Itinerant Fan

Toyota Center

Houston is as spread-out and car-reliant as any city you’ll find in a nation full of spread-out, car-reliant cities, but its downtown is surprisingly walkable and beautiful. I have to think it can owe some of that to Toyota Center, a nice-looking arena that, to its credit, blends into its surroundings rather than sticks out as some behemoth on the downtown landscape. On Rockets game days it certainly stands out as a hub of activity, but more in the community-gathering sense than the huge-event-with-masses-of-fans sense.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying that Toyota Center just feels welcoming — to the casual fan and die-hard Rockets nut alike. It sure felt welcoming to me when I visited in the midst of a pretty strong season for the home team, and that’s not a bad overarching trait for any building to have, don’t you think?

  •   The Approach

    Toyota Center, as mentioned above, doesn’t really stick out amid all the tall buildings of downtown. That’s OK, because it’s still rather easy to find, nestled next to a big Hilton hotel and down the street from a GIGANTIC convention center and a beautiful little park with a pond in the middle. Downtown itself is literally surrounded by freeways, so the driver shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it. There’s a pretty big parking structure across the street from the arena and many more parking lots a little farther out that also serve the nearby convention center as well as Minute Maid Park, some 4-5 blocks away.

    If you’re the type of fan who likes to have all of their ducks in a row before you head to the game, you might want to try Parking Panda. This service allows you to pay for guaranteed parking spots ahead of time. Simply hop on their website, view all of the parking options in the area and pick one that works for you. They’ll email you the parking pass and you can drive to the arena knowing exactly where you’re going to park, how much it cost, and that a spot will be awaiting your arrival. Check out all of their offers in the window below:

     

    Another option is light rail, which cuts through downtown and stops several blocks away (get off at Bell). From what I’ve seen and heard, light rail is still a new concept to most Houstonians, as the system is barely 10 years old, but it is expanding and promises to go to more and more parts of the city over time. That’s good, because downtown is far from the only area of Houston where out-of-towners might stay.

    Me, I chose the walking route, having attended a matinee Astros game at Minute Maid Park. I skirted the convention center (they were having an Italy convention there, and the promise of food nearly lured me in), cut through the lovely park and was on the arena’s doorstep in 10 minutes.

  •   The Build-Up

    Booking.com

    An hour and a half before game time, hundreds of fans were already clamoring to get into the arena. I guess it was Rockets fever, which is nice, but I didn’t exactly see a ton of eateries and watering holes surrounding the building. A few blocks away there were more choices, but they looked to be of the quick-eating variety, and many were closed anyway.

    Then again, it was a Sunday downtown, with no 9-5 workers around. So, figuring the die-hards knew something I didn’t, I chose to head inside. (Quick tip about heading inside: most fans I saw headed straight for the main entrance at the corner of Polk and La Branch, and accordingly the line to get in appeared consistently long. There are two other entrances — I chose the one at the corner of Polk and Jackson, and there was no wait at all.)

  •   The Ambiance

    Toyota Center is quite beautiful inside, with several glass atria and tributes to Rockets past and present in a few different spots. It’s worth a walk around the main concourse to see what’s there, but you’ll quickly find a good number of areas that are inaccessible to the common fan — the seating areas on both sidelines are premium areas, each with a club that has a guarded entrance.

    So of course, I steered clear of those areas and headed to the upper concourse, which is more my cup of tea. Not surprisingly, it’s more the cup of tea for most families, and the arena recognizes that by having a pretty big arcade and play area at one end of the concourse. It seemed like most of the fans with seats in the upper deck were spending their pregame idle time there, since the upper deck was largely empty until the last few minutes before tipoff. Having eaten earlier in the day, I wasn’t too hungry, but my examination of the choices available at concessions revealed nothing special. To be honest, the only thing I considered getting was a tub of popcorn because every cart I walked by was popping it fresh and the aroma was delectable, but I couldn’t justify eating an entire tub of popcorn (there were no single-serving sizes offered) and so I held off.

    I chose to go down to my seat, in the first row of Section 424 (it pays to be a single sometimes), and I found the floor flooded with a spilled red beverage. Not surprisingly, next to my seat was a family of two boys and a flustered-looking parent (or grandparent, but I don’t want to speculate) sitting on the other side of them. She immediately apologized and suggested I sit a seat over until her husband could return with paper towels, though with maybe 15 minutes left before game time, I didn’t know who would arrive first — the husband or the fan sitting in the seat I now had to occupy. Five minutes later, I got a tap on my shoulder and a polite request to please vacate “my seat,” so I had no choice but to put my feet in the red beverage until the husband returned with the paper towels (which, not surprisingly, were not nearly enough to sop up what was there).

    Other than that, and other than the narrow pane of glass that impeded my vision of the court when I sat back in my chair, my seat was great. And even if it wasn’t, well, there’s that giant scoreboard to help you out. This was my first time in an arena with one of these behemoths, and I have to tell you, it’s hard not to fixate on the scoreboard rather than the court. As the guy whose seat I occupied temporarily (who also was a dead ringer for I-Fan Friend J-Park expect for the fact that he said “golly” in practically every sentence — we were in Texas, after all) said at some point, “Why watch the game on the court when you can watch the screen?”

    I managed to keep my eyes on the court long enough to watch a pretty good game, one with a lot of back-and-forth before the Rockets won in OT. I’m sure a few gollies were uttered around the arena throughout that one.

The Particulars

Home Teams
Houston Rockets

Address
1510 Polk St.
Houston, TX 77002

Year Opened
2003

Capacity
18,043

Upcoming Events
All times local
Dallas Mavericks at Houston Rockets
Saturday, October 21, 2017
7:00 pm
Get tickets at SeatGeek »

Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets
Monday, October 23, 2017
7:00 pm
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Bruno Mars with Jorja Smith
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
8:00 pm
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Halsey: Charli XCX with Partynextdoor
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
7:30 pm
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Philadelphia 76ers at Houston Rockets
Monday, October 30, 2017
7:00 pm
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