Brazos Bend State Park

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.

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).

Terry Hershey Park

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.

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