Brett Atkinson checks into Hotel ZaZa, Houston.


In Houston's Museum District, around 15 minutes from downtown on the city's efficient Metro light rail. Guests get complimentary drop-offs and pick-ups around the central city in the hotel's stylish town cars adorned with authentic Texan longhorns.

Check-in experience: Made great in America after a long flight by the super-efficient Mexican receptionist, Maria. Muchas gracias for the tips on where to eat and drink in Mexico City and Oaxaca. The lobby's quirky and colourful screen prints of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra added a suitably Stateside touch.


The room: Old-school charm meets 21st-century hipster with bonus points for views of the Mecom Fountain. Dubbed a "Petite King" room, there was nothing petite about it. Everything definitely is bigger in Texas.

What's in the neighbourhood: It's called the Museum District for good reason. Across the road is the excellent Museum of Fine Arts with a surprising collection including ancient Egyptian antiquities, Flemish masters, and contemporary American works from Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. It's a short walk to dinosaur statues at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and, for fans of living and breathing species, the Houston Zoo is south around the compact lake of Hermann Park.

Food and drink: Huge breakfasts are served downstairs in the hotel's Monarch restaurant.

Try the chilaquiles — think nachos with eggs — or quite possibly the world's biggest cinnamon buns. Monarch is open for fine dining at night, while food trucks park up most afternoons near the Museum of Fine Arts. It's also just a short longhorn ride to great Texas barbecue at The Pit Room, or craft beer served from a retro Airstream caravan at the Axelrad Beer Garden.

Exercise: There's a well-equipped gym, but the focus for this trip was far more on pulled pork, ribs and Texan pale ale. Afternoon swims in the hotel's pool were, however, definitely enjoyed.

The bed: One of the biggest and most comfortable beds we've ever experienced, and just the ticket after Air New Zealand's 13-plus hours across the Pacific.

Fellow guests: The ZaZa is one of Houston's most popular hotels for weddings, so guests included several bridal parties representing the city's diverse ethnic make-up. Indian, American, Ethiopian — you name it.

Noise: Despite the occasional wedding and a location near a busy roundabout, the rooms are well-insulated.


Price: Room rates start at about $320, pretty good value for central Houston.


Perfect for: Exploring Houston for a few days before kicking on to other parts of the US or central America.