The big news in Houston ’s downtown shopping scene was the late-2007 transfer from Foley’s to Macy’s (1110 Main St., 713/405-7035, www.macys.com ) at the venerable five-story department store in the heart of the historic business district. The building housed the original Foley Bros. store, an establishment that went on to become a mall mainstay across the country. Macy’s ably continues the tradition of offering quality clothing, perfume, and accessories in a cosmopolitan environment. For a real urban experience, take the Metro to the Main Street rail stop and step out near Macy’s grand front doors.
Another popular downtown shopping destination is the pleasantly modest Shops at Houston Center (1200 McKinney St., 713/655-5581, www.shopsathc.com ), comprised of nearly 50 specialty stores and boutiques beneath a canopy-style atrium. Look for jewelry, home décor items, and a quick bite to eat as you stroll the two-block complex amongst meandering visitors and beelining professionals.
The shops are connected to Houston ’s bizarre yet fascinating Downtown Tunnels (713/650-3022, tour info at 713/222-9255), a six-mile system of air-conditioned subterranean walkways. More than 82 downtown buildings are linked via the tunnels, which started as a small system to connect three downtown theaters in the 1930s. Now, tunnelers can find scores of services, ranging from banks to restaurants to clinics to clothing boutiques 20 feet below the surface. The tunnel system is accessible from street-level stairwells and elevators and escalators inside buildings situated above the passageways. The only building offering direct access to the tunnels from the street is the Wells Fargo Plaza (1000 Louisiana St.).
One of the city’s most popular tourist and shopping destinations is the colossal Galleria (5085 Westheimer Rd., 713/622-0663, galleriahouston.com). This city within a city—the fourth-largest mall in the country—draws more than 24 million visitors annually. Noted for its remarkable glass atriums and suspended balconies, the Galleria contains a popular ice-skating rink, two Westin hotels, and more than 375 shops including top-notch retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Cartier, Gucci, and Tiffany & Co. The best time to experience the Galleria is Saturday afternoon. It’s an absolute madhouse, and you probably won’t get much shopping done, but the people-watching is the best the city has to offer. Keep an eye out for the Hispanic girls in their flashy gowns celebrating their Quinceañeras (a cultural rite of passage dedicated to a girl’s 15th birthday).
Across the street is the slightly more eclectic Centre at Post Oak (5000 Westheimer Rd.), offering a good mix of corporate giants and smaller independent stores. Barnes & Noble and Marshalls peacefully coexist alongside specialty shops such as J. Tiras Classic Handbags & Jewelry and Jeffrey Stone Ltd. Upscale dining options are also a part of this pedestrian-friendly environment.
Nearby is the charming Uptown Park (1400 Post Oak Blvd., 713/850-1400, www.uptownparkhouston.com ). Billed as “Houston’s European-style shopping center,” Uptown Park features pleasant Italianate buildings, lush landscaped walkways, and soothing fountains. Coffee shops, upscale clothing retailers, fancy jewelry stores, and luxury spas add to the European ambiance.
Aside from the Galleria, one of Houston ’s most popular and venerable shopping destinations is Rice Village (Rice Blvd. and Kirby Dr. just west of Rice University, www.ricevillageonline.com ). This 16-block complex has been a favorite place for bargain-hunting, browsing, and people-watching since the 1930s. The Village features scores of independent shops and eclectic boutiques along with local restaurants and services, some located in historic homes, others in modest 1950s strip centers.
The nearby Highland Village (4055 Westheimer Rd., 713/850-3100, shophighlandvillage.com) is considered a more subdued version of the Galleria. It’s an upscale collection of shops, but the stucco buildings and breezy palm trees give it a more relaxed feel than other high-end plazas. Home furnishings are big here, including retail giants such as Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, and Restoration Hardware, along with dozens of fancy clothing stores and restaurants.
Located about 25 miles west of Houston  is the immensely popular Katy Mills (5000 Katy Mills Cir., 281/644-5050, www.katymills.com ), a destination for bargain hunters who thrive on finding discounted clothing and products from big-time retailers. Katy Mills goes a step beyond other outlet malls, however, by including a 20-screen movie theater, a merry-go-round, and rock wall. It’s the brand-name stores that offer the true thrills, however, including Tommy Hilfiger, Neiman Marcus, Frederick’s of Hollywood, Bass Pro Shops, Anne Klein, Cole Haan, and Polo Ralph Lauren.