Sometimes in Houston, it’s possible — for a little while — to forget the pandemic altogether, said Michael Heckman, acting president and chief executive of Houston First Corp. Even as the delta variant fuels a rise in coronavirus cases in Texas, crowds are turning out to cheer on the Houston Astros, catch live music and hop between downtown bars.

“People really want to go out and do the things they loved pre-pandemic,” he said. And it’s not just locals. Travelers are returning to Houston, too.

“Our airports are full. Our restaurants are full. Our hotels are recovering,” Heckman said. Hotel occupancy rose to 58.2 percent in June, just several points below the same month in 2019, according to global hospitality data and analytics company STR. Heckman said both leisure and business travel have rebounded. More conventions are booked for the second half of this year than for the same period in 2019.

Been a while since your last visit? Returning travelers will find a host of newly opened attractions, restaurants and hotels.

Clad in etched-glass tubes under a canopy roof inspired by fluffy Texas clouds, the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, opened in November. The museum is one of 19 in the Houston Museum District, the cultural keystone of a city that has quietly become one of the United States’ most exciting art destinations. The Kinder Building capped the museum’s multiyear expansion.

Gardens and reflecting pools surround the new building, which gives off a gentle glow at night. Inside is the museum’s permanent collection of international modern and contemporary art, including pieces by Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe. Argentine artist Gyula Kosice’s futuristic “La Ciudad Hidroespacial,” a space-architecture fantasy begun in 1946, is one highlight in a trove of Latino and Latin American works on display.

Seismique, a new museum on the west side, debuted Dec. 26 amid a nationwide wave of similarly experiential art openings. Projections, holograms and millions of LED lights create what Seismique creator Steve Kopelman described as a portal to an alternate universe. Artist Mark Roberts’s “Acid Rain” room produces an optical illusion of walking through droplets that fly from the floor to the ceiling. Japanese textile artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam crocheted a multidimensional playground for the planet-inspired “Venus” room.

Travelers seeking fresh-air activities can explore the 132-acre Houston Botanic Garden, which opened in September. Outdoor gallery spaces showcase plants native to ecosystems from the African savanna to Mexican mountain forests, and the Family Discovery Garden has a maze and play structures. In November, an after-dark installation, “Lightscape,” will bathe the botanic gardens in colored light.

Another outdoor attraction, Skylawn, is a five-acre rooftop park and organic farm atop POST Houston, the cultural and commercial complex opening this fall in the renovated Barbara Jordan Post Office. Walking paths with sweeping views and tree-shaded gardens will invite visitors to linger in a space also designed to mitigate city heat and storm runoff.

A November appearance by Willie Nelson will inaugurate POST Houston’s 5,000-person entertainment venue, 713 Music Hall, in Texan style. Dining options abound inside the building. These include the first permanent location of West African pop-up ChopnBlok, a creation of Houston chef Ope Amosu. “Top Chef” winner Paul Qui, who also has a James Beard Award, is opening Soy Pinoy at POST Houston, serving Filipino classics such as lumpia and lechon.

Christine Ha is another small-screen chef with a new Houston restaurant. The first blind contestant on “MasterChef,” Ha won top honors in the show’s third season. Her Vietnamese restaurant Xin Chào opened in September in the city’s Old Sixth Ward. Smoked beef cheek dumplings are a house specialty, and the cocktail offerings include the pandan colada, made with brilliant-green screw pine leaves.

A new culinary festival, Commune, was set to debut this summer, with two weeks of events presented by more than 200 chefs. Concerned about the rising number of coronavirus cases in Texas, festival organizers announced a scaled-back preview event, scheduled for Aug. 26, 27 and 29, with chef-collaboration dinners and late-night pop-ups. (One collaboration features chefs Tim Ma and Andrew Chiou, partners in D.C.’s American Chinese restaurant Lucky Danger.) The full event has been rescheduled for March.

With an art gallery, a sculpture garden and a private park, the 32-room hotel La Colombe d’Or, in the eclectic Montrose neighborhood, is tailored to visitors exploring Houston’s creative side. Five suites are in a historical landmark, a recently renovated mansion built for an oil magnate in 1923. New additions include ground-floor Bar No. 3 and full-service restaurant Tonight & Tomorrow. A rooftop pool overlooking downtown Houston sits atop an adjacent residential tower that also houses the remaining hotel suites.

And on Aug. 30, a new hotel, Blossom Houston, opens downtown with 267 rooms and suites on the 1,345-acre campus of the Texas Medical Center. A complimentary shuttle will deliver guests to medical center sites, 445-acre Hermann Park, and Rice Village for walking, shopping and dining. The hotel is near NRG Stadium, where the Houston Texans football team will play its first preseason home game this month.

It’s a milestone. When the 70,000-person stadium opens to (masked) fans on Aug. 28, it will be Houston’s first full-capacity NFL game since before the pandemic began.

Smith is a writer based in Vermont. Her website is jenrosesmith.com. Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @jenrosesmithvt.

Please Note

Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC's travel health notice webpage.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted travel domestically and around the world. You will find the latest developments at www.washingtonpost.com/coronavirus