Upcoming Festivals: The Texas Renaissance Festival

Steven David Photography/Photo used with permission of the Texas Renaissance FestivalIf you’ve ever dreamed of being a knight in shining armor, a milk maid, a bar wench, a fairy, a wizard or a blacksmith you are not alone!  For the 37th year the nation’s largest Renaissance festival will take place just a short drive out of Houston.  This is a huge event that is held over 8 weekends starting October 8 through November 27 (also, Thanksgiving Friday).

This is not just a few booths selling stuff.  The festival takes place in a 55 acre “village” that seriously transports you back in time.  You’ll stroll the cobblestoned streets featuring over 300 shops and lots of street performances.  The TRF covers every detail to make sure that your experience is truly out of this era.  25 different “feasting” spots offer traditional pub fare, Alsatian foods (mmmm….schnitzel), and kids can enjoy BBQ dragon!  Of course, big turkey legs too like you couldn’t have guessed.  You can wash your hearty food down with some honeyed mead, port, hard cider and more as well as all kinds of non-alcoholic beverages.

Steven David Photography/Photo used with permission of the Texas Renaissance Festival

There are over 200 live performances daily, with turnout averaging around 45,000 visitors each weekend in 2010.  Each weekend of the event will be centered around a different theme including Oktoberfest, Pirate Adventure, 1001 Dreams (think sprites and elves), Christmas, as well as themes centered on different Medieval cultures.  You can get details on each weekend theme here. The festival is held in Plantersville which is about 35 miles out of Houston, heading out I45 towards Conroe.

Lots of folks make a full weekend of it and camp nearby.  Please note that there are numerous restrictions this year regarding camping and fires due to the severe drought conditions.  In addition, the Royal Fireworks Display will be replaced with a laser show.

As far as what to wear you can come in your plain, old every day festival wear of shorts and t-shirts but half the fun is coming in costume.  Kind of like going to a Trekkie convention in plain garb…you might get some funny looks for your “normal” attire (not really….Rennies are not quite as fanatical as Trekkies, but they’re close).  Steven David Photography/Photo used with permission of the Texas Renaissance FestivalSeriously, I don’t think there is a place or event that offers better people watching than the TRF.  Rennie’s are a bit enthusiastic about their costuming and the details are amazing.

For the kids there are over 40 attractions including games, activities and rides.  They can test their longbow skills, scale the castle wall, catapult into enemy camp, ride an elephant or camel and play tons of carnival games.

Ticket prices are typically $25 adult/$12 child but some discounts do apply to opening weekend, and advanced and on-line purchases.  Go here for the deets.  There are also festival packages available.

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Houston Festivals: 45th Annual Greek Festival October 6-9, 2011

One of the great things about the Greek culture is its focus on culture, religion, and most importantly family.  Come celebrate and learn more about this awesome culture at on of Houston’s oldest and favorite events, the 45th annual Greek Festival.  This is a great evening out for groups of friends and for families and the festive atmosphere is highly contagious.  Come get your gyro on and enjoy awesome food and Greek music and folk dancing including a children’s dance program on Saturday and Sunday.  There will also be gifts, crafts, Greek imports and Byzantine iconic art.  There is always great people watching here, too.  Tons of fun.

The event will be held at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox complex in the Montrose area, near the University of St. Thomas.  The address is 3511 Yoakum Blvd. Free parking is available with shuttle service from Lamar High School.  Street parking can be tricky near the event and there are new “no parking” areas, so be sure to check out the map of no-parking zones on their website, where you can also find festival times and event schedules.

Kick off your holiday season festivities at the Greek Festival!

Halloween In Houston: A Rundown of Where to Buy/What to Do/Where to Go

First off, I wanted to get this post up early so you guys can start planning.  We’ll tell you where to buy costumes and decor, some of the parties going on around town, where to get your pumpkin, kid-friendly stuff and most importantly…where to go to BE SCARED!  Because we’re posting this early there are some events that have not ironed out all of their details yet.  In the interest of keeping my readers informed, I will be adding to the post with any new information or details.  Stay posted on updates by subscribing to this blog!

