“Excuse me, sir? This is a private tour.”

“This is the Texas State Capitol; I’m free to follow any tour I want.”

“Yeah, free to follow any other tour.”

Free Texas State Capitol Tour Free Texas Capitol Tour Door Sass courtesy of my older sister Kerry. We were in Austin for the weekend because her husband had just graduated as a Texas State Trooper and she wanted to show off Texas’ capital city to the fam since we all drove in for the ceremony.

But my brother in law’s family is preeeeetty big, so although you can take a free Texas state Capitol tour (really: you just show up and join the next tour leaving—more on that here), we didn’t feel like it would be fair to the general public to just roll up with about 35 people and expect to be accommodated.

So we called ahead.

My dad has voted in every election basically since being born, so when Mike Schofield decided to run for the Texas House of Representatives, he came to our house to talk to my dad for a few hours to go over things that were important to voters in the district. So we only thought it fair to call in a favor.

Free Texas Capitol Tour

The six flags that have flown over Texas. Can you name them all?

State of Texas Seal

just sittin on the seal

Texas State Capitol Dome

Inside of the Capitol’s dome. It’s taller than the one in DC…cause everything is bigger in Texas.

Schofield was kind enough to set up a private tour for my extended family, but upon hearing just how large the group was going to be, his aide couldn’t help but blurt, “Wait…so how many of these people are actually in his district?”

Like 3 of the 35 okay, but if you just shut up and give us this tour those 3 will be voting for your boss again so CHILLAX.

Anyway.

Texas Trooper Grad

His first arrest.

Our chipper guide Erin greeted us in the atrium (p. sure her name was Erin. If not, she really looked like one) and took us on a roughly 30 minute tour, but random people kept butting into our tour and with 35 people already trying to hear just one guide, you can’t have any interlopers. Hence the convo above.

If you aren’t convinced that Texas really is the greatest state in the Union, you will be after you see its Capitol building. Matthew McConaughey even narrates the film in the visitor’s center.

Alright.

Alright.

Alright.

Texas Capitol

Quick Tips for your free Texas State Capitol Tour: 

  • Call ahead if you have a big group. You can go through your state rep as well.
  • Park at 1201 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin, Texas 78701. More info here.
  • Plan to spend about an hour or so wandering the Capitol and grounds after your tour, since it’s really just the highlights.
  • Keep your eyes OPEN for Pancake, the first puppy of Texas. The first reader who spots her gets a prize.
Texas House of Representatives

Inside the Texas House of Representatives chamber. Unlike in DC, they let you take pictures. Cause Texans are way nicer.

Texas State Senate

The Texas Senate Room. I really just took this picture to show off my braid though.

After your free Texas State Capitol tour, consider driving up to Lake Travis to check out the Oasis. It’s a mini-town of restaurants and shops right on the edge of the lake with a killer view of the Texas sunset. 10/10 would recommend mostly for the view and not as much for the food. We went the night before for my brother in law’s trooper graduation.

Oasis Austin Patio View

View from the Oasis on Lake Travis, Texas

Oasis Austin View

Cousins take in the scenery.

Oasis Sunset View

all ~*dramatic*~ and stuff watching the sunset.

Oasis Austin Patio

The Oasis is a great place for selfies.

Have you been to Austin?

I hadn’t been in over ten years and am kicking myself for missing out. I’m heading back soon.

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If you like pretty flowers and ogling the homes of the insanely wealthy, then the River Oaks Garden Club’s Azalea Trail is perfect for you.

Azalea Trail Tickets Each March, residents of Houston’s exclusive River Oaks neighborhood open portions of their homes and gardens to the public for education and enjoyment. Guests can bask in the beauty of manicured lawns, the perfume of freshly bloomed flowers, and the wonder of echoing mansions.

The historic house and art museums of Bayou Bend and the Rienzi are an annual inclusion, as well as the Forum of Civics Building Tour which functions as a hub for “plant education.” The private homes available to tour vary from year to year.

The purpose of the Azalea Trail, the first inception of which was in 1935, is to teach visitors about architecture, flower arranging and the horticultural possibilities in our region. Proceeds from the trail are donated towards community projects like horticultural education, conversation, and civil beautification.

