Content Produced in Partnership with Visit the Woodlands
A masterfully planned community broken down into meticulously designed subdivisions, the Woodlands is a 28,000-acre Pleasantville about 20 minutes north of Houston. It reminded me a lot of the suburban utopia where I grew up in Chicago, the urban sprawl replaced by perfectly manicured lawns, golf for days, and green space that is nothing short of a carefully curated American dream. In fact, the whole weekend had me questioning why there isn’t a Real Housewives of Houston. While it is a place to escape reality for a weekend, it’s also there to subtly remind you that the 2.5 kids (more like a baseball team in the south) and white picket fence are still within the realm of obtainable possibility.
Here’s why families, moms in need of a drama-free vacation, and girlfriends should plan a getaway to the Woodlands — stat.
Live The Resort Life
There’s something to be said for a property that has every possible amenity so much so that it feels like a trip for the kids cleverly disguised as a much-needed escape for mom and dad. The Woodlands Resort has a distinct country club vibe (especially on the concierge floor where everyone is at your beck and call) more than a hotel, and their laundry list of activities make it easy to keep the whole family busy all day.
Dump the kids at the pool (there are water slides and a lazy river) and the parents can golf, play tennis, bike, SUP, or kayak. The Woodlands Resort boasts a daily activity menu that includes everything from karaoke, fishing, scavenger hunts, lawn games, mixology classes, dancing, aerobics, and arts and crafts to nightly s’mores and “dive in” movies so you truly never have to leave the resort if you don’t want to.
Listen to Music Under the Big Texas Sky
A community treasure, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion is one of the premier outdoor concert venues in the world. They have free orchestra performances throughout the year, but also attract big-name headliners for a surprisingly intimate venue. And you can sleep well knowing the facility is an NPF so all the money goes back to supporting the local arts scene.
Lindsey Stirling and Evanescence were in town while I was there, two performers I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see live because I don’t know too many of their songs. Both we’re crazy entertainers. Amy Lee’s voice is powerfully haunting and I have no idea how Lindsey can play the violin while doing ballet and high kicks because I can barely text and walk. Their stage presence was a pleasant surprise and it ended up being a dazzling night of entertainment under the stars.
Shop ‘til You Drop
It wouldn’t be a ritzy suburb without at least one area to drop some coin on the latest fashion trends and the Woodlands Mall is actually a huge draw for Houstonites. Personally, I preferred Market Street, a high-end outdoor shopping district with concierge perks like complimentary umbrellas (they definitely know their market). Home to all your favorite franchises like True Foods and Tommy Bahama, I ate at an original, local favorite, Schilleci’s New Orleans Kitchen. This is Creole/Cajun territory and you’ll want to get on that see-food diet as fast as possible. Their gumbo was top notch and they start you off with an appetizer of Zapp’s Chips so you know it’s legit down to the homemade peach balsamic dressing on the house salad.
It’s tough, but save room for dessert because Pop Bar is across the street. Customizable sorbet, yogurt, and gelato pops, you choose your own toppings and dipping sauces from chocolate and caramel to coconut and waffle cone chips. Sugarfina out of Beverly Hills is another fun stop where you can design your own sugary bento boxes or send a friend a candygram. They’re known for their designer chocolates that include the likes of caviar and fancy alcoholic gummies like Moscow Mule and one made with Dom Perignon.
We’ve already covered the Cajun musts, but the area is also a treasure trove for its access to both coastal seafood and Texas cattle. If you’re big in the brunch game, no one does it better than Fielding’s local-kitchen + bar, especially for drinking before noon. Their Bloody Mary and Mimosa flights are legendary (including the Bloody Maria, which arrives smoking). The other must-try cocktail is the Dragon’s Breath (made with Red Handed Texas Bourbon, St Germain, elderflower liqueur, Cointreau and cane syrup). Both the bourbon and the ice cubes are smoked separately, making it one of the sweetest, smokiest, tastiest drinks I’ve downed in a while. To set the scene, there’s live acoustic music and a delightful sugar scrub in the bathroom. And the food’s not bad either. 🙂
For dinner, find a spot under the twinkling lights of the Waterway. My recommendation would be Churrascos for a South American meat feast. Wet your whistle with a mango habanero marg or rose sangria before tucking into the parrilla mixta, a ridiculous platter of grilled proteins. Normally I’m a steak girl but it was the juicy chimichurri chicken I devoured, along with a crab and shrimp mac and cheese that was simply to die for. If you sit at the bar, Lindsay the bartender is truly a lovely human.
Get your Blood Pumping
If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of skydiving but weren’t sure if you were fully ready to commit, give iFly a try. A clear wind tunnel that professional skydivers use to practice, it’s definitely less scary to jump into a tube than out of a plane, albeit a little strange to do so with people watching you. The chance to experience 60 seconds of freefall with an instructor guiding you around the chamber is a fun and controlled rush.
Having skydived twice before, I personally didn’t find the sensation to be that similar, but they said the more you do it and can learn to control your adrenaline spikes, the more you notice it. It is also crazy to watch everyone from huge heavy dudes to teeny tiny kiddos whipping around (you can fly as young as 3). You come out weirdly sore from the wind maneuvering your arms into unnatural positions, hair in a million knots, and drooling, but it’s an experience unlike any other. If you want to up the fear factor there’s also a VR headset to feel like you’re flying over the Alps.
Stretch Your Legs
With more than 130 parks and 200 miles of hiking and biking trails, you can’t go to The Woodlands without actually visiting the woods. George Mitchell Nature Preserve feels miles from humanity despite being able to hear the road in the background as white noise, a syncopated rhythm along with the chirp of the birds. The paths that are a mix of sand and dirt and lined with cheeky plaques to identify the local flora and fauna like the “Littlehip Hawthorn, an attractive small tree with beautifully peeling bark.”
If you’d prefer to explore on two wheels, bikes can be rented along the waterway so you can make a self-guided tour of the 14 art benches and sculptures. Built by local, national and international artists, each is unique in design.
Find a Spot to Cool Off
Texas summers are no joke (which I can best describe as sweaty and sticky thanks to the humidity), which is how Riva Row Boathouse became the town-gathering place. Beat the heat with a SUP board or kayak, available to rent hourly. You can also take out the ever-so Instagrammable swan pedal boats, but bring a friend because they’re easier to maneuver with two. Even if you want your hair to be as big as Texas, the water is a refreshing reprieve.
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