City Living Guide: What is it like to live in Houston, Texas?
Houston, Texas is a vibrant city with much to offer. U.S. News & World Report ranks Houston #30 in its Best Places to Live assessment and #26 in Best Places to Retire. There’s much to love about this southern city, nicknamed Space City in the days of the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center (now known as the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center). Interestingly, the name Houston was used by astronauts as NASA’s code name when communicating from space.
Houston is situated in southeast Texas just 50 miles inland from the Gulf Coast beach community of Galveston. Waterways in the city of Houston include the San Jacinto River, creeks and bayous. Heat and humidity are facts of life, as is the threat of severe weather, including hurricanes. With its humid, subtropical climate, Houston is home to gorgeous native flowers such as the Eastern Purple Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susan and Autumn Sage.
Table of Contents:
- 1. Myriad freeways, three airports serve U.S.’s fourth-largest city
- 2. Rapidly growing, culturally diverse population
- 3. Warm temps, higher-than-average rainfall
- 4. Great standard of living, high livability score
- 5. Wide spectrum of healthcare services and facilities
- 6. Public, private school options for all ages
- 7. Aerospace, oil/gas, healthcare among high-paying industries
- 8. Funeral, health museums + ballet, symphony, barbecue
- 9. There’s more to like than dislike in Houston
- 10. Neighborhoods range from historic to quaint to trendy
- 11. You’ll find your dream home here
- 12. The right real estate agent is your key to happy house hunting
1. Myriad freeways, three airports serve U.S.’s fourth-largest city
Is everything in Texas big? Houston makes it seem that way. It’s the country’s 4th largest city, behind New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Houston is served by 3 traffic loops that are connected to each other via numerous freeways, which also connect Houston to other Texas cities. If you’re going to be driving in Houston, make sure your GPS is in good working order. Houston also is home to a metro rail and bus system and 3 airports—George Bush Intercontinental, William P. Hobby and Ellington—which serve some 55 million passengers annually.
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2. Rapidly growing, culturally diverse population
There are 2.26 million people living in this 900-square-mile city, one of the fastest-growing in the United States. Houston’s footprint is so large that it could contain the cities of Boston, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. The population density of 3,520 people per square mile is well above the national average.
More than one-quarter of Houston’s residents are Latino or Hispanic, with 38% of residents speaking Spanish as their primary or secondary language. Nearly half of Houstonians speak a language other than English at home. Approximately 100 languages are spoken in area schools. In fact, WalletHub has ranked Houston as the most ethnically diverse city in the United States. The city’s diversity contributes to its reputation for exceptional food and music.
The median age of Houston residents is 33. The city is one of the youngest and most ethnically diverse in the United States. The relative youth and diversity of the population make the city an enticing place for those seeking an array of cultural experiences.
History is an important component of Houston’s cultural offerings. Consider NASA Johnson Space Center, established in the early 1960s as the Manned Spacecraft Center, sending men to the moon.
3. Warm temps, higher-than-average rainfall
Houston nearly matches the national average for number of sunny days—204 in Houston, 205 nationally. The city’s average annual rainfall is 53 inches, which is 15 inches higher than the U.S. average. How much snow does Houston get? Zero compared with 28 inches nationally.
High temperature in the summer is about 93 degrees in July and August; low temp in winter is around 43 in January. If you like it warm, you’re likely to enjoy the weather in Houston, where each year the high temp soars over 90 on 95.9 days. There are only 7.8 days annually when nighttime lows are below freezing. Houston ranks 73 on a 100-point comfort index, which is based on the number of days each year between 70 and 80 degrees.
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4. Great standard of living, high livability score
Houston residents enjoy a high standard of living, with an unemployment rate of 4.2%, median annual income of between $45,000 and $50,000, and rising home values (as of 2019). The city’s livability score is 79 out of 100 points, well above national average, earning grades of A+ for amenities, A- for weather and housing, B+ for schools and B for cost of living.
Unfortunately, Houston earned an F for crime because the chance of being a victim is 1 in 20, which is 90% higher than the U.S. average. The city is working hard to prevent crime, with Houston police, businesses and citizens collaborating on the Keep Houston SAFE effort. The city also has embraced using technology to communicate with residents. Here’s one example: the city government’s easy-to-navigate website, which gives Houstonians a wealth of useful information.
Houston is viewed as a place where entrepreneurs can thrive. And it’s a place that can bounce back from economic downturns. After a down period in the local employment market, Houston recovered, adding two jobs for every one that had been lost.
Parts of Houston have a down-home Texas feel, and parts are as sleek, classic and urban as New York City’s Upper East Side. Houston features areas of small-town charm and areas that are hip and trendy.
