The Japanese Garden at Hermann Park Houston has its share of parks, but it's hard to find a picnic spot free of weeds, wailing kids and nasty views of parking lots. If you're the kind of alfresco diner who leans toward quaint gravel paths, tall shady trees and patches of soft grass, look no further than Hermann Park's Japanese Garden. Follow the reflecting pool south, and the entrance to the fenced garden is on your right. A winding trail splits in multiple directions and takes you past goldfish ponds and over wooden footbridges. Stop at one of the many soft islands of saint augustine grass and unfurl your blanket, and you'll be surrounded by old pine trees without a sliver of pavement in sight. You'll see giant tadpoles in the summer and bright Japanese maples in fall, and you'll have a view of the pagoda (also a good eating spot). But keep your eye on your watch. The gates close at 6 p.m., so for the time being, this is purely a lunch spot.

Marc Vandermeer When the search began for a voice to call Texans games, folks round these parts figured we'd go local. Veteran sports TV/radio names like Russ Small and even Craig Roberts were brought up on talk radio and around water coolers. So it was near-blasphemy when Marc Vandermeer, a (gasp!) Massachusetts native who most recently announced games for University of Miami football, got the gig. A Yankee calling Texans games? Hell, yeah. His historic "Rock 'n' roll! Touchdown Houston!" call, as the team scored its first ever TD, won over fans and critics immediately. Now, Vandermeer, who shares the mike with former UH and NFL star Andre Ware, is heralded as one of the best voices in the NFL.

Marc Vandermeer When the search began for a voice to call Texans games, folks round these parts figured we'd go local. Veteran sports TV/radio names like Russ Small and even Craig Roberts were brought up on talk radio and around water coolers. So it was near-blasphemy when Marc Vandermeer, a (gasp!) Massachusetts native who most recently announced games for University of Miami football, got the gig. A Yankee calling Texans games? Hell, yeah. His historic "Rock 'n' roll! Touchdown Houston!" call, as the team scored its first ever TD, won over fans and critics immediately. Now, Vandermeer, who shares the mike with former UH and NFL star Andre Ware, is heralded as one of the best voices in the NFL.

The Putting Edge Where have you gone, Malibu Mini Golf? Our city turns its lonely eyes to you. What's that, you say? Mountasia Golf has left and gone away? Of Houston's once-glorious mini-golf trifecta of Mountasia, Malibu and Celebration Station, only Celebration Station remains. Thankfully, locals wanting some pizzazz in their putting experience need look no further than the Putting Edge, the glitzy new mini-golf mecca in I-10's Marq*E Entertainment Center. In this indoor world, the black walls surround a psychedelic, fluorescent hodgepodge of scenery (think weird '70s sci-fi set) where everything glows -- the trees, the balls and even the clubs. So while it may not match mini-golfing outside on a balmy Houston evening, there's something to be said for getting off the perfect 20-foot putt, sending it around a winding trail and watching your glowing ball disappear into the night.

The Putting Edge Where have you gone, Malibu Mini Golf? Our city turns its lonely eyes to you. What's that, you say? Mountasia Golf has left and gone away? Of Houston's once-glorious mini-golf trifecta of Mountasia, Malibu and Celebration Station, only Celebration Station remains. Thankfully, locals wanting some pizzazz in their putting experience need look no further than the Putting Edge, the glitzy new mini-golf mecca in I-10's Marq*E Entertainment Center. In this indoor world, the black walls surround a psychedelic, fluorescent hodgepodge of scenery (think weird '70s sci-fi set) where everything glows -- the trees, the balls and even the clubs. So while it may not match mini-golfing outside on a balmy Houston evening, there's something to be said for getting off the perfect 20-foot putt, sending it around a winding trail and watching your glowing ball disappear into the night.

Best Place to Watch Wildlife in the Urban Jungle

Hermann Park For a great wildlife expedition that'll fit into your lunch break, hop on the light rail and get off at Hermann Park. In addition to paddle boats and balloon vendors, the park's pond and woody trails provide a habitat for more than 30 species of birds -- and not just the typical urban squatters such as pigeons, sparrows and crows. You're almost guaranteed to see whimsical Texas natives like the black-bellied whistling duck, which nests on the park's island and routinely dazzles visitors with its swanlike neck and bright orange bill. Other popular park residents include spectacularly colorful wood ducks, the blue-billed green heron and the ahinga, or "snake bird," which paddles along completely underwater with its head sticking out like a submarine telescope. Binoculars and a bird guidebook help, but don't worry too much about supplies. You'll never be more than a couple of minutes away from a fruit smoothie or a burrito, even if, as the bird flies, you feel gloriously far from the city.

Best Place to Watch Wildlife in the Urban Jungle

Hermann Park For a great wildlife expedition that'll fit into your lunch break, hop on the light rail and get off at Hermann Park. In addition to paddle boats and balloon vendors, the park's pond and woody trails provide a habitat for more than 30 species of birds -- and not just the typical urban squatters such as pigeons, sparrows and crows. You're almost guaranteed to see whimsical Texas natives like the black-bellied whistling duck, which nests on the park's island and routinely dazzles visitors with its swanlike neck and bright orange bill. Other popular park residents include spectacularly colorful wood ducks, the blue-billed green heron and the ahinga, or "snake bird," which paddles along completely underwater with its head sticking out like a submarine telescope. Binoculars and a bird guidebook help, but don't worry too much about supplies. You'll never be more than a couple of minutes away from a fruit smoothie or a burrito, even if, as the bird flies, you feel gloriously far from the city.

Houston Astros This one is as close as it gets to a no-brainer. The combination of Stevie Franchise whining to his coaches and Yao disappearing in April eliminates the Rockets. The Texans are still an expansion team, and the Aeros -- yeah, well, come on. When Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens announced they were coming home just one year after the addition of the stellar Jeff Kent, the hottest sports ticket in town became a seat at Minute Maid Park. All that and retaining the Killer B's? Take us out to the ballpark!

Houston Astros This one is as close as it gets to a no-brainer. The combination of Stevie Franchise whining to his coaches and Yao disappearing in April eliminates the Rockets. The Texans are still an expansion team, and the Aeros -- yeah, well, come on. When Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens announced they were coming home just one year after the addition of the stellar Jeff Kent, the hottest sports ticket in town became a seat at Minute Maid Park. All that and retaining the Killer B's? Take us out to the ballpark!

Drayton McLane Up until this year, grocery magnate Drayton McLane had been drawing the ire of loyal Astros fans for his discount shopping of free agents, near-worship of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio and refusal to increase the team's payroll. That changed, however, when the club lured Deer Park natives and future Hall of Famers Roger Clemens (one year for $5 million) and Andy Pettitte (three years for $31.5 million), and then topped it off with a trade for slugging outfielder Carlos Beltran. So while we'd had it up to here with McLane's annoying "What have you done today to be a champion?" line, even naysayers knew his acquisition of the trifecta screamed "Win now!" before he even scheduled the press conference. And to add to the fat wave of good PR McLane was riding, Major League Baseball's All-Star Game -- easily one of its most popular events -- was played in his very own ballpark. McLane was finally in the spotlight for doing it right, and provided he doesn't relegate the team to the two-for-one aisle again, he'll stay there.

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