The International Space Station has spoken: 281 is the ultimate area code.
Stafford boasts the very first Hindu Madir of its type in the country.
Limburger cheese caused a big stink on Houston laws.
Sam Houston was all about making The Bayou City the capital — it just didn't stick.
Believe it or not, Leon's Lounge is the oldest bar in Houston.
Buc-ee's boasts the largest car wash in the world.
The Astrodome is still an impressive sight from the outside.
Getting to know Houston is no trivial pursuit. The impressive city has a reputation that precedes it, and there are tons of factoids on everyone’s lips.
Houston is the fourth largest city in the country by population. Houston is the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in America. The Houston Astros won the World Series in 2017, channeling the city’s strength in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation.
But for all the world knows about Space City, there’s plenty of info that flies under the radar. If you want to discover the secret sides of Houston, you just have to know where to look.
Not to worry — PaperCity has done the legwork for you, rounding up the Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know about Houston. It’ s the kind of stuff you won’t come across in everyday conversation.
As they say: the more you know.
1. You Rang?
Houstonians are constantly at war over the best area code in the city. Everyone has an opinion — even those 832-ers. But it’s no longer up to us to decide if 713 or 281 reigns supreme. NASA has spoken.
The International Space Station’s phone number boasts a Houston area code: 281, to be exact.
713 may be the main code, but the Johnson Space Center is located firmly in the 281 arena. Sadly, while ET can phone home from earth, you can’t phone the International Space Center from here. But if an astronaut up in orbit were to call you, that polarizing trio of digits would be the first thing you’d see.
2. Say Cheese
Some people will tell you laws are only laws if they’re enforced. Sure, you can listen to these folks. But they’re the kind of people that end up with a portfolio of speeding tickets and warrants out for their arrest.
But to be fair, sometimes they have a point. There are some silly little laws out there that just don’t seem real. And even if they are, they’re certainly not worth enforcing.
Case in point: it is illegal to sell Limburger cheese on Sundays in Houston. The reason for this is unknown, but it’s possible that its paralyzing pungency has something to do with it. It’s a pretty unholy smell.
3. Temple of Awe
Houston’s No. 1 when it comes to diversity in the United States, so it’s no wonder this is city responsible for some seriously important cultural firsts.
Houston boasts the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, the very first traditional Hindu Mandir of its type in the entire country. The classic temple, located in Stafford, was built over the course of 28 months out of 33,000 pieces of hand-carved Italian marble and Turkish limestone.
It’s a place of worship, spiritual and cultural activities. The exterior is stunning, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts — namely sacred murti statues of gurus and deities hidden inside.
4. Dome, Sweet Dome
We’ll forgo the introduction for this one because it’s so bizarre it’s better to cut to the chase. In 2009, some energetic Houstonians hatched an engineering idea that would rival the Astrodome — a dome all their own. A geodesic dome, a mile in diameter, to cover Downtown.
The news of this scheme came from the Mega Engineering series on Discovery Channel. The impetus for H-Town’s very own Under the Dome scenario? A way to escape Houston’s perilous “killer hurricanes,” heat and humidity. Air conditioning is expensive, they argued.
No real note was made of the fact that this dome would only preserve a very, very small part of Houston and a very, very small number of Houstonians. Obviously, nothing has come of this plan — and the original video seems nowhere to be found.
5. Workin’ at the Car Wash
It’s no secret that everything’s bigger in Texas. But sometimes Houston takes its largesse to the next level. Like, a world-record level. And leave it to the beloved Buc-cee’s to give us a fine example.
The crazy-good convenient store’s Katy outpost boasts the largest car wash in the entire world. Coming in at 255 feet, this gigantic car wash has 25 brushes and 17 blow dryers.
This bathing beauty cost a sweet $3 million, but that’s a small price to pay for sparkling vehicles and notoriety.
6. With a Capital H
Houston holds a place of prominence in Texas as the fourth-largest (maybe soon third-largest) city in the nation and as the hotbed of the aerospace, oil and gas and medical industries. But there’s another feather in the Bayou City’s cap that many may not know about.
For all you non-history buffs out there, Houston was once the capital of the Republic of Texas. The very first was Columbia, what is now West Columbia, announced in October 1836. But by that December, Texas President Sam Houston insisted the capital be in Houston.
Houston enjoyed a solid three-year run before the seat of government moved to Austin. But the strange story doesn’t end there. President Houston once again ordered the capital be moved to Houston, this time after Mexican troops threatened San Antonio in 1842.
Yet by 1844, it was back to Austin — permanently. That’s enough to give any Texas history wiz whiplash.
7. Lounging Around
This one goes out to all the wine-lovers in the city of Houston. Some of you surely know this information, but others will definitely be shocked. For years now, you’ve been pulling up a stool at La Carafe and relishing your time sipping Sauvignon Blanc at the historical landmark — only, it’s not quite as special as you think.
You see, La Carafe is not the oldest bar in Houston, despite that popular conception. It’s been a long-lasting label, but it’s just not the truth. That designation belongs to Leon’s Lounge, the cozy Downtown bar that’s big on vinyl.
The alliterative liquor haven opened up in 1949, a full decade before La Carafe came on the scene. It’s handily stood the test of time, even if its dazzling-yet-frightening array of taxidermied critters hasn’t.
8. A Swede deal
Overall, Houston’s economy is robust and thriving, oil booms’ subsequent busts be damned. The Bayou City can thank its high number of Fortune 500 companies. At 26, Houston boasts the most Fortune 500 companies in all of Texas.
And then there’s the many thriving industries. All this to say: Houston’s economy is so big, it’s larger than Sweden’s. That’s right. An American city’s economy outstrips an entire European country’s.
The Houston Metro Area’s GDP was $500 billion in 2015. Sweden’s came in at just $484 billion. Makes you think, right?
9. Naked Honors
This one’s a little wacky, but bear with us — if you’re not afraid to bare it all. Houston is home to a rather… unique travel agency. They offer a certain niche kind of trip. It’s all about the au naturel, but to many there’s nothing natural about it.
Castaway Travel specializes in setting up completely clothing-optional getaways. Back in the day they even had a nude flight on Naked-Air — maybe for ease in joining the mile-high club — but it’s since been shut down.
But Castaway is still operational, organizing nude group trips and cruises. Bliss cruises can take you to Spain, France, Belize and beyond. Just please, don’t check out their website at the office. The site’s definitely NSFW.
10. Rain, Rain, Go Away
Seattle has a big rep when it comes to the damp, the drizzle and the drip. Its denizens stroll through the puddles with nary an umbrella in sight, used to the constant sprinkle above.
Meanwhile, in Houston you’ll see an umbrella, a rain jacket and golashes all on one person during any of our mini monsoons. And we probably know better, if not best, because we get even more rain than Seattle.
That is, depending on how you slice it. Seattle gets 92 rainy days a year compared to The Bayou City’s 65. But that only adds up to 37 inches of rainfall in the Pacific Northwestern city — compared to a whopping 51 inches for Houston.
Hopefully now you know Houston a little better — and love it a lot more.