From sophisticated theaters and museums to live music events in funky bars, Houston is a city that offers a very broad range of entertainment. Creativity runs rampant through the city and the result is hundreds of ways to have a good time while you're here. Even the motion picture industry has taken notice of what the city offers and has poured over $100 million into the local economy during the past two years. Its a city where you certainly won't be bored unless you simply choose to be.

Live Music
If you enjoy the sounds of live music, you'll have ample opportunity to satisfy your desires. Live music of all types is available in abundance in Houston. You'll find bars and nightclubs that showcase live bands on weekends or specific nights, while others like the Fabulous Satellite Lounge feature live bands every night of the week. The Lounge is located in the historic Heights area and has been honored four of the last five years by the Houston Press as one of the citys best venues for live music. Popular bands play rock, blues, country and folk music to entertain sizable crowds. Billy Blues Bar & Grill is another popular nightspot that features live blues performances every night. This bar also has a full-service restaurant where you can nibble on some tasty barbecue while you enjoy the music. If your preference is jazz and seafood, head downtown to Sambuca Jazz Cafe for nightly performances. The management books at least one national act a month into this ritzy club.

Experience a little Irish culture several times a month at The Claddagh. This bar also features authentic Irish cuisine and an open mike on Wednesday nights. The Hop books popular hip-hop entertainers to croon tunes from the 50s and 60s several times a month; older crowds, as well as young swingers, find this nightclub very appealing. Live Latino music is a hit at Ruggles Bistro Latino on the weekends. Head downtown early and enjoy an assortment of Latin cuisines before settling in for the show. 1940s Copacabana style and elegance is the main attraction at the Mercury Room, a popular hangout with the distinguished, older crowd. Swing and blues are the primary sounds of the bands that play in this downtown nightclub.

Karaoke, that modern art form where the average citizen jumps on stage and bellows out the lyrics of popular tunes, is popular in Houston (and further illustrates the citys creative tendencies). You'll find that many nightclubs and bars offer Karaoke and open-mike nights on a regular basis. Even if you're not tempted to try it yourself, watching the antics of others can be tremendously entertaining. Millers Cave features Karaoke three nights a week in addition to live rock & roll bands on Friday evenings. Dave & Busters is popular on the Strip for its unique approach to entertainment. A Karaoke bar is part of its charm along with hi-tech virtual reality and video games, numerous pool tables, and a full-service restaurant.

In a completely different respect, live concerts and classical performances are equally popular and entertaining. Jones Hall is home to the critically acclaimed Houston Symphony and features numerous classical concerts every month. Other artistic musical presentations also take place in this downtown music hall from time to time. Compaq Center, the Astrodome, and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion all play host for famous concert tours featuring the hottest performers. If these types of live music are the ones you prefer, keep an eye on the Local Events section for upcoming performance dates and ticket information.

Museums & Galleries
If you enjoy browsing beautiful or interesting artifacts, gorgeous artistic creations and scientific memorabilia, you'll certainly appreciate Houstons extensive number of museums and galleries. Both the Museum of Fine Art and the Contemporary Art Museum display the work of world-renowned artists, and The Menil Collection boasts one of the finest private art collections in the country. A visit to Lawndale Art Center will familiarize you with the work of many very talented local artists. Art lovers can spend days enjoying these and many other area galleries.

Aside from artistic offerings, you'll also find some exceptional examples of museums that feature historical and scientific exhibits. The Houston Holocaust Museum is relatively unique and features in-depth information about the horrifying events of the Holocaust. Definitely bring along some tissues when visiting. The Museum of Natural Science offers three levels of fun that you'll be hard-pressed to view in a single day. Burke Baker Planetarium and the Cockrell Butterfly Center are conveniently located in the same building. Theres so much to see and touch, you might want to allow two days for this outing. If the impressive history of Texas intrigues you, take a drive out to San Jacinto Historical Park and visit the Museum of Texas History and the Battleship Texas.

Without a doubt, the citys most interesting museum experience will be had at the American Funeral Service Museum. Not many museums in the country focus on funeral memorabilia and artifacts. The themed coffins are definitely excellent conversation pieces. For other interesting and slightly unusual museum experiences, visit the Houston Fire Museum, the Art Car Museum and the Orange Show.

Theater
During the course of the past century, Houston gained a formidable reputation as a world-class center for the arts. Its one of the few cities with its own resident professional companies in ballet, opera and theater. If you enjoy theatrical performances, you won't lack for entertainment during a visit to the city. The 17-block Theater District is home to over 200 performing arts organizations and houses some very prestigious theaters and performance halls. You can catch first-rate Broadway and Off-Broadway productions at the Alley Theater, or opt for incredible opera performed by the Tony, Grammy and Emmy-winning Houston Grand Opera. Bayou Place is the hottest new addition to the downtown entertainment scene. It features theaters, concert houses, nightclubs and restaurants all under one roof. The Aerial Theater is the resident theater at Bayou Place and offers a broad range of productions, including comedies and concerts.

Outside of the Theater District, you'll also find excellent productions in other parts of the city. Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park offers free performances of dramas, comedies and musicals. Main Street Theater has two Houston locations that offer an assortment of productions. Cutting-edge, modern plays are the specialty at Stages Repertory Theater, while Playhouse 1960 specializes in old comedies and mysteries. If you enjoy dinner theater, definitely reserve a table at Great Caruso. The performances are typically comedies or musicals, the ambiance is elegant Victorian, and the food is delicious.

