The basketball universe will center around Houston this coming weekend for a few action-packed days of explosive NBA action, highlighted, of course, by the All-Star Game on Sunday. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and the rest of the sport’s elite names will be the focus, but thanks to a superstar roster of restaurants, events and hotels put together by our editors, they’re far from the only game in town.
How to Get There
With two major airports within 30 minutes of downtown, Houston is more than equipped to handle all those celebs touching down on their private jets. For those flying on commercial airlines, you should know that George Bush Intercontinental is a hub for United Airlines. While this makes it easier to snag a nonstop flight, it can also be a hassle to navigate the busy international airport—the city’s largest. Consider flying into the smaller Houston Hobby, which is the airport for Southwest Airlines and a few commuter airlines.
And, yes, Texas is a giant state; but Houston is only four hours from Dallas and about three hours from San Antonio. Translation: Mavs fans (though there aren’t any Dallas Mavericks playing in the All-Star Game) and Spurs fans alike (Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will rep San Antonio) can easily drive in to town for the weekend.
Where to Stay
Top-notch hotels are making a play for Houston. Less than a mile from the Toyota Center (host to Sunday night’s main event) and the George R. Brown Convention Center (the Sprint All-Star Celebrity Game venue), you’ll find the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Four Seasons Hotel Houston. The 404-room hotel underwent a $25 million overhaul in 2010, making the spacious rooms more glamorous than ever. And if you really want to live large, book the new Presidential Suite that was just unveiled last fall.
While being in the up-and-coming downtown area is great, The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa is the place to be when you’re looking to unwind. Set on 18 acres just off the busy 610 Loop, The Houstonian feels more like a relaxing retreat than an urban hotel. But when you’re ready to face the crowd that has descended upon Texas’ largest city to watch the NBA’s elite duke it out, you’re just a short drive from the arena.
If you’re looking for a trendy spot, try Hotel ZaZa Houston. Sitting in the Museum District, this vibrant hotel is a must-stay for those hoping for some star sightings.
Where to Eat
Though Houston has never been famous for its hip dining scene, our team believes it’s on the rise. Over the last couple of years, the city has seen an influx of hot restaurants. When Tyson Cole brought Uchi to town in 2011, plenty of Houstonians were thrilled to have the Austin transplant—and innovative Japanese cuisine to boot. It’s in the eccentric Montrose neighborhood, about 10 minutes from the Toyota Center.
Another restaurant that has been pulling in praise is Oxheart, which is on the other side of downtown in the historic Warehouse District. Try snagging one of the 30 seats to indulge in a tasting menu of chef Justin Yu’s creative spin on regional vegetables.
And as you’d expect in just about any sports town—and especially in Texas—there are plenty of steakhouses to go around. Downtown, you’ll find fan favorite Vic & Anthony’s less than a mile from the arena. But Houstonians flock to the flagship Pappas Bros. Steakhouse for juicy filets.
What to See and Do
While it’s all about the courtside action during All-Star Weekend, the city provides a lot of pre- and post-game activities. Start in the downtown area. It was once a place that shut down when the workday ended at 6 p.m., but it’s now a vibrant neighborhood around the clock. Try Discovery Green, a 12-acre urban park that offers everything from bocce ball courts and outdoor movies to a lake for kayaking and canoeing.
Exploring the Museum District is a must—whether you’re into contemporary art, medical history or natural science, there’s a museum here dedicated to it. Choose among 19 museums within a mile-and-a-half radius. And even if you don’t want to spend the whole day indoors, it’s worth walking around the neighborhood, which is home to the prestigious Rice University.
One of Houston’s best assets—and probably what it’s most famous for—is NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and this year’s All-Star uniforms were inspired by the city’s aeronautical history. While you can’t exactly wander through NASA, you can take a tour at Space Center Houston. You’ll see everything from the historic Apollo Mission Control Center to astronauts training for upcoming missions.
Aside from parks and museums, Houston is also home to the Lone Star State’s oldest craft brewery, Saint Arnold Brewing Company. Tour the three-story building Monday through Saturday. You’ll get a souvenir glass and indulge in plenty of tastings. It’s the perfect way to wind down the weekend.
Photos Courtesy of Papas Bros. Steakhouse, Houstonian Hotel, Four Seasons, NASA and Ed Uthman