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Hit Hermann

In time for summer, the park's had a facelift.

If you've been to Hermann Park in the last few years, then you know that as mid-city oases go, it's never been all that, well, splendid. Yes, it offered green space and easy access to the Houston Zoo and Miller Outdoor Theatre, but amenities in the park itself were few. There was certainly little along the lines of the new Discovery Green downtown.

As of the grand reopening in April, that's all changed.

The latest renovations, started in 2007 in anticipation of the Hermann Park Conservancy's centennial celebration in 2014, include the brand-new Lake Plaza and the revamped Hermann Park Railroad. The Lake Plaza is a meeting place by McGovern Lake complete with public restrooms, a gift shop, a Little Bigs cafe, the Tiffany & Co. Foundation Bridge, a volunteer maintenance center, and the Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Greenway.

The Plaza also provides entrance to a paddleboat lagoon and the new train station, called Kinder Station in recognition of the children who ride the small red trains.

The railroad itself has been expanded to cover two miles and actually functions as more than a novelty tour of the park. With the addition of three new stops, the train can actually take its passengers to the Museum of Natural Science, the Medical Center on MacGregor and the nearby METRORail stop. The rail car seats have even been expanded for adult comfort.

Even so, the train ride is clearly meant to entertain with its sharp whistle and charmingly rickety movements. Young children under the age of five are the most frequent passengers, and they are rewarded for their patronage with small whistles.

The Japanese Garden has also been improved, reshaped in the image of more traditional Japanese gardens. The teahouse is now accented with a bamboo-fenced tea garden, lanterns and stone wash basins; stone paths have been installed; and the small, winding streams have been outfitted with wooden bridges.

A possibly unintended consequence of the Japanese Garden's transformation is the residence of a multitude of turtles in each small tributary and pond. They can be seen lying on top of each other on rocks jutting out from the water in an attempt to get the most sun. Squirrels are also frequent residents of the garden and will not only accept food, but will approach humans to beg for it.

With five years to go before the centenary, this new park isn't the final product. On the way are such improvements as a pedestrian underpass, a bridge over the bayou, the restoration of the park's Grand Gateway, and the continued reforestation of the park grounds.

Then again, this is Houston. Is more construction really much of a surprise?

What's Going On
Your guide to the summer's hottest recreation
BY ABBY DOWNING-BEAVER

May 14 — "Enchanting Taiwan"

Houston Public Library, Central Branch, 500 McKinney, 832-393-1313, www.houstonlibrary.org

"Enchanting Taiwan" features a selection of 20 exquisite photos that show the superb natural beauty and rich culture of the island. There are images of majestic Jade Mountain, traditional festivals, serene Sun Moon Lake and indigenous customs, just to name a few. It will be on display through June 30.

May 17 — Houston Symphony's Maestro's Wine Dinner

Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 713-337-8526, www.houstonsymphony.org

Jones Hall will be hosting a five-course gourmet dinner catered by Tony's and accompanied by Italian wine pairings personally selected by Maestro Hans Graf and John Rydman of Spec's Wine, Spirits and Finer Foods as part of a project of the Houston Symphony League. Starting at 6 p.m., it benefits the 2009 Ima Hogg Young Artist Competition and will also feature a silent wine auction. To donate a favorite red, white or rosé for the silent auction, call 713-337-8531.

May 30 — Texas Sawmill Festival

AV Bull Sallas Park, 21675 McClesky Rd., New Caney, 281-354-0051, www.communitychamber.com.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., everyone is invited to go to New Caney for a trip through time at the "Old Sawmill Town" to experience East Montgomery County history. It will feature craft vendors, food concessions, historical displays, old-timey pictures, live music on the grandstand outdoors, carnival games, school choirs performing on the inside stage, a rock wall, a petting zoo, wagon rides and tournament competitions such as sack races, bucket relays and more. The festival also features the bluesy former American Idol contestant Sundance Head.

June 1-August 18 — Xploration Summer Camps

The Houston Museum of Natural Science, One Hermann Circle Dr., 713-639-4629, hmns.org

No one wants to stare at a TV screen all summer. Enroll your child in Xploration Summer Camps at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and she will have the chance to Build It Big; Design & Destroy; become a Space Cadet; attend Jedi Academy and Master Spy Camp; get into Kitchen Chemistry; and see why T. Rex Roars. Each camp provides a rich learning experience in a fun environment, and there are dozens available for exploration.

