updated 7/5/2006 4:21:39 PM ET 2006-07-05T20:21:39

It may sound obvious to say it out loud, but Houston is BIG, Texas-sized big. Downtown, the buildings are boxy glass stalactites soaring to the sky; the massive Astrodome was the first domed stadium of its kind in the world, another big statement in a town that’s mad for sports. The sheer size of everything here can make the visitor feel, well, a bit small, especially when they have only 24-hours to conquer it all. But with the following itinerary, you should be able to take in a good share of Houston’s major sights. There’ll likely be more by the time you come back; the city is changing and growing that fast. 

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9 a.m. - 10 a.m.: Start your day at Houston’s celebrated diner, the Breakfast Klub . Waffles topped with strawberries, powdered sugar and yes, chicken wings is the unusual signature dish here and though its sound odd, it’s a scrumptious combination. Another favorite are the crisply fried catfish with grits. Get there early--with food this good, there’s always a wait.

10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. (or later): I’ve allotted just two-and-a-half hours to Space Center Houston , NASA’s official visitor center, but truth be told, you could spend an entire day here and not be bored. Along with a guided tour of mission control, there are dozens of nifty interactive exhibits, fascinating for people of all ages, that will allow you to control and land a space shuttle, experience weightlessness, follow the progress of actual NASA flights in real time, and much more. This is the top tourist draw in Houston, and rightfully so.

Morning Alternative: If you’ve already done the Space Center, take a trip into history at Bayou Bend the antique-filled home of the daughter of a former Texas-governor, who obviously felt living well was the best revenge. (And who was she taking revenge on? I’d guess her father, who had the bad taste to name her Ima Hogg). Built in the 1920’s the mansion is filled with priceless American furniture, some dating back to  Colonial times; an excellent, 90-minute guided tour will give you the complete history of the house and its owner.

12:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.: Go Mexican for lunch, with a pilgrimage to the ultra-gourmet Hugo’s . Yes, you’ll have tacos and tostados here, but chef Hugo Ortego fills them with such luxe ingredients as lobster or meltingly tender duck, cooking them following classic Mexico City (not TexMex) recipes. Finish up with the best tres leches you’ve ever tasted.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Head to the Museum of Fine Arts , the crown jewel of Texas museums. Beyond the marvelous collections of Impressionist and African tribal art within, its buildings and grounds could serve as a Who’s Who of 20th century architecture. Added on to its 1920’s neo-classical base were two additions (built in the 50’s and 70’s) by the king of Modernism, Mies van der Rohe; the gardens were designed by Isamu Noguchi; and in the 1990’s, the museum’s trustees hired celebrated Spanish architect Rafael Moneo to add yet another spectacular  building. Lovers of Modern Art should consider visiting the Menil Collection one of the world’s finest private collections. Here you’ll visit the famous Rothko chapel, hung with 14 works the painter completed just before his death; and a building designed by Renzo Piano brimming with the works of Cy Twombly. The de Menils also collected works of Byzantine, Medieval and Tribal art, all of which somehow fit together quite gracefully in this lovely mansion turned museum. 

An Afternoon Alternative: Drive out to the " Orange Show " off the Gulf Freeway, certainly the quirkiest of Houston’s many attractions. Not a show in the traditional sense of the world, it is instead a “folk art environment” that postman Jeff McKisock spent the last 25 years of his life assembling. An artful mishmash of found objects---tractor seats, mannequins, wagon wheels and more—the center contains dozens of mobiles, a small museum (much of which is dedicated to the joys of McKissock’s favorite fruit) assembled in a castle-like house. It’s quite a sight, and worth the trip to Houston’s East End.

5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m. (or later, if you skip the next activity): It may well be a sign of just how cosmopolitan Houston has become that world-renowned chef Jean George Vongerichten has decided to grace it with one of his temples of gastronomy. Called Bank Jean Georges it showcases the Asian fusion cuisine that has already won accolades in New York and Las Vegas. In a grandly colonnaded former bank lobby, you’ll dine on such exotica as duck breasts with carmelized shallots and foie gras; sweet corn stuffed ravioli with a basil fondue; or shaved salmon with chili tapioca.

