"When I get real bored, I like to drive downtown and get a great parking spot... and then I sit in my car and count how many people ask me if I'm leaving." -- S Wright
I'd be lying if I said there was any downtown as amazing as the entirety of New York City. That city is THE CITY, and it's just really hard to compare. That being said, I have my share of favorite downtown districts outside of NYC, and my two favorites just may surprise you!
My favorite downtown was my least favorite downtown when I first moved to the city in 2005. At that time, this downtown district was a ghost town, occupied only by workers until 5pm with the homeless and thugs taking over after dark. There were few apartments, even fewer nighttime dining options, and almost no green space. The amazing baseball stadium and fantastic theater district (2nd only to Broadway) were, in my opinion, the only saving grace! Where is this gem, you ask? Why, it's no other than Houston, TX!
So, what has changed? A LOT! When I left Houston for a short stint in New Orleans in February 2008, the city had not changed much. Parking lots and skyscrapers still dominated the downtown landscape. The only shopping in the area was an old Macy's, and while a few restaurants had sprouted up, lunch fare was still the dominate cuisine. Imagine my shock in September 2008 when I evacuated New Orleans (long story) and found this in Houston:
Several new towers and upscale apartments/condos have popped up since 2005, along with exciting dining options, more stores, and improved amenities. My favorite additions include the Houston Pavilions and Discovery Green. The Houston Pavilions center has become downtown Houston's premier entertainment location with several shopping and dining options, Lucky Strike bowling, and the House of Blues!
Discovery Green is probably my favorite place to hang out in Houston (sorry Hermann Park). Originally the home to two large surface parking lots and a small, run down park, Discovery Green is a beautiful, 12 acre park and destination for downtown employees and residents to enjoy. It houses two restaurant options, activities (such as a model boat lake in the summer and ice skating in the winter), and a public library. It also hosts various events all year, including regular outdoor fitness/dance classes, movies, holiday events, farmer's markets, etc. The park is truly "green" too, utilizing various solar, storm water, recycling, and sustainable technologies and products to allow the park to achieve and maintain LEED certification. All of this is such a complete 180 from where it was only 8 short years ago. An amazing theater district, some of the best dining in the country, great park, and shopping?!?! Kudos, Houston!
My second favorite downtown (again, outside of the whole of NYC) is another place I didn't expect to like after my first visit. While this place is much more lively than Houston, it's not a downtown many think of as a destination when they are visiting from out of town. I didn't expect I would spend much time here when I first moved to California, yet here we are and I am writing a blog for it... Hello, downtown Los Angeles!
I don't think there are enough words to express the joy I have from exploring downtown Los Angeles. I love all the hidden treasures... the hidden garden behind the Walt Disney Concert Hall... the free fashion museum at FIDM... Angel's Flight. And who can forget the birthplace of LA (El Pueblo de Los Angeles), the birthplace of the French Dip (Philippe's near Chinatown), the Arts District, the Fashion District, LA Live (home of Nokia Theater, Staples Center, and more), and Chinatown? This place has so much to do and so much more to explore! Here are some pictures of my favorite downtown discoveries so far (I discover more and more with each visit):
Angel's Flight - world's shortest railway
Philippe's - Must try if you're ever in the area
Sneak peek of the garden at Walt Disney Concert Hall
The amazing LA Live
So now that you've seen my favorites - what are yours? Do you prefer the more famous Chicago waterfront skyline? The hills of San Francisco? Or are smaller towns more your speed? I may have grown up in a town with a smaller population than the last building I worked at in Houston, but I will forever love the tall cityscapes of these towns!
Until next time...