Toyota Center – Houston Rockets
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Reaching for the Stars in Space City
In 1971, the San Diego Rockets packed up and moved 1,500 miles east to the city of Houston to bring professional basketball to Space City for the first time. In the 40-plus years since the move, the Rockets have delighted Red Nation by making four trips to the NBA Finals and taking home the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 1994 and 1995.
In 2003, the team bade farewell to their longtime home, the Houston Summit, to move into their state-of-the-art downtown facility, the Toyota Center. Since that time, much to the delight of their faithful fans, the Rockets have risen to become a perennial playoff team in the Western Conference. The team has rewarded their die-hards with a truly special place to call home.
Food & Beverage 4
Like most NBA facilities, the Toyota Center has a great variety when it comes to food and beverages. There are dozens of food and drink stands on both the main and upper concourses. You can get your standard hot dogs, burgers, popcorn, and pretzels at most of these. You can also get a souvenir fountain drink for $7 and as an added bonus, these will get you free refills. In addition, there are multiple Pizza Hut stands on both levels that specialize in their personal pan pizzas.
If you’re looking for something a little more unique, however, the Toyota Center’s got you covered. The world-famous Cadillac Bar has a stand located on the main concourse offering up beef and chicken fajita nachos ($14). Alternatively, if you want a top-notch burger or chicken sandwich, check out the Ranch Hand Burger or the Crispy Chicken Sandwich ($13.95 apiece with fries) at Bill’s Bar & Burgers.
For adult beverages, local favorite Karbach Brewing Company and Austin-based Tito’s Handmade Vodka have craft beer and craft cocktail stands in the arena. These are a little pricier than your standard domestic brews, but their quality can’t be denied. Just be forewarned that prices are on the level with the rest of the NBA, so you can expect to shell out more than a few pennies for your food and drinks at Rockets games.
In the past few seasons, when the Rockets have contended for the Western Conference title, the Toyota Center really has been hopping! They have taken the concept of Red Nation and really run with it at Rockets home games. The fans come out in full force for home games (we’ll discuss them more in the Fans section) and virtually all of them sport Rockets red.
Houston celebrates the team’s history all throughout the Toyota Center, and that history greatly adds to the overall atmosphere. Hanging from the rafters are the championship banners of the Rockets (along with those of the departed Houston Comets of the WNBA). Fans can also see the retired jerseys of Rockets greats Calvin Murphy, Yao Ming, Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, and Rudy Tomjanovich.
On the upper concourse, the Rockets have also installed a locker room display of some of their Hall of Fame players, along with the center court area from the old Houston Summit – this is a great photo opp for fans and is a must-see spot in the arena.
For younger fans, the upper concourse is also the place to be; the Memorial Hermann Sky Court offers kids the chance to play hoops for real on a court of their own. There are also pop-a-shot machines and a kids’ team store – all of these are very popular spots in the arena, and should be something you check out.
As mentioned, the Toyota Center is located smack-dab in the middle of Houston’s bustling downtown, within eyesight of both Minute Maid Park and BBVA Compass Stadium, home to the Houston Astros and the Houston Dynamo, respectively. If you plan your visit to the Toyota Center right, you might be able to work in another game while you’re in the area.
As the fourth-largest city in the country, Houston has a ton of things to offer for visitors; it is a top foodie destination, and the metro area is also home to some of the highest-rated hotels in the state. In addition, in terms of attractions you have a ton of options – the Museum District of the city is home to the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences; housing one of the largest collections of dinosaur fossils in the country and a top-of-the-line planetarium, the museum is a delight for visitors of all ages.
You should also keep your eye out for the Downtown Aquarium, which is located within walking distance of the Toyota Center. A full-sized Ferris wheel, a pride of white Bengal tigers, and a hands-on stingray exhibit are just some the attractions you can expect to see. I would personally recommend this one if you have the time.
While Houston is in the middle of the pack in terms of average attendance in the NBA, with just over 18,000 fans per game, this also means that they are averaging almost a sell-out for every home game. Rockets fans are deeply passionate about their team, and as I’ve said, have fully embraced the concept of Red Nation. You’ll see a ton of Rockets red all through the stands, including tons of jerseys; this is a great fan base.
The Toyota Center is easily reachable from anywhere in Houston. If you’re traveling by car, there are signs marking the way here from numerous points in the city, or you can also hop on board the city’s METROrail mass transit system if you choose not to drive.
If you’re traveling from outside the city, Houston has two major airports, each with numerous round-the-clock flights into and out of the area. However, neither George Bush Intercontinental Airport nor William P. Hobby Airport are near downtown, so you should plan for that.
Once you get near the arena, you can find plenty of parking in the nearby area – you can find parking for as little as $5 and as high as $30 depending on how close you want to park.
One last caveat to be aware of in terms of Access to the Toyota Center, however, is that Houston is notorious for its traffic “situation” – you really need to build in enough time when traveling to Rockets games, as once you get near downtown, no matter what time of day and no matter what day of the week, you’re going to be in traffic for a bit, so make sure you’re cutting it too close or you might miss some game time.
Return on Investment 3
Ticket prices for the Rockets are pretty commensurate with the rest of the NBA. You can get a single-game ticket (depending on the opponent) for around $35, but ticket prices do go as high as $1,900 for primo seats down courtside. There really aren’t any bad vantage points in the Toyota Center though; even in the upper concourse, you can still see the game easily.
Concessions prices are also pretty much on average with the rest of the National Basketball Association, but parking is very affordable, so you won’t really have to worry about that. You will have to spend some cash to catch a game at the Toyota Center, but I think you’ll find that it is money well spent.
The Toyota Center has a great amount to offer in terms of Extras – the Sonic Boom Drumline has installed themselves in the stands and play throughout the game, greatly adding to the excitement and the energy of the on-court action. In addition, the Rockets Power Dancers, the team’s professional dance troupe, can also be counted on to add to the entertainment during breaks in the action.
Lastly, you won’t be able to help but notice the Rockets fan-favorite mascot, Clutch the Bear. This life-sized teddy bear can be seen patrolling both the sidelines and the stands throughout the game, interacting with fans and tossing out free souvenirs. He’s also very approachable for photos, if that’s something you’re interested in; if you have a child with you at the game, this is definitely something you will be interested in, so plan accordingly.
I think the Toyota Center is truly one of the more underrated stadiums in the NBA. It has been a great addition to the Houston sports scene since it opened, and the Rockets really do enjoy a great home court advantage, as this is one of the louder basketball arenas I have personally experienced. When things are going well for the Rockets, Red Nation can’t be ignored.
Houston is also a great city to visit and no matter what you’re interested in, you’ll be able to find something to pique your interest both before and after the games. Make sure to add the Toyota Center to your bucket list of places to visit in the NBA; you won’t regret it.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
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Houston, TX 77030
410 Bagby St
Houston, TX 77002
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