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Houston

Want to do the best possible whirlwind tour of Houston? It's pretty much a snap with the Houston CityPASS, which covers five attractions at a savings of more than 40 percent over the combined cost of individual admission. Attractions include Space Center Houston, the Downtown Aquarium and the Houston Museum of Natural Science; for your last two attractions, you can choose either the Houston Zoo or the Health Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts or the Children's Museum. (Read on for descriptions of these attractions.) Passes can be purchased online in advance of your trip.

space center houston shuttle rocket At Space Center Houston, you can take a behind-the-scenes tour through NASA's Johnson Space Center, where you may get a glimpse of the historic Apollo Mission Control Center and check out the new Saturn V Complex at Rocket Park. Occasional offerings in the tour include a visit to the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory and a peek at astronauts training for future missions. Visit on a Friday for a chance to meet an astronaut.

Houston's Museum of Fine Arts is one of the country's largest, with numerous visiting exhibitions complementing a strong permanent collection with works by Picasso, Gainsborough, O'Keeffe, Botticelli, Munch, Pollock and more.

Popular exhibits at the Downtown Aquarium include rain forest, Louisiana swamp and Gulf of Mexico habitats, as well as white tigers from India.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science has something to suit just about everyone, from dinosaur fossils and colorful gems to Egyptian artifacts and African wildlife. Kids and adults alike will appreciate the creative interactive exhibits.

You can walk through a huge model of the human body, including a 27.5-foot intestine, at the Health Museum. New to the Amazing Body Pavilion is a soundproof screaming booth where you can test the decibel level of your voice. The museum is also home to Houston's first 4D theater.

Elephants and giraffes and chimps, oh my! These are just a few of the creatures you can check out at the Houston Zoo. Hour-long behind-the-scenes tours are available, allowing guests to meet a zookeeper and learn more in depth about how the animals are cared for.

In addition to the Museum of Fine Arts, art lovers should also be sure to check out the Menil Collection, housed in the first American building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The museum is home to the eclectic collections of John and Dominique de Menil, who amassed a wide variety of paintings, sculptures, photographs and decorative objects from ancient times to the contemporary period. You'll see work by artists including Matisse, Picasso, Ernst and Johns.

In the Bay Area, wander the tiny streets with a camera and photograph about three dozen brightly decorated fiberglass pelicans, which serve as landmarks in Old Seabrook, a town offering a handful of sweet little homegrown shops and galleries.

In nearby Alvin, visit Bayou Wildlife Park to ride a tram past habitats serving as home to some creatures from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

You're also close to Galveston County's only winery, Haak Vineyards and Winery, producer of the award-winning Blanc du Bois. Look for the winemaker's lovely olive orchard, too.

fountain discovery green houston Visitors can enjoy the great outdoors thanks to a 12-acre park in the middle of town. Discovery Green replaces parking lots facing the George R. Brown Convention Center. A perimeter of century-old live oak trees provides a natural framework within which designers built the Great Lawn, grand-scale pieces of art, a boating pond, a giant fountain (fun for kids to splash in during hot days), dog fountains and runs, picnic grounds, a playground, an amphitheater, jogging trails, and places to play bocce ball, horseshoes and croquet.

Green is key here, as all concessions are eco-friendly and utilize biodegradable products. A full schedule of performing arts includes opera, blues, jazz and ballet on various stages, and monthly offerings include authors' readings and ballroom dance lessons, Pilates and yoga classes, kids' writing workshops, and much more.

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Another lovely green space, in the shadows of downtown's high-rises, is Sam Houston Park, which offers guided tours of historic homes in the park. Hiking and biking trails also wind through downtown along Buffalo Bayou.

Houston's night life is becoming legendary, due in part to Houston Pavilions. This complex houses Lucky Strike Lanes, House of Blues and Pete's Dueling Piano Bar, among others.

If you're a sports fan, see which teams are in town. The Houston Astros play Major League Baseball downtown at Minute Maid Park, and the NBA's Houston Rockets play a couple of blocks away at the Toyota Center. The Houston Texans play NFL teams at Reliant Stadium. The world's largest rodeo -- the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo -- also takes place at Reliant.
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