Houston  is often considered more of a business obligation than a tourist destination, which is unfortunate, since many of the city’s museums and cultural attractions are first-rate. Those who make the effort to visit, be it for personal or professional reasons, will discover several days’ worth of intriguing activities.
NASA  is a must, and the downtown museum district and restaurants will keep visitors occupied for at least two if not three days. History buffs should devote half a day to the state park 20 miles east of town containing the impressive San Jacinto Monument and Battleship Texas .
The remaining vast expanse of East Texas  is worth spending three or four days exploring, depending on the amount of time and energy available for seeking adventure among the Piney Woods  and Deep South surroundings.
Beaumont  is a fun day trip from Houston (less than two hours away), especially for those who want to learn everything they ever wanted to know about Texas’s oil legacy. Naturalists should set aside a day or two to explore the Big Thicket National Preserve  and other nearby national forests, and visitors interested in old-fashioned Southern culture are encouraged to spend a few days in the northern portion of the Piney Woods, where the cities of Tyler , Lufkin , and Jefferson  exude Texas’s true heritage.
Since Houston  isn’t a big-time vacation destination, it doesn’t have an abundance of travelers’ bureaus offering maps and brochures. In fact, it only has one. Fortunately, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau (901 Bagby St., Ste. 100, 713/437-5200, www.visithoustontexas.com , 9 a.m.–4 p.m. daily) can handle just about everything. The CVB’s impressive offices at City Hall (Bagby Street location) are chock full of literature and knowledgeable staff members, and the bureau offers similar services at satellite offices at the Bay Area Houston Visitors Center (on Hwy. 45 about 15 miles southeast of town, 281/338-0333) and a kiosk at Katy Mills Mall (on I-10 about 15 miles west of town).
Tours of Houston and the surrounding area are also available. Contact HoustonTours.net (888/838-5894, www.houstontours.net ) to choose from activity types or location. The site also offers a selection of “most popular tours,” including motorcycle rentals and helicopter rides in the area. Another company, Houston Tours, Inc. (6515 Corporate Dr., Ste. Q, 713/988-5900, www.houstontours.com , 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily), features traditional bus tours of downtown, outlying neighborhoods, and treks to Galveston .
For those venturing beyond Bayou City, the Texas Forest Trail Region (headquarters 202 E. Pilar St., #214, Nacogdoches, 936/554-2293, www.texasforestrail.com ) is an ideal place to prepare for a Piney Woods  adventure. Check out the website or drop by the main office to get help with determining an East Texas  itinerary.
The best source for news and information in Houston  and southeast Texas is the Houston Chronicle (www.chron.com ), containing thorough coverage of city and state happenings, as well as detailed listings of restaurants and entertainment venues. For specific information about local politics, touring shows, and movie listings, pick up a free copy of the Houston Press (www.houstonpress.com ) at bars, coffee shops, and bus stations across town.