June 12 — Summer Sampler of Dance

Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Dr., Hermann Park, 281-373-3386, www.milleroutdoortheatre.com

Starting at 8:30 p.m., visitors to Miller Outdoor Theatre can see a dance performance including jazz, tap, lyric and modern, all in one evening, by Houston Metropolitan Dance Company. Free admission.

June 13 — 2009 Best of Buffalo Bayou Pontoon Boat Tours

Sabine Street Bridge North Boat Landing, 713-752-0314, www.buffalobayou.org

These 30-minute boat rides are a great way to spend the afternoon with your family. Escape from the city and enjoy the cool breeze as you glide along the bayou's waters. Look for graceful herons, jumping fish and even the occasional alligator sunning on the bayou's banks. After your cruise, enjoy a picnic lunch on the new Sabine-to-Bagby Promenade grounds. There are no reservations, and each trip has a capacity of 20 people. The boat picks passengers up at the Sabine Street Bridge North Boat Landing. The trips will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The price is $7 for adult passage and $5 for children's passage, cash only. No children under four will be admitted.

June 17-21 — 2009 Houston Summer Boat Show, Reliant Park

Reliant Center, One Reliant Park, 713-526-6361, www.btamh.com

The latest brands in boats, yachts, jet skis and other marine-themed vehicles will be showcased in all five halls of Reliant Center. The five-day show, which is expected to attract more than 30,000 boating enthusiasts, will present more than 200 exhibits with boats of all makes and models for fishing, skiing/wakeboarding and pleasure cruising. That's in addition to exhibits filled with accessories, fishing gear, clothing, art and more. And as always, most of the exhibiting dealers will offer special Summer Show discounts. Show hours for the 2009 Houston Summer Boat Show are Wednesday through Friday, June 17 to 19, from 1 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, June 20, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, June 21, from noon to 6 p.m. Admission to the 2009 Houston Summer Boat Show is $8 for adults and $4 for children under 12. Tickets can be purchased at the Reliant Center ticket office.

June 18-21 and 25-28, July 1-5 — The Curt Miller Magic & Comedy Show

Moody Gardens Convention Center, 7 Hope Blvd., Galveston, 409-683-4186, www.moodytickets.com

Magic buffs won't want to miss The Curt Miller Magic & Comedy Show. Curt's Las Vegas-style show dazzles the audience with a mixture of large-scale illusions and comedic flair. A surprising blend of incredible magic and clean comedy, this show will leave you amazed and laughing out loud as Curt makes participants disappear, levitate and break up into pieces. Matinee shows at 1 p.m.; evening shows at 7 p.m.

June 26-27 — DockDogs

Jones Lawn at Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney, 713-400-7336, www.discoverygreen.com

Presented for the second time in Houston, this Big Air Dogs competition is a dynamic canine sport measuring leaps and bounds. Televised on the Outdoor Channel, DockDogs competition consists of dogs jumping into water from a designated dock, with the largest or highest leap earning that canine a victory. Dogs and owners travel to Houston to compete, and the competition will be open to local dogs, too.

June 26-28 — TRISTAR Collectors Show

George R. Brown Convention Center — Hall A, 1001 Avenida de las Americas, 800-427-4697, www.tristarproductions.com/shows/HOU608/index.htm.

Meet some of your favorite hometown athletes such as Lance Berkman, Cal Ripken Jr., Mario Williams and Eddie Murray, then try to get them to sign an embarrassing body part. $10 per day for adults; $8 per day for ages 6 to 12; free for ages five and under.

June 27 and July 1-5 — Houston CaribFest

713-689-0689, www.houstoncaribfest.com/home.htm

Numerous venues and Caribbean-themed parties and events combine to spread a little island joy and happiness all over Houston.

July 4 — Chevy's Freedom Over Texas. Houston's Official July 4th Celebration

Eleanor Tinsley Park, 713-247-3500, www.houstontx.gov/july4

This festival is one of the largest of its kind in the country and is sure to attract thousands of visitors and fans. As Houston's "official" Fourth of July celebration, it will start at 4 p.m. and end at 10 p.m.

July 4 — Kemah Boardwalk Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular

www.kemahboardwalk.com

Enjoy the usual amenities and dining of Kemah Boardwalk, and then at 9:30 p.m. feast your eyes on a spectacular fireworks display launched from a giant barge in Galveston Bay.

