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.

For three seasons now, since Yao Ming's feet and Tracy McGrady's knees ceased cooperating, the Houston Rockets have been searching for what General Manager Daryl Morey likes to call a "foundation player." After many swings and many misses, Morey finally landed his man in late October 2012, pilfering Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder for what now appears to have been the laughable price of Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and Toronto's 2013 first-round pick (the 12th pick overall). For that paltry sum, what Morey and the Rockets got in return was one of the top three shooting guards in all of basketball, an All-Star, 25.9 points per game, lots of kick-ass beard promotions at Toyota Center, and the single most important reason that Houston is once again a destination spot for other marquee players to come try and win a title. Fear the Beard!

Unlike some of those other parks, there won't be flocks of runners at T.C. Jester Park scampering by for you and your dog to avoid. If your dog is the type that sees another one and immediately starts barking at the enemy canine and trying to pick a fight, you've got enough space on the path to pull her well away from the Great Dane she's trying to goad into a brawl. The trail is long enough to give even the most energetic walker a lengthy promenade, but you can always make a stop at the gated dog park if you get all worn out while your pet still has energy to burn.

There are plenty of college football coaches who talk about molding their student-athletes into great men but few who put into practice an example to strive for quite like Rice head football coach David Bailiff. Each fall since coming to Rice, Bailiff has had his players donate their time, as he himself does, to worthy causes like the Sunshine Kids, Big Brothers events, local soup kitchens and, of course, the annual Challenger League Game at Rice Stadium. Active in many charitable endeavors for our troops, Bailiff accepted a 2009 invitation to visit military personnel stationed in Afghanistan and again honored our troops in 2011 by participating as a driver in the "Crossing of America" tour. The Owls also are regular participants in efforts to send care packages to members of the armed forces deployed overseas. Bailiff was honored by the Conference USA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee with its 2012 Coaches Choice Award, which recognizes a coach who is committed to fostering student-athlete development and welfare through a positive athletic and academic atmosphere.In 2013, he was one of four recipients of the Greater Houston Football Coaches Association's John Kelley Distinguished Service Award. After a bowl win and a strong close to the 2013 season, Bailiff received a three-year contract extension through 2016, which is great news for the city of Houston.

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