7 p.m. - 10 p.m.: Go to a game, any game. Houston is obsessed with sports and the Astros , Rockets and Texans (baseball, basketball and football respectively) all have their share of die-hard fans. I’d particularly recommend a baseball game if you’re there in summer, for that magic moment when the dome retracts and the sweeping night sky covers the stadiums (it’s also a hoot to watch the train’s celebratory run around the stadium every time the home team scores a home run).

10 p.m. on ... Houston’s a major center for nightlife with dozens of trendy clubs. Right now, the “in” spot is the Gatsby Social Club , which is just as elegant as the name suggests with floor to ceiling windows and an Art Deco-ish décor. The music here is hip hop, with a Latin beat thrown in on Fridays.

The Breakfast Klub, 3711 Travis Street; 713/528-8561; http://www.thebreakfastklub.com/

Space Center Houston, 1601 Nasa Road 1; 281/244-2100; 10am-5pm weekdays, 10 a.m. -6 p.m. weekends; $18.95 adults, $17.95 seniors, $14.95 children ages 4-11, parking $5; http://www.spacecenter.org/

Bayou Bend, 1 Wescott St; 713/639-7750; Tues-Fri 10-5, Sat-Sun 1-5; $10 adults, $8 seniors, $5 youth 11-18; www.mfah.org/bayoubend

Hugos, 1602 Westheimer Road at Mandell St.; 713/524-7744; Sun-Thurs 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. - midnight

The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet St.; 713/639-7300; Tues-Wed 10am-5pm, Thurs 10 a.m.-9pm, Fri-Sat 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun 12:15-7 p.m.; $7 adults, $3.50 children 5-18 and seniors; www.mfah.org

The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross Street; 713/52509400; Wed-Sun 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.; free admission; http://www.menil.org/

The Orange Show, 2401 Munger St; 718/926-6368 (call for hours as they change seasonally); $1 adults,  free children under 12; http://www.orangeshow.org/

Bank Jean Georges,220 Main St; 832/667-4470; Mon-Sat 7a.m. - 10:30, 11:30-2:30 and 5:30-10 p.m., Sun 10:30-2 p.m.

Houston Astros, home games at Minute Maid Park; http://houston.astros.mlb.com/

Houston Rockets, home games at Toyota Center ; www.nba.com/rockets

Houston Texans, home games at Reliant Stadium; http://www.houstontexans.com/

Gatsby Social Club, 2450 University Blvd.; 713/874-1310; open Tuesdays, Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays; www.gatsbysocialclub.com

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

Photos: Don't mess with Texas

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  1. Howdy

    Big Tex greets over 3 million visitors to the State Fair of Texas each year. The State Fair is held annually at Fair Park, located near downtown Dallas. (Courtesy of Fair Park) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. We'll meet by the riverside

    A project is under way to turn the banks of the Trinity River -- here reflecting the Dallas skyline -- into the nation's largest urban park. (Dallas CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Mad hatters

    An athlete competes in a bull-riding event at the Mesquite Championship Rodeo, which runs April through October in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite. (Dallas CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. November 22, 1963

    The view of Dealy Plaza from the Sixth Floor Museum in the former Texas School Book Depository. The site, from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy, is dedicated to Kennedy's life and legacy. (Courtesy of the Sixth Floor Museum) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Child of blues and industry

    A center for blues and jazz early in the century, Deep Ellum had become a warehouse district by the 60s and 70s. But the artists returned, and an the area is once again a hotspot for arts and entertainment. (Courtesy of the Deep Ellum Assoc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Cattle call

    Cowboys move a herd of Texas longhorns along the Trinity River Bottoms. Once a major stop along the Preston Cattle Trail, the Dallas area still has a number of working ranches. (Dallas CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Downtown skyline

    An aerial view of downtown Houston. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Ballunar Festival

