How do you spend a single day exploring one of the largest cities in the United States? Simple, you pick one part and stick to it. I decided to spend my day exploring “Bay Area Houston,” part of the southeast Houston area nestled against the waters of Galveston Bay.
9:00 a.m. I started the day at Space Center Houston, the official visitor center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The center is on the outskirts of Houston, but it felt like I had ventured to the outer limits of our solar system. I walked among artifacts taken to the moon and back, visited Historic Mission Control, and even observed astronauts in action at the NASA training facility where scientists prepare for missions to the Interna-tional Space Station and future Orion missions. I even walked beside a 363-foot-tall Saturn V rocket identical to those used to send men to the moon. By the end of the tour, I was ready to volunteer for the first manned mission to Mars.
11:30 a.m. Realizing I was a couple of academic degrees short of that goal, I decided to simply eat like an astronaut. So, I headed to Kemah’s Hoagie Ranch, a local sandwich shop covered with antiques, knickknacks, and autographed photos of the astronauts who’ve visit-ed for an out-of-this-world hoagie. I feasted on a 12-inch “Kemah Hoagie” with two layers of salami and two layers of provolone that sent my taste buds to the moon.
12:30 p.m. Before this area was home to astronauts and physicists, true Texas Longhorns and pastureland dominated the scene. I stopped into League City’s Butler Longhorn Museum to learn how the Butlers and five other area families helped save the Texas Longhorn breed from dis-appearing after decades of careless breeding. The museum was full of artifacts, including more than 200 Longhorn skulls suspended from the ceiling!
2:00 p.m. Ready to see some living animals, I headed to the Armand Bayou Nature Center, one of the largest urban wilderness areas in the United States, comprised of more than 2,500 acres of marshland, woodland, and coastal prairie. As I hiked a portion of the center’s five miles of trails, the din of the city streets faded into the sounds of chirping birds and croaking frogs. It was crazy to think I was still surrounded by urban development, and I made plans to return for a guided canoe trip.
4:00 p.m. I set off in search of a different kind of animal—the painted pelican sculptures of Seabrook’s Pelican Path Project—scattered across town and dressed as everything from a scuba diver to a hippie. A map from the visitor center helped me hunt down every last bird and left me standing in front of the Seabrook Waffle Company, where I enjoyed an authentic Belgian waffle smothered in strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream.
6:00 p.m. For a meal to go with my dessert, I stopped at Tookie’s Hamburgers & More, a local favorite serving up monstrous burgers and hand-battered onion rings. I ordered some stuffed-jalapeño “pelican eggs” and a “squealer” cheeseburger with bacon blended into the patty. One bite revealed why Tookie’s has been around more than 35 years.
7:00 p.m. To cap off the day, I crossed the bridge to the Kemah Boardwalk, an entertainment complex with everything a classic boardwalk needs: rides, games, music, corn dogs, and funnel cakes. I explored the shops, rode the rides (including the “Boardwalk Bullet” wooden roller coaster), and then head-ed to the top floor of the parking garage for the best view of the Friday night fireworks!
As the colors exploded over Galveston Bay, it occurred to me that to consider the Houston region as one giant mass is to miss the true flavor of the “Bayou City.” Each area is distinctive, and well worth its own trip. So, whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.
Contact the Bay Area Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau at 281/474-9700 or 866/611-4688.
Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper™ travel show on PBS.