There's never been a better time to visit Houston.
I spent 10 years in Space City before moving back home to Austin, and in that time I developed a deep love for the things that make the city so special: its food, its arts and, most of all, its people.
During a recent weekend visit, I was pleased to find that everything I loved about Houston was still there and, in fact, better than ever. As the 50th anniversary of the moon landing approaches this summer, it's a great time to plan a trip. Here are some new and notable things to do when you go.
A decked-out dessert bar with a magical unicorn theme? Seems too good to be true, right?
When Unicorn Magical Dessert Bar opened earlier this month in Houston at 907 Westheimer Road, eager visitors circled the block to get a taste of the brand-new sweet spot, which features everything from pink hot chocolate to lemonade swaddled in cotton candy to a monster vanilla shake topped with a hulking slice of rainbow cake. Believe it.
“It’s a whole unicorn-themed concept. Kids, even adults, are crazy about unicorns. Everybody loves unicorns,” said Alex Imam, CFO of Unicorn Magical Dessert Bar. “People love this concept.”
On opening weekend, Imam said people waited up to four hours in line to sample the shop’s unicorn goodies, which include cupcakes, doughnuts, shakes, cake pops, cookies and rolled ice cream. Two weeks ago, the wait inside the highly Instagrammable shop, which also has a unicorn mural and a color-changing light tunnel, was shorter, about 30 minutes on a weekday afternoon.
Can’t make it to Houston? No worries. Permanent locations in Fort Worth and Dallas, which previously had a pop-up version of the shop, are expected to open this month, and an Austin location on East Sixth Street is slated to open in May. A full announcement will be made on Facebook within the next few weeks; learn more at facebook.com/unicorndessertbar.
Have lunch with an astronaut
When the Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, it opened up a world of possibilities for future space exploration. In honor of the landing's 50th anniversary, Space Center Houston is hosting a variety of special events.
Perhaps the most personal is the Lunch With an Astronaut program, which allows visitors to hear firsthand stories from NASA astronauts including Mark Polansky, Brian Duffy and Dr. Anna Lee Fisher, who became the first-ever mom in space in 1984, while enjoying a catered lunch.
"I always wanted to be an astronaut since I was 12 years old," Fisher said recently at Space Center Houston. "I flew in 1984. It was a really exciting mission. We launched two satellites and we rescued two satellites. ...I just remember this intense pride of the American ingenuity to build this amazing machine. When the doors opened and you see the Earth below, it's just unbelievable.
Cost is $69.95 for adults and $35.95 for children 4-11; price includes a personalized photo from the guest astronaut and admission to Space Center Houston. Lunches take place at noon on Fridays and Saturdays. Learn more about Lunch With an Astronaut and other Space Center Houston events at spacecenter.org.
Get posh at the Post Oak
Yes, it's pretty. Yes, it's fancy. And yes, the new AAA Five-Diamond Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston is worth a visit. Billionaire businessman and native son Tilman Fertitta hit the nail on the head when he envisioned this property, which opened last year.
First, let's talk about the amenities, which include a two-story Rolls-Royce showroom and on-site Bentley and Bugatti Post Oak Motors dealers; a half-dozen dining options that range from a Parisian patisserie to Texas' first Mastro's Steakhouse; and a museum-worthy art collection featuring work by Frank Stella, Alex Katz and Robert Motherwell. It's also home to Texas' sole Forbes Five Star spa, which covers 20,000 square feet spa and offers, among other things, a decadent — and $1,000 — In-Skin Radiant Complexion facial.
Standard guestrooms are over 500 square feet and increase in size and price from there. Rumor has it that Beyonce and Barack Obama have both stayed in the presidential suite, which spans 5,000 square feet and includes its own private elevator access.
For a decadent tribute to Space City, book the hotel's NASA package, which includes a two-night stay at the hotel; a $300 food and beverage credit; helicopter and private car transfer to Space Center Houston and Johnson Space Center; a guided tour of the space center by a local astronaut; private lunch with an astronaut; and a Ritual of Five Worlds signature treatment for two at the Spa at the Post Oak. Package price is $10,000. Learn more at thepostoak.com.
Get to know van Gogh
It's not every day you get to sit in Vincent van Gogh's bedroom.
But now through June 27, you can do just that — and take in more than 50 of his masterworks — as part of the new exhibit "Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art" at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.
Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the exhibit spotlights everything from landscapes to portraits and spans his time as an artist, from early sketches to final paintings.
“This exhibition will offer visitors a vivid portrait of Van Gogh’s evolution as an artist,” Museum of Fine Arts Houston Director Gary Tinterow said in a statement. “We are grateful to the Van Gogh and Kröller-Müller museums for lending so many of these rarely traveled masterworks from their collections for this exclusive presentation here in Houston.”
Perhaps one of the biggest draws, especially for families with children, is the companion exhibit, "Van Gogh Up Close," which allows visitors to interact with the artist and his work, from stepping into "The Starry Night" to painting their own sunflowers to snapping a photo inside his famous Arles bedroom.
Learn more and plan a visit at mfah.org/exhibitions/vincent-van-gogh-his-life-in-art.
Art appreciate at the Lancaster
Still feeling artistic? Book a room downtown's Lancaster Hotel, which recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation that refocuses its mission on the visual arts.
What does that mean for guests? More than 200 contemporary pieces around the hotel and in each guest room by Texas artists including Mark Flood, Terrell James, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Aaron Parazette and Margo Sawyer. Centrally located in the Theater District, it's choice pick for weekend away. Learn more at thelancaster.com.
RELATED: Discover one of Texas’ best children’s museums and other surprises in Johnson City