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Introducing Houston

Think laid-back, pickup truck and boot-scooting town meets high-powered, high-cultured and high-heeled metropolis. During the day, chill out in your flip-flops, take in museums and shopping, then hit happy hour on a leaf-shaded deck. At night, revel in culinary or cultural bliss – the foodie scene and theater district are both nationally renowned. Sure, oil-and-gas wealth underlies a lot of the city's endeavors, but you'd never know it from the lack of pretension. What's not to like about a place where a weeks-long rodeo and barbecue cook-off is the favorite reason for stepping out? Here starched jeans are de rigeur in all but the very fanciest of restaurants.

Houston may rank behind Chicago as the nation's fourth most populated city, but it covers a greater area than all of New Jersey. Diverse residential neighborhoods and enclaves of restaurants and shops spread far and wide. You'll miss out if you limit yourself to Downtown. The leafy Museum District is the city's cultural center; Upper Kirby and River Oaks have upscale shopping and dining; Montrose contains cute bungalows, quirky shops and eateries; Midtown has up-and-coming condos and some good restaurants; Washington Ave is nightlife central and the Heights has historic homes and boutiques. Don't forget that a couple of the town's main attractions – NASA's Space Center Houston in Clear Lake and Galveston Island – are outside the city limits, requiring a 45-minute drive down I-45.