again two years ago to Dallas I realized how much I loved (and miss) Houston. I lived in the Heights, which was very liberal, but as someone mentioned previously, not a great commute to Sugar Land. Still, don't live in Sugar Land, live in Houston. Go to the Art Car Parade, go to all the wonderful FREE museums, enjoy the sunshine, and the great restaurants. But bottom line, if you live in the suburbs (and a lot of the suburbs are technically in Houston), you won't get why people love the place.
posted by bwanabetty at 7:47 PM on July 8, 2009

I never travel in Texas without a handgun in my truck, damn sure would never go to Houston without one.

This is crazy talk. Most of the city is quite safe. I don't know or see many people with guns walking around. The whole OMG gunz!! thing is way overblown.

The nice thing about outdoor activities in Houston is that you have 8-9 months a year to do them in relative comfort. While northerners retreat indoors for the winter, we hunker down for the summer.

If you're worried about culture, don't be. Seconding the above recommendations for living inside the loop, though.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:29 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anonymous, others have answered this question much better than I could have (I visit Houston occasionally but I'm an hour and a half away), but I just wanted to gently submit that Texas is really not as bad as internet commenters who've never been there would have you believe. You and your partner should plan a trip before the move to check it out.
posted by kryptondog at 1:13 PM on July 9, 2009

Hey, anonymous: MeFi-mail me, please. I've lived here for about 14 years and love it. I'd be very happy to find out what kind of stuff you're into and point you in the right direction. Houston's got a little of everything, but a lot of the weird stuff if you're into that!
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 6:54 PM on July 10, 2009

It seems like most of it has been covered, but I will echo what seems to be the overarching theme here--there's a lot more to Houston than meets the eye, and you will get out of it what you choose.

Just to summarize my favorite aspects of the city, which are admittedly a little arts-centric:

- The Menil Collection & art complex, a world-class museum, which includes the Rothko Chapel, the Cy Twombly Gallery, and a fantastic little oak-lined neighborhood of minimalist, slate-gray bungalows.
- Anvil Bar & Refuge, where some seriously innovative locals have turned cocktail enjoyment into a gastronomic experience with fresh, locally grown ingredients and adventurous, homemade tinctures, not to mention a stunningly-designed space.
- Caroline Collective, a hip, entrepreneurial community center that is part art gallery, co-workspace, and innovation engine.
- Fresh Arts Coalition, a group of awesome, independent arts organizations.
- Brasil, a coffeehouse & restaurant that combines stylish sensibilities and affordable fresh cuisine with a remarkable lack of pretension.
- Lots and lots and lots of amazing restaurants that reflect the city's international melting pot atmosphere, (be careful, or you will get fat), including T'afia, Shri Balaji Bhavan, Himalaya, Dolce Vita, Niko Niko's and Blue Fish House, just to name a few. Seriously, this is the tip of the iceberg.

The city has always managed secretly to outshine its reputation as a white-color-crime-loving oil town, but it's really beginning to come into its own, with lots of exciting, young, entrepreneurial types who are building new things with issues like community values and sustainability in mind.

Please feel free to message me directly if you want more info.
posted by safran at 1:46 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

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