Properties inside the Loop are so small — and made smaller when enormous houses are built right up to the lot line — and so expensive, few city dwellers are able to have the luxury of a backyard pool. That's where places like Love Park come in. Nestled between 12th and 13th near North Shepherd, the public pool is clean, well-maintained and often quiet even in the summer months when suburban public pools are overrun with kids.

Eleanor Tinsley Park

If you're a runner, a jogger or even an avid fan of sauntering, you realize the value of a good place to engage in a little forward locomotion. With plenty of shade and enough greenery to admire, Eleanor Tinsley Park is a great place to get your jog on. The place isn't as packed to the gills as Memorial Park, but there are enough fellow runners on the trail so that you aren't slogging through the Houston heat and humidity alone — there's always that extra little drive that kicks in when someone else tries to pass you. As long as you don't hit this trail up after dark, it offers a view of the Houston skyline and enough hills on some paths to give you a real workout if you decide to get ambitious.

Technically, does former Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy work for a national outlet? Yes, his work on ESPN and ABC does extend beyond the boundaries of the 713 (and 281 and 832 and whatever that new area code is). But since coming to Houston in 2003, Van Gundy and his family have chosen to call Houston home. Even after he was fired in 2007, Van Gundy chose to remain in Houston because he and his family love this city. So if there's a national commentator who is truly the best at what he does (not just here but anywhere), whose opinions I would listen to on any topic, not just NBA basketball, are we going to claim him as our own? You betcha! Now please, Jeff, just don't go back into coaching. Our NBA television-watching experience needs your candor and your insight.

You can fancy them up with electric motors and throw on a helmet to up the safety factor, but having a true zen go-kart experience involves gas engines and the wind in your face. Combining a fun course that includes plenty of turns and room to maneuver with ride prices that won't break your wallet, Speedy's is the best place in town to try and reach go-kart nirvana. Whether you're a casual racer riding a traditional kart or a real speed freak hitting the track in a super-kart, you'll hit another level of racing bliss before you know it.

With more than 12 miles of trails within Houston's version of New York City's Central Park, Memorial Park is the closest thing inside the city limits available to a mountain biker looking to ride that fancy bike to its intended use. Ranging from beginner to intermediate to advanced, the trails are marked and color-coded for easy use. The harder trails are mostly loose gravel and dirt, so be sure you can handle yourself before taking them on, or you'll risk serious injury.

With the advent of the Internet, the sample space of writers who qualify under the definition of "sports columnist" — a writer who offers up opinion to go with razor-sharp analysis — has most certainly expanded. No longer is this category a two- or three-person race among those who offer up opinion down the right side of the Houston Chronicle sports page. No writer in the city combines passion for her area of expertise with analysis, opinion and hard work better than Stephanie Stradley, whose "Texans Chick" blog has been a fixture on the Chronicle's blog page for seven years. If you're looking for advanced analytics and, more important, actual layman's translation of them, Steph has it. If you're looking for an off-the-wall interview with J.J. Watt or a picture of rookie DeAndre Hopkins in a prayerful pose, Steph has it. If you're looking for the media member who's asking Gary Kubiak smart, tough questions on Andre Johnson's workload or the perceived vanilla-ness of his offense, it's Steph. Now let's just hope the Chronicle cutbacks don't deprive us of her phenomenal work for good.

Discovery Green
Photo by Katya Horner

Organizers like to boast that it was mostly private funding that built Discovery Green, Houston's multipurpose downtown park. Visitors don't much care how it got built, only that it did. Set in the shadow of area skyscrapers and hotels, it seems deceptively small — until you try to walk around it, that is. Kinder Lake anchors the 12-acre space (it doubles as a skating rink in the winter). There's a stage for performances (everything from blues concerts to ice sculpting), lots of lawns, a dog park, a corridor of 100-year-old heritage oak trees, public art, more lawns, restaurants, water gardens, even a mini-library! Shrubs and trees help to separate the areas without any fences or walls. Every spot offers a carefully cultivated view of lawns, gardens, or tree groves. And then there's that spectacular Houston skyline for a ­background.

Quintana Beach County Park

Quintana, Texas, Gateway to the Gulf, is a tiny town between Galveston and Freeport with a population of just 56 people. It's also got one of the best beaches in the Houston area. The Brazoria County park has 51 acres of beachfront (one for almost every citizen in town) as well as RV campsites, picnic tables and other park amenities, a pavilion, restrooms and showers, and more. Despite the fancy setup, it's much less known than its Galveston neighbors, which makes it less crowded on peak weekends. If that's too much structure for you, drive along Quintana's natural beach (read: unmaintained by humans) and find a quiet spot to camp out for the day, then stop by the park to use the facilities before heading home.

Before the All-Star Game back in February here in Houston, John Paul Stevenson said that his career as an NBA public-address announcer almost ended on the way to his tryout for the Grizzlies P.A. post in Memphis in 2001: "I stopped twice on the way to the Pyramid and almost turned around and went home." He thought there was no way he'd get the gig as Grizzlies P.A guy. He was wrong. Now, over a decade later and after he moved from Memphis to Houston in 2006, Stevenson's voice has been the one that gets Rocket fans fired up before and during games at the Toyota Center. With All-Star center Dwight Howard in the fold for the team, the native Texan will undoubtedly be putting those booming pipes on display for sellout crowds galore, a dynamic that will only make his "dream job" of working in Texas for the Rockets that much more euphoric.

Not many people realize that Houston has a national forest about an hour's drive from downtown. In fact, there's more than 161,000 acres of it within the Sam Houston National Forest, spread across three counties north of town. With such a huge area and dozens of trails winding through the dense growth, you might hike all day and not see another person.

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