Events: Houston Ifest spotlighting The Silk Road

Of all the great festivals and events our city has to offer, one of the most popular is the Ifest (previously known as the International Festival).  No where else is cultural diversity and cultural education more celebrated than the Ifest.  Originally established as the non-profit Houston Festival Foundation, Inc. in 1971, Ifest provides art and education programs that reach nearly a million students in the Houston area.  

Each year the festival focuses on a particular culture or region, this year being the cultures of The Silk Road.  As part of providing cultural education to Houston students, a curriculum is established for area teachers that help our children explore the spotlighted country or region during the school year leading up to the festival.  The Ifest has it all rolled into one great time:  art, live music, awesome food and more ensure that everyone has a fab time.

The festival takes place at City Hall, Tranquility Park, and Sam Houston Park in downtown.  Dates for this year’s festival are:  April 30-May 1 and May 7-8 from 12 to 10 Saturday and 12 to 8 Sunday.  Go to their site to learn more and find out the skinny on parking, tickets, etc.

Hou-nique: The Art Car Parade and Museum

ART CAR MUSEUM AND PARADE

The spirit behind the Houston Art Car Parade and Museum feels a little more like liberal Austin than conservative Houston, which is probably why it is one of our city’s best loved events…we love showing the Austin-ites that we can be hip and cool, too!

Side Note:  For those less familiar with the cultural parrying of these two Texas cities….Austin’s banner phrase is “Keep Austin Weird.”  In response, someone else coined “Keep Houston Corporate.”   Touché.

The Art Car Parade first rolled the streets of Houston in April, 1988 with 40 cars and about 2000 spectators.  The parade now features over 250 vehicles (anything on wheels will do) from as far away as Canada and over 250,000 come to watch!  This year the parade is scheduled for May 22.  A good stretch of Allen Parkway just west of I 45/Downtown is closed down for the event and with the popularity increasing every year, plan to get there early for a good spot.  You REALLY don’t want to miss this one.

The Art Car Museum is  open free to the public, open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 AM to 6 PM.  The museum is located off Heights Boulevard just south of IH 10.

Update: Houston Farmer’s Markets: City Hall

What a total bummer that just after a very successful launch, the City Hall Farmer’s Market (part of the family of the Urban Harvest Farmer’s Markets expanding to new locations all around Houston) endured back to back Wednesdays with miserable weather.  But, bad weather never lasts and fortunately it was a beautiful day this Wednesday to finally go and check out what all the buzz is about.  The crowds also returned and it looks like the new farmer’s market might be a huge hit!

Probably what makes this market the most unique is that it’s not so much about buying carrots and beets as it is about a great mid-day outdoor dining experience.  I only saw a few booths set up to sell veggies.  The rest of them (probably about 30 vendors) represented some great bakeries, cheese vendors, boxed lunch offerings from some of Houston’s great restaurants, and of course the ever expanding trend of the food trucks (check out my blog series on Food Truck Tours for reviews).

I kind of envied all of the downtown workers milling about, enjoying the weather

Mayor Anise Parker

Mayor Anise Parker

and a ton of great food.  What a way to break up a work day, and have an affordable, delicious lunch.  Almost made me want to go back to work for “the man” just so I could work downtown and hit City Hall each Wednesday.  Almost.

Something important to note:  try to get there early (they open at 11).  I arrived around 12:30 and found several of the vendors already sold out (Eatsie Boys and Ruggle’s Green to name a few).  No worries, though as there were still lots of great options from crepes, to quiche, to tamales or a fabulous roasted chicken.  Each of the restaurant and catering vendors offered some great boxed lunch options.  Make sure you do a “once-around” of the market before making your final decisions as there is a ton to choose from.

The Frosted Betty Bake Shop truck was also in attendance (yeah!), so I finally got a chance to sample their wares for dessert.  I went for the chocolate salted caramel, but they had such an interesting menu that I must go back for more (see my blog spot on Frosted Betty for more information).

Upcoming Events: Bayou City Art Festival

Feeling a little cagey with the recent cruddy weather we’ve been having?  Remember that March is just around the corner and it is usually the perfect time for an outdoor festival in Houston with sunny spring skies, fresh green everywhere and bearable temperatures (read: “warmer but not stifling”).

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Bayou City Art Festival, which has been ranked by American Style Magazine in their Top 10 Festivals in the country.  Mark your calendars for the weekend of March 25-27 and head out to Memorial Park.  Hit the trail where over 300 artists representing multiple types of media will showcase their wares.  There will also be wine cafes, restaurants, a kids interactive Creative Zone, and more.  Me personally..I’m a fan of creative performance art so I’m hoping to check out The Living Garden, a performance troupe from Orlando, Florida that combines human statuary, natural elements, and more for a pretty cool live show.  I know my daughter will love it, too!

Tickets for the festival are $12 and children under 12 are free.  If you can’t make it, don’t worry.  The festival is so popular, they do it again downtown in the fall.

