THE American city of Houston, Texas, has a little bit of country and a whole lotta cool, says Mr Jorge Sranz, 36, vice-president of tourism at the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In town for the launch of Singapore Airlines' new flight to Houston - which started on March 20 - he gives tips on how to make the most of your trip to the city:
1. Sports central
"Welcome to America's best sports city," says Mr Sranz. "While you can't rub shoulders with the 2.29m-tall Yao Ming, you can definitely catch him in action with the Houston Rockets if you plan your trip carefully."
Apart from basketball, watch a game of baseball or head to any of the 165 golf courses that dot the landscape of this coastal city. If you are an avid golfer, visit www.playgolfhouston.com to plan your tee time. The website offers some good golf holiday packages in Houston as well.
|MOON WALK: Visitors can watch astronauts train at Space Center Houston and touch a real moon rock, says Mr Sranz (above).
Mr Sranz also suggests visiting the city's state-of-the-art stadiums.
2. Fancy a lift-off at Nasa?
Head to Space Center Houston which offers an out-of-this-world experience. The facility boasts simulated space voyages and mission control panels as well as an Astronaut Gallery, which offers a real feel of space.
Visitors can see astronauts train for missions, touch a real moon rock and take a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
3. Art and culture
Houston is a thriving arts city. At the heart of it all is the Houston Museum District, where 17 museums and a 20.2ha zoo are all within walking distance.
Start your art trek at the Museum of Fine Arts. Founded in 1900, it is the oldest museum in Texas and is one of the few American museums with a significant collection of Latin American art.
Diagonally opposite that is the Contemporary Arts Museum. A short walk will get you to the Children's Museum of Houston designed by renowned architect Robert Venturi.
The city's theatre district is the second largest after Broadway. Says Mr Sranz: "You can catch touring blockbuster hits from Broadway or London's West End. I also recommend catching a performance by the Houston Symphony and the Houston Ballet, which have won international acclaim."
4. Ranch and rodeo
Journey to the George Ranch Historical Park where cattle and cotton are king. The ranch, which is 48.2km away from Houston, offers a historic home tour as well as interactive outdoor exhibits. Visit www.georgeranch.org to see what one of Texas' oldest ranches has to offer.
If you happen to be in Houston in March, don't miss the livestock show and rodeo.
5. Off the beaten path
Mr Sranz is pretty certain Houston is the only place in the world where you can see a coffin shaped like a Mercedes-Benz. To view it, go to the National Museum of Funeral History, which tracks burial history through the years. Also visit the Beer Can House, which is made of nearly 50,000 cans of beer.
"Houston offers an incredibly vibrant cuisine," says Mr Sranz. There are close to 5,000 restaurants in this city. But if you have time for just two, make it a point to try the steak at Taste of Texas and don't leave without visiting Cyclone Anaya's - one of the hippest places in town - which is run by the two sons of a professional wrestler named Cyclone Anaya and offers great enchiladas, ceviche and margaritas.
"Before you pack your bags, you have to go to Belvedere. On Thursday nights, it plays great Latin American music. At other times, this swanky bar could be hosting a fashion show. It has received several Best Nightclub awards and is the perfect place to unwind," says Mr Sranz.
He also recommends a trip to the Red Door in midtown Houston. Make sure you get to the rooftop bar and enjoy a breathtaking view of the city.
This article was first published in Life!, The Straits Times on April 15, 2008.