Film
If you enjoy watching the latest Hollywood films in your spare time, you'll find a multitude of cinemas waiting to accommodate you. The latest trend is the giant, multi-screen complex that features stadium seating and modern comforts, and Houston already has an abundance of these cinemas. On the West Side, visit AMC Studio 30. The northwest part of the city features Cinemark Tinseltown 290, while Magic Johnson Theater caters to movie-goers in the north. In the Galleria area you'll find Greenway Place 24, and Cinemark Hollywood is located on the East Side.

You'll also find an abundance of traditional cinemas, special 'dollar' cinemas and art houses. Dollar cinemas, like Wind Chimes 8 and Silver Cinemas, offer reduced ticket prices (usually $1-$2) on recent Hollywood movies that just left the big theaters. If your film preferences run to artistic productions, you'll prefer the films at art houses like Angelika Film Center, Wortham IMAX and the Museum of Fine Art.

Dance
Dancing has been a popular form of entertainment for centuries in the U.S. The opportunities to enjoy yourself in Houston are two-fold. First, you can experience the beauty and splendor of ballet performances by purchasing tickets to the Houston Ballet. Since its creation in 1955, the company has gone from being unknown to being a top troupe with an international reputation. More than 80 performances occur annually in Houston, and the troupe also tours and performs in other cities. An evening at the ballet is a truly magical experience. Other types of modern dance performances also occur throughout the year. Watch the Local Events section for information about upcoming performances.

The other dance option is obviously to dance the night away yourself, and you'll have ample opportunity to do so. Nightclubs featuring dance floors are popular in Houston. City Streets features seven first-rate nightclubs under one gigantic roof and always attracts a remarkable crowd. The types of clubs include a 70s pop disco, a piano bar, a jazz club, a Top 40 dance hall and a huge country & western dance hall. As you would expect, country two-stepping and line dancing are popular in Houston, and country nightclubs like Wild West and Bushwackers are always hopping. So mosey on in and boot-scoot the night away!

Comedy
Houston certainly isn't New York on the comedy circuit, but it still has some comedy clubs that will inspire an evening of full-blown laughter. Spellbinders Comedy Club features newcomers and an occasional star. Its a popular West Side club that has shows six nights a week. Book in advance and arrive early to get a good seat. Magic Island is a dinner theater type of place that throws in some magic and psychic phenomenon with the comedy. This is another hot spot that should be booked in advance. If you want to see some hilarious improvisational comedy, make a reservation for Comedy Sportz or Comedy Showcase. Both feature newcomers and occasional stars. Dubbing itself "Houstons Premier Comedy Club", the Laff Spot at Willowbrook features a full-service restaurant in the club. Smaller comedy cafes include Laff Stop, Just Joking Comedy Cafe and Bobbys Comedy Corner.

Amusement Parks
If you've got the family along for the trip or you're just a big kid at heart, you'll definitely be interested in local amusement parks. Sitting across the freeway from the Astrodome, Six Flags AstroWorld heads up the list as Houstons most popular kid spot. The park features 33 "big" rides, most of which are deemed suitable for the average child of five years and older. Rollercoasters are the exception, of course, but Mom and Dad and the older siblings are entitled to some genuine thrills. Looney Tunes Land offers an assortment of pint-sized rides that are perfect for smaller children, and the park offers numerous shows the entire family can enjoy.

Sitting right next door is Six Flags WaterWorld, the ultimate in water fun for the entire family. Try one of several waterslides, wade in the oceanic wave pool and do a little rafting along with a lot of other fun water activities. In North Houston, beat the summer heat at Splashtown USA. The park offers waterslides, a wave pool and tube riding. Its another adventure the entire family will appreciate, but don't forget to bring your sunscreen!

Its easy to find random, small carnivals set up throughout the city, but if you're looking for a guaranteed carnival (and some excellent food), head to the Kemah Boardwalk. A Ferris wheel and other carnival rides are set up year-round.

Festivals
If you plan on visiting the city, keep an eye on the festival section in Local Events. A variety of fun and entertaining festivals occur in or around Houston each year. The Texas Renaissance Festival starts in October every year and runs for seven weekends. Step back into the Renaissance period and watch a couple of knights joust at this popular event. Its a one-of-a-kind experience. In October every year, the Bayou City Art Festival showcases the work of local artists and is wildly popular with art-lovers. The Texas Crawfish Festival goes on during two weekends in May and provides a double treat. Not only is the festival a lot of fun, but it takes place in scenic Old Town Spring, an area worth visiting at any time. If you have the kids along, maybe you'll get lucky and the circus will be in town. The Greatest Show on Earth, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus performs in Houston every summer.

Nature & Parks
Houston is a city of warmth and sunshine, so it shouldn't be a surprise to find a lot of nature centers and parks in the area. Many of the parks, such as Hermann Park (home of the Houston Zoo) and Sam Houston Park, offer a broad assortment of activities in addition to the simple pleasure of communing with nature and enjoying the outdoors. You can easily turn these outings into all-day events. Popular nature centers that feature both native plant and animal life include Armand Bayou Nature Center and Houston Arboretum & Nature Center. Mercer Arboretum & Botanical Gardens is equally popular, but it focuses solely on native plant life. Be sure and bring the kids along for an educational experience that will also provide a great deal of pleasure and appreciation.

A. Conner