July 9 — Music of Star Trek & More Sci-Fi

Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 713-224-7575, www.houstonsymphony.org

Play the first few notes of the original Star Trek theme and fans immediately envision the starship USS Enterprise, zooming across space. So evocative was the music for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise that its composers were recognized with Emmys. In this concert, Associate Conductor Robert Franz and the Houston Symphony take the audience from that original television theme through music of the many films and series that have followed. Also featured will be music from other sci-fi favorites, including 2001: A Space Odyssey and Battlestar Galactica. Attendees dressed as their favorite characters can participate in the symphony's costume contest. The fun starts at 7:30 p.m.

July 12 — Houston Symphony / Houston Chronicle Dollar Concert

Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 713-224-7575, www.houstonsymphony.org

Just what the title says: You get all the magnificence of the Houston Symphony for 100 pennies. It starts at7:30 p.m.

July 15-26 — Ringling Bros. and Barnum & ­Bailey Circus

Reliant Stadium, One Reliant Park, 713-629-3700, www.ringling.com

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is The Greatest Show on Earth®. Enjoy chills, thrills and excitement while laughing in a family-oriented setting. Circus-goers will enjoy an up-close-and-personal experience as they sit feet away from beautiful white tigers, majestic Asian elephants and thrilling acrobats from around the world.

July 16-19 and 23-26 — AGA-BOOM / Theater of Physical Comedy

Moody Gardens Convention Center, 7 Hope Blvd., Galveston, 409-683-4186, www.moodytickets.com

A show for all ages, AGA-BOOM combines the unbridled silliness of slapstick with the theatrical expressionism and poetry of the very best in European experimental theater circus comedy. Get ready to be taken back to the excitement and amazement of childhood. Matinee shows at 1 p.m., evening shows at 7 p.m.

July 16-19 — Reliant Park World Series of Dog Shows

Reliant Park, One Reliant Park, 1-800-884-2443, www.reliantdogshows.com

Visit one of the finest indoor dog shows in America, to be held in Houston's Reliant Center. Along with breed judging and obedience, you'll discover agility dogs racing over obstacle courses, flyball teams hurdling to beat the clock and four-footed athletes catching Frisbees and dancing to music. Then take in the Mari Jon Filla Student Art Exhibit and buy dog goodies galore. Attend practical clinics on dog health, grooming and training or attend a Meet the Breed seminar.

July 18 — Houston Symphony / Gamer MusiCON 09

Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 713-224-7575, www.houstonsymphony.org

The Houston Symphony has expanded the visionary Video Games Live concert to an all-day celebration of the cutting-edge video-game-music industry. The world premiere of Gamer MusiCON 09 includes two high-energy concerts featuring symphony performances of the industry's greatest video-game hits with exclusive game footage and synchronized lighting. Throughout the day, a Game Crazy festival will offer playable game demos throughout all three levels of Jones Hall, plus a Guitar Hero contest for the chance to appear onstage during Video Games Live. The festival also includes an interactive panel and Q&A session with Blizzard Entertainment game composers, and an onstage costume contest for attendees dressed as their favorite video game characters. The doors open for lobby festivities at 2 p.m.; Blizzard Live will play starting at 3 p.m.; and Video Games Live plays at 7:30 p.m.

July 24 — The Blue Planet Live

Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 713-224-7575, www.houstonsymphony.org

When BBC/Discovery filmmakers dove into ocean depths still foreign even to scientists to produce the celebrated documentary series The Blue Planet, they chose George Fenton to create the musical score to match the mysterious world they uncovered. Now Fenton has adapted his Emmy-winning score into a sweeping symphonic experience. In its Houston premiere, Assistant Conductor/American Conducting Fellow Brett Mitchell leads the Houston Symphony in a live performance of Fenton's evocative music, while a specially edited theatrical presentation of the series' most dramatic sequences plays on a giant screen above the Jones Hall stage. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m.

July 25-26 — Bridal Extravaganza 2009

George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida de las Americas, 281-340-7777, www.bridalextravaganzashow.com

Thousands of wedding dresses will be on display at the largest bridal/wedding show in the city. And if you're unhappily single, it might not hurt to come on in and walk among the 900 displays being exhibited; there's bound to be a few bridesmaids or groomsmen in the same boat. The first day starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. The second day starts at 11 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.

Admission is $10.

