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Bayou City: Houston's best kept secrets

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

The lowdown on Bayou-town

If you're looking for insider info on the best Houston has to offer, we've got the tips for you. Whether you're taking a romantic getaway or a family vacation, Houston has more to offer than meets the eye.
Downtown houston

If you ask most people where they want to go in Los Angeles or New York City, they can give you a list. Ask them where they want to go in Houston, and they'll draw a blank. But Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S. and one of the most diverse!

The Horn Bar & Grille

What's better than jazz, blues and R&B mixed with tasty soul food? How about salsa lessons? Check out The Horn Bar & Grille to have a great adult-only time on your next night in Houston. Salsa rookies need not be intimidated, either. They have plenty of dancers of all levels, and it's a casual atmosphere, so if you don't have salsa gear (or didn't bring it with you), you'll have a blast anyway. Salsa night is Thursdays, but if you're there another day of the week, you can still expect to be well fed and more than well entertained.

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

This awe-inspiring temple is detailed with pillars, domes and marble walls without an ounce of steel or iron. Almost 3,000 artisans from the country that brought us the color, music and splendor of Bollywood shipped almost 35,000 pieces directly to Houston to be erected by volunteers in only 16 months. This isn't your typical Hindu place of worship, though. The first Mandir of its kind in North America, it hosts events and exhibitions that educate those of us from the Western World about ancient Indian traditions, art and philosophy.

Houston Downtown Tunnel System

OK, hear us out, because we know what you're thinking. Underground tunnel? Unlike the tunnels in New York City that have become the stuff of reptile-filled nightmares, the tunnel system in Houston is more like a finished basement mall. With over 70 restaurants and coffee shops, and dozens of markets, gift shops and other retailers, you could easily spend all day window shopping and eating. Don't forget about your bragging rights here, either. Even a lot of Houstonians have never been! Check the website to find one of the 11 access points.

El Real Tex-Mex Cafe

What to do, what to do... with this vintage 1930s movie theater? Well, turn it into a restaurant, of course! Star Houston chef Bryan Caswell did just that. The El Real Tex-Mex Cafe features local Tex-Mex favorites in addition to traditional Tex-Mex cuisine from across the state, including old throwbacks like chili con carne with placed eggs and Felix chile con queso. The storefront features the original Paramount-style leader board and neon lights. Go at night for an authentic Tex-Mex meal and a killer photo opp.

Cedar Hill Park

When people think Houston, they think urban, but for you outdoorsy types, located not 35 miles away is the beautiful Cedar Hill Park, lined with a string of four lakes — Charlotte, Miller, Mud and Mac. Evolutionary biologist Joan Stassmann is a fan of this area, because "not one of these lakes has a smidgeon of development on its shores." The largest Westernmost cypress swamp in the United States, Cedar Hill Park is the perfect place to experience local wildlife (including alligators and mosquitoes, so be careful and bring lots of repellant!).

Heights Massage & Day Spa

After a night out at Horn Bar, you'll probably want to relax (and if you went on salsa night, work out some of that muscle soreness). Check out the Heights Massage & Day Spa. For only $50, you can get a half-hour table massage. They also offer other self-pampering services, like facials, waxing and eyelash extensions!

Heights Massage & Day Spa lets you escape the touristy, high-traffic atmosphere. The by-reservation-only store doesn't advertise and has no sign to welcome passersby for a last-minute treat. They'll give you the true celebrity treatment when you pass through the high Japanese wood fence and foliage and enter their tranquil, relaxing atmosphere.

Heights Station Antiques

It may not attract much attention from the street as an old 1895 teal-painted carriage barn, but Heights Station Antiques is 5,000 square feet of antiques and collectibles. From glassware and stained glass to sports and rock 'n' roll memorabilia, Heights Station is the stuff of a vintage junkie's dreams (and her husband's nightmares).

Moeller's Bakery

Moeller's Bakery has been serving up sweets since 1930. At the tender age of 83, they're keeping the tradition alive with petit fours and cookies that Houstonians can't get enough of. Local real estate agent Roger Martin calls them "a tradition as old as our neighborhood."

Getting the most of your Houston vacation

The most unique aspect of a Houston vacation is the ability to hook up with a local nonprofit organization called the Houston Greeters. They're a group of local volunteers who give you a truly unique insight into Bayou City by hosting two- to four-hour tours of the destination or activity of your choice.

More on vacationing in Texas

Inside Austin's music scene
Getaway: 10 Things you must do in San Antonio
Steak your claim in Dallas and other eats

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