Note that there is no public parking for the spring event at Memorial Park. Check out the Festival Website for shuttle information.

Where the Chefs Are Eating: Culinary Tours of Houston

Want to know where Houston’s best chefs eat their food?  Sign up for a “Where the Chefs Eat” culinary tour.  This is a great way to learn about spots not everyone knows about, rub elbows with some of Houston’s top chefs and other fellow food lovers, all in the comfort (read: designated driver) of a cozy bus that will take you and the rest of the crew on a true Houston adventure.  You’ll also get to enjoy the fare at each stop, and beverages are provided by our local St. Arnold’s Brewery (note:  another great place to see/do while in Houston).

Plus, the proceeds of these events benefit the Houston Food Bank so you can feel good twice!

Tours fill up quickly, as each is limited to 16 participants.  Check out the schedule of upcoming tours for 2011 and sign up to get alerts on more upcoming events and ticket sales information.

Date Night at Pinot’s Palette

Getting the gals together for a fun night out, but you’re over the bar scene?  Or if you’re a guy looking for a clever way to impress your date, planning a night out here could earn you HUGE points.  Check out Pinot’s Palette for something totally different.  At Pinot’s local artists instruct you and your friends (or very impressed date) on painting your own masterpiece.  You can channel your own inner-VanGogh, Klimt, Degas and more.  Bring your own wine and snacks and Pinot’s takes care of the rest.  Makes for an awesome team-building event as well.

Check out their website for upcoming class offerings at their three convenient Houston/Katy locations.  Spaces fill up fast, so get it on your calendar now!  Send us a pic of your finished masterpiece, too!

Hou-nique: Texas Junk Company

THE TEXAS JUNK COMPANY

With Rodeo season just around the corner, we thought it only appropriate to start off our series on unique things to see and do in Houston with a good pair of worn in cowboy boots.  Seriously…you really can’t go to the Rodeo if you aren’t wearing cowboy boots.  I swear….they won’t let you in!  So, if you’re like a lot of Houstonians and are not really from Houston or anywhere near it, you may want to check out the Texas Junk Company.  Unless you are a “used-shoe-a -phobe” you can likely find the perfect pair of cowboy kicks…the used look of the boots only giving your attire a little more credibility.  The place in general is a bit like the refuge of all the “free stuff” you leave on the curb after a garage sale.  The folks inside are down-home Texan with LOTS of personality so its worth the trip just to hang out with them.  The organized chaos resides in a corner “warehouse”  located at 215 Welch.

Get your fresh here! Houston’s best Farmer’s Markets

As the City’s culture and mindset is rapidly becoming greener, one of the best and tastiest ways for residents to really “go green” is to check out some of our fabulous Farmer’s Markets.  Plus, you don’t have to travel outside of the City to get to some of the best fresh produce our area has to offer.

Probably Houston’s most established market (since 1958) is the Canino Produce Company.  This is my number one favorite, not just because of the crazy huge selection and convenient hours, but because of the other great stuff across the street.  Located at 2520 Airline just north of The Heights, (super convenient to the Midtown, River Oaks, Montrose, Allen Parkway, and Washington areas)  the market is open every day from 6 AM to 8PM. They also offer food tastings on the second Saturday of every month from 10 AM to 12 PM.  This market is huge….over 20,000 square feet!

Important TIP:  Make sure you go through the grocery-store-style section and on to the back.  Out back is the REAL market with several produce vendors lined up on each side.  The best produce is back here and it feels a little more like a real “market.”

The added bonuses:  across the street is the El Bolillo Bakery (Panaderia) which is a “muy” authentic Mexican bakery.  They have every type of pan dulce (Mexican pastry) imaginable and a rockin’ tres leches cake.  Hungry after buying tons of food?  Go to Tampico’s Restaurant and order the huachinango (grilled whole snapper).  Wash it down with a michelada (kind of like a spicy bloody mary made with beer).   Triple bonus!!!

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Waugh Bridge Bats

One of the best “free live shows” in Houston is the display of the Waugh Street bridge bat colony.  Every evening, as the sun sets behind Buffalo Bayou, the colony which is estimated to have somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000 bats leaves the shelter of their home under the bridge.  The flurry and flourish of their departure is witnessed just about every evening by watchers who typically gather on the bridge.  Fear not…the bats are gentle and harmless although you should not try to touch the bats as they may carry disease.  Houstonians love the bats since their favorite meal is mosquitos, which we also have in abundance.  The colony population is at its peak in late August so if you can bare the heat and humidity this time of year you will see the most dramatic display.  It’s impressive at any time, though so get out to the bridge and check it out!  I’ve included a Youtube clip to give you an idea, but video just can’t do the experience justice.  If you find the experience incredible and moving, then the next time you’re in Austin be sure to check out the bat colony at Travis Lake which blows Houston away with a colony population of over 1.5 million!