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.


From winning the 2012 Bear Bryant Award in his first year at Penn State to overseeing the Texans' seven-game turnaround in his first season in Houston, Bill O'Brien's ability to lead by instilling belief is unquestioned. But it's his leadership at home, along with his wife Colleen, that makes him a rare breed of role model. The O'Briens' older son, Jack, 13, has a rare genetic neurological disorder called lissencephaly. (The O'Briens also have a ten-year-old son, Michael.) Jack can't walk or talk or feed himself. He can't do things typical teenage kids can do. O'Brien manages to deftly juggle the duties of the most pressure-packed sports job in town with the massive responsibilities that come with being a parent of a special-needs child. In a 2012 Sporting News profile on O'Brien, Colleen said all you need to know: "Bill's a great dad, that's what's most important."

Most amusement centers these days look like what they are: relics from another time. They may fight the good fight to keep the lights on, but the chipped paint and faded signs show that they're not fighting that hard. For those times you're feeling nostalgic for the glory days of friendly competition with your friends, really want to show off your skeeball skills on a first date or want a badass go-kart ride, you'll be glad that Speedy's Fast Track is still alive and kicking. Have you forgotten what it's like to have fun without a cellphone in your hand? Get back in touch with the thrills of your youth and keep both hands on the go-kart wheel. Digital is cool, but so is the wind in your face.

When times are tight, Houstonians still love to golf, but we don't want to sacrifice quality for the price. That's why Wildcat Golf Club, since opening in 2001, has been the benchmark for daily-fee public golf courses in this city. It's a private-course experience at a public-course price, with rolling hills that give players a fantastic view of Houston's city skyline and sports stadiums from nearly anywhere. In addition to keeping their course affordable to the public (all-inclusive memberships are available for a few hundred bucks), owners Tim Loiodice and Elmer Stephens have made Wildcat the go-to for companies and charities to host corporate events and fundraisers. It's also an underrated spot to run into local sports celebrities, as it's the official golf course for all the Houston pro teams.

READERS' CHOICE: Memorial Park

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