July 25 — The Music of ABBA

Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 713-224-7575, www.houstonsymphony.org

When ABBA fans heard the tribute band Arrival singing "Dancing Queen" on Swedish national radio, they thought they were listening to the original group. Now Arrival performs at Jones Hall with original ABBA drummer Roger Palm and the Houston Symphony. Hits like "Dancing Queen," "Mamma Mia," "Money, Money, Money" and "Take a Chance on Me" come to life with groovy lighting, stage sets and exact duplicates of ABBA's fantastic costumes, which the members of Arrival have exclusive rights to wear. Everything starts up at 7:30 p.m.

July 30, August 2 and 6-9 — Circo ­Comedia

Moody Gardens Convention Center, 7 Hope Blvd., Galveston, 409-683-4186, www.moodytickets.com

Unpredictable thrills, side-splitting comedy and daredevil stunts are the signature style of Circo Comedia, starring the fantastic duo Jean Saucier and Patrick Cote from Montreal performing their distinctive style of humor, acrobatic tricks, daring feats, magic and eccentricity. Matinee shows at 1 p.m.; evening shows at 7 p.m.

July 31, August 1-2 and 4-9 — The Houston Shakespeare Festival

Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Dr., Hermann Park, 281-373-3386, www.milleroutdoortheatre.com

This year the Shakespeare Festival will be featuring the plays Twelfth Night, the original story of a girl passing herself off as a boy and suffering romantic consequences, and Pericles, a complicated play about the perils of love. Free.

August 13-16 — Kevin Johnson, "Tongue-in-Cheek So to Speak"

Moody Gardens Convention Center, 7 Hope Blvd., Galveston, 409-683-4186, www.moodytickets.com

Kevin Johnson began studying ventriloquism at a young age. Because his mouth never moves, it's easy to believe in the magical characters that seemingly explode to life on his hand. Most famous for his performances on America's Got Talent and Late Night with David Letterman, his unique, clean comedy will appeal to all ages. Matinee shows at 1 p.m., evening shows at 7 p.m.

August 14-15 — Bayou City Inspirational Film Festival

Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 281-204-7219, www.bciff.com

An emphasis on "positive, educational and inspirational" films makes this film festival unique. International and local projects, film seminars and workshops, plus plenty of youth-oriented film-related activities round out the three-day event. Festival-pass prices vary. Admission to all film screenings will be free to the public. There will also be a special "Young Filmmaker's Showcase" spotlighting films made by youth from around the world and other special youth events throughout festival weekend.

ONGOING:

Galveston

Our favorite island city, despite serious damages taken from last year's rumble with Hurricane Ike, has always known how to ensure no one gets bored during the summer. Explore the miles and miles of reopened public beaches, like East Beach, and the fun-loving, crowd-filled Stewart Beach; or take a pleasant ferry ride over to Crystal Beach — pleasant if there's no wait, of course. If saltwater isn't your deal, Schlitterbahn Galveston (2026 Lockheed, Galveston, 409-770-9283, www.schlitterbahn.com/gal) has more than enough freshwater fun to last for weeks.

If you don't want to touch water, period, there's still plenty to do. The Gulf Coast Volleyball Association is having its Open Potion Memorial Madness Tournament on Stewart Beach on May 23 (832-928-4120, www.galveston.com). A little later on East Beach, the American Institute of Architects holds its annual AIA Sandcastle Competition (East Beach, 1923 Boddeker Dr., Galveston, 713-520-0155) on June 6. Texas Beach will be home to the Texas Beach Ultimate Frisbee Fest on May 30, and come and see more than 50 boats race from Galveston during Texas Youth Race Week, July 11 to 16.

Moody Gardens/IMAX Theater, 1 Hope Blvd., Galveston, 800-582-4673, www.moodygardens.com

See an aquarium from the inside out in the Aquarium Pyramid, or maybe check out cutting-edge film experiences like Ridefilm or the 4D Special FX Theater. And, of course, there's the usual fantastic museum exhibits and rainforest displays the Gardens are known for.

Kemah Boardwalk, Bradford Ave. and Second St., ­Kemah, www.kemahboardwalk.com

This one-of-a-kind Houston-area attraction features nearly a dozen restaurants, an amusement park, and plenty of boardwalk strolling and shopping. On August 1, the Salsa on the Boardwalk party kicks off.

Houston Astros, Minute Maid Park, 501 Crawford, www.houstonastros.com

Houston Dynamo, Robertson Stadium, Scott St. and Holman St., 713-276-7500, houston.mlsnet.com

Houston Roller Derby, www.houstonrollerderby.com

611 Shepherd Dr.

Watch six teams of the toughest ladies around knock each other around and off the track in some of the wildest athletic action our city has to offer.

