You may be interested in Houston from a Grad Student's perspective. Or maybe not, but for some reason you are reading this anyway. Whatever you are doing, know this: Houston is a pretty nice place to live. If you read other University marketing
descriptions, you'll hear 3 things: it's cheap, it has a great arts district, and 90 languages are spoken here. From Cantonese to Swahili, you'll find
someone to talk to in your language. And you know there's always some nutty physicist who knows Klingon.
It is definitely cheap for a major metropolitan area. Some grad students even own houses in close suburbs (although that's usually with a spouse's help). You can also get a pretty cool apartment in a trendy area of town for a thousand dollars. Try that in Palo Alto. When the housing survey is done, there will be a more complete picture of that situation.
If arts are your thing, and you know they should be, there are world-class symphony, ballet, theatre, and fine arts establishments within several minutes drive of campus. Campus happens to be in the "Museum District," the prettiest part of town, next to the MFAH, HMNS, Houston Zoo, the Menil Collection, and several other fine places to culture yourself.
Houston is a big, diverse city with some of the best food you'll ever eat, lots of fun bars and nightclubs, and three major professional sports teams to watch. CGSA often takes people to Astros games. There's also the Rodeo, which is good times, especially if you've never been to one.
What's it actually like to live here, though? Sure, there's a lot of pamphlet material, but your day-to-day life would be pretty good, too. The weather is warm most of the year, with rarely a freeze or snow. In the summer, it gets hot and humid. But at least we have plenty of water, which you won't find in the Southeast right now. And this year it was less hot. There's a 3 mile track around the edge of campus that you can run on all year round to stay fit.
One definite plus to this area versus your other options (ahem, California and the Northeast...): people are not arrogant. They are accomodating and friendly. Something about the mobile nature of the people of Houston gives the area a more democratic feel and less pretention. Ever been to a conference at Scripps? Then you know what I'm getting at.
There is a drawback, though: transportation is all up to you. If you live at the Grad apartments, there's a shuttle to pick you up, and it's still within walking/biking distance to campus, as are many other reasonable non-Rice apartments. But, most of us drive, a few significant distances, to get here. Getting to many of the places I mentioned will also require a car. That's the main complaint about Houston. You get used to it.