The old downtown YMCA was a dark, dank relic of 1930s physical fitness, but the Tellepsen Family Downtown YMCA is our go-to place when we want to hit the gym to burn off the beer calories. Replacing the historic building less than two blocks away, this YMCA opened in 2010, but we still have to stop and admire the sleek, modern glass structure whenever we show up. The gym boasts plenty of equipment, and those who like to work up a sweat before work can easily get themselves together for the day in the spacious locker rooms. Tellepsen also offers tons of exercise classes for anyone looking for a more structured workout, and the physical trainers on staff are always a good option for those looking to improve their exercise regimen. READERS' CHOICE: LA Fitness

Photo by Katya Horner

Officially, the Sarofim Picnic Lawn is the dedicated space for picnicking at Discovery Green. But with almost 12 acres of cultivated gardens, lawns and promenades, not to mention a lake and a couple of fountains, there are lots and lots of choices as to where to spread your picnic blanket. Want a sunny spot in the middle of a manicured lawn? Or maybe you'd rather sit in the shade of a large tree? Or lounge on the bank of a peaceful lake? Need a tented cover with a bit of privacy? Somewhere your dog is welcomed? All of those choices and more are available at Discovery Green. Food vendors and cafes are located in the park to supplement your picnic basket. And with some 600-plus free performances, festivals and activities a year, there's plenty to do after you finish your lunch.

If there were ever a contest to name a Dynamo player, past or present, as the face of the franchise ("Mr. Dynamo," if you will), with apologies to Brian Ching, it would have to be midfielder Brad Davis. An original member of the Dynamo since the team arrived in Houston in 2006, Davis is the franchise's all-time leader in games played, starts and assists. He was the team's MVP for four straight seasons from 2009 through 2012, and in 2014 he started for the U.S. men's national team in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup against Germany. Davis is among the all-time MLS leaders in assists and games played (4th and 9th, entering this season). In short, using our conversion chart to Houston NFL terms, Davis has the MLS equivalent of J.J. Watt's accolades coupled with Andre Johnson's longevity.


Hermann Park was set up after George Hermann donated a tract of land to Houston to create the first city park in 1914. That initial gift of about 285 acres has since grown into a 445-acre site that features some of the best parts of Houston, all grouped together on one gorgeous city park. The park is crisscrossed with jogging trails, there's the Hermann Park Golf Course for those who prefer their long walks spoiled, and paddle boats run on McGovern Lake for those with a hankering to get a little nautical while also being outdoorsy. We always love checking out the McGovern Centennial Gardens, and we've spent countless hours taking in the Japanese Garden, but on top of simply being a beautiful and relaxing expanse of greenspace nestled between the Museum District, Rice University and the Texas Medical Center, Hermann Park also has a mini-train! How can any other city park even hope to compete?


There are tons of races and fun runs happening in Houston's cooler months, but the annual TXU Energy Houston Turkey Trot is the one we look forward to every year. It's held on Thanksgiving morning near The Galleria, and participants can choose to trot in the Phillips 66 10k or the Humana 5k, and there's a Kids Run, too. Every year the event draws about 20,000 people — it's the second-largest run in Houston — and the best part is that a lot of people show up in costumes, so we end up running alongside people dressed as turkeys, Pilgrims and Native Americans along with elves and all kinds of variations on Santa Claus for the seasonally forward thinking, with a sprinkling of superheroes thrown in. The race is always extremely well-coordinated, from the packet pickups held days before the race to the parking options. In a move that really shows organizers know what they're doing, there are always a plethora of portable toilets strategically placed throughout the race routes and near the finish line. As if all of this weren't enough, the Turkey Trot is a benefit for Neighborhood Centers, a nonprofit that helps seniors and kids, so at the end of the race we're full of endorphins, ready to eat a whole lot of pie, and it's all for a good cause.

READERS' CHOICE: Susan G. Komen Houston Race for the Cure

The Gulf Coast boasts an abundance of nature areas but few are as varied in geography and history as Galveston Island State Park. There's a low $5 entrance fee and, once inside, visitors have a choice of Karankawa Reef (the story goes that the Karankawa indians could wade on the reef to the mainland), sand dunes, a freshwater pond, wetlands and plenty of coastline. Bird watchers have lots to see at Galveston Island State Park — 60 percent of all the bird species in America stop at the island at some point in the year. Looking for active outdoor fun? There's mountain biking, fishing, hiking, swimming and ranger-led educational programs. The park's had some notorious visitors over the centuries. There was Cabeza de Vaca, who stopped there in 1528, becoming the first European to step on what is now Texas (oh yeah, that trip didn't actually work out that well — only four members of the expedition survived). After Cabeza de Vaca, Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, Jean Lafitte and scores of smugglers also stopped by what is now Galveston Island State Park.

READERS' CHOICE: Brazos Bend State Park

A few weeks after the All-Star break, Carlos Correa was leading the Astros in hits, home runs and RBIs since being called up in early June, and already drawing comparisons to A-Rod for his play at shortstop. The 20-year-old rookie had drawn the attention of The New York Times for his leadership in the clubhouse, a banquet of praise for a team long starving for positive national media attention. "He's kind of leading us," veteran reliever Pat Neshek told the paper. "He's on his way to being the face of the Astros for many years." As Correa helped keep the team on top of the AL West through mid-August, his spectacular defense and clutch bat made him a leading candidate for 2015 AL Rookie of the Year. It's no stretch at all to say Correa also has the makings of a perennial All-Star and future league MVP, too. Fans can only hope so.


When we're looking to go for a real run, we always head straight for Memorial Park. As one of the largest urban parks in the United States (it spans 1,466 acres), Memorial has everything a runner needs. The three-mile loop along Memorial Drive is always a fun place to run since you can count on some solid people-watching while you work on getting your miles in; the path has plenty of water fountains and bathrooms, and it's well-lit so you don't have to pack it in as soon as the sun goes down. At the same time, there are plenty of other running paths for those who like to get away from the madding crowd, and the park boasts a variety of trails for more nature-oriented types, so no matter what sort of running (or enthusiastic walking) you're in the mood for, you can get it done at Memorial.

READERS' CHOICE: Memorial Park

With all due respect to the crazy Texans tailgaters, the Red Rowdies and whatever rough assemblage passes for Astros spectators these days, there are no fans more insanely loyal than those who root for Houston's MLS franchise. Just showing up in the dead of summer at the open-air BBVA Compass Stadium makes them both intensely passionate and a little crazy. But to see them on their feet for an entire game plus overtime makes even the most rabid fans of other local pro teams look like suit-wearing, white-wine-sipping, suite-owning fat cats. Houston sports fans could learn a thing or two from orange loyalists.

If you're looking to tie the Houston Texans' 2014 improvement, from 2-14 in 2013 to 9-7 last season, to one statistic, look no further than the defense's ability to force turnovers. In 2013, the Texans' defense set a record for the fewest turnovers forced in a season (11); in 2014, they led the NFL in turnovers forced (34). That doesn't happen by accident, not in a Romeo Crennel-coached defense. Certainly, having the best player in football helps, but Crennel's experience (three Super Bowl rings as a defensive coordinator in New England) along with his ability to teach players, young and old, is a huge difference maker for a staff with a second year head coach. "Romeo is a great teacher of the game," said Ted Johnson, who played for Crennel from 2001 through 2004 in New England. "He had us better prepared than any coach I've ever been around." With no franchise quarterback on the roster, if the Texans are to continue their ascent in 2015, it will be on the back of the defense. With Crennel at the controls, they're well equipped on that side of the ball.


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