In a city as young and as populous as Houston, it would seem you can't drive a block without spotting a strip mall. But not all shopping areas in the city are as quintessentially bland and commercial. Here's a look at some of the best and most interesting places to shop in the Houston metro.
When most Houstonians think shopping, they think the Galleria. At the heart of the neighborhood is a massive, maze-like mall with roughly 400 stores and restaurants, an ice-skating rink, children's play area and even two swimming pools, but dozens more shopping and dining sites are located throughout the area. The mall itself is known for its high-end stores like Gucci, Tiffany & Co., and Neiman Marcus, but there is plenty of variety to satisfy any avid shopper.
Tip: There are several parking garages around the mall, but parking and traffic are nearly always a pain. Plan to spend a bit of time finding a spot, or opt for the valet to avoid a headache. The Galleria area is located in the Uptown area of Houston, just a few blocks north of the intersection of US 59 and the West 610 Loop. You can also check out Breweries Inside Houston's 610 Loop.
If crowded indoor malls aren't your thing, try the Rice Village shopping district. The area has dozens of stores, restaurants, and salons situated within a span of just a few blocks. Brands include New York & Co., Victoria Secret, and Sephora. Refuel at any one of the great restaurants in the area, such as Torchy's Tacos or Black Walnut Cafe. With so much packed into such a small area, it's a great spot for window shopping and people watching.
The shopping district is just a few blocks from Rice University, or — if you're feeling adventurous — about a mile and a half from the METRORail Red Line's Hermann Park/Rice U Station. When the weather is nice, the walk beneath the shade of the live oak trees surrounding the university is a real treat.
Tip: Like any area inside the Loop, parking can be a challenge. A paid parking garage is located near Morningside Drive and University Boulevard. The area is located roughly between Morningside Drive and Kirby Drive and stretches from University Boulevard up to Tangley Street.
The Heights 19th Street
The Heights is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Houston in no small part due to its funky mix of old and new, great green spaces, and high-quality restaurants. But the area's small shopping district is its true pride and joy.
Shopping along 19th Street in the Heights is like going on a treasure hunt without a map. The secondhand shops along the stretch offer no shortage of fun and quirky finds — from vintage handbags to eccentric costumes to old-school cowboy boots — and little boutiques offer handcrafted ceramics and bohemian decor. Take a break from shopping by sitting down at one of the cute coffee shops and eateries along the stretch.
Tip: Parking can be a bit of a hassle. If no spots are free along the stretch, try venturing down one of the nearby side streets. The best shopping in this area is on 19th Street and 20th Street between Shepherd Drive and Yale Street in the Houston Heights.
If bargain hunting is what you're after, you can't go wrong with Houston Premium Outlets. It's a bit of a drive to get there — the strip is about a 30-45 minute drive from downtown — but with roughly 150 outlet stores, it's well worth the trip. Armani, Burberry, Kate Spade and Michael Kors are just a few of the high-end brands in the mall. But there's a wide range of name brands — both in terms of style and affordability — from Forever 21 to J.Crew, with items typically between 25 and 65 percent off. In addition to clothing and shoe stores, there are jewelry outlets, toy stores — even chocolate shops — as well as plenty of food options to keep you power shopping all day.
Tip: Check out the mall's website for special deal and coupons to save even more. The mall is located in the northwest Houston suburb of Cypress, just off of U.S. Highway 290 West at Fairfield Place Drive.
River Oaks Shopping Center
The River Oaks Shopping Center, which spans just four city blocks, has roughly 75 stores and restaurants, and its architecture is stylish and modern with a nod to its 1930s roots. The density and aesthetics make it a great location for window shopping or lazy meandering from shop to shop.
The center offers a great mix of national brands — like Ann Taylor and Barnes and Noble — and locally owned boutiques, such as Events Gifts. It's also home to fun activity centers like The Mad Potter, as well as some of the best restaurants in the city, including Brasserie 19 and La Griglia, making it a favorite weekend leisure spot for many locals.
Tip: This area can get a little crowded on the weekends. If you want to avoid a crowd (and find a parking spot), try venturing to the area on a weekday. The River Oaks Shopping Center is located on West Gray Street between Shepherd Drive and Woodhead Street near Downtown Houston.
CityCentre is an upscale mixed-use area located in the Memorial Area near Houston's Energy Corridor. What used to be a fairly typical mall was turned into a gorgeous and functional 37 acres of shopping, dining, and living. In addition to the dozens of shops and restaurants, the site has a movie theater, a boutique bowling alley, and motor club.
The open-air shopping area is lined with beautiful landscaping, pedestrian-friendly stone walkways and scenic plazas that give the space a low-stress vibe and make you want to stay a while and take in the sights. CityCentre is located on the west side of Houston, just off of the intersection of I-10 and Beltway 8.