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.

How do we know Jose Altuve is the Best Astro? Because money talks, and on a team with a total payroll that amounts to about three months' worth of salary for Alex Rodriguez, the Astros' decision to extend Altuve for the next four years (with a guarantee of $12.5 million) is proof positive that the diminutive second baseman is viewed by upper management as a future building block for success, whenever the team's great leap forward may occur. At 23 years old, Altuve has already made one trip to the All Star Game, and standing five-foot-five, he's exactly the type of "everyman" grinder that Astros fans can get behind while they wait for the rest of the team's future nucleus to arrive from the minor leagues.

Just an hour away from Houston, Galveston is the sentimental favorite for a weekend getaway by H-Town residents. There are some 32 miles of beaches (enough to guarantee you'll find a spot to yourself) and more than 5,000 affordable hotel rooms (almost all of which face the Gulf of Mexico); Moody Gardens and The Pleasure Pier provide more than enough interactive entertainment to fill a long weekend; and there's The Strand historic district for visitors who want to enjoy slightly more sedate activities (only slightly, mind you). Halloween is the perfect time of year to visit — the beach is still warm and inviting, and the island's ghost tours are in full swing (all those sea wrecks and hurricanes, not to mention good old-fashioned only-in-Texas murders, have reportedly made for plenty of ghosts on the island).

This large park begins at Beltway 8 on the east and rolls along the bayou all the way to Barker Dam on the west. Terese "Terry" Hershey, a former member of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, is the namesake of this expansive park on the west side of the city. She's credited with leading the campaign to prevent the banks of Buffalo Bayou from being paved with concrete, a fate that could not be avoided for White Oak and Brays bayous. The result of Hershey's efforts is a natural, pleasing view that greets you as you ride your bike or jog the more than 12 miles of paved paths that run under Wilcrest, Kirkwood, Dairy Ashford and Eldridge Parkway. In the shade of the trees, riders will find a pleasant and fairly easy ride with only a few hills to scale along the way.

Head out to any Houston Dynamo game at the still fairly new BBVA Compass Stadium and you'll have various specific pockets of Dynamo fans all tailgating in a festive atmosphere like it's an October Texans game. The difference with the Dynamo faithful is that factions of the squad's fans carry specific memberships with them, distinct identities expressed through chants, flags and their group's history, all of whom are recognized by the team on their Web site. The Texian Army is the oldest and best known of these groups, but you can also find El Batallón, La Bateria and the Brickwall Firm readying themselves for battle at every Dynamo home game and at many a road game as well. Earlier this season, the Dynamo broke the MLS record for consecutive unbeaten games at home, and players will tell you that Dynamo fans are one of the biggest driving forces behind that unprecedented ­accomplishment.

Photo by Katya Horner

It may not be as vast as Hermann Park or Eleanor Tinsley Park, but Discovery Green in the heart of downtown offers a perfect green space and backdrop for those days when flying a kite just might make all your troubles fade away. The Jones Lawn offers 1.7 acres in the center of the park, which is more than enough space to launch your flying contraptions into the wind. While you're there, catch a show at the Anheuser-Busch Stage, cool off in the Gateway Fountain or Mist Tree, or bring your puppy to play around in the dog runs.

When it comes to daily-fee public golf courses, the gold standard in the city of Houston is Wildcat Golf Club. Originally opened in 2001, the course boasts rolling hills and swells that provide incredible views of the downtown skyline, the Galleria and Reliant Stadium from virtually anywhere on the 36-hole course. It's the official golf course for all the Houston professional sports franchises, so chances are that if you've played in a corporate or charity event, you've played at Wildcat. It's what they do best. In a fiercely competitive golf economy, owners Elmer Stephens and Tim Lolodice have managed to keep greens fees very affordable (including an enticing monthly membership fee of $300 that includes golf, cart and range fees) and customer service at a premium at Wildcat.

From the outside, the building blends into the rest of the foot of Houston's downtown skyline innocently enough, your average neighborhood recreation center. Seemingly. But head inside and you'll quickly find out that Fonde Recreation Center is where the best of the best in pickup hoopers in the Bayou City ply their trade. During the NBA offseason, it's not uncommon to find many of the city's NBA players, Rockets past and present, as well as many non-Rockets (Houston is an unofficial "second home" for many a professional player) keeping their skills sharp in some highly competitive pickup games. Additionally, Fonde has been home to youth basketball camps, youth leagues and local tournaments, like the one that native Houstonian T.J. Ford ran last summer for the first time.

Touting a prime location and pouring strong drinks, Proof welcomes one and all to its rooftop getaway along the border of downtown and midtown. Dressed up or dressed down, the patrons who visit the bar above Reef Restaurant are free to mix and mingle in the shadow of the Houston skyline. The knowledgable bartenders are always ready to concoct one of their signature custom cocktails. Enjoy a friendly game of darts, play at the arcade or hustle your way around the billiards table. With just the right mix of lighting, seating, dance floor and beautiful people, a fun time is guaranteed.

Truth be told, there are probably about a dozen categories across multiple sections of the "Best of" issue for which Texans defensive end J.J. Watt would qualify. To call him merely "Texans defensive end" feels like you're short-selling Watt. Oh, sure, he is the very best at what he does in all of football, sacking quarterbacks 20.5 times and knocking down 16 passes in 2012 on his way to NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. But in record time, Watt has become so much more than that to Houston. In just two years, he has become a fixture at charity events, a 300-pound angel to kids all over town, from the six-year-old girl whom he "pretend married" for a day when he saw her sobbing on a viral video, to his befriending and helping raise thousands of dollars for the Berry children, who were orphaned in a tragic car accident in 2011 (before Watt had even played a down as a Texan) that left two of them confined to wheelchairs. J.J. Watt, the big kid from Wisconsin, has become a Texan, in both the football and the very literal sense of the word. The best Texan.

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