    The RE/MAX Ballunar Liftoff Festival is an annual ballooning event near Johnson Space Center involving a weekend of hot air ballooning, arts and crafts, live entertainment, sky-diving exhibitions and food. Aug. 25-27, 2006. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Diana Garden

    Framed by the native bayou woodlands, the Diana Garden at Bayou Bend provides a magnificent vista from the north terrace of the house. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Hermann Park

    Hermann Park, presented to the City of Houston by George Hermann in 1914, is Houston's most historically significant public green space. The park rests on 401 acres in the heart of the Museum District. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Space Center

    As the official visitors center for Johnson Space Center, this theme park for space fans features actual spacecraft, flight simulators and a guided tram tour of NASA and Mission Control. (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Augusta Pines

    Located north of Houston in Spring, Augusta Pines Golf Club hosted the PGA Champions Tour (formerly the Seniors Tour) in 2004 and 2005. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Houston Zoo - Natural Encounters Exhibit

    The Zoo's Natural Encounters exhibit features meerkats, otters, vampire bats and other small mammals. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Museum of Fine Arts

    Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is the largest art museum in the Southwest. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers more than 51,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Galveston Beach

    Just 50 miles south of Houston, Galveston is Texas' most beautiful, entertaining & historic island. Visitors to this splendid tropical paradise are treated to 32 miles of sun-drenched beaches, direct access to four major cruise lines, miles of historic Victorian architecture, countless exciting attractions, 20 square blocks of shopping on Galveston's Historic Downtown Strand and much more.. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Kemah Boardwalk

    Kemah, on Galveston Bay, is a spectacular waterfront destination with themed restaurants, the Boardwalk Inn hotel, amusement rides, dancing fountains, mid-way games and retail shops. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Minute Maid Park

    A jewel in the crown of the majestic downtown Houston skyline, Minute Maid Park has become a welcome home for the Houston Astros and has ushered in a new era of Major League sports in the city. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Illuminated Alamo

    San Antonio and the Alamo played a critical role in the Texas Revolution - it is a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The River Walk

    The World Famous San Antonio River Walk offers a variety of attractions and activities including riverboat rides, live music, hotels, museums, art galleries, shopping. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Day of the Dead

    An ancient festivity that has been much transformed through the years, the Day of the Dead was intended in prehispanic Mexico to celebrate children and the dead. The holiday today is a time when Mexican families remember their dead and the continuity of life. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Mission San Jose

    Mission San Jose was founded in 1720 by the famed Father Antonio Margil de Jesús, a prominent Franciscan missionary in early Texas. It was built on the banks of the San Antonio river several miles to the south of the earlier mission, San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo). Mission San Jose is an active parish. Visitors are welcome to attend mass on Sundays. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The Witte Museum

    The Witte Museum is San Antonio 's premiere museum featuring scientific and historical exhibits for the whole family. The H-E-B Science Treehouse offers four levels of fun and experimentation with Energy, Air Power, Simple Machines, Eco-Science, Weather, and Sound Waves. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. McNay Art Museum

    Housed in what was the home of the late Marion Koogler McNay, the McNay Art Museum was the first modern art museum in Texas. Founded in 1950, the McNay focuses primarily on 19th- and 20th- century European and American art, and opened to the public four years later. It's collection of prints and drawings is one of the finest in the Southwest. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Little Flower Shrine

    This Roman Catholic Church, is dedicated to Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux of the Child Jesus, and bears her nickname, 'The Little Flower' of Jesus. It is distinguished as one of only a handful of church buildings in North America (and one of only three in the state of Texas) bearing the papal designation of 'basilica' - a treasury of art, master craftsmanship and relics. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. The Torch of Friendship

    Urban monumental sculptor Sebastian was commissioned by the Association of Mexican Entrepreneurs of San Antonio to create this 50-ton red steel structure. Created in Mexico, it was shipped to San Antonio in six pieces and was presented to the City of San Antonio as a gift from the Association. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
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