There’s so much to say about this incredible city – far too much to squeeze into one article! We want to give you a good overview of what Houston is really like.
From historical events to cultural landmarks, geography, climate, population, and religion, here’s a rundown of all the key things you need to know about Houston.
There’s a lot to cover here – the history of Houston is fascinating. Here are the key points:
1837-1900: Founding Houston
Let’s go right back to the beginning. The City of Houston was established in 1837 by brothers Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen. It was named for their friend, Sam Houston, a governor and U.S Congressman.
Initially, it was the temporary capital of the Republic of Texas, part of an independent nation until 1846. Right from the start, Houston was a bustling area, serving as a commercial and transportation hub for the region, and later, a military logistics center during the American Civil War.
1836-1845 saw prosperity and rapid growth for Houston. With the Allen brothers working to establish Houston, the population grew from 12 residents to 1,500 just a few months later. After that, things began to pick up steam quickly, with 1837 seeing the first Texas Congress meeting.
Right from the start, Houston was leading the way in terms of technological advances. A key turning point in Houston’s history was the development of the railroad system in the 1850s. Then, in 1870, Congress designated Houston a port, which again opened up possibilities for Houstonians.
1900-2000: Civil Rights, Wars, and The Great Depression
Houston was booming with cultural landmarks popping up (like Sam Houston Park, which opened in 1899, and events like the first Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 1932). Then, the Great Depression arrived, but despite the stock market, Houston kept building regardless.
With flooding causing millions of dollars in damage to properties around Houston, this was a difficult era.
Being a transport hub, Houston had a large part to play in both World Wars, particularly World War II, with steel mills and shipyards playing a vital role in the war effort.
Post-WWII, things began to bloom. Foley’s department store opened in 1947, followed by the Alley Theatre. Houston also gained the nickname ‘The World’s Most Air Conditioned City’ when air conditioning arrived in Texas.
Houston was a little more low profile in terms of the Civil Rights Movement. There was a lunch counter sit-in in 1960, a nonviolent direct protest by Texas Southern University students. Notably, Hattie Mae White was elected to the Houston school board in 1959, the first African-American to be elected in a vital position in Houston in the 20th Century. Lee P.Brown, Houston’s first African-American mayor, was elected in 1997.
Of course, Houston is famous for its involvement in space exploration, with NASA’s Johnson Space Center opened in 1961. The first word spoken from the lunar surface was ‘Houston,’ which is a pretty incredible piece of history to look back on.
2000-Present: Modern Life
Houston continues to thrive in culture and sports. Airports and light rail services were developed, and more green parks were opened. In January 2010, Annise Parker became the first openly gay mayor of any large American city.
Houston has seen its fair share of natural disasters since the year 2000, with Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001, Hurricane Rita in 2005 (this closely followed Hurricane Katrina and caused the mass evacuation of 2.5 million Houston residents), and Hurricane Harvey in 2017, with record flooding causing damages estimated at around $50 billion.
Despite these setbacks, Houston continues to grow and thrive.
Let’s take a look at the geography of the city.
Natural Geography of Houston
Houston is the most populous city in the south of the U.S. It’s located about 50 miles northwest of the Gulf of Mexico and is the ninth-largest city in the U.S by area (it covers a whopping 601.7 square miles, with around 96% of that being land.
Houston is 165 miles from Austin, 112 miles from the border of Louisiana, and 250 miles from Dallas. It has four major bayous passing through.
Houston is part of the Gulf Coastal Plain biome. The land is primarily marshes, forests, swamps, and prairies.
It’s a very flat city, which is an issue when it comes to flooding. However, Houston is fairly free from earthquakes.
Houston is home to several rivers and bayous, which help to drain floodplains in the region. Buffalo Bayou is the longest at 53 miles. There are also White Oak Bayou, Addicks and Barker reservoirs, Cypress Creek, Brazos River, and more.
Houston is also home to several lakes, including Lake Houston and Clear Lake, a tidal lake covering 2,000 acres. There are several beautiful beaches too, as well as several public parks.
In terms of climate, Houston is pretty warm (but very well air-conditioned!). The summers get very hot, with temperatures reaching 95°F in the summer. The winters are cool, dipping down to 47°F, and Houston tends to be rainy and cloudy throughout the year.
The Allen brothers initially divided Houston into wards (or districts). 9 altogether, categorized as either inside or outside Interstate 610 (‘The Loop’). Inside the loop, you’ll find a very urban business district. There is a lot of variation in terms of wealth and class.
Inside the loop, there are many things to do in Houston, with a thriving shopping scene with many malls and fashion boutiques.
You’ll find the Clear Lake/NASA zone outside of the loop, with many developments in aerospace-related industries.
The city has the third-largest skyline in the U.S, following New York City and Chicago.
What are the main cultural touchpoints you need to know about in Houston?
