There's something microcosmic about setting up a picnic in Menil Park. Bring your jambon and rye and salad and Saint Arnold, spread your bevy of blankets, and soak in the surroundings that exemplify Houston. Watch the well-dressed couples milling around in The Menil Collection and Cy Twombly Gallery. Observe the weekday warriors looking for a spiritual, ascetic reprieve in the Rothko Chapel. Take in the young families scrambling along the low-lying oaks and the college kids tossing footballs and flying discs as if they're on campus. Sit back, scan the park, and watch the wizards and the gypsies and the homeless banjo pickers and the shirtless hula-hoopers all work their magic. Sip your drinks and splay out on the grass, and appreciate all the different people you find around you. This is exactly how Houston should be. This is precisely how Houston should host a picnic.

It's not difficult to imagine the bowling scenes in movies like The Big Lebowski being filmed in a place like Palace Bowling Lanes. In business nearly 50 years, it has the feel of a bowling alley that has seen things and knows things. With digital scoring, bumper bowling for the kids, a nicely stocked bar for the adults, Palace is modern where it needs to be and old-school where it counts.

The roster of failed coaches in NBA history is littered with men who were great players but couldn't coach a lick. (Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas immediately come to mind.) Such is not the case with Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. The man whom many call the greatest low post scorer in history led the Rockets to their first playoff berth since 2009 and did so amid constant roster turnover (a February trade left second-year player Chandler Parsons as the most tenured Rocket on the roster) and personal tragedy (McHale's 23-year-old daughter, Sasha, passed away from lupus in November). On top of all that, as the Rockets try to continue their upgrade of the roster in free agency, McHale's Hall of Fame résumé and growing reputation as a coach for whom players want to play will be major selling points, especially to big men looking to play for the man who wrote the book on post moves.

Big dogs get their choice of two large ponds filled with turquoise water and acres and acres of green grass at Millie Bush Bark Park. Small dogs get their own more compact pond and a fenced lawn. There's a long granite walking path, bench seating, trees and cover from the sun. The park, the first of its kind in the Harris County system, has built-in safety features including double gates at the exits and fencing to keep big and small dogs separate. Doggie showers at the exit are popular. Oh, and not that dogs really care, but the parking lot has a 100-car capacity.

Few places this close to Houston are this decidedly wild. With more than 13 miles of trails, park-goers can participate in activities such as horseback riding, fishing, camping, birdwatching, cycling and, of course, alligator-watching. With six lakes, the park is home to plenty of alligators. It's also home to the spectacular George Observatory, owned and operated by the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Every Saturday, the park hosts star parties, where gazers can look through the three massive observatory telescopes as well as countless smaller telescopes brought by hobbyists. Brazos Bend takes stargazing by your campsite to a whole new level.

A big part of the football experience in the state of Texas at every level (high school, college and professional) is the cheerleading squad. A spot on the Houston Texans cheerleading squad (which has been a part of the franchise since its inception in 2002) is one of the most sought-after jobs in the city, with an acceptance rate that would make the Ivy League proud — more than 1,000 girls try out annually for around three dozen spots. Additionally, the squad is a fixture at various Texans-sanctioned charity events and always seems to find a way to routinely appear at other outside charity events. They are truly a group befitting the Super Bowl aspirations of the team on the field.

Since Minor League Baseball franchise the Sugar Land Skeeters threw out their first pitch a few years ago, their custom-built ballpark has received nothing but rave reviews. It's got a kids-only swimming pool and a carousel behind the wall in left-center field, but the Grass Land general admission hill in right field is the real draw. Right behind the bullpens, there's plenty of action to see and for just over $8.

We all love a nice, relaxing trip to the driving range to hit a bucket of balls and let off some steam, right? But haven't we always thought about how great it would be if someone were to combine the therapeutic pummeling of hundreds of golf balls with the casual gluttony of food, drink, sports and live music? Well, Top Golf has done it! Opened last fall, this attraction on the west side of Houston has three separate levels and more than 100 bays where patrons can hit balls into a range that has ten different targets. The real kicker is that the balls have microchips embedded in them, allowing golfers to track distance and accuracy on their own or competitively among friends. If this is the wave of the future in driving ranges, the future is most certainly bright.

When you're looking to figure out whether or not a city has an owner who qualifies as "good" (let alone "best"), there are a few checkpoints, and McNair seems to hit positively on all of them. Willingness to spend on payroll? Check. The Texans are among the highest-spending teams in the NFL. Active in the community? Check. You can't attend a charity event without seeing the Texans' fingerprints somewhere on it. Success on the field? Check. The Texans appear to have finally turned the corner with back-to-back playoff seasons. But what wins the honor for McNair in 2013 is that he's expanded his game by adding a brutal honesty to the assessment of his team as they try to take that next step. Our personal favorite is when he was asked about Matt Schaub and he assessed his quarterback's play as "more than adequate," a positively lukewarm endorsement that perfectly encapsulates exactly how the rest of the city feels about Schaub. Add to that McNair's pre-draft analysis that the team needs a gamebreaker on offense (voilà, DeAndre Hopkins!), and it's the awareness of the Texans' on-field needs that puts McNair over the top.

More and more locals are catching on to the splendor of Buffalo Bayou, one of the few central Houston waterways that remain unpaved and in a near-natural state. Put your boat in near Voss and Woodway and paddle past the regal backyards of Memorial Bend and River Oaks, where the bayou is wilder and you'll have a better chance of seeing a gar or a great blue heron. Or put in at the Sabine Street Lofts near downtown and paddle upriver to Shepherd at sunset to watch the bats fly out. Even if you don't have your own canoe or kayak, a number of local businesses have sprung up in town to provide rentals, lessons and even guided tours. Trust us, you haven't seen a Houston sunset until you've seen it reflected off the buildings of downtown from the water of Buffalo Bayou.

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