5. Wide spectrum of healthcare services and facilities
From hundreds of home-care agencies to primary and specialty care clinics to numerous hospitals, Houston offers a full spectrum of health care. However, Houston and Texas overall rank low in national assessments of health care. That doesn’t mean you can’t find quality services, but you may want to get personal recommendations from friends, neighbors or co-workers and check online ratings for the providers and facilities you are considering. It’s always a great idea to establish a relationship with a primary care provider who can help coordinate all your care.
U.S. News & World Report has given several Houston hospitals positive rankings. For example:
a. Houston Methodist Hospital is nationally ranked in eight specialties
b. Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center is nationally ranked in three adult specialties
c. Memorial-Hermann Texas Medical Center is nationally ranked in three adult and two children’s specialties. This is the world’s largest medical campus, with more than 50 institutions devoted to health care, education and research. On average, 7.2 million people visit Texas Medical Center each year.
If you or a loved one needs some care at home or needs to rehabilitate in a transitional care facility after surgery, you’ll have plenty of options available in Houston. Be sure to check your insurance coverage to avoid out-of-pocket surprises.
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6. Public, private school options for all ages
The Houston Independent School District is the 7th largest school district in the United States, with 288 schools, 13,000 teachers and more than 210,000 students. Houston educators are committed to creating and sustaining an environment that serves an increasingly diverse student population.
An independent ranking of Houston schools by a non-profit advocacy group indicates high levels of achievement in some schools, but disparities between low-income and wealthier areas. Not surprisingly, private schools generally rank higher than public schools.
In addition to a variety of pre-K through grade 12 public and private schools, Houston is home to more than 40 institutions of higher learning, including these well-known, well-respected universities:
- Houston Baptist University is home to colleges of business, Christian thought, education, engineering, fine arts, sciences, humanities and nursing/health
- Rice University offers more than 50 undergraduate majors in six areas of study: architecture, engineering, humanities, music, natural sciences, and social sciences
- Texas Southern University’s program areas include schools of communication, law, and public affairs, colleges of education, liberal arts & behavioral sciences, and engineering & technology
- University of Houston offers undergraduate programs in 15 colleges and an interdisciplinary honors college, as well as graduate and professional programs
7. Aerospace, oil/gas, healthcare among high-paying industries
Houston’s unemployment rate of 4.2% is just slightly higher than the U.S. average, as is the median income. Highly educated, highly skilled individuals can earn up to $200,000 annually, particularly in the fields of aerospace, oil/gas and healthcare. The number of jobs in Houston has increased by more than 3% in recent months. Forbes magazine rated Houston #10 on its list of Best Cities for Young Entrepreneurs.
More than two dozen Fortune 500 companies nearly 50 Fortune 1000 companies are based in Houston. The region is considered the top manufacturing area in the country. Among Houston’s largest employers:
- AEI Services which owns, operates and develops energy infrastructure, employs more than 15,000 people
- Texas Children’s Hospital, one of the country’s largest pediatric hospitals, employs 6,600 people
- Grocers Supply Co. Inc. employs 10,000 people to supply more than 600 grocery stores, 1,200 convenience stores and 200 schools within a 350-miles radius
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8. Funeral, health museums + ballet, symphony, barbecue
Houston is home to an amazing variety of museums. Consider this: The National Museum of Funeral History includes the country’s largest collection of authentic, historical funeral service items. For museum goers who prefer to focus on life rather than death: The Health Museum is an interactive learning center with exhibits that include real organ dissections and a larger-than-life journey through the human body.
Here’s a quick look at several other Houston museums and popular attractions:
a) Children’s Museum of Houston, where interactive experiences make learning fun
b) Houston Arboretum, a plant and animal sanctuary in the midst of the bustling city
c) Houston Museum of Natural Science, which features permanent and rotating exhibitions, a planetarium, observatory and butterfly center
d) Houston Zoo, where you can see all manner of animals large and small, including Amazon milk frogs, black howler monkeys and, of course, elephants—more than 5,000 animals in all
e) Space Center Houston, with more than 400 space artifacts (including the world’s largest collection of moon rocks), exhibits designed to make learning engaging and fun, and a behind-the-scenes look at NASA Johnson Space Center
f) Discovery Green, where kids have plenty of room to run, play, watch outdoor movies and listen to live music
g) Hermann Park is a Houston treasure, featuring the zoo and Museum of Natural Science mentioned above as well as a golf course, outdoor theatre, IMAX theater, Japanese garden, train rides and pedal boats. The park’s reflection pool and shaded walking paths are favorites of residents and visitors alike.
h) 7,800-acre George Bush Park features walking, running, biking paths, many of which follow Buffalo Bayou and several soccer and baseball fields
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You can choose from a dizzying array of festivals, such as the Himalayan Festival USA, Houston Beer Festival, Asian Pacific American Film Festival, Children’s Festival, Comic palooza and Bayou City Art Festival.