Here are some photo highlights: 

Azalea Trail Display

Azalea Trail Flowers

Azalea Trail Statue

Azalea Trail

Azalea Trail

Azalea Trail Azalea Trail Chihuly in Houston

Houston Azalea Trail

Azalea Trail Bike

Azalea Trail Car

Azalea Trail flowers

Azalea Trail Garden

Azalea Trail house

Azalea Trail Houston

Azalea Trail Model

Azalea Trail pose

Houston Azalea Trail Length

River Oaks Flowers

River Oaks Houston Ducks

I wouldn’t consider myself a plant buff. I just like looking at pretty flowers. In fact, which I toured the Royal Gardens in Saint Andrews, Scotland with my sister, our Cambridge-educated guide kept getting very technical when all I wanted to do was quite literally stop and smell the roses. But the Azalea Trail was a blast. Mainly because I got to see the insides of homes I can’t even afford in my dreams. But the flowers were pretty great, too.

Interested in checking out the River Oaks Garden Club Azalea Trail? You should be! Here’s how to make it awesome:

Quick Tips: 

  • Go on Friday

Azalea Trail Garden House The Azaela Trail runs for three days: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. My mom, sister and I went on Friday thinking we could knock it out, but we got so caught up in the flowers and mansions that we didn’t finish looking at everything, so we returned on Saturday and most of the lines were considerably longer.

  • Pack a lunch

Houston Azalea Trail Display Pop a cooler in the car with a few sandwiches and water bottles. The serious case of home-envy you’ll get will work up an appetite, but stopping for lunch can take a big chunk out of your day–especially if you want to see everything in one day!

  • “Go” before you Go

River Oaks Garden Club Forum

You obviously can’t use the bathroom at the private homes on the trail (creepy much?), so if you find yourself in need of a potty, try St. John’s Episcopal on River Oaks Boulevard or the Forum of Civics Building.

  • Parking is a Breeze

Houston Azalea Trail River Oaks is still a neighborhood after all, so parking for the Azalea Trail is a breeze. Most of the homes are usually within walking distance of each other as well, so if prefer to leave your car, that’s fine.

Azalea Trail tickets vary in price and can be purchased at many locations in the greater Houston area. For more information on prices and dates, check out the River Oaks Garden Club website here.

The dress I’m wearing is from Dress Barn. 

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Azalea Trail

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I’m the worst Texan ever.

Seriously y’all: I don’t like sweet tea, country music, barbecue, or most importantly, football.

So it took me a little bit to get excited about Houston hosting Super Bowl LI.

Houston NFL Experience

worshiping at the altar of the NFL as soon as I found out Chris Evans would be in Houston

BUT as soon as the Patriots made the cut I got real excited real fast because we all know that Christopher Robert Evans lives and breathes Patriots football.

I’m on a tight budget these days and couldn’t afford to get tickets to the actual game (nor do I think I could actually force myself to sit through it) or cool “exclusive” events around town, but I did head to the NFL Experience Houston with my sister for some major celebrity stalking.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t see Chris. But I did meet Eddie Redmayne one time.

Quick Tip: always take public transport (or park far away an Uber in) to Super Bowl Events, no matter the city. 

Houston NFL Experience

Houston gets hyped

Houston NFL Experience

Houston gets even more hyped

My sister had the genius idea to take the bus into downtown Houston which saved us $25 (minimum — they were straight up gouging people on parking places) and the relationship-ending fight that would’ve been born out of Super Bowl traffic.

However, once people got out of their cars, the foot traffic around Discovery Green wasn’t too bad and we were able to wander and take in the ~*NFL Experience Houston*~ without feeling suffocated. As someone who doesn’t like football, the pressure for accomplishing anything at the event was low and I was actually able to have a great time — although y’all KNOW I was on high alert for Chris Evans at all times.

Houston Super Bowl NFL Experience

Sisterly Bonding (after not fighting cause we took the bus)

Quick Tip: if you decide to attend the NFL Experience in your own city, go Monday — Thursday to avoid the crowds.

There were a lot of NFL heavyweights there (but I didn’t know who any of them were, so I can’t really report back on that — my bad y’all) filming TV spots for later in the week, a field goal contest, and the best part (since I didn’t end up finding Chris) a satellite PUPPY BOWL.

