West 11th Street Park
A 20-acre pocket forest park inside the Loop, West 11th Street Park is the hidden jewel that makes the Timbergrove neighborhood live up to its name. The glade's many tall pines abound with a variety of woodpeckers, from the common downy and yellow-bellied varieties to the mighty crow-sized pileated and the gaudy redheaded, a bird so flashy it inspired Salvador Dalí. It's also a rare urban spot to see huge great horned owls; almost everywhere else in urban Houston, only little screech owls can find suitable habitats. Even if you aren't into birds, the park has lots to offer. In addition to the forest trails, there's ample open space for picnicking. But it's the woods that will bring you back: After a rain, the smells of the forest deliver you far from this concrete, smog-choked, ozone-addled petropolis. It's a little island of Big Thicket in the Heights.
A lot went into the toilet when University of Houston star quarterback Case Keenum crumbled to the Rose Bowl Stadium turf with a shredded knee. At that time, in September 2010, the Abilene-born athlete had put his name in the Heisman Trophy race, led a long-comatose program (and Houston's sports scene) out of infamy and placed the Cougars among the potential BCS busters. Then it all went poof when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament on the road against UCLA. However, Keenum — who was granted a sixth-year-eligibility waiver by the NCAA in January — has one last shot to return to greatness after enduring nearly a year of arduous rehabilitation and therapy. At press time, the Cougars will have completed nearly a third of the 2011 regular season, which means that the 23-year-old, barring injury, has had four games to prove himself. Stay tuned.
The UH Cougars play exciting football at a high level that can be very entertaining to watch, in an old-school stadium which has its charms if you don't need the modern conveniences, and at night there's a great view of the skyline to add to the atmosphere. Sure, they play in Conference USA, but that's where the "cheap ticket" part comes in. Just go to any of the C-USA games at Robertson Stadium, wear your Coog colors, be friendly and chances are pretty good someone will give you one of their extra tickets. It doesn't come cheaper than that, and all you have to do is cheer on the red and white in return.
Arms Room
The first time we entered the Arms Room in League City, we were hit with the smell of gunpowder and the music of gunshots in the air, from handguns, semiautomatics and shotguns alike. For people who are averse to the steely art of bullet-shooting weapons, that may sound like a nightmare, but for the customers of Arms Room, it's paradise. The indoor gun range, built inside of a former Circuit City, also has a fully stocked shop inside it complete with all manner of tactical gear and supplies for the gun enthusiast, and you can take a Concealed Handgun Class in the classroom located just inside the building. You can rent all manner of boom sticks to use on the range, for a small charge, including an FN P90, which looks like something out of Blade Runner and has almost no kickback, considering it shoots some pretty powerful ammo.
This really should be "best picnic spots," because there's not just one place in this beautiful park to have a friendly (or romantic) picnic. Spanning nearly 450 acres, this historic park near the Texas Medical Center and Rice University is one of the most picturesque places in Houston. We really like spreading our picnic blanket down on the hill at Miller Outdoor Theatre, but maybe you want to share some wine and cheese with your significant other in the resplendent beauty of the Japanese garden. Or maybe you want to hunker down by the reflecting pool. Or maybe you want to wave at the kiddos on the miniature train while you nibble on your vittles. Point is, there are so many great spots here where you can while away a sunny afternoon on the picnic blanket. Save some wine for us.
If a multimillionaire NBA player could ever be considered an "everyman," Chuck Hayes would be the guy. A six-foot-six center, Hayes gives up a huge height advantage to opponents but plays dogged, tough defense. He's an utter scrapper who gives you everything he's got. The New York Times called him "a player for fans who appreciated the fight for low-post position more than a shot swatted into the third row, a good off-ball screen more than a swished fade-away jump shot, and a tough rebound in traffic more than an ankle-breaking crossover." Hayes's shooting style is notoriously ugly but — mirabile dictu — this season he got the league's least-likely triple-double. How could he not be named Best Rocket?
In another dreary and forgettable season for the hometown team, this alone stands as the highlight. All game long, dastardly Tennessee Titan cornerback Cortland Finnegan had been tugging on the cape of the closest thing the Texans have ever had to Superman: the fleet and powerful wide receiver Andre Johnson. And finally Johnson had enough. He ripped Finnegan's helmet off his head like a fat kid tearing into a bag of Gummi worms, wrestled him to the ground like a steer and proceeded to whale the tar out of him. Finnegan got up laughing like he won, but the whole league knew Johnson was the better man. Hell, the league didn't even suspend him, and both he and Finnegan, widely regarded as one the NFL's dirtiest players, were assessed identical $25,000 fines.
Twin Lakes Scuba Park
Though it's better known as a training spot for scuba divers, Twin Lakes is the perfect place to cool off without having to fight the traffic, and the crowds, in Galveston. Just 20 minutes south of downtown off the farm roads of 288, this aquifer-fed pool is clear enough for the aforementioned training and features five sunken fishing boats, a school bus and an Airstream trailer. Above ground there are floating docks, picnic tables, overnight campsites and a snack bar. Bass, catfish, turtle and perch live in the water, and if you're not there to dive admission is only $5.
Rolling out of bed for a sunrise midweek workout is not the easiest thing on your to-do list. But for the toned ass that lasts all weekend long, it's well worth checking off. Reggie Flye, of former YMCA boot camp fame, is your host of an intense Wednesday workout at Houston Pavilions downtown. It begins with a couple laps around the new upstairs walking path. Once hearts are a-pumpin', Flye blasts up the dance jams and becomes the captain of cardio. At first, everything feels great. You're outside! You're moving! You're at a European dance club where the party doesn't stop until early morning, so watching the sunrise is only natural! Then you realize you've been partying all night, and you start to lose your breath, and not in a good way. That's the exact moment when Flye kicks your butt with a round of shouts to keep going. Even if you're just halfway through the 45-minute workout, he'll help you, with a heap of tough-love, to the end. A shower and water bottle later, you'll be ready to breeze past any demons the workday can throw at you, because today, you've already conquered your body.
As pleasant as the opening of last year's Heights-area MKT Bike Trail was, its usefulness was somewhat limited. Its eastern end terminated in a desolate stretch of First Ward, about a mile from downtown, forcing riders to navigate some fairly traffic-heavy, debris-strewn streets the rest of the way to the center city. Those days are a thing of the past, as cyclists can now zip under I-45 and over White Oak Bayou, down a pleasant, oddly rural-feeling waterside stretch with a gorgeous skyline view, and all the way to the University of Houston-Downtown. Road bike riders should beware, though, as the trail still is marred with tire-popping gravel piles, but those should be a thing of the past very soon.

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