Houston’s theatre district is famous for good reason. It has over 13,000 seats for live performances and 1,580 movie seats. It is home to the Houston Grand Opera, The Houston Ballet, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Theatre Under the Stars, and The Alley Theatre.
The Tony-Award-winning Alley Theatre is a must-visit. Founded in 1947, this is a Houston staple, and it’s the oldest professional theatre company in Texas. It’s considered to be one of the most prominent theatre companies in the states. Heavily damaged by flooding from Hurricane Harvey, The Alley Theatre has undergone massive renovations over the years.
The Houston Grand Opera is also an important cultural landmark in Houston, winning a Grammy, a Tony, and an Emmy (the only opera company in the U.S).
The Bayou Place Entertainment Complex is worth a trip, too – it includes restaurants, bars, movie theatres, and live music venues. There’s also the Houston Music Hall, a well-known venue for incredible live music performances.
You can find shows, performances, and exhibitions to suit every interest in the Theatre District. It’s easy to get around using the Metro Rail light rail service from Theatre District Station.
Houston is home to 6 professional major league teams:
- Houston Astros (MLB)
- Houston Texans (NFL)
- Houston Rockets (NBA)
- Houston Dynamo FC (MLS)
- Houston Dash (NWSL)
- Houston SaberCats (MLR)
There are two major stadiums in Houston: Minute Maid Park (the Houston Astros) and Toyota Center (the Houston Rockets). They’re both in Downtown Houston, and their presence has helped improve the area’s nightlife.
Sports fans may also like to visit the NRG Astrodome, the first domed stadium in the U.S. The NRG Stadium, BBVA Stadium, and Aveva Stadium – all with different specializations.
There is 4 Division I college programs in Houston:
- The Cougars (University of Houston, FBS)
- The Owls (Rice University, FBS)
- The Huskies (Houston Baptist University, FCS)
- The Tigers (Texas Southern University, FCS)
- The Panthers (Prairie View A&M University, FCS)
There are also many annual events in Houston, the most prominent being:
- Houston Marathon (Running)
- Houston College Classic (Baseball)
- Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (Rodeo)
- Houston Open (Golf)
- U.S International Rugby Match (Rugby)
- U.S Men’s Clay Court Championship (Tennis)
- Bayou Bucket Classic (Football)
- Texas Bowl (Football)
- SWAC Championship Game (Football)
- SWAC Basketball Tournament (Basketball)
These take place throughout the year, with many other smaller events going on too.
You can’t think of Houston without thinking about NASA. Houston has a rich history in terms of space exploration, with the Johnson Space Center in Houston being a major tourist hotspot. A complex of over 100 buildings, the Johnson Space Center is more than just a historical building – it continues to develop advances in space exploration and technology.
Houston is sometimes nicknamed ‘Space City’ and continues to be a hub for space exploration.
Historical Buildings/Museums in Houston
There are several historical buildings of note in Houston.
San Jacinto Monument and Museum of History
Housing one of the largest collections of art, artifacts, and history about Texas, the San Jacinto Monument and Museum of History was created in honor of the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836 – the battle that gave Texas independence.
Designed to encourage friendship between Texas, Mexico, Spain, France, and Latin America, the museum contains many objects and manuscripts. From ancient Mayan artifacts to Mexican works of art, it’s an incredible treasure trove for history lovers.
This was the last battleship to participate in World War I and World War II. It’s also the first battleship memorial in the U.S and an incredibly important place for the Texas Navy. Decommissioned in 1948, it’s now located in San Jacinto, and it’s one to visit if you’re into naval history.
Lone Star Flight Museum
This is a 130,000 square-foot facility with an incredible array of historic aircraft. Dating back to World War I, this is a must-visit. It also houses exhibits of aviation history in Texas, and the Flight Academy is a fun interactive journey for all ages.
Buffalo Soldiers National Museum
This museum honors African American military members who have served in the U.S Army since the days of the Civil War. Incredibly informative and worth a trip for the reenactments and exhibits.
Sam Houston Park
If you want to visit the oldest buildings in Houston, this is the place to go. Visit the Kellum-Noble House (1847), the Fourth Ward House (1883), and other establishments of historical note while enjoying tours and exhibitions. If you want an immersive experience that will walk you through the history of Houston, Sam Houston Park is a must.
There’s a thriving arts scene in Houston. The Bayou Bend Museum of Fine Arts holds some incredible objects throughout American history, including objects and art – it’s a fantastic day out for all ages.
For modern art, check out Sawyer Yards – it’s an industrial site in a working train yard, housing over 400 artists’ studios, and it’s open to the public on the second Saturday of every month.
There is an incredible number of restaurants in Houston, offering a diverse range of foods. Iconic Houston dishes include chicken-fried steak, breakfast tacos, Viet-Cajun crawfish, Pho, and Fajitas. If you’re looking for a good steakhouse, Houston is the place to be.
