A rare and exotic species has found its way to Houston of late. Known in other cities as pedestrians, the carless creatures are suddenly appearing along a vibrant 7 1/2-mile stretch of the city, thanks in large part to Houston's new light-rail system. Any new visitor to the city would do well to see them in action--and join them for a ride on the new rails and a stroll around town.
Where to begin? Pick your spot. Reliant Park, a popular convention site, is on the Metrorail route, close to Reliant Stadium (home of the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo). So are the hotels and high-rises of Houston's downtown business district. Near the northern end of the rails lie the Toyota Center, where Yao Ming's Rockets hold court, and Minute Maid Park (known locally as the Juice Box), where Roger Clemens pitches.
The Metrorail also goes deep into the heart of Houston's museum district. The Museum of Fine Arts and the Contemporary Arts Museum are on Bissonnet Street, adjacent to the rail. Also nearby: the Menil Collection--one of the country's most distinguished troves of 20th century art, in a serene, minimalist setting--and the Rothko Chapel, designed by artist Mark Rothko and home to 14 specially commissioned works in undulating shades of black, gray and violet.
And don't forget the food. Bank Jean Georges at the Hotel Icon, a lavishly restored former bank, sits less than two blocks from Preston Station on the Metrorail. Part of the culinary empire of chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the restaurant is a temple to gorgeous, delicious food. Golden, ruby red and candy-striped beets brighten a simple salad; Texas blue crabs star in a sublime crab cake. For a more casual, festive evening, try Bossa, near the Main Street Square stop, which offers zesty pan-Latin fare and has a hopping bar scene. Afterward, stride down the block and across the street to Sambuca Jazz Cafe on Texas Street, where you can hear live jazz and sample a California-heavy wine list.
While the Metrorail may pose little threat to Houston's status as a concrete paradise, it is a great alternative to downtown's scarce and expensive parking. A one-day Metrorail pass is just $2 (if anyone bothers to check your ticket), and several stations have their own parking lots. Of course, taking a walk in Houston means leaving the air conditioning behind. You've been warned.