Houston Zoo, 1513 N. MacGregor, 713-533-6500, www.houstonzoo.org

Admission is free on July 4 and Memorial Day.

Greyhound Park, 1000 FM 2004 Rd., LaMarque, 409-986-9500, www.gulfgreyhound.com

Follow your internal electric bunny to the world's largest racing operation of its kind. Don't forget 50 Cent Thursdays — the rapper won't be racing, but after 6 p.m. hot dogs, beer, popcorn and soda will be two for a buck, plus dollar margaritas.

Sam Houston Race Park, 7575 N. Sam Houston Pkwy. W., 281-807-8700, www.shrp.com

The race track reopened in early May after taking a time out for several months following Hurricane Ike. Come cheer on the return of the racing horses and maybe get lucky when you place a few bets. Stop by the Winner's Circle Restaurant or grab a hotdog trackside. Even when the horses aren't running, they're running — via simulcast racing on dozens of television screens. And don't forget the live concerts throughout the summer.

SplashTown, 21300 IH 45 N, Spring, 281-355-3300, www.splashtownpark.com

Dozens of other rides and slides make our city's largest water park a must-do attraction every year.

Traders Village, 7979 N. Eldridge Rd., 281-890-5500, www.tradersvillage.com

Find a bargain on a neon Elvis sign, a Donovan LP, socks, a puppy and some nachos, all within five minutes of each other. No two visits to the city's 100-plus-acre flea market are ever the same.

GOLF COURSES

Bay Forest Golf Club, 201 Bay Forest Dr., La Porte, 281-471-4653, www.bayforestgolf.com

Bayou Golf Club, 2800 Ted Dudley Dr., Texas City, 409-643-5850, www.texas-city-tx.org/GolfCourse.htm

The Battleground at Deer Park, 1600 Georgia Ave., Deer Park, 281-478-4653

Bear Creek Golf World, 16001 Clay Rd., 281-859-8188, www.bearcreekgolfworld.com

BlackHorse Golf Club, 12205 Fry Rd., 281-304-1747, www.blackhorsegolfclub.com

Eagle Pointe Golf Club, 12440 Eagle Pointe Dr., Mont Belvieu, 281-385-6666, www.eaglepointeonline.com

Hermann Park Golf Course, 2155 N. MacGregor, 713-526-0077, www.hermannparkgc.com

Memorial Park Golf Course, 1001 E. Memorial Loop Dr., 713-862-4033, www.houstontx.gov/municipalgolf/memorial

Redstone Golf Club, 5860 Wilson Rd., Humble, 281-459-7800, www.redstonegolfclub.com

Tour 18 Houston, 3102, FM 1960 East, Humble, 281-540-1818, www.tour18golf.com

Wildcat Golf Club, 12000 Almeda, 713-413-3400, www.wildcatgolfclub.com

The Wilderness at Lake Jackson Golf Club, 501 W Hwy. 332, 979-297-4653, www.thewildernessgc.com

PARKS

Check for all of your favorite parks at www.houstontx.gov/parks:

Buffalo Bayou Park, which includes Eleanor Tinsley Park, carves a scenic, meandering trail parallel to Allen Parkway. The Waugh Bridge Bat Observation is not to be missed.

Cullen Park, 19008 Saums Rd.

People looking for a decent bicycle trail in a city park frequent Cullen Park, which is more than 10,500 acres.

Donovan Park, 700 Heights Blvd., 713-861-4002

The folks in the Heights put in a little sweat equity to create a wonderland wooden playground with a themed castle.

Hermann Park, 6201 A Golf Course Dr., www.hermannpark.org

The city's oldest park is home to Houston recreational staples such as the Miller Outdoor Theatre, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Zoo and more. Become one with the Japanese Zen garden; it's near the Sam Houston Monument.

Memorial Park, 6501 Memorial Dr., 713-845-1000

Facilities of this well-known park, around since 1925, include a pleasant jogging trail, tennis courts, hiking and biking trails, a premiere golf course and plenty of shady spots in the grass.

Sam Houston Park, 110 Bagby, 713-655-1912

This green space calmly juxtaposes some of the oldest structures, such as the St. John Church from 1891, with the shadows of magnificent skyscrapers downtown, some of which are not more than a few minutes' walk away.

White Oak Bayou Park, Houston Avenue Bridge at White Oak

This bayou trail features numerous baseball parks and little league tournaments, miles of paved walking or jogging trails, and fantastic views of the surrounding city.

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