The drought over the last few years has devastated many parts of Houston's parks and green spaces, but thankfully, there are still plenty of beautiful spots to enjoy. We're listing the best of them here. (Before someone starts yelling about the fact that gems like Bell Park and Market Square aren't on this list, we've got our top 10 small parks and top 10 dog parks lists coming soon.) Sentiment played a part in some of the choices, we admit, but for the most part, we looked at accessibility, ease of use, facilities, public art and general vibe. See if your favorite made the list.
10. Baldwin Park 1702 Elgin, 832-395-7000
With Hermann Park and Discovery Green both just blocks away, Baldwin Park isn't the largest green space in the downtown/midtown area by any means, but it's populated with some of the area's oldest trees and its quick and easy to get to. Upkeep has improved over the last few years attracting more visitors and events. Weekends it's a neighborhood family gathering spot.
9. Mason Park 541 South 75th Street, 713-928-7055
Two things are especially attractive about Mason Park, located in Houston's East End. One is Braes Bayou, which winds through the park giving visitors their choice of waterside spots for picnics or PDA sessions. The other is its club house, built in a traditional Spanish style; it's one of the most attractive park buildings in the city. Mason Park includes more than 100 acres, but feels much smaller thanks to the intersection of the bayou. There's a swimming pool, several tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer fields, a baseball field and much more. On a spring or summer day, it's hard to find a more beautiful view of the bayou.
8. Spotts Park 401 South Heights
At just over 16 acres, Spotts Park is among the smallest on this list, but it offers something that's extremely rare in Houston - a hill. Okay, a mini-hill. Built like a bowl, the park's northwest edge leads down from Waugh Drive at street level to some 100 feet down. Exercise enthusiasts and rough-and-tumble kids love the mini-hill. It's in the shadows of downtown and offers a good view of the city's skyline. Memorial Drive separates the park from Buffalo Bayou, so there's no waterfront, but there's an active basketball court, tennis courts, playground area and several large clusters of crepe myrtle trees. One of those clusters is going to be painted blue later this spring as a public art project (don't worry, it's a temporary paint that won't harm the trees).
7. Sam Houston Park 1100 Bagby, 713-655-1912
Walking into Sam Houston Park, which sits on the edge of downtown, is a bit like walking into the past. The street noise and bustle of the busy city die away, skyscrapers are replaced with historic buildings and concrete gives way to an incredible green lawn. Started in 1899, Sam Houston Park is the oldest in the city. The Heritage Society has a museum on the grounds and several restored homes of Houston's earliest residents (a 1823 cabin and the Jack Yates house, built in 1870, are among them.) There are several festivals and events held in Sam Houston Park throughout the year.
6. Allen's Landing 1001 Commerce Street
At less than two acres, Allen's Landing is the smallest park on our list, but it may be the most historically important. This is where the Allen brothers, August and John, landed in 1836 when they first came to the area to start a settlement. It's also the site of the city's first port and commercial hub.
5. Sesquicentennial Park 400 Texas Avenue, 713-250-3666
In the middle of the downtown theater district, Sesquicentennial Park is the site of canoe and boat races, as well as home to several festivals. Just over 10 acres, the park is almost entirely made up of waterfront, some of it neat and manicured (that's the part just behind the Wortham Center) and some of it wild and natural (that's the part across the bayou from the Wortham Center).
4. Buffalo Bayou 1800-3600 Allen Parkway/Memorial Drive, 832-395-7000
Buffalo Bayou would take the award for Most Improved Park, but, sorry, we don't have one. Over the last 20 years the Buffalo Bayou Partnership has continued to improve and restore the area's waterfront, adding trails, public art, a skate park and pedestrian bridges. The area is also home to Houston's largest bat colony. 3. Discovery Green 1500 McKinney, 713-400-7336
The newest park on our list, Discovery Green has two advantages over the city's other green spaces: location and programming. Nestled between the George R. Brown Convention Center and several area hotels and shops, Discovery Green is an easy walk away for anyone downtown. There are more than 300 events planned per year, including an ice rink, concerts, film screenings, festivals and more. Locals and tourists alike flock to Discovery Green year-round.
2. Memorial Park 6501 Memorial Drive, 713-863-8403
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Houstonians fall into two camps: Team Memorial Park and Team Hermann Park. Which one you love most depends on what you like to do. Active folks who want to play a game of softball or join a group of costumed knights to role play a fierce battle, tend to like Memorial Park. With its tangle of trails and various playing fields, it's easy to see why. Memorial Park is always busy but its large size keeps it from feeling crowded. The Bayou City Arts Festival is just one of the many events planned for the park during nice weather.
1. Hermann Park 6201 Hermann Park Drive, 713-524-5876
Hermann Park takes our No. 1 spot because of all the various environments it offers. There's Miller Theatre and its hill (generations of Houstonians have rolled down that embankment), the Japanese Garden (stay clear of the ducks, they're kinda territorial), the reflection pond, the train and several wooded areas. The METRO train stop just outside the Japanese Garden makes it easy to drop in without having to look for parking. There are several other attractions within walking distance, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Zoo and a golf course all border the park itself while more museums and Rice University are just a little more than a block away. Miller Theatre is the home to the Shakespeare Festival as well as free performances by Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet and Houston Symphony every summer and several music and dance festivals are on the schedule throughout the year.