Grad School 101: The Houston Experience

By Emily Elia: Houston has a lot to offer, and the city is a great home during your time at Rice. 

Houston, TX at twilight

Houston is the fourth largest city in the country and the largest in the Southern US. It is also the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the US! City residents speak at least 145 languages, and 90 nations have consular representation in the city. Houston has a lot to offer, and the city is a great home during your time at Rice. 

Read on for some popular spots in Houston!

Check out the Space Center!

You would be remiss to spend several years in Space City and never check out NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The Space Center has a myriad of fun displays, exhibits, films, and experiences; you could easily spend a whole day here. Some highlights include exploring a space shuttle, seeing the enormous Saturn V rocket, and seeing the Mission Control room that has recently been renovated to look exactly as it did when our astronauts landed on the moon.  

Eat your way around Houston.

The diversity of Houston brings an amazing restaurant scene to the city. You can find nearly any kind of cuisine you’d like, and your options span from fine dining experiences to amazing food trucks. Everybody you speak to will likely have their own list of must-try restaurants, but looking at some professional lists online is a good place to start. If you’re going to be in Houston, though, you must find yourself the staples: Texas BBQ and Tex-Mex

Enjoy the many art museums. 

Houston has multiple art museums that are a must-see while you’re here. The Museum of Fine Arts is the largest museum, and it boasts a massive amount of permanent exhibitions and collections as well as temporary exhibits that change every few months. The museum also has a cinema for any film lovers. On Thursdays, admission is free for everybody!

Right near the Fine Arts Museum is the Contemporary Arts Museum. If contemporary art is more your speed, this museum is a must-see. The Contemporary Arts Museum is always free!

The Menil Collection is another great collection to check out. They have a multitude of exhibitions as well as a sculpture garden. And, like the Contemporary Arts Museum, it is also always free. 

If you’re a Rothko fan, you must check out the Rothko Chapel. The chapel is “a tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of American painter Mark Rothko,” open to visitors of every belief. It is currently closed for renovations but is set to re-open soon.

Get some work done at local coffee shops.

Houston has lots of small, local coffee shops that provide both great coffee and a great atmosphere to get some work done. Course work is a little bit easier to get through with a latte by your side! You could probably spend a whole semester exploring the many coffee shops in the city, but here are some favorites close to campus—and yes, you’re correct in assuming that Montrose especially is a hot spot for good coffee!:

Yes, you’d be correct in assuming that the Montrose neighborhood, just north of campus, is a hot spot for good coffee! For even more options around the city, you can check out other must-try coffee shop lists here and here.

Take a drive out to Brazos Bend.

Houston’s metropolitan area and adjacent suburbs are geographically expansive, but you can escape the busy-ness of the city with a 45 minute drive out to Brazos Bend State Park in Needville. Brazos Bend has many walking trails around its wetlands and woods, and its calm and quiet atmosphere makes for a nice getaway for the day. Brazos Bend is also a great place to go to see some wild alligators! The park is home to a lot of alligators, which you can often see lounging in the grass or in the water along the walking trails. 

Explore Houston’s breweries. 

If you’re a locally-brewed, craft beer kind of person, then you’ll love exploring the many breweries Houston has to offer. And if you aren’t, you’re still bound to have a fun time with friends checking out Houston’s breweries! Thanks to the great weather in Houston, many of these spots offer ample outdoor seating with fun patios, available yard games to play, and dog-friendly grounds. Some must-try breweries include:

You can check out a longer list of must-try breweries here

Get some exercise along Brays Bayou.

Brays Bayou meanders through the city, and it offers more than 30 miles of “hike and bike” trails! These trails are often not too crowded, either, making them a nice route for anyone looking for running or bike route off the Houston streets. 

Catch performances at Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park.

If you’re a fan of live music and live performances, Miller Outdoor Theater is a great spot to catch a show for free! All seating at Miller Outdoor Theater is free, but they do offer covered seating that requires an official ticket. If you don’t feel like registering for a ticket, you can also sit on the hillside without any ticket needed. The outdoor theater is situated in Hermann Park right by Rice’s campus! 

You can check out the theater’s schedule of performances here.

Clear your calendar for the annual Houston Rodeo!

If you’re going to become a Houstonian, then you have to experience the annual Houston Rodeo! The Rodeo is typically hosted for around 3 weeks during March and/or February, and it is a very big deal. The Rodeo has extensive fairgrounds with shopping vendors, livestock exhibitions, and a multitude of food booths. You can likely find almost any fry-able food for sale here! There are also different competitions occurring throughout the day. Each night during the Rodeo is a rodeo competition/live music duo where you will watch bull riding, barrel racing, mutton busting, bronc riding, and roping followed by a live concert. Every night is a new musical guest, and the line-up typically ranges from hip hop artists to country artists and everything in between! For example, in 2019 the Rodeo hosted Cardi B, Luke Bryan, Panic! At The Disco, Zedd, Kings of Leon, and George Strait, just to name a handful! The Rodeo really does have something for everybody, and it is a Houston experience you don’t want to miss!

Read more:

Grad School 101: Seven Rice resources to check out now!

Grad School 101: What to expect during year one

Grad School 101: Make virtual conferences work for you

About the author: Originally from Massachusetts, Emily Elia is a third-year Ph.D. student in political science. She graduated from the University of Alabama in 2018 and currently studies comparative politics with a focus on Latin America.