COSTUMES AND DECOR

OK, let’s start with your costume.  Your best bet for one-stop costume shopping in my book is Party Boy, located at I-1o and Studemont.  This place is HUGE!  Not only do they carry over 30,000 costumes in stock along with all of the wigs, accessories, and decorations but they have perfected the Halloween madness that takes over the store.  They have rental costumes as well, so get there now to reserve something special.  Their stock is so huge, that you can still find a lot of selection at the last minute.  I used to avoid Party Boy around Halloween because the parking and crowds looked like a nightmare (bwahahaha).  But, once you get inside the place runs like clockwork and you can easily be in and out with all of your goodies in no time.  Plus, they have extended hours making it super convenient.  Much better than the smaller stores around town.  Halloween Express is another good option for costumes and decorating as they have six locations around town, or you can order on line.

THE PARTIES

So now you’ve got your costume, what are you going to do?  There are some awesome events going on around town.  Here are some of our favorites:

What started as a college Halloween bash 23 years ago has now evolved into a huge party and everyone is invited!  The Halloween Bash will be held at the Bar at Union Station (1800 Texas near Minutemaid).  They haven’t forgotten their college beginnings either as they will be serving up 25 kegs of beer (Bud/Bud Light), 40 gallons of witches brew (sounds really college-scary to me), and over 2000 jello shots (including a XXX version that comes with a warning), all included in the ticket cost ($30, with discounts for purchases of 10 or more).  They will also have a cash bar with mixed drinks and bottled beer for those whose tastes have “matured.”  This is also one of those parties where you will be extremely out of place if you show up NOT in costume.  www.halloweenbash.org

Looking for more refined festivities, then you should go to “The Bash” which is a benefit (read: for a good cause, pricier admission, but much better food and drinks!) supporting Easter Seals.  Any event catered by Houston societies well loved Jackson Hicks is sure to draw a very pretty crowd.  Advanced tickets are $150 ($200 at the door) and price of admission includes free valet, heavy hors d’ouerves (check out their website for the full menu) and open bar.  The event will be held at The Corinthian, 202 Fannin.  www.houstonbash.com

Of course, many clubs and bars will be holding their own Halloween festivities.  You can check out who’s doing what and when at www.beforelastcall.com.

HOUSTON HAUNTED HOUSES:  PREPARED TO BE SCARED!!!

OK…confession to make here.  I am too much of a scaredy cat to go to one of these haunted houses so I cannot speak from personal experience.  I would send my husband, but he’s more scared than I am.  There are a few well known haunts around and I thought I’d share them with you here.  If you’ve been to any or all of these events, please post a comment and let everyone know what you thought!

Nightmare on The BayouPhoto used with the permission of Nightmare on the Bayou

This event is not recommended for small children, those who are pregnant, have a heart condition, or people with asthma due to fog machines in use.

Located next to Houston’s oldest graveyard and boasting a truly haunted house, this scary attraction of over 15,000 square feet was ranked the nations 13th best haunted adventure by Hauntworld Magazine.  Nightmare on the Bayou is located at 1515 Studemont near I-10 (The Heights) making it a great, central location.  This is the event’s 12th year and they take their hauntings seriously with professionally trained actors, state of the art animatronics, and Hollywood quality sets their only goal is to scare the beetles out of you.  Tickets are $30 ($40 VIP gets you to the front of the line) and can be purchased on their website.

Houston Haunted Houses

This attraction claims to be more kid-friendly for even the little ones.

Not just a haunted house, but a haunted theme park, they have concessions including food, drinks and “adult beverages” as well as  things to do while you wait to get in to the event of your choice. Everything is enclosed and parking is paved so rain is not an issue. Admission is charged “per attraction” although they offer a free one: the Texas Chainsaw Maze.  They also offer a ticket for the “Observation Room” which is perfect for folks like me, too scared to go in myself but happy to observe others getting the crud scared out of them.

The Houston Haunted Houses is located out I 45, south of Loop 610 South at 1500 Elton Street.

Screamworld

This one also discourages those who are pregnant, or with a heart condition and small children.  Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

OK, so their website claims that if they can’t scare you, you are already dead.  Sounds scary enough to me.  This is a five-in-one event has been named Houston’s best Haunted House by the Houston Press and the Houston Chronicle and has been in existence for 23 years, so I would say they probably know what they are doing (they were the same group that used to have downtown the Haunted Hotel and the Fear Factory).   The new location is near the north beltway and I 45 (2225 N. Sam Houston Parkway).  Their website is super cool including a blog so folks can comment on their experience, and videos of some of the attractions.  You can also get discounts on tickets purchased on line.  http://www.screamworld.com

PUMPKINS AND KID FRIENDLY STUFF

Pumpkin carving is a long held tradition in preparation for the Halloween season.  Check out the Pure Pumpkin Patch at St. Luke’s Methodist Church in River Oaks.  The patch officially opens on October 2 and runs through November 2.  All shapes and sizes available, and makes a great photo op spot for kid pictures, too.  If you’re more adventurous in your pumpkin hunting, or just looking for a fun fall treat for kids, check out Dewberry Farms pick your own pumpkin patch.  They have tons of other activities and farm fun like their huge corn maze, ziplines, cattle roping, pig races and lots more, so plan on making it a day!

