There are lots of great picnic spots around Houston. Before we give you a rundown of the top ten, we need to mention a few that didn't make the list and why.
The Arboretum, easily one of the nicest green spaces in the county, isn't on the list because picnics aren't allowed on the grounds. The Arboretum does have some of its own tastings on the trails a couple of times a year, but since food and drinks aren't normally allowed, it's not on our list. The same goes for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Rienzi house museum. The MFAH's Bayou Bend gardens do allow picnics, but only kinda. There are a few tables scattered among the lawn that surrounds the parking lot, outside of the gardens. Technically, yes, there are picnic facilities but technically, they are in the parking lot, so it's a no-go as well. Also missing is Jones Plaza, across from Jones Hall. Some downtown workers opt for lunch outside and Jones Plaza is nicely located, but its tables and chairs are routinely chained in place for security and so unusable.
10. City Hall The reflection pool and lawns outside City Hall make a nice spot for an impromptu picnic for office workers nearby. There's lots of shade, a great view of the historic city hall building and even several benches for those of us who don't actually want to sit on the grass with the bugs and the ants. Shrubbery keeps the worst of the traffic noise and fumes away. Plus there's a giant clock on the top of the building so you're not late in getting back to your office.
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9. Hermann Park One of the largest parks on our list, Hermann Park has lots of choices for picnic-lovers. There's the area around the Reflection Pool (complete with benches), the Miller Theatre hill (best during a show), the woods outside the Houston Zoo and the far lawn near the pavilion (tables and benches are in place there. One of our favorite spots in the park is under the Sam Houston statue. Unlike some other areas in the park, the grass there is always green and full.
8. Bell Park This tiny jewel of a park doesn't have a lot of square footage, but excellent planning and maintenance create several seemingly separate areas.
7. Memorial Park On the opposite end of the size scale is Memorial Park, which does have lots of square footage. It also has lots of foot traffic, so finding an isolated spot will take some doing, but it's possible. We recommend a long look at the park map and some on-the-ground exploring before deciding on a picnic spot. You've got lots to choose from.
6. Market Square Park Like Discovery Green and Hermann Park, Market Square Park has its fair share of amenities. Live music and film screenings are regularly scheduled, there's a dog park on the grounds (though we don't recommend a picnic in there - besides the odors, pulling out a hot dog wienie while there's a pack of excited dogs nearby isn't such a good idea). There's also a limited menu Niko Nikos in the center of the park. Parking can be tough, but the view of Houston's skyline is worth the effort.
5. Sam Houston Park Also downtown, Sam Houston Park features some nice, gentle slopes (nothing like an actual hill or anything, but as rolling as any grounds inside the 610 Loop get). The site of lots of festivals, the park sits in the shadows of Houston's skyscrapers and is home to several historic homes and structures. The park has an excellent view and some resident ducks (they aren't shy about honking at anyone who gets too close or rowdy).
4. Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park The Waterwall tops most lists of best Houston area picnic spots. While we admit it's a great view, the tangle of traffic that you have to get through to get there and its rather cliché, tourist-magnate vibe keep it at number four on our list.
3. Discovery Green Our top three parks are a toss-up for most people, with one being preferable based on a person's personal tastes and energy level. Discovery Green has lots of separate areas, made distinct by landscaping and cleverly placed public art. There are tons of scheduled events from concerts to ice skating, film screenings to Zumba classes so check the park's schedule before you visit (you might end up in the middle of festival). Food vendors and lots of parking make Discovery Green especially easy to visit.
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2. Buffalo Bayou Fitness buffs find Buffalo Bayou's extended trail system, exercise stations, boat launches and water fountains especially attractive. But you don't have to be a runner or biker to enjoy the spectacular view. Check out the entire length of the park, from the Sabine Promenade (behind the Wortham Theater Center) and all along Allen Parkway.
1. The Menil Collection Families, college students, area residents, art lovers, hipsters all find their way to these pristine lawns. Some for sedate, intellectual reflection and some for energetic games of Frisbee. There's plenty of shade and the lawns are deceptively large while still having a sense of cozy intimacy.