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Toss that guidebook, because we’ve checked in with a handful of loyal Houston locals for a tour of some of the city’s top to-dos. From the big flavors of Houston cuisine to cultural events that attract arts lovers nightly, you’ll quickly see why the city inspires extreme devotion among its residents.

For the best in local theater companies …

Chandra Wilson’s Grey’s Anatomy character, Miranda Bailey, may not have time to take in a show, but the actress always does when she’s back home in Houston visiting family. “We have a really nice performing-arts district downtown,” Wilson says. She recommends shows produced by “the 1 Ensemble Theatre, which is one of the oldest African-American theaters across the country, and by the 2 Alley Theatre, one of our premier equity houses, which has national recognition as well.” -- Chandra Wilson, actress, Grey’s Anatomy

Where local chefs get their chow on (and buy the ingredients to take back home) …

Randy Evans says you’re sure to bump into at least two local top chefs every time you lunch at 3 Irma’s. “She does amazing enchiladas, tamales, carne asada, and carnitas. I usually just show up and say bring whatever. There’s not really a menu to look at.” He also recommends shopping at the 4 Canino Produce Company, a family produce market, to get ingredients (and cooking tools) of your own. -- Randy Evans, chef/owner, Haven

For shopping beyond the ordinary …

5 Kuhl-Linscomb is pretty amazing,” says Eric Shamban. “It has five different buildings, and each specializes in something different. One building is furniture. Another is housewares. Another is jewelry and cosmetics. It’s unique and sophisticated.” If you want to focus on local craft artists, he recommends the gift shop at the 6 Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. “It has very affordable art by local craftspeople.” -- Eric Shamban, co-owner, the Chocolate Bar

Start your day just right …

A self-described “restaurantophile,” Marita Fairbanks has two favorite breakfast spots: “[The] 7 Buffalo Grille -- they have terrific migas [a Tex-Mex breakfast dish], pancakes bigger than your head, and a fun and easy atmosphere -- is great for kids. And 8 Avalon Diner is a classic old-diner-type breakfast place.” -- Marita Fairbanks, founder, Fresh Arts Coalition

Get outside with your kids …

“We just got 9 Discovery Green, which is like our Central Park,” says Monica Pope. “At the opening, [my six-year-old daughter] ran up to me and said, ‘I’m having so much fun in New York!’ She loves to go there.” Follow your visit to Discovery Green with a meal at 10 Tiny Boxwood’s at Thompson + Hanson, an all-in-one flower nursery, landscape company, and café. “It’s all about let’s go look at the plants. It’s not [let’s just] sit here and have a meal.” -- Monica Pope, chef and owner, T’afia

JENNA SCHNUER is a New York–based contributor to American Way.

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To get a strong sense of Houston’s architectural history …

Stephen Fox recommends visiting Project Row Houses, “a collection of 22 houses built as rental housing for African-American working families in the 1930s. In the 1990s, they were rehabilitated as sites for art installations and also for community services. They exemplify a very specific house type … the shotgun cottage, which is usually a very narrow one-room-wide gable-fronted cottage with a front porch facing the street. Each one is identical, and it makes a very strong impact. [There’s also] a neighborhood called Broadacres, [which was] laid out in 1923 as an elite neighborhood. Along [the streets] are what were, in terms of Houston in the 1920s, very grand houses.” -- Stephen Fox, Houston architectural historian

Hike Houston …

Two of Anne Olson’s favorite local hiking and jogging trails are “Buffalo Bayou … [Part] of the trail connects the River Oaks neighborhood to downtown. As you travel east along the trail, you have the downtown skyline and the signature shot people usually see of Houston. The other one I would recommend is Memorial Park. It’s heavily wooded and very shaded. And in Houston, that’s important.” -- Anne Olson, President, Buffalo Bayou Partnership

Take a time out (and read) …

Brasil has great food, great coffee, and lots of outside spaces. People just hang out there. And Hermann Park is a beautiful place to walk, with plenty of quiet places to sit — like up on the hill at the outdoor theater.” -- Jane Moser, manager, Brazos Bookstore

Because your eyes deserve a treat …

Though he tried to resist, Vance Muse couldn’t help but recommend the Dan Flavin art installation at his place of work, the Menil Collection. He loves it that much. “Flavin worked in fluorescent light. So you’re inside this enormous hall, and you’re actually inside a work of art. There’s something very serene about it but also something carnivalesque,” he says. “The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has a fabulous film program. The auditorium is the only auditorium that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe ever designed. It’s amazing. It’s the kind of stadium seating in movie theaters now, but it’s from 1974. It was ahead of its time.” -- Vance Muse, communications director, the Menil Collection

Walk amongst art …

Like Vance Muse [see above], Peter Marzio can’t help but turn toward his own institution when pressed to list the city’s best public art. His top choice? The Isamu Noguchi–designed Cullen Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. “It’s unique, because most outdoor parks that are designed for sculpture are very symmetrical and flat. At the Noguchi garden, the entire garden is a sculpture -- and it was designed to hold sculpture,” Marzio explains. Also, he says the Houston Police Officers’ Memorial “is a very special work of art. On the one hand, it’s a very solemn piece. On the other hand, kids can climb it and you can sit on it and have a picnic. It’s about remembering someone who gave up their life, but it’s also about people enjoying life. It’s that duality that gives it its special dynamic quality.” -- Peter Marzio, director, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston


IF YOU GO... Alley Theatre
615 Texas Avenue
(713) 220-5700

Avalon Diner
2417 Westheimer Road
(713) 527-8900

2604 Dunlavy Street
(713) 528-1993

Brazos Bookstore
2421 Bissonnet Street
(713) 523-0701

The Broadacres neighborhood.
It’s a square formed by North Boulevard, West Boulevard, South Boulevard, and Parkway Drive, which is the east border street.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership
1113 Vine Street
(713) 752-0314

The Buffalo Grille
3116 Bissonnet Street
(713) 661-3663

Canino Produce Company
2520 Airline Drive
(713) 862-4027

The Chocolate Bar
1835 West Alabama Street
(713) 520-8599

Discovery Green
1500 McKinney Street
(713) 400-7336

The Ensemble Theatre
3535 Main Street
(713) 520-0055

Haven (opens midsummer)
2502 Algerian Way
(713) 263-4556

Hermann Park
Miller Outdoor Theatre
(713) 524-5876

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
4848 Main Street
(713) 529-4848

Houston Police Officers’ Memorial
1400 Memorial Drive

22 North Chenevert Street
(713) 222-0767

2424 West Alabama Street
(713) 526-6000

Memorial Park
(713) 863-8403

The Menil Collection
1515 Sul Ross Street
(713) 525-9400

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet Street
(713) 639-7300

Project Row Houses
2521 Holman Street
(713) 526-7662

3701 Travis Street
(713) 524-6922

Tiny Boxwood’s at Thompson + Hanson
3614 West Alabama Street
(713) 622-4224