With over 2.3 million residents, Houston is the most populous city in Texas and the fourth largest in the United States. With an affordable cost of living, a strong job market, and an array of things to do, it's unsurprising it continues to grow. If you're planning on making Houston your new city, here are some things you should know.
1. Houston is huge.
Houston covers 627 square miles, making it the third-largest major city after Jacksonville, FL and Oklahoma City, OK. In comparison, Dallas covers 385 square miles, Los Angeles spans 502, and New York City covers 468.
As you might imagine, getting around a city this large can take a while. If Houstonians chose to live across the city from where they work, they can expect an hour-plus commute. Therefore, many people choose to live close to where they work or spend the majority of their time.
2. Those aren't rivers; they're bayous.
Houston is a major port city due to access to the Gulf of Mexico. While you may believe the waterways running through Houston are rivers, they're actually bayous — that's where the city gets its nickname "The Bayou City."
While bayous are slower moving than the majority of rivers and creeks, the real difference is nomenclature. People call some waterways in Houston bayous and while they call others creeks, even though they both appear the same.
3. A diverse population calls Houston home.
Houston is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities in the United States. People from countries all over the world have made Houston their home, and this diversity shines throughout the city.
4. Be prepared for extreme weather.
Due to its flat geography and proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is susceptible to various types of extreme weather. Tropical storms and hurricanes often hit the city, causing damage from flooding and high winds. Houston is still dealing with the physical and economic effects of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in 2017.
Strong thunderstorms and small tornadoes also impact Houston, though it's not in as much danger of tornadoes as Dallas.
5. There are over 50,000 acres of park space.
While you may think of Austin as the green Texas city, don't underestimate parks in Houston. Located near the Museum District, the 445-acre Hermann Park has a pedal boat lake, shaded walking trails, and a sculpture garden. It's also home to the Houston Zoo.
The biggest chunk of green space in Houston is Memorial Park. In fact, with 1,466 acres, it's one of the largest urban parks in the US. With so much space, the park has 30 miles of trails where you can hike, walk, and mountain bike, as well as picnic areas where you can enjoy a meal from an on-site food truck.
6. It's hard to walk between neighborhoods.
Houston isn't the most walkable city. While you might be able to walk around your neighborhood, depending on where you live, it's difficult to walk from one neighborhood to another due to poor infrastructure.
7. It helps to have a car to get around the city.
The public transportation system in Houston can use some improvements. It doesn't reach all areas of Houston, and if you want to get from one side of the city to the other, it will take a lot of transfers and eat up a good amount of your time. Although traffic is bad during rush hour, driving is faster than taking a bus.
8. You can train like an astronaut or head to the beach.
Houston can keep you busy with its unique attractions and entertainment options. Head to the Space Center for a glimpse inside the world of NASA. You can take a look inside a replica of the Space Shuttle Independence, check out astronaut suits, and even catch a tram tour of the Johnson Space Center. If you want to learn about another topic, the Museum District is home to the Children's Museum, Fine Arts Museum, Museum of Natural Science, and more.
If you want to escape the city for a bit, you can head to the island town of Galveston. Hang out on the beach, scream on some amusement rides, or paddle out on the gulf on a kayak.
Like shopping? Then you don't want to miss the Galleria, a huge mall in an upscale neighborhood.
9. Cheer on the home teams.
While there isn't a professional hockey team in Houston, they have pretty much every other professional sports team. If you're a fan of baseball, you can cheer on the Astros, and if the NBA is your thing, Houston is home to the Rockets. The MLS team is the Dynamo, and the NFL team is the Texans.
10. There aren't any zoning laws.
Most cities have zoning laws to designate residential and commercial areas and guide real estate construction. Since Houston doesn't have any zoning laws, almost anything goes. You can build a new home in the middle of downtown or someone could build a bar or gas station in the middle of your residential neighborhood.
11. The first step in finding a neighborhood is deciding whether you want to live inside or outside of the loop.
First off, the loop is the circle created by Interstate 610. The areas inside the loop tend to be more walkable and have more to do. Of course, Downtown Houston is inside the loop, but so are the following notable neighborhoods.
- Midtown: Perhaps the most happening area in Houston, this area has lots of bars and restaurants.
- River Oaks: Upscale residential properties mixed with trendy boutiques and high-end restaurants in this neighborhood.
- Montrose: People consider this the eccentric part of Houston due to a funky blend of small art galleries, cafes, and gar bars.
Outside of the loops has a more suburban feel. Some places to live outside the loop include:
- The Woodlands: While technically not part of the city of Houston, it's a well-known planned community in the metro area.
- Sugar Land: This is another planned community that's not part of Houston, but popular with middle-class families in the Houston Area.
12. There aren't any income taxes, but there are sales and property taxes.
There aren't any state or local income taxes in Houston. However, that means you'll end up paying your dues to the government in another way. The combined state, county, and city sales tax is 8.25%, and property taxes are high as well.
13. There's a stable job market.
The economy in Houston is diverse, and major employers include those in the retail, medical, and oil and gas fields. Top employers in the Houston Metro Area include Walmart, Memorial Hermann Health System, and the grocery store chain H-E-B.
14. Get excited about the food.
Yes, Texans know how to make some excellent Tex-Mex and barbecue, but Houston's food scene offers a lot more. If you want it, Houston likely has it.
15. Ice houses are popular places to chill.
If you don't know what an ice house is, here's the basics: today, ice houses refer to laid-back bars serving beer, often in bottles and cans rather than on draft. Ice houses usually have an open-air component and lack liquor licenses.
In the past, these places used to store ice and sometimes served as small convenience stores. However, newly-built establishments also use the phrase ice-house to describe their laid-back and open-air atmosphere.
Head home to Houston.
Once you move to this Texas city, you have the opportunity to make it feel like home. Get out and explore this Houston, because it has a lot to offer.