The best way to get to know Houston is through its neighborhoods! For a historic backdrop with fashion-forward shopping and casual yet high-quality dining, the Heights neighborhood offers a central location for exploring Houston while providing a local feel that somehow makes the nation’s fourth largest city feel a little bit smaller.
The Heights neighborhood, which sits 23 feet higher than downtown, emerged in the 1890’s as a streetcar suburb providing access to downtown via a trolley running down Heights Boulevard. A tree-lined esplanade with a jogging trail has since replaced the trolley’s tracks. This picturesque pathway also serves as the perfect launch pad for your stay.
Where to Stay: Sara’s Inn
Sara’s Inn is a bed & breakfast owned by a local couple who also reside in the Heights. The historic property offers Victorian architecture and rooms full of Texas personality, including the Man Cave, which features furnishings re-purposed from a fallen pecan tree from the grounds of Sara’s Inn. The inn’s location provides easy access to a jogging trail, hike & bike path, and a complimentary pass to a nearby gym. With all these fitness options, it’s easy to reward yourself with the breakfast spread and cooked-to-order morning meals made by Jeannie, who has been manning the kitchen at Sara’s Inn for years.
Trip Chandler Tip: In easy walking distance, you can hang with locals at Eight Row Flint, a slightly swankier version of the icehouse (think neighborhood watering hole) offering whisky, beer, tacos, and plenty of big screen TVs for sports fans.
Where to Shop + Sup
Whether you’re here for a short stay or a longer visit, these three areas of the Heights provide plenty of entertainment, dining, and shopping options. All are a short Uber ride away or a scenic walk through the neighborhood from Sara’s Inn.
Heights Mercantile is a pedestrian-friendly shopping and dining destination with a laid-back vibe paired with plenty of outdoor seating to soak up the scene. For local eats, try Melange Creperie – a former street cart turned restaurant with sweet and savory flavors, an emphasis on local ingredients, and a whimsical interior. For far-out flavors of the frozen kind, Cloud 10 Creamery supplies a roster of ice cream choices from vanilla bean to toasted rice along with seasonal-inspired scoops. Local Foods, an H-Town eatery empire, is known for its crowd-pleasing salads, sandwiches, and entrees (and many vegan choices too!).
Shopping includes a mix of local, regional, and national storefronts. Try on designer eyewear at Warby Parker where their selection of specs is paired with a curated collection of books. Will Leather Goods might be based in Oregon, but their hand-crafted bags and accessories have local appeal, especially with rodeo season nearing. For souvenirs with Texas flair that don’t look like an impulse buy from the airport, check out the well-displayed goods at Gypsy Wagon. Even the Heights outpost of Lululemon Athletica is housed in a 1925 craftsman bungalow that fits right in with many of the homes in the area. Along with their stylish sportswear, Lululemon holds free yoga classes on Sunday mornings.
Trip Chandler Tip: Cross over to Yale Street and browse Barrio Antiguo for Mexican ceramics and home décor.
White Oak Drive
White Oak Drive is a lengthy thoroughfare which intersects at Heights Boulevard. Just look for the portrait of Ann Richards, the first woman to be elected governor of Texas, whose visage greets visitors and residents on a traffic control box-turned-canvas that’s part of a civic arts initiative known as the Mini-Mural project.
Trip Chandler Tip: The Heights is home to several Mini-Murals on Heights Boulevard and 19th Street. Check out this handy map to find them all!
White Oak boasts culinary credentials as well. One of the best restaurants in Houston is disguised as a bar called Better Luck Tomorrow (BLT), a concept from James Beard Award winner Justin Yu. BLT’s effortlessly cool atmosphere includes unique wines by the glass and clever cocktails that pair well with bar food. Brunch is also available on the weekends. If you’re heading back on the road, Lee’s Fried Chicken and Donuts offers a drive-through for an indulgent getaway. For Italian cuisine that’s worth the wait, get in line early for a table at Coltivare, or pass the time with a cocktail in their garden. Pizza and pasta are the mainstays on this menu, with standout small plates and salads, too.
Trip Chandler Tip: On Tuesday nights, when Coltivare is closed, Better Luck Tomorrow provides a pasta fix which includes Coltivare’s beloved black pepper and spaghetti dish (aka, cacio e pepe). Finish with an Instagram post paired with a cup of gelato in front of the Greetings from Houston postcard-perfect mural on the side of Italian ice cream shop, Gelazzi.
19th Street anchors much of the local retail scene with an emphasis on one-of-a-kind finds. Shop owners are often present and always willing to give you a tour of their shop, and many offer refreshments to keep up your shopping stamina. For man cave enthusiasts, Manready Mercantile specializes in menswear from denim to personal care products. For a female-first selection, head to Mary & Moss, Emerson Rose, and Jubilee. Big Blue Whale Toys caters to the younger set, while Vinal Edge will satisfy music lovers who prefer turntables over Pandora. Casa Ramirez imports Mexican folk art and clothing, including guayabera shirts and embroidered tops and dresses. Antique shopping and vintage finds are also represented with Retropolis, housing two stories of treasure-hunting fun. Score Heights-themed merchandise from The Lift.
Trip Chandler Tip: For a caffeine pick-me-up, pop into Boomtown Coffee and take home a roasted-in-Houston blend.
This modern-day Main Street is also home to one of the best live music venues in Houston. The historic Heights Theater once screened movies and later operated as an art gallery. Now, live music is the main event with a calendar full of shows featuring local and touring acts. Before the show, book a table for dinner at nearby restaurants Alice Blue for contemporary fare, or Harold’s for comfort food with a terrace view.
Trip Chandler Tip: 19th Street hosts a Sip and Stroll on the 3rd Thursday of every month from 5-9 p.m. for a lively mix of community and commerce. In addition, there’s a first Saturday Arts Market on 540 W. 19th from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Trip Chandler Heights Trivia: Broadcast journalist Dan Rather grew up in the Heights and attended Hamilton Middle School, which sits at the end of Heights Boulevard at 20th Street.
Featured image: Courtesy of Sara’s Inn