Looking for some fun Halloween events for the kiddos? Check these out:

Houston Zoo Boo at the Houston Zoo-October 20-21 and October 27-28 (regular admission rates)

“Trunk-or-treat” stations throughout the zoo and Halloween themed games and activities make this an even more fun way to check out the awesome Houston Zoo including the brand new African Forest.

Happy Halloween Mansion at the Houston Children’s Museum-October 18-31 (see website for times/admission)

Wear your own costume, or pick out one to wear there!  Lots of activities including a mad scientist and trick or treating every day!

Houston ArBOOretum at the Houston Arboretum October 22 11-5 $15 entry for 3 and up

Forest trail trick or treating, carnival games, train rides, petting zoo, and more!

Scream on the Green at Discovery Green-October 29 from 6-10-free

They will have trick-or-treating, magicians, face painting and lots more for family fun.

Houston Party on the Patio: Come to the GHRA Burgers and Beer Cookout

Come out for all the burgers and beer you can stand at the Greater Houston Restaurant Association’s annual Burgers and Beer Cookout.  The event will be this Thursday, September 16 from 5-8PM at The Lot on Washington, 4212 Washington Avenue.  And don’t be afraid of the heat…after the string of 100° days we’ve had, temperatures are expected to drop a tad by Thursday and be in the mid-90’s which is nothing if you’ve lived in Houston for a while.  Besides, with your $30 admission you can have endless pints of Samuel Adams, Michelob Ultra, Budweiser/Bud Lite and Corona.  There will also be an array of wine selections available.

Step back in time in Old Town Spring

Several cities have an “Old Town” where tourists and locals can go to enjoy art galleries, shopping, and dining while wandering through quaint streets based on some historic reference.  Houston is no different.  If you’re looking to get away from the craziness of this big city, or need a great place to take out of town visitors, a short car trip will transport you back in time to Old Town Spring.  Old Town Spring is a historic railroad town that is one of Houston’s favorite spots to get out of town.  Visitors can walk around this quaint Victorian village, stroll through the numerous shops and galleries, check out some Civil War and area history at the local museums, and eat some great down-home food. The town is also a popular setting for special events such as weddings.

The Spring area was originally settled in the early 1800’s and established itself as a trading post with the indigenous Orcoquisac Indians.  As the railroads were constructed in Texas, “Camp Spring” was established as a homestead for the railroad workers.  Now, it’s just a great way to “get away” for the day…especially with cooler weather in our near future (if I say it, it will come true).

With the holiday season just around the corner, we thought now would be a good time to introduce our readers to Old Town Spring.  You can find something for everyone on your list while having a much more enjoyable shopping experience than what you could expect at the mall.  Antiques, clothing, jewelry ,chachkis, and more can be found along with some great places to eat or enjoy a drink.  They also have an awesome candy shop that features lots of old time favorites, homemade fudge, and everything else (think stocking stuffers!).

For you festival goers, be sure to mark your calendars for some of the great annual events hosted in Old Town Spring including the Springfest Art and Wine Festival (springtime), the Texas Crawfish Festival (May) and their Home for the Holidays Celebration which runs from November 12-Christmas featuring horse and carriage rides, strolling musicians, and of course…shopping!

Check out the Old Town Spring website for all of the details on driving directions, shops, restaurants, and event dates.

Upcoming Events: Houston BestFest Live Music, Art, Awesome Food in Midtown

For the last 22 years, the Houston Press has been sharing with Houstonians all of the deets on places to eat, live music, the arts and more.  If you’re already familiar with Houston Press then you know about their  “Best of Houston” which is a list of what Houston Press readers say are their favorite things in Houston.  “Best of” categories range from best school principle to the best bloody mary and everything in between.  Naturally, there are plenty of “Best of” categories for food and drink as well as shopping and retail services.

