At the invitation of a friend, “Want to go to the rodeo?” I was booking my flight and searching for a hotel for a long weekend in Houston. I mean, let’s be honest. Texas is pretty much a country unto itself nearly qualifying as international. Plus, this was a golden opportunity to visit the world’s largest rodeo in the fourth largest city in the United States. It’s true. Things really are bigger in Texas.
For example, Texas leads the US in cattle ranching, the number two source of revenue after petroleum and natural gas. More than 85% of its farms are family owned and operated. Not surprising. But would you have guessed that Texas is home to 12 of 13 of the fastest growing cities in the US?* With a lower cost of doing business than in other large metro areas and a younger median age in the population, Texas is full of present day movers and shakers.
The traditions of cowboy life, like livestock auctions and rodeo, play a starring role in the local culture. For more than 80 years, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ has been fueling that big ol’ Texan economy, creating thousands of jobs and generating over $450 million in education scholarships for youth in the state. It is the largest event of it’s kind anywhere. Period.
Here are my tips to help you gt the most out of your visit!
AIR & ARRIVAL
I easily found inexpensive roundtrip, nonstop airfare from my city and hotel rooms were also plentiful and well-priced, especially since I was sharing my expenses. Use Uber or Lyft from the airport, no need to rent a car.
We stayed at the Whitehall Houston, a great downtown hotel, just four blocks from red line metro stop, Downtown Transit Center, the same line that takes you to the rodeo. I booked with AMOMA and got free menu breakfast from the restaurant in the hotel. During our stay the staff went out of their way to accommodate us.
The Houston Metro, which has direct access to the rodeo entrance at NRG, is only $1.25 a ride, valid for 3 hours. Purchase tickets from the machine at the station and jump on the train; you may have to produce your ticket if a conductor asks for it as you’re on the honor system. If you are caught without, the fine is $200! There’s also an app for tickets which would avoid having to wait in line to use the machine.
You’ll get 20 days to explore the vast grounds on the NRG Stadium complex. We went all day Friday and Saturday and Sunday morning, Saturday drawing the biggest crowds.
This confused me at first and the website doesn’t do a good job of explaining it to you. You can buy a grounds pass to browse the food and beverage, carnival, retailers (more hats, boots, jewelry and Western wear than you can shake a tree at) and visit all the agricultural exhibits and the horse show and livestock options, BUT…
…if you want to see the rodeo, like the bull riding, calf roping and barrel racing, you’ll need to buy a ticket that admits you to these events inside NRG Stadium. The rodeo itself is about 2.5 to 3 hours long and is followed by a concert performance. [This initially confused me because I was trying to figure out how to by a seat for the rodeo alone. They don’t sell them!] There are several online sellers, like AXS, Flash Seats and StubHub, in which case there will most certainly be a markup. Whether you attend both or not, your seat for the rodeo is the same as the concert. No matter your seat, there is a huge jumbotron that allows you to see what’s happening on the floor with a bird’s eye view. And you’ll certainly be able to hear everything no matter where you are.
Don’t miss the opening performance of the rodeo with incredible renditions of the Star Spangled Banner followed by the parade and prayer. Very cool.
Speaking of musical performances, this rodeo can boast some of the biggest stars in country music. We’re talking Gene Autry, Roy Rodgers, Elvis Presley, and the number one best-selling music artist of all time, George Straight, not to mention current superstars.
If you are a carnivore and not particularly concerned about your health you’ll eat BBQ and fried food to your heart’s content. If vegetables are what you seek, look for the Green Fork salad vendor inside NRG Center, as well as one inside NRG Stadium for vegetarian or vegan options. There are also pierogis from Polonia on the grounds or, my personal favorite, Stump’s Wood Fired Pizza food truck, outside NRG Arena, for veggie pizza, vegans hold the cheese.
[HOT TIP: Bring an empty water bottle in with you and refill at water fountains, otherwise be prepared to pay $4 for bottled water.]
As with any big city Houston has a pretty happening food scene. We didn’t get to try much because we spent most of our time at the rodeo but local legend El Tiempo Cantina, serving some of the best Tex-Mex north of the border, was noteworthy. On the way to the rodeo we stopped at Tacos To Go Go for lunch, a quick hop on hop off the red line train.
*Some information gleaned from Texas Got It Right, by Andrew Wyly and Sam Wyly.