Best Rocket
Photo by Eric Sauseda

James Harden has taken a whale of a beating on and off the floor since joining the Rockets. But that comes with the territory when you carry the weight of a franchise on your shoulders. Unlike most of the rest of the NBA, the Rockets are a team made up of one player, Harden, and, basically, everyone else. He's one of the most efficient offensive players in the history of the game, and his 2016-2017 season could only have been overshadowed by Russell Westbrook breaking a record no one thought would ever fall. Harden was that good. Now the Rockets just need to get him some help.

Best Place to Canoe
Photo by Michael Gras, M.Ed. via CC

If you haven't been paying attention it's easy to miss that the perfect canoeing opportunity in Houston is right under your nose on Buffalo Bayou. The bayou laces through the city and downtown, and there are stretches of the waterway where you can take in vibrant greenery and wildlife, everything from blinking turtles to snakes hanging out in the water to the trees that line the banks of the bayou, not to mention the sections that play host to majestic blue herons and a plethora of other birds. It's an entire wild world right in the middle of the city. Because of damage to the bayou from Hurricane Harvey, canoe rentals are suspended and will resume sometime later this year.

Best Place to Hike
Photo by Bill Jacobus via CC

The Memorial Park trails are Houston's hottest happy-hour scene, and doubly so in summer. Scores of joggers and walkers in varying amounts of workout wear end their workdays by bending a knee (both knees, really) instead of an elbow. The park actually contains more than 30 miles of trails, but most of the action is on the Seymour Lieberman Exer-Trail, the nearly three-mile crushed granite path ringing Memorial Park Golf Course. Here, surrounded by reminders of the park's previous life as the U.S. Army's Camp Logan — "Artillery Woods," "65th Infantry Woods," "Logan Woods" — multitasking parents cruise by pushing ergonomic strollers, young professionals catch up on workplace gossip over gulps of Ozarka instead of cocktails, and hardcore runners prepare for their next marathon. The narrow parking strip near the tennis courts, meanwhile, can get so congested it resembles a Texans tailgate party. Smart exercisers know to come on weekends shortly before dusk, when they can soak up the park's considerable natural beauty practically all by themselves.

Best Commentator
Photo by Roadside Guitars via CC

When it comes to Houston sports, saying Kevin Eschenfelder has seen it all might be an exaggeration, but he's seen as much as practically anybody covering sports in this town (despite still looking as if he just turned 32 years old last week). More recently, over the past couple of years, Eschenfelder has watched the two teams for whom he handles studio duties on the network formerly known as ROOT Sports, the Rockets and the Astros, go from optimistic afterthoughts to two of the best in their respective sports. Eschenfelder's versatility is evident, not just in the casual skill with which he handles pregame and postgame studio duties for both sports, but also in his ability to develop chemistry seamlessly, across sports and personality types, with various cohosts, from Calvin Murphy to Mike Stanton. Go ahead and throw in Eschenfelder's handling of radio play-by-play duties for University of Houston football and even for the Astros on television during a West Coast swing earlier this season, and you can see why the man they call "Esch" has been such a gold standard for other broadcasters at cable networks.

Best Basketball Court
Photo by popo.uw23 via CC

Basketball players aren't picky when it comes to finding a court. A backboard, a cooperative rim, fully painted free-throw and three-point lines on a dirt- and dust-free glossy wooden floor is about it. So what about Life Time's basketball courts makes them the best? They're open 24/7.

Best City Park
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.

Terry Hershey Park

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.

Best Cheerleaders
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!

Best Beach
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.

Best Volleyball
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.

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