If you're anywhere in Houston, you probably aren't far from a mall, of which there are many more than can be mentioned here. They're usually located at or near an intersection of a freeway with the Loop or Beltway 8 or other major artery. These are good for general shopping, but hold little of interest for most visitors. A different story is the outlet malls, the principal one being Katy Mills out at the far western boundary of Houston, in the town of Katy. Take the Katy Freeway (I-10 west) until you spot the signs; the drive is about 25 miles. This mall is a mammoth collection of about 200 factory outlet stores that offer a large selection of merchandise at discount prices. The size of the discounts varies; some are good deals. There are also restaurants and a large movie theater.

Great Shopping Areas

Whether you're a purposeful shopper or a last-minute accidental one, you'll need to know something about the shopping terrain of Houston. Of course, the main shopping area in Houston is Galleria/Uptown, but other areas have a diversity of offerings that might prove to be just what you're looking for.

Downtown -- The Shops at Houston Center, 1200 McKinney (tel. 713/759-1442; www.shopsathc.com), is a group of about 40 small stores, mostly boutiques and specialty shops.

East End -- Just the other side of the freeway from the George Brown Convention Center is a commercial Chinatown, where you can find all kinds of goods imported from across Asia. Furniture, foods, curios -- you can browse your way through a number of little import stores, all within a 4-block area, between Dowling on the east, Chartreuse on the west, Rusk on the north, and Dallas on the south.

Montrose/The Heights -- Along Westheimer from Woodhead to Mandell, you'll find several antiques and junk shops that are perfect for the leisurely shopper who's out to find a diamond in the rough. If after browsing through these you haven't had your fill, a grouping of similar stores can be found on 19th Street in the Heights. In these dozen or so stores, merchandise is set down just about anywhere the owners can find a place for it, and dusting is a once-in-a-while practice. This is for bargain hunters. One Latin American folk-art shop called Casa Ramírez, 239 W. 19th St. (tel. 713/880-2420), displays a panoramic collection of Mexican folk art from across the country. (For the more discriminating antiques stores, go to the Kirby District.) Don't ever accept the first price you're offered at these places -- they almost always will lower the price.

Also along Westheimer are a number of vintage clothing stores. North of Westheimer, on West Gray where it intersects with Shepherd, a whole different sort of shopping awaits at the River Oaks Shopping Center. This is Houston's oldest shopping center. It's 2 blocks long and extends down both sides of West Gray in white-and-black Art Deco. It's a chic collection of galleries, boutiques, antiques shops, and specialty stores, as well as some fine restaurants and an art cinema.

Kirby District -- Kirby is more uniformly upscale than the Montrose. Where it begins by Westheimer, there are a couple of strip malls, the largest of which is Highland Village, 4000 Westheimer (tel. 713/850-3100). Highland Village, like so much of the retail business in this part of town, is aimed at the upper-middle-class shopper with such stores as Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn and a few one-of-a-kind boutiques. From this part of Kirby Drive to where it passes the Rice Village is a section known informally as Gallery Row, with a mix of galleries, designer showrooms, and shops of antiques and special furnishings. Finally, the Village is a 16-block neighborhood of small shops mixed with outlets from high-dollar national retailers. A few of the small shops are survivors from simpler times that are now a bit at odds in the environment of day spas, expensive shoe stores, and famous designer boutiques. There is also a wide variety of restaurants to choose from in the Village when it's time to take a break from browsing.

Uptown -- The Galleria, 5075 Westheimer (tel. 713/622-0663), occupies a long stretch of land along Westheimer and Post Oak. It has 320 stores that include big department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom, and small designer retailers such as Gucci, Emporio Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana. Across Westheimer from the Galleria is another shopping center called Centre at Post Oak. If you're looking for the finest in Western wear, go to Pinto Ranch, 1717 Post Oak Blvd. (tel. 713/333-7900; www.pintoranch.com). This store sells high-end clothing, boots, belt buckles, hats, and saddles.

Southwest -- In southwest Houston just beyond the Loop is where the Asian bazaar meets American suburb. This fascinating area is simultaneously adventure shopping and an exploration into the brave new world of postmodern America. First, drive down Harwin Drive between Fondren and Gessner. You will see store after store and strip mall after strip mall selling jewelry, designer clothes, sunglasses, perfumes, furniture, luggage, and handbags. Most stores are run by Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, and Thai shopkeepers, but other cultures are represented, too. Occasionally one will get raided for selling designer knockoffs. Everything is said to be at bargain-basement rates, but buyer beware. What I like the best are the import stores where you're never sure what you'll find. Farther out, on Bellaire Boulevard in the middle of a large commercial Chinatown, is an all-Chinese mall, where you can get just about anything Chinese, including tapes and CDs, books, food and cooking items, of course, and wonderful knickknacks.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.