Best Urban Wildlife

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.

Best Stadium Announcer

Back when the Houston Rockets won this city's last two NBA championships, in 1994 and 1995, the booming voice you heard over the public address system introducing the teams and rousing the crowd  was that of Matt Thomas. Thomas, a Houston native and University of Houston graduate,  was in his twenties back then, and it's been a circuitous route through radio gigs in Minnesota and Utah, but Thomas returned to his roost behind the microphone on Rockets game nights at Toyota Center again this past season. This time, however, it was part of an expanded role, which also has Thomas handling radio play-by-play duties for Rockets road games as part of his assignment. When you add in a daily, midday sports talk show on the Rockets flagship, Thomas undoubtedly has one of the busiest work schedules of any local broadcaster in any NBA market. However, as proficient as Thomas may be at his roles as a talk radio host, play-by-play guy and stadium announcer, Rocket fans are probably hoping his role as "good luck charm" is the one that pays off most handsomely.

Wildcat Golf Club

As basic as the checklist may be for most weekend and casual golfers in Houston — greens fees, speed of play, quality of course, availability of beer, to name the key criteria for most — some courses check all the boxes more easily than others, but no course checks them all more emphatically than Wildcat Golf Club. Since opening in 2001, Wildcat has become a destination for Houstonians seeking private-course qualities at a public-course price, including very reasonable (like, a few hundred bucks annually) membership fees. Perhaps belying the everyman price you can pay to golf at Wildcat, it's fairly routine to spot local athletes and celebrities golfing there, as the course's ownership group has long-standing relationships with all the major league teams in town. Additionally, the rolling hills and views of the city make Wildcat a superb option for corporate golf events, and the pristine clubhouse is an ideal spot to hold private events, even wedding receptions.

Unless you work way up there, for many Houstonians there are only a couple of reasons to go to The Woodlands: You're either getting married, starting a family and resigning yourself to the Suburban Life, or you're going to a concert at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Next time, however, consider staying a while. In addition to offering first-rate service and a poolside bar on the second-floor rooftop, The Westin at The Woodlands is also right along The Woodlands Waterway, surrounded by bars and restaurants like Crush Wine Lounge (which can turn into a flashy dance club on the roof at night) and The Refuge Bar & Bistro, serving up small plates and specialty flatbread and cocktails. Take a free trolley ride along the waterway or up to Market Street, a pedestrian mall right across from the Pavilion where you can spend an afternoon shopping and find everything from sushi to Spanish wine and tapas for dinner.

Best Bowling Alley

Bowl & Barrel is the bowling alley for people who don't actually care what their score is and are not embarrassed about needing to use the bumpers. In fact, maybe they just came for drinks and a cheese board, with bowling as the background noise. That's fine at Bowl & Barrel, the upscale alley within CityCentre that reminds you of absolutely nothing about wherever you went bowling as a kid, trading flashy disco lights for dim-lit, rustic chandeliers hanging from a wooden ceiling. Be sure to order one of the bowling alley's sharable cocktails for the table — the Velvet Mule comes in a pitcher the size of a bowling ball.

Best Dog Park

T.C. Jester Park in northwest Houston offers a great place for your pups to get their exercise in and play with their furry friends. Divided into two sections, the park offers 31,000 square feet for large dogs and 16,000 for small ones. There are benches where dog owners can sit, and water hoses to keep dogs cool and hydrated. Trees provide ample shade and there's plenty of room for pooches to laze the afternoon away if they so desire. Or, if you want to take your hound for a run, hop on the paved or gravel paths that run along White Oak Bayou through the park.

Tellepsen Family YMCA

There are only a few scraps of evidence that the old downtown YMCA ever existed on the spot where the gleaming Tellepsen Family Downtown YMCA now stands. It's nice that they've kept some old signs and a few other little touches while at the same time completely doing away with the old building and replacing it with a facility that is still a pleasure to behold and even more fun to use. The Tellepsen YMCA offers up all the modern conveniences, every kind of cardio machine you've ever heard of, a bevvy of weight machines for those looking to tone up, a slew of classes throughout the day so that you can get your exercise on when it fits your schedule, and pools and saunas, if those activities float your boat. And you can become a member of the YMCA for a price that won't cause you to break a sweat.

In a city not especially known for its scenery, Houston can still surprise you. Heading west on Westpark, just past the Fox 26 studios and with the Houston Chronicle compound looming a little further down the way, look to the northwest and you'll be dazzled by a postcard-perfect view of Uptown, an aesthetically pleasing jumble of condominiums, hotels and office buildings dominated by the Williams Tower and a couple of high-rise construction projects. Turn your head 180 degrees and you'll see Greenway Plaza and Lakewood Church; 90 degrees more and it's the glass towers of the Med Center poking above the lawns of West U. Turn one more time and you'll see railroad tracks, an electrical substation and a pair of huge water storage tanks — the stark, utilitarian beauty of infrastructure that's all too easily taken for granted.

Best Place to Ride Go-Karts

This mega-party-place has your standard go-karts, your "superkarts," your two-seaters and your wicked F1 model, which tops out at approximately 30 mph. Whenever we ride in one of those bad boys, we feel like Mario Andretti. Sometimes we like to mix it up and fit in a trip to the arcade, or to the vast laser tag and mini golf courses. This place has it all – and there's plenty of great party packages and other discounts to choose from. The kids will love it, and so will you.

Best Bike Trail

Memorial Park offers some of Houston's best mountain bike trails. Seven miles of color-coded dirt trails snake around the southwest quadrant of the park, from the easy green to the challenging blue and brown trails. For road cyclists, the paved Memorial Park Trail runs from the 610 Loop east through the park. A future section of greenway will connect the trail to Buffalo Bayou Park and downtown. But who needs to leave Memorial Park? The mile-long Picnic Loop is good for as many laps as you need.

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