Local Insights

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Head concierge Timothy Hess shares his recommendations for experiencing Houston’s vibrant winter season.

By Gaye Weintraub

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Timothy Hess and The St. Regis Houston concierge team know the best places to embrace the holidays in Houston, shop for distinctive gifts and spend the day with the kids. Here, Hess reveals his recommendations for getting into the spirit, discovering one-of-a-kind treasures and sampling Houston’s bounty of family-friendly activities.

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Simple Pleasures

The city of Houston offers a wealth of exciting and educational diversions for those traveling with children. “The CHILDREN’S MUSEUM OF HOUSTON is one of the finest children’s museums in the country,” Hess says. With more than 14 exhibits and interactive displays geared toward little ones of every age and ability, the Children’s Museum is guaranteed to entertain all guests as well as their parents. (713-522-1138; cmhouston.org)

Houston’s moderate winters give visitors the opportunity to enjoy the city’s outdoor wonders year round. The multilevel DOWNTOWN AQUARIUM offers both outdoor and indoor activities that will satisfy the entire family, including swamp, rainforest and reef exhibitions; rides; restaurants; and other attractions. “The ferris wheel offers a great view of downtown and Buffalo Bayou, and the shark train and white tigers are always a huge hit with kids,” Hess says. Meanwhile, a 150,000-gallon aquarium in the dining room provides children with an unparalleled view of life under the sea. (713-223-3474; aquariumrestaurants.com)

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Holiday Festivities

The ALLEY THEATRE’S presentation of “A Christmas Carol—A Ghost Story of Christmas” remains an annual favorite for many locals. “Every year, the production changes just enough to make the old story new,” Hess says. “The show tends to be a little scarier than anticipated, which is the best way to tell a ghost story in the first place.” (713-220-5700; alleytheatre.org)

Routinely voted one of the best festivals in the country, Galveston Historical Society’s DICKENS ON THE STRAND runs Dec. 6-8, bringing the fictional worlds of Charles Dickens’ novels to life as the deep Victorian history of  Galveston Island is revived in all its finery. “In addition to food and shopping, Dickens showcases ladies with parasols and feathered hats walking side by side with Civil War soldiers, the pirate king Jean Lafitte and a variety of Dickens-esque street urchins,” Hess says. (409-765-7834; galvestonhistory.org)

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Seasonal Shopping

With more than 70,000 square feet of space encompassing five showrooms, lifestyle shop KUHL-LINSCOMB features an impressive selection of unique gifts for even the most particular of recipients. “Kuhl-Linscomb offers the finest and largest collection of personal and home products you never realized you absolutely must have,” Hess says. From children’s items to fine china and crystal, Kuhl-Linscomb makes finding the perfect present a joyful experience. (713-526-6000; kuhl-linscomb.com)

Just across the street from The Galleria, Texas’ largest shopping destination, HANSON GALLERIES showcases a variety of art objects made by craftsmen from around the world. “Hanson Galleries has an excellent variety of art glass, ceramics, wall art and jewelry,” Hess says. “Every price point is represented, making this a great place to buy a last-minute hostess gift or secret Santa gift for the office.” (713-552-1242; hansongalleries.com)

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By the Glass

Texas’ oldest craft brewery, SAINT ARNOLD BREWING CO., offers tours and tastings  of local brews Monday through Saturday as well as lunch on weekdays. “Saint Arnold brews a variety of beer, including seasonal and single batch brews,” Hess says. “They have the best root beer in the world.” (713-686-9494; saintarnold.com)

For those who prefer the taste of fine wine, HAAK VINEYARDS & WINERY in nearby Santa Fe, Texas, conducts tours of its facility as well as a tasting of four pre-selected table wines and the brand’s well-known vintage Madeira. “Haak Winery is a fun day,” Hess says. “The wines are of the finest quality, and all are made in Texas.” (409-925-1401; haakwine.com)

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Celebrate Texas

Since 1932, the legendary HOUSTON LIVESTOCK SHOW AND RODEO has captivated both Texans and international audiences with traditional rodeo events and powerhouse concerts. “Every Houstonian anticipates this monthlong party,” Hess says of the celebration, which will return to the city’s Reliant Park beginning March 4, 2014. “The barbecue cook-off is the most over-the-top tailgate party many will ever see.” (832-667-1000; rodeohouston.com)

To coincide with the annual livestock show and rodeo’s arrival in the city, Houston locals gather the Friday prior to the event’s commencement to celebrate Go Texan Day, a festive commemoration of Texan heritage that typically includes dressing in classic regional styles. Located less than a mile from The St. Regis Houston, PINTO RANCH carries the largest collection of handmade cowboy boots in the U.S. “Pinto Ranch is the Neiman Marcus of Western wear,” Hess comments. “The boots are the finest available, and the silver jewelry [pieces] are works of art.” (713-333-7900; pintoranch.com)