Sam Houston Race Park

Even if all you know of horse racing is what you saw in Seabiscuit, you can still have a grand time betting on the ponies at Sam Houston Race Park. Admission is cheap, parking is easy, and the food and drink are affordable. They offer live Thoroughbred racing from January through early March and and live Quarter Horse racing from late March through early May with simulcast racing 364 days of the year, and from time to time they even have ostriches and camels, too, if you're looking for something a bit more exotic. Place your bets and root for your new favorite four-legged creature. You don't even have to wear a floppy hat.

There are lots of reading series in town, but the Poison Pen Reading Series is the only one that's set in a low-key neighborhood bar. And the only one that offers such an eclectic lineup of literary types. Locals such as Robert Boswell, Katherine Center, Antonya Nelson and former Houston Press staffer Jennifer Mathieu have all appeared at these monthly readings on Poison Girl's patio. Earlier this year, internationally known writer David MacLean (a former Houstonian and one of the founders of the series) read from his latest release, the memoir The Answer to the Riddle Is Me. Crack a Lone Star and have a listen next month.

Landmark River Oaks Theatre

In recent years, Landmark River Oaks has won six Best of Houston® awards: five for Best Movie Theater and one for Best Film Series. The multiple wins can be credited to its physical structure and programming. The theater was built in 1939, and its art deco interior has understandably been modified over the years, with changes including the conversion of the balcony to house two small screens. But the modifications have been conservative and restrained, and much of the interior stands intact, with the original grandeur still visible. The theater's programming is eclectic, made up mostly of indie and foreign films along with the robust midnight screening series. There are also frequent exclusives, and premieres by Houston filmmakers are becoming more and more regular. It all makes for a stellar moviegoing experience.

Hermann Park

The sad reality is that Houston is not exactly the best city in the world if you're a train enthusiast. The good news is that in the world of park trains, Hermann Park has one of the best anywhere, and it's something that every single person reading this should experience at least once. On your 18-minute trip, you'll see some of the prettiest sights Houston has to offer. Talk about a nice way to get around the park on a hot summer afternoon. You can even take things up a notch and become an engineer for a day, with your own cap and bandanna. Laugh all you want, but you're never too old to experience the joy that comes with a good train ride. Hop on and see.

Discovery Green
Photo by Katya Horner

We call it "Best Performance Space," but what that really means is that Discovery Green is Houston's best place to be an audience member. Now six years old, the 12-acre park has a calendar overflowing with events, from participatory activities like yoga, soccer and salsa lessons to frequent movie screenings and several weekly concert series. An environmentally responsible park that has been recognized numerous times for its various conservation-minded innovations, Discovery Green also now has a 24-7 webcam that makes a wonderful diversion if you can't be there in person. Being stuck at your desk watching kids frolic in the park's fountains, while others take canoes out on the tiny waterways, can make it pretty tempting to walk out of the office and never come back.

Cedar Creek
Photo by Kevin Shalin

"Welcome to the Hill Country" proclaims the sign above as you shuffle along a wood walkway that crosses the expansive restaurant's titular creek. And it really does feel like the Hill Country, and not in a cheesy, prefab way. This is a celebration of being outside while enjoying hot wings and a cold Texas brew with friends, away from any signs of Inner Loop hustle and bustle. It's like a big communal picnic or campout. We're getting homesick just thinking about it, and we're not even from the Hill Country.

Houston Metropolitan Dance Company

Houston's dance community has seen lots of changes lately, with choreographers leaving town or closing studios. There have been plenty of changes at MET Dance, too. Artistic Director Marlana Doyle had her first baby in 2013, which understandably diverted some of her time and attention away from the company, but it ultimately revived her passion and determination. Doyle, along with choreographers Kiki Lucas and jhon r. stronks, spent the 2013-2014 season building the company up to new artistic heights and financial stability. One measure of its success is its second invitation to perform on the esteemed Inside/Out stage at Jacob's Pillow Dance, a Massachusetts space that hosts the world's best contemporary dancers. More changes are coming, with six new dancers joining in August to replace five who departed. We're excited to see what's next.

Hotel Zaza

The bar at Hotel ZaZa's Monarch restaurant has a short but sweet wine list and a unique cocktail menu on which every drink is $12. There's also an extensive scotch selection, and should you want to skip the pomp and circumstance at the Monarch itself, the bar bites will prove equally satisfying. The bar is swanky with a sort of upscale safari theme, but guests are welcome to take drinks out to the pleasant patio or even order poolside for a sip and a swim.

One of the most gifted visual artists of his generation, Jermaine Rogers marks his 20th anniversary of creating some of the most striking, distinctive rock-and-roll-related graphics around this year. The 42-year-old Houston native loves David Bowie and has a curious fondness for adorable woodland creatures, especially rabbits; the long-eared mammals — which can't quite be called "adorable," given their demonic red eyes — adorn several of his works, including this year's Free Press Summer Fest poster. Rogers's creations have been featured in galleries on every continent save Antarctica, but are as close as the store on his website and as affordable as a $25 print. This year he also designed a sheaf of logos for the Delaware-based brewer Dogfish and a mural of gonzo South African dance-rap duo Die Antwoord in a Paris subway station, just further evidence of Rogers's incredible range.

Selfies are like engagement rings — if you like something, you should take a photo of yourself with it. If you love Houston, as you should, the top place for your selfie is in front of David Adickes's "We Houston" sign. The act may be silly, but the sentiment is not. Houston rules, and having a piece of public art as cool as the sign is just another testament to that. How can you not grin when you drive by those giant letters with their simple colors and that heart that says it all? Which is why at some point you have to stop, get out and get that picture of yourself. It's one of the few times in your life you'll take a photo and no one will have to tell you to smile.

Best Of Houston®

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