Hip Mom Goes Into The Woodlands

A few weeks ago, I slipped away at dark thirty in the morning, leaving my husband with six kids and two dogs (one of whom had raging diarrhea). Yes, for the first time since 2009, I was going to escape for 36 hours totally kid free! I was going to visit a dear friend, Ravishing Red Ann, who had lived next door to me in Tulsa for many years before moving just last year. And she happened to move to a fabulous little satellite of Houston, Texas, called The Woodlands (I think you have to capitalize the “The.” It’s a little pretentious and fabricated, which is exactly what I love about The Woodlands.) Now, I thought I was just going to have a great weekend catching up with my friend, and that I did. But I also fell in love with The Woodlands! No, it’s not Ibiza or St. Bart’s or Gstaad, or wherever the young glitterati go these days. But it is close, easy, and a little paradise for a beleaguered Tulsa mommy who might be short on time and funds. It’s pretty cheap to get there (when I went, Southwest was having a fare sale – my round trip was $100!)  And you can fly there nonstop! You can’t say that about too many destinations from Tulsa International.

So, I hopped on my little flight, and before I could down my illicit morning Bloody Mary, I was in  Houston. I had never been to Houston. Houston, for the uninitiated, is a big big big city. There are freeways that are light-years long and go in 38 directions all at once. I blithely flew Southwest into Houston Hobby, not knowing that Ann was about 20 minutes from Bush International and about 392 miles from Hobby. Either Ann is used to driving or is aspiring to be the patron saint of freeway driving, because she happily drove 18 hours to pick me up and drive me back to Houston Hobby.

And then we made our way to The Woodlands. The Woodlands is a lush green island oasis off the freeway that was dreamed up and meticulously executed (they say, “Master Planned Community”). The developers only cut the trees down that they need to clear for buildings and roads; the rest of the time, you feel like you are in a big, verdant maze. All the shopping and malls are tucked discreetly in little wooded groves, so that you don’t even see all that tacky retail from the roads. You might see a subtle little sign saying “Whole Foods,” but if you blink you’ll miss the little sign. At one point we were mulling our many, many dinner options (I am not kidding. There are about 292 hip and chic options for any genre of cuisine your heart desires), and I think we drove the same road for about an hour, even though we were always heading somewhere different. I think the only way you learn to drive in The Woodlands is either an acute sense of smell or muscle memory.

But don’t let all this bucolic, green gorgeousness fool you: this wooded playground belies the economic powerhouse that is The Woodlands. Exxon itself is building its new headquarters there – it looked like the Death Star was being constructed in a vast acreage of concrete and cranes. Energy and tech-sounding companies are popping up in sleek new office buildings anchored by juice bars and upscale sushi joints. Property values are skyrocketing. The whole town is teeming with young, hip brainiacs.

So what does all this vigorous economic activity mean? You guessed it, my friends: the shopping is PHENOMENAL. In a strange cosmic coincidence (cough, clears throat), The Woodlands’ Nordstrom’s grand opening coincided with the morning of my arrival. So of course we went to Nordstrom straight from the airport. It was bustling with throngs of beautiful Woodlands Wives (oh, my, Bravo TV! Have you checked that possibility out yet?). On a whim, I decided to get a makeover at the Chanel counter. I am transformed from Tulsa Hausfrau to Texas Soccer Mom Who Moonlights as a Pole Dancer in 30 minutes or less!

Ann happily guided me through The Woodlands Mall, which has everything a mama could hope for – Gymboree, Anthropologie, a new Athleta store (I had to pick up Ann from the floor, so thrilled is she to have this paradise of flattering, well-fitting performance wear for women right down the road!) — everything a good mall should have. Market Street in The Woodlands is even more staggering in its offerings: Kate Spade, Kendra Scott, Lush Cosmetics, Trina Turk, Z Gallerie (haute but affordable, yuppie decor!), Michael Kors, Sur La Table (my favorite store for pretending I am a high-class chef working in Provence, rather than a mom flinging nuggets at many). Oh, it is so much fun! We paw the purses at Kate Spade, oogle the necklaces at Kendra Scott and fondle the sumptuous soaps at Lush.

And the restaurants! I don’t think you could walk four feet without hitting a wine bar, or a hip, yuppie pub, or an Asian Fusion, or an upscale Mex. There is a slew of restaurants in Waterway Square: this is a public park in the center of The Woodlands which boasts all sorts of water features — even a lazy river that is reminiscent of San Antonio’s River Walk. We have a delicious lunch of jalapeno-laced sushi and “Angry Edamame” at Kona Grill, whose menu is a potpourri of sublime Asian specialties. For dinner – right on the charming waterway – we have delicious, authentic Mexican at La Lupita. I am quite certain that the quality of salsa is directly proportionate to a restaurant’s proximity to the Mexican border. And the margaritas are dangerously quaffable. Ann also raves about 1252 Tapas Bar and Hubble and Hudson Bistro, but even I can’t eat eight meals in 36 hours. We finish up the evening at Crush, a wine bar several stories up that overlooks Waterway Square, bubbling and percolating with fountains, kids and families out playing.

Now, if you’re not fortunate to have a friend near The Woodlands with whom to crash (but doesn’t everyone in Tulsa have a friend who lives in or just moved to Houston?), you will have to stay at one of the luxurious hotels there. The Hyatt is smack dab in the middle of all the chic shops at Market Street, and the Marriott Waterway looms over Waterway Square. Plus, my favorite hotel ever, the Westin, is coming to Waterway Square soon. EEEEE!

If you can’t manage to get away for a weekends sans kids, or if you actually WANT to get away with the kids, there’s plenty for kids to do here, too: there are concerts at Waterway Square (Linkin Park and Brad Paisley are playing while I’m there), an ice rink, kayaking on the Waterway, and Top Golf, which is sort of like Dave and Buster’s with a really neat driving range!

But promise me, mama, even if you bring the kidlets, you make sure you get some shopping time. Solo.

Categories: Hip Mom