Houston is a city of superlatives. It is the biggest city in Texas — and now, after a decade of growth, America’s fourth largest. It is also home to The Astrodome, the world’s first multi-purpose, domed sports stadium — nicknamed “The Eighth Wonder of the World” when it opened in 1965. With more millennials than boomers and a growing mix of cultures bringing a fresh spirit to the city, the Houston of present day boasts a winning array of gastronomic hotspots, new museums and posh hotels to go along with it. All of this cultural expansion has inspired an influx of wealth too, as the city of “big” now ranks among the nation’s top 10 cities for million-dollar sold homes, according to a Luxury Market Report published by Coldwell Banker Previews International program and Real Data Strategies, Inc.
There is little wonder, then, why the NFL settled on Houston for Super Bowl LI. Come February 5, the city will come alive with parties, celebrity sightings and well-heeled fans in search of their ideal version of Lone Star style. Here’s a peek at the chicest things to do and see, before, during and after the big game.
See: Of course, you’ll want to watch the game from inside the NRG Stadium on Sunday. (This state-of-the-art stadium is another claim to fame for the city; it’s the first facility in the NFL to have a retractable roof.) Super Bowl VIP packages range from $5,800 to over $11,000.
If you don’t fancy yourself a football fan, don’t worry. The city is teeming with a vibrant culture and arts scene to keep your heart content. One must-see? James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace, a pyramidal structure resting on the Rice University campus that is equipped with an LED light sequence that projects onto the ceiling and through an aperture in the 72-foot square knife-edge roof just before sunrise and at sunset during musical performances. Then there is the revered Menil Collection, with its main museum designed by Renzo Piano and a sprawling collection comprising over 17,000 objects and works of art, which range from works by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso to antiquities from the Byzantine and Medieval eras. A fun fact for design devotees: Philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil gave a young Philip Johnson one of his first residential commissions, their modernist masterpiece in Houston’s ritzy River Oaks neighborhood. If these earthly delights don’t thrill you, set your sights higher at the Space Center Houston.
Do: There are parties galore happening throughout the city during Super Bowl weekend. “Bulls and Blackjack Celebrity Poker Tournament and Casino Night” at a private manor in River Oaks and Ditka and Jaws Cigars with the Stars on February 2, or the chic “Leather and Laces” on February 3 and February 4 at Hughes Manor are just some of the most exclusive events. You can also take a break from the party circuit and recharge with some retail therapy at River Oaks District, offering more than 600,000 square feet of upscale retail, including Cartier, Chopard, Tom Ford, Van Cleef & Arpels, Roberto Cavalli and Patek Philippe at de Boulle.
Eat: You can always enjoy the dishes at “Taste of the NFL,” the annual event featuring chef superstars around the country with all proceeds being donated to U.S. food banks. Tickets cost $700, with VIP tables starting at $10,000. If you want to explore the acclaimed Houston restaurant world, there is no shortage of outstanding choices. Italian mainstay, Da Marco, always attracts an A-list crowd. There’s the coastal Mexican of Caracol — a favorite of Food Network star Sandra Lee. The River Oaks District has its very own steakhouse and its apparently divine: Steak 48, which just opened last summer. And there’s the highly anticipated Bayou & Bottle lobby lounge at the Four Seasons, set to open this month after a swanky remodel.
Stay: For five-star glitz and glamour, you won’t be disappointed by the ever-fashionable Four Seasons Houston. If you want more wow factor, there’s always the hip Hotel Zaza Houston. And if you’re looking to be among the first in a city of firsts? Try the brand-new, 1,000-room Marriott Marquis Houston, which just opened in December — with a giant Texas-shaped lazy river pool perched 110 feet above ground level.
Live: If you’re considering making your stay more permanent, Houston offers a multitude of luxury properties to suit refined tastes. While you’re visiting, why not take a tour of this gorgeous, custom 2012 build, listed by Jeffrey Dunn of United, Realtors? Set on a prominent boulevard in the heart of posh Afton Oaks, this residential gem boasts a seamless flow through elegantly appointed, grandly proportioned, light-filled rooms touched with 11-foot ceilings rich hardwoods and plantation shutters throughout. The thoughtfully executed floorplan offers four or five bedrooms with en suite baths, plus a versatile game room/media room and/or third-floor exercise room. Sophisticated on the inside and out, the home features iPhone controlled security and home automation, and beautiful landscaping with mature camellias and a truly magnificent oak.