Known for international cuisine, there are tons of great places to visit in Houston for dinner, including The Barbecue Inn (barbecue ribs, chicken fried steak and gravy, and stacked barbecue sandwiches) and Houston’s This Is It Soul Food (oxtails, smothered pork chops, ham hocks, mac and cheese, candied yams, and all the comforting home-cooked dishes you could imagine).
Shopping for groceries can be a reasonably expensive affair in Houston, depending on where you go – there are some discount supermarkets around. Still, generally, the cost of food is on the higher end of the scale for Texas.
Here’s everything you need to know in terms of the demographics of Houston, according to Houston census data:
As of the year 2019, the population of Houston, Texas, stood at 2.31 million, with 876,504 families – a bigger population than Dallas and San Antonio. It has 968,704 homes.
In terms of population density, it houses 3,630 people per square mile.
Racial Demographics of Houston
The racial demographics of Houston are as follows:
- White: 57.02%
- Black or African American: 22.59%
- Other race: 11.05%
- Asian: 6.77%
- Two or more races: 2.20%
- Native American: 0.32%
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 0.05%
Income and Employment
The most recent data shows the median individual income in Houston is $25,259, with a median household income of $52,338.
Houston, sadly, has the largest number of newly poor neighborhoods in the country (after Detroit). The poverty rate has risen in recent years, rising to 20% in 2018. Almost half a million people live below the poverty line. The unemployment level currently stands at 6.5%.
The highest-paying jobs in Houston are in engineering, chiefly reservoir engineers ($204,900) and petroleum engineers ($189,100).
As well as being home to many opportunities in aerospace, there are other prominent industries in Houston, including manufacturing, energy, life sciences and biotechnology, digital technology, and transportation/logistics.
As of 2010, Houston had the second-largest increase of foreign-born persons, and as of 2011, 22% of the residents in Greater Houston were born in another country. In Harris Country, there are over one million immigrants.
According to a University of Texas Health Center survey, 20% of residents consider themselves to be of poor-fair health. Half of Houston residents do not have dental insurance.
While Houston tends to lean conservative when it comes to elections, Houston is fairly liberal for the Bible belt area on specific subjects, like same-sex couples, immigration, equality, and gun control.
As you might expect, Houston is home to primarily English speakers. However, many people in Houston speak Spanish or Spanish, Creole and Vietnamese, Chinese, and Arabic.
Houston LGBTQ+ Community
Houston has the largest LGBT population of any city in Texas. As far back as the 1970s, there were gay bars in Downtown Houston and Midtown Houston, with many people flocking to the neighborhood of Montrose.
There is also a prominent LGBT scene in Westbury (with residents sometimes referring to it as ‘Little Montrose’) and Riverside Terrace, Houston Heights, and Greater Houston. Particularly LGBTQ-friendly cities include Pearland, Sugar Land, and Missouri City.
Houston hosts the 4th largest gay pride parade in the U.S.
The most prominent school district in Houston is the Houston Independent School District (HISD). It covers 312 square miles with 288 schools, 13,000 teachers, and 210,000+ students. There are also some great options for private schools in Houston.
Houston has more than 40 institutions of higher education, including some well-regarded colleges and universities.
There are many opportunities for education within Houston, including the City of Houston Public Library, which offers many local branches, computer terminals, book-by-mail services, children’s libraries, and a genealogical research library.
As of 2016, the religious demographics of Houston were as follows:
- 46% Protestant
- 31% Catholic
- 18% No Religion
- 5% Other Religions
Christianity is the most practiced religion here. Prominent churches include Lakewood Church, the largest church in the U.S (44,800 attendees in 2010), and the home of Joel Osteen. It’s also home to Lakewood, Second Baptist Church Houston, Woodlands Church, Church Without Walls, and First Baptist church.
The main hub for Jewish life is located in Meyerland, with many Jewish people scattered across the whole of Houston.
There are around 250,000 Muslim Americans in Houston (as of 2017), with over 200 mosques and religious centers.
Let’s take a look at the economy of Houston.
Much of the economy in Houston is driven by energy (oil in particular). Other industries, like the aerospace industry, biomedical research, and healthcare, are also thriving in Houston. In 2010, Forbes ranked Houston as the number one city for paycheck worth, and it has also been identified as the top city in America for job creation.
Tourism and retail also play a massive part in the economy of Texas, as well as trade. The Port of Houston is the sixth-largest port globally, and it’s a busy area in terms of foreign and domestic cargo.
Coffee and oil are two key trade areas, but Houston has been diversifying trade industries since the 1980s.
According to the U.S Bureau of Economic Analysis, Houston’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at $512.2 billion in 2019 – the nation’s seventh-largest metro economy.
To Sum Up
We hope this has helped to give you a snapshot of life in Houston. A thriving, vibrant, diverse city with tons of places to visit, Houston welcomes everyone!