Photo by jjsala via CC

Discovery Green may be Houston's front lawn, but Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park is the cozy neighborhood park that happens to contain one of Houston's few true architectural marvels and, when it's lit up, one of its more spectacular nocturnal vistas. Opened in 1983 and purchased by the city in 2008, the 2.77-acre park is relatively small compared with other Houston public green spaces, but not in the city's collective imagination. More than 60 feet tall, its C-shaped fountain pumps 11,000 gallons of water per second, creating a cooling spray 365 days a year and one of the more picturesque backdrops you'll find anywhere; posing for pre-prom or post-quinceañera pictures at the Waterwall is now a rite of passage for generations of Houston teens. It's dog heaven or a quick picnic getaway for Galleria shoppers, while the nearly 200 live oaks offer glorious shade whether you're lounging under a tree or just trying to corral a runaway toddler. Just make sure to look up every so often — the Waterwall Park has become a top destination for drone-fliers, too.

It feels mildly ironic that one of Houston's largest and most diverse green spaces lies in the shadow of the Energy Corridor, perhaps the most important center of business for the oil and gas industry in the world. Yet there it is, all 500 acres of it sprawling along six miles of Buffalo Bayou. With trails, both paved and dirt, wide-open green spaces and water features, there are few places better to walk Fido and yourself.

Photo by Eric Sauseda

Dear Adriana, Alexys, Amanda, Anakaren, Angelina, Ashley, Ashlyn H. and Ashlyn J.: We're huge fans of your work. Likewise, Bethany, Briana, Brittni, Caitlyn, Daniel and Gabby. No, we didn't forget you, Hannah, Jackie, Kesha and Kristia. Lauren B. and Lauren C.? You're two of our favorite Laurens. Mallory, Meagan, Morgan O., and Morgan S? Like Willie said, you're always on our mind. At least when we're not thinking about Natalie, Olivia, Paige, Samantha, Sarah and Sasha. And Taryn, Taylor C., Taylor H. (we call you the "double-Taylor shotgun") and Yuki? Mere words can't express our adoration. Y'all are the best, period. We hear there's even a Houston Texans football team, but we don't care. Our hearts are with y'all, and we can't wait for the season to start!

Photo by eflon via CC

South of Galveston in Brazoria County, Surfside Beach is well worth the trip if you're looking for a clean beach and soft sand. The water here is actually blue, oil rigs are but a dot in the distance and there are minimal sea creatures and seaweed in the way of enjoying the ocean — and along the Gulf Coast, all of those perks aren't necessarily easy to find all at once. The beach, surrounded by colorful vacation homes on stilts, is dog- and even car-friendly: If you've got four-wheel drive, you can park along a designated area of the beach and spend the day tailgating.

Photo courtesy of Sideout VolleyBar

Brand new to Near Northside in 2017, Sideout Volleybar offers far more than just some sand and nets. The three brightly lit sand volleyball courts are surrounded by a patio for spectators, a full-service bar with endless Texas craft beer selections, and a lounge area full of colorful Adirondack beach chairs, for those who perhaps didn't come for the volleyball or are waiting for a turn on the court. A ping-pong table, a jumbo-size chess set, a cornhole set and other bar games are set up beneath the bar's towering, decades-old tree, which is wrapped in blue party lights at night. If you come to play, it costs $40 an hour to reserve a volleyball court, with online booking available in advance.

Photo by Victor Araiza via CC

After two seasons, in 2015 and 2016, that saw the Houston Dynamo finish 15th and 19th overall in the 20-team Major League Soccer, and also saw the squad go through multiple head coaches, expectations were low for the 2017 Dynamo campaign. Oddly enough, the same could be said for Dynamo forward Erick Torres, who in his first two seasons with the team (also 2015 and 2016) scored the same number of goals as the team mascot (zero, with apologies to Diesel). Suffice it to say, 2017 was considerably better for the team and Torres, who finally evolved into the goal scorer the Dynamo expected when they signed him to a five-year contract using their "Designated Player" clause. Torres showed off versatile goal-scoring chops throughout 2017, tallying goals while in play and also on free kicks. The Dynamo took a big leap forward with a new style of play and overall philosophy in 2017, and clearly Torres figures in as a big part of that in the years to come.

The alligators should be enough to drag you to this daytime getaway just south of town, and the park has gators to spare — gators in the nooks, gators in the crannies, gators disguised by the general greenery, even brazen, family-friendly gators sunning themselves on the trails. But that's only where the attraction begins; Brazos Bend State Park is a bustling paradise for native fauna, from your run-of-the-mill deer, rabbits, raccoons, possums and wading reptiles to exotic migratory and local birds. And Brazos Bend has flora too, lush and dense all along the miles and miles of hiking trails and unspoiled wetlands.

Photo by Marco Torres

In this day and age when it's easy (and cheap) for fans to stay home and enjoy their teams' games just fine thanks to the beauty of high-definition television, stadium atmosphere becomes a much bigger deal to attract fans to live events. Stadiums with a distinct feel will draw crowds, and a huge reason the Houston Dynamo have one of the best game-day atmospheres in this town is the presence of the Texian Army, a self-described "independent, organized supporters group for the Houston Dynamo." However, "organized" doesn't begin to do justice to the show the Army puts on at the north end of BBVA Compass Stadium before and during Dynamo games. Every game begins with the Texian Army leading the crowd in the catchy and melodic  "We Are Orange" chant, and the Army-generated drumbeats pound throughout the match. If you go to a Dynamo game and happen to become enveloped in a mysterious orange mist, that probably comes from the harmless-yet-awesome smoke bombs that emit the periodic festive vapors of the Army.  The Texian Army has also been known to travel very well on Dynamo road trips, bringing its orange enthusiasm wherever it's welcome (and Dallas).

Photo by brian carlson via CC

Houston is adding 150 miles of paths along its bayous as part of the city's Greenways 2020 initiative. But of all these new trails, perhaps none are more scenic than a portion just north of downtown, near the confluence of White Oak and Buffalo bayous. Stretching from Hogg Park in Near Northside to the UH Downtown campus, this biking and walking trail offers a majestic entrance into the city, replete with panoramic views of the skyline and several of the area's main traffic avenues, including I-10, I-45, Main Street and at least one rail line. (Watching freight trains pass above you on an old rail bridge is more fun than it might sound.) Walk south from Hogg Park and the ambience quickly changes from sunflower fields to old-timey urban. You are now more or less at Allen's Landing, the birthplace of Houston — and there's plenty of beautiful old architecture to prove it.

Photo by Chris Fleming via Cc

The ducks of Post Oak Boulevard have been through a lot this year. Not so long ago, these few dozen waterfowl were happily nesting in the bushes, raising their little duck families in the pond at Post Oak and Hidalgo, or enjoying the bread-crumb generosity of shoppers on their way to and from the Galleria or else the residents of nearby condominiums. Then the bulldozers came, agents of a new, slightly ominous-sounding planned development known as Boulevard Houston. The pond is intact, but the widening of Post Oak has drastically cut down the size of their habitat; on the street side, the once-sizable lawn surrounding the pond has been reduced to a grassy strip hugging the curb. Still, the ducks endure. They can be found enjoying the shade of the bushes hugging the Loop 610 embankment, defending what little grass they've got left or, after a good rain, enjoying a drink in the puddles of the half-finished road. When the boulevard is finally finished, these ducks deserve an acre or two of thanks.

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