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By Joanna O’Leary
Going on a “staycation” is a wonderful way to rediscover your own hometown or squeeze in a much-needed respite with your main squeeze, all without the perils of airline travel or highway traffic. And given our world-class dining scene, diverse accommodations, and innumerable attractions for arts, history, and sports enthusiasts, Houston is certainly a desirable vacation destination for people from all walks of life … including those who already call the city home.
When planning your getaway that is not so far away, indulge in a luxury hotel with enviable amenities located within walking distance of notable sites and activities—’cause after all, if you wanted to spend time in your car you would have opted for a road trip.
The Hotel Sorella in west Houston is the perfect home base for exploring the bustling CityCentre’s innumerable dining, shopping, and leisure options. Sorella’s luxury accommodations maintain a remarkable balance of both casual and energetic elegance, with such welcoming features as a complimentary continental breakfast and a free shuttle within a five-mile radius of the hotel for those seeking attractions farther afield. The hotel’s best digs are, without a doubt, Room 1000—the “Presidential Suite.” With its broad views, side kitchen, two bathrooms, luxurious dining room, a lounge area, and high-definition televisions (note the plural), this suite is ideal for hosting a little group shindig on one night of your staycation. (House of Cards viewing, anyone?)
But drag yourself outside at some point to peruse housewares with your partner at Sur la Table and Anthropologie, sample different artisan olive oils and vinegars at Olive & Vine, or catch a screening at Studio Movie Grill, where the latest Hollywood blockbusters can be viewed while noshing on classic American fare—including theme dishes for special
As evening falls, the atmosphere at CityCentre shifts from family-friendly to romantic under the sparkling lights—the perfect time for an adult beverage. Hotel Sorella’s Monna-lisa bar boasts a well-designed craft cocktail menu (try their eponymous signature drink) with ample indoor seating in the crimson lounge and more ethereal outdoor tables at the illuminated pool. Just as sleek but substantially more hidden is Method, the swank public sister of the private club The Marque, where the see-and-be-seen one-percenters nibble on small plates (created by Mark Cox of the famed Mark’s American Cuisine) and share effervescent “goblet” cocktails infused with dry ice.
For dinner, you have your pick of cuisines, from stylish sashimi at RA sushi to the creative burgers at Grub Burger Bar; however, the culinary crown jewel of CityCentre’s dining scene is undoubtedly Radio Milano, one of the handful of restaurants in the city that manages to balance a low-key atmosphere with dishes executed with painstaking precision, plus sincerely friendly service. Try the house-made burrata, whose luscious softness and rich near-liquid interior gets a hit of herbal piquancy from the pesto dressing. Then move on to a standout entrée such as the pillowy gnocchi with grilled octopus and sumptuous osso buco.
If you long for more of a “big city” experience during your staycation, the Sam Houston Hotel in a historic part of downtown is another terrific home base for your “stay and play” weekend getaway. This lovey boutique hotel provides easy access to the Theater District, Minute Maid Park, Discovery Green, and is within walking distance of the METRORail should you want to zip to the Houston Zoo to convene with some non-human animals. Those seeking to emphasize the “stay” in staycation will be thoroughly entertained by the hotel proper. Order a room-service breakfast, and then make good on that New Year’s resolution to get in shape by enjoying the fitness facilities, open 24 hours a day. Then reward yourself with some day-drinking at the regal Sam Bar, which specializes in whimsical seasonal creations (boozy frozen pops) and offers a wide selection of small-batch bourbons. For supper, head to 17, a wonderful counterexample to the unfair stereotypes about bad hotel restaurants. Their New American fare utilizes locally-sourced ingredients to provide classic dishes with a twist, such as fried prawns liberally coated in a batter made with St. Arnold’s brew, or chicken glazed in Texas wildflower honey. And chocoholics must save room for the dessert: the triple chocolate cheesecake showcases deep cocoa notes and a decadently dense texture, while the “Rock Slide” brownie dusted with toasted pecans and glazed with chocolate ganache is like Mom’s best brownie, elevated a notch.
And if all of the aforementioned wouldn’t be the same without Rover or the kitties, don’t worry: the Sam Houston Hotel is very friendly to pets. (Hey, even they need a break sometimes, too.)
Joanna O’Leary is a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.