Check these pups:

puppy bowl houston

puppppieees

And this kicker:

Houston NFL Experience

I didn’t even bother to wait in line for this nonsense

There were also a few cool art installations sprinkled throughout Discovery Green, including a line of humongous NFL helmet replicas from each team. My sister picked the Cowboys because she’s married to their biggest fan, while I went for the Packers because if Harry Styles likes them, they must be the best.

Green Bay Packers Houston Texas

Go pack goooooo

Cowboys Houston Texas Super Bowl

Maybe they’ll give her a ring next year…

Houston is also home to NASA (like our only claim to fame…wait no, we have Beyonce), so the Space City’s upcoming programs were fully on display at the NFL Experience Houston. I’m not a STEM person, but my sister was in heaven as an engineer. She had a field day talking to the NASA team and learning all about the future of space travel and research.

Houston NASA Super Bowl

we <3 NASA

We ended the night rushing back to the bus stop on the OTHER side of downtown Houston from the festivities after a quick munch stop at a local grocery store.

Quick Tip: Never eat at these events. It’s way too much. Also pee at a store before you get there. 

Houston Texas Super Bowl

pretending we are pumped

I rooted for the Patriots in Super Bowl LI because they also won in 2015 and I got the day off school because of it — so I feel like I am in their debt. It was my senior year of college and I went to Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, MA. They’re real serious about football up there guys.

If you’re looking for more things to do in Houston, check out my list here. 

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NFL Experience Houston

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*or whenever you find yourself in town.

Nobody does football quite like Texas (please hold your comments about the lack of a Texas team in the big game this year) and all of us in Houston are SO excited to play host for Super Bowl LI. If you have some free time while you’re in town, check out these great things to do in Houston:

Things to do in Houston NASA

The old Mission Control room at NASA via my good friend Sara (https://www.instagram.com/sara_maggs/)

Either it’s your life’s ambition to sit in Mission Control and say “Houston, we have a problem,” or you’re a total liar. You have to visit NASA when you’re in Houston. It’s our claim to fame and pretty much the coolest thing we have around here.

But it is a bit of a hike, so I recommend spending the morning at Johnson Space Center (of One Direction fame) before enjoying an evening at the relatively nearby Kemah Board Walk, which sports carnival rides, a great view of the water, and delicious places to eat.

  • Galleria / Water Wall

The Galleria is Houston’s premier shopping destination, but most importantly it’s home to a GIANT ice rink that you can use to cool off in the Texas heat. Because let’s be real. It’s going to be hot in Houston in February.

The Water Wall is also nearby. No one’s actually sure what it’s for, but it’s a great Space City photo OP.

  • The Museum District

 things to do in Houston Museum of Fine Arts

Only about 15-20 minutes away from the action at NRG stadium, the Houston Museum District has something for everyone: from a brand new dinosaur exhibit to art to the history of bicycles. Seriously y’all. Something for everyone.

  • Galveston Island

If you have a spare day, or even spare afternoon, pop down to Galveston Island to take in Texas history and catch some sun.

Galveston is home to the magnificent Moody Gardens, an “educational tourist destination” made famous by its three Pyramids, each housing different educational and recreational activities. They’ve even got penguins.

You can also relax on beach, play on Pleasure Pier (it’s right out of a movie) or visit the Texas Seaport Museum & 1877 Tall Ship Elissa, which tell the story of the 1900 hurricane that changed the course of history.

  • Dig in

Places to eat in Houston during the Super Bowl

Texans like to eat, y’all. And while smaller, family restaurants are always going to be your best bet, if you’ve got a hankering for some authentic Tex-Mex or a good Texas Ribeye, I’ve got you covered. Here are the best places to eat in Houston during the Super Bowl:

Taste of Texas is a Texas ICON, but that does come with a higher price tag. Expect to spend roughly $30-$60 per dish, depending on your meat.

If you still want a Texas steak, but are saving your money for Super Bowl LI merchandise, then check out one of Saltgrass’ many Houston-area locations. Just make sure not to fill up on the bread.

These two are really something to taco bout. With multiple locations throughout Houston and a wide variety of delicious dishes, if you want Mexican while you’re in Houston for the Super Bowl, you can’t go wrong here.

Blue Bell Houston

The great famine is over y’all! If you can’t make it to the factory out in Brenham, make sure to down a half-gallon or two. or three.

Of course this is just a short list to get you started. Everything really is bigger in Texas and there’s too many cool things to do in Houston to list here.

Are are you coming to town for the Super Bowl?

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