Looking for more sophisticated entertainment? Consider the Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony or the Theater District. In a completely different vein, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo features nearly three weeks of rodeo competitions, trail rides, animal expos, auctions, barbecues and concerts.
You’ll find restaurants for every taste and pocketbook. In fact, Houston is a foodie paradise, with more than 11,000 restaurants. Seriously, Houston is known for food—healthy or breaded and deep fried, spicy or bland, sit down or stand on the street. Beef, pork, chicken, seafood and vegetable entrees are available in every imaginable ethnic interpretation. And you’ll find desserts to die for.
Live music of every type imaginable can be found nearly around the clock in Houston. The city’s outstanding concert venues attract top national and international acts. Bars and clubs provide stages for up-and-coming local and regional acts as well as big names. Here are just a few examples of Houston’s creatively named music venues:
- Anderson Fair has featured Texas singer-songwriters for 50 years
- The Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club repeatedly wins the People’s Choice Award for best blues venue in Houston, featuring live blues six nights a week and Zydeco on Sunday nights
- Dan Electro’s Guitar Bar bills itself as an eclectic spot for live music with many genres
- Firehouse Saloon is the place for boot-scootin’ boogie, having been nominated for Best Music Venue in Texas and recently named the #1 honkytonk in Houston
- McGonigel’s Mucky Duck Pub invites a visit by calling itself “a little gem that might be easily overlooked in Houston’s typical bar scene”
9. There’s more to like than dislike in Houston
Let’s be honest. Every city has its drawbacks. In Houston, the biggest blemish is the high crime rate. Traffic is a pain. Some features—such as hot, humid summers and city sprawl—are pluses to some and minuses to others. What are the Houston positives that we all can agree on? Endless entertainment options, a phenomenal food scene, a cost of living that’s higher than the national average but still reasonable, and a diverse economy.
Ask Houston residents about the worst of their city, and you’ll definitely hear about crime and traffic, but they’ll also cite mosquito-borne West Nile virus, the annoying-but-not-deadly fluctuating downtown parking rates, and high property taxes.
Ask them about the best, and you’ll get an earful about taco trucks, the lack of state income tax and snow, and the Art Car Parade. What’s that? It’s the highlight of a four-day weekend celebration of anything on wheels (including unicycles and lawnmowers), decorated in ways that defy description.
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10. Neighborhoods range from historic to quaint to trendy
Where to buy a house? In a city this size, you can be assured that there are neighborhoods to fit every lifestyle and budget.
HomeSnacks slices and dices data on incomes, unemployment rates, crime, home prices and population density from myriad sources to develop rankings and provide their info in bite-sized bits. Here are the neighborhoods that HomeSnacks calls Houston’s best:
- West University is not only at the top of the ratings, it’s the most expensive. The neighborhood has its own police force, an elementary school (West University Elementary) that’s among the top-rated schools in the country, and easy access to the hottest employment areas in Houston. Median home price: $1 million.
- Greater Memorial earns A+ grades from AreaVibes.com for amenities, employment and schools. Median home price: $850,000.
- Rice earns A+ grades in the same areas as Greater Memorial (amenities, employment, schools), but has a lower median home price of $600,800.
- Rice Military features many attractive three-story townhomes and luxury apartment buildings. Median home price: $382,779.
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11. You’ll find your dream home here
Whether you are single, dual income with no kids, raising a growing family, embracing the empty-nest lifestyle or depending on others for daily help, you can find a home that meets your needs and fulfills your dreams in Houston.
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One-bedroom apartments rent for an average of $1,097 per month. Two-bedroom units go for $1,322. Apartment rent in Houston has increased by 4.1% in the past year. Median home prices are in the $250,000 range. Homes in Houston have appreciated nearly 6% over the past 10 years. Assisted-living options in the city range from $2,300 to $3,800 per month.
12. The right real estate agent is your key to happy house hunting
You will want to work with a trusted real estate agent to find your dream home in Houston. An agent can help you think through your list of must-have and nice-to-have home features, how much to put down on a purchase and what you can afford in terms of monthly mortgage payments. Agents can be equally helpful if you’re looking to rent. Each city’s housing market is unique. That’s why you’ll want to choose an experienced agent who knows Houston.
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We’ve described a variety of things to consider when buying a house in Houston and you’ll find many more resources for those items which are most important to you. We hope you have enjoyed this article and found it helpful. We wish you all the best with your move!