The Tontons

The Tontons

So finally, we have an event to celebrate some of the best of Houston in one of the liveliest spots in town.  Join us for the first ever Best Fest, September 24-25 in Midtown.  This is the inaugural event with an expected turn out of 20,000.  Revelers will enjoy live music from 2 stages including Cake, Bun B, and my favorite the Tontons (think Mazzy Star with a more upbeat edge).  New acts are being added daily so be sure to check out the BestFest site for updates.  Be sure to come hungry too, as there will be several of Houston’s favorites at the event.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of Houston’s awesome food trucks show up as well, although none have been confirmed as of yet.

Cake

Houston BestFest will take place at the Midtown Superblock, 2800 Main.  The Superblock is between Travis and Main, and McGowen and Anita.  There will be street parking available.  Another great option to get to the event is to ride the MetroRAIL to the McGowen stop and walk across the street to BestFest.

Early bird tickets are on sale now at the BestFest website.  Full weekend passes are currently available for $25 (free for kids 10 and under).  Regular price is $40.  There will also be a VIP option including free appetizer buffet, non-alcoholic drinks, and VIP covered pavilion with lounge seating near the stage.  VIP 2 day passes are on sale now for $95 ($150 regular price).

Important to note:  this is NOT a dog-friendly event, so please leave Fido at home.

Houston Restaurant Weeks is BA-ACCCKK!

Since 2003 Houston Restaurant Week has grown in popularity, thus now becoming Houston Restaurant WeekS (don’t ask why they didn’t just rename it Houston Restaurant Month…it’s a long and snarky story).  In fact, last year it was so popular it got extended for a few extra weeks!

So, what is it exactly?  In short it’s a month-long food fest that benefits the Houston Food Bank and allows Houston diners to take advantage of some great deals. Diners get to enjoy  eating at some of Houston’s favorite restaurants (currently the list is over 125 participating restaurants) while supporting the Houston Food Bank.  Participating venues offer 3 (or sometimes 4) course dinner menus for only $35 (2 course lunch menu for $20 is also an option at some locations).  $5 from each reservation goes to the Houston Food Bank ($3 from the  lunch).  According to Brian Greene, CEO of the Houston Food Bank, each diner at one of the participating restaurants will provide 15 meals for a hungry child or adult in Southeast Texas.  Since the event’s inception, they have raised over $900,000 to help feed Houston’s hungry.

You can check out all of the participating restaurants and preset menus at the Houston Food Weeks website.  It can be a lot to read through so to give you some ideas, here are my top pics based on the menu and/or  the value (some of these restaurants are downright expensive on any normal day).  I’ve even linked each restaurants HRW menu to make it SUPER easy for you…

BTW, reservations are required!

RDG Bar Annie-they are offering for HRW lunch, dinner and brunch menus each with multiple options in each course.  Plus, the dinner menu is four courses AND represents a great value based on what you would normally pay.  Not to mention that they really do have great food.

Restaurant CINQ at La Columbe d’Or-On any other night, $35 wouldn’t get you an entree, let alone 3 courses.  Plus, I am intrigued by the Watermelon Gazpacho in course 1.  Again, they are offering multiple options per course so a little more variety.  Did I mention Strawberry Creme Brulee with aged balsamic???

Churrasco’s  I love Brazilian food because I am addicted to chimichurri sauce.  BUT, the thing I like most about their HRW menus are the add on options which allow you to do a little custom ordering (for a fee, of course) and they offer a trio of their dinner entrees as a course selection.

Haven is offering lunch, dinner and brunch menus with multiple course offerings including several vegetarian options.  I also think they have one of the more eclectic menus both for HRW as well as any other time.

Mark’s is another incredible value compared to what you would normally pay.  AND, the dinner main course has duck, steak, and seafood choices as well as a “Trio” entree that sounds amazing.  They are also offering a lunch menu for HRW.

Perry’s Steakhouse is one of my pics because I believe that their famous pork chop is probably the best form of pig I’ve ever eaten, and considering you would normally pay $30 just for the pork chop on any other day makes this a GREAT time to finally check out the chop for yourself!  And just another note on that chop:  I can eat a LOT, and the Perry’s pork chop can easily cover 2-3 meals for me. Another added plus are the multiple locations.

The Oceanaire from the looks of it has the most selections per course so a lot of variety if you’re dining in a larger group.

Please, please, please….if you visit any of the event restaurants,  share with us your experience!  I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s event gets extended.