Non-natives might be surprised to learn of Houston’s status as one of America’s greenest cities. After all, Texas doesn’t exactly have the most environmentally friendly image among outsiders, thanks to wide-open spaces that encourage heavy reliance on cars and the oppressive heat and humidity that push us to crank up the AC for half the year. (For the record, recent rankings have challenged this preconception, as Houston is one of three Texas cities that regularly make the lists of top ten green cities.) But thanks to sustainability initiatives under the “Green Houston” program, the city is well on its way toward long-term sustainability. Behind the scenes, we all benefit from heavy use of wind and solar power, which make for better air quality and a smaller carbon footprint. But day to day, residents and visitors alike will more likely notice Houston’s many parks, walkable neighborhoods, bike trails, and other green spaces. If you haven’t yet, this fall is the perfect time to get outdoors and enjoy all Houston has to offer.
One of central Houston’s favorite outdoor spaces is Discovery Green, a gorgeous, 12-acre park in the middle of Downtown. Only a decade ago, the site was an undeveloped concrete lot. Today, the word “park” doesn’t really adequately describe this multi-use outdoor living environment. Features include tree-lined pathways, a jogging trail, discovery garden, picnic green, state-of-the art playground with a relaxing verandah for parents to watch their children, splash fountain for kids, putting green, bocce courts, two dog parks—one for large breeds, one for small—and so much more. Kinder Lake offers kayaking and, stand-up paddleboarding. The park also features two gourmet restaurants—the Lake House, a family-friendly fast casual joint, and the Grove, an upscale urban fine dining establishment.
Discovery Green offers free and low-cost activities throughout the week such as concerts, fitness classes, sports leagues, Toddler Tuesdays, and the Flea by Night Market, a quirky outdoor market featuring antiques, local craftspeople, and much more. The park carries a LEED Gold Certification for environmental soundness—the highest possible rating in the industry.
White Oak Bayou Trails
A great way to view one of the slow-moving rivers that give Bayou City its nickname, the White Oak Bayou Trails offer a system of scenic pathways that combine generous greenery (in many areas, you can’t see a single building) with occasional views of the Houston skyline. Whether by bike, running, or a leisurely walk (the trail is paved to allow for all three), this is a great way to get to know Houston’s great outdoors.
For those not aware, Houston boasts a world-class system of 125 miles of bike paths, maintained by the Houston Department of Parks and Rec. In central Houston, it’s entirely possible to bike to work on a regular basis. Houston’s rapidly growing BCycle bike-share program makes biking especially affordable. For $5/day, $15/week, or $65/year, members gain unlimited bike rides across the city (some restrictions apply to prevent people from “borrowing” bikes for long-term excursions).
Situated between the Museum District and the Texas Medical Center, Herrman Park is one of Houston’s most-visited public parks. The park was founded in 1914, and has slowly grown into a sprawling 445-acre complex dedicated to a balance between natural green spaces, cultural institutions, and historical landmarks.
A favorite natural feature is the Bayou Parkland, 80 acres of wetlands, prairie meadows, and scenic trails that serve as an oasis for native plants and wildlife. The Japanese Garden, Fragrance Garden, and Lake Overlook all offer relaxing respites from the city’s bustle, and a jogging trail and exercise station make ideal places to work off stress. Children will love the railroad and the accessible Buddy Carruth Playground for All Children, and science buffs of all ages will enjoy the Houston Zoo and the Museum of Natural Science. Other attractions include a historical golf course, lake with pedal boats, outdoor theatre, and much more.
Compared to the spaces mentioned above, Memorial Park may fit a more traditional image of a municipal park. What you might not expect is the size—at 1,466 acres, it is one of the largest urban green spaces in the country. Much of this is devoted to open fields and woodlands where you’ll find gorgeous wildflowers in the spring, arching trees, and a surprising variety of wildlife.
Additionally, the park offers many fitness and recreational opportunities, including Texas’s top-rated municipal golf course, tennis and volleyball courts, softball and soccer fields, a swimming pool, running track, and paths for running, cycling, and skating. Running is so popular that the park sees nearly 3 million visits by joggers annually. Dogs on leashes are welcome, with people leaving water bowls out by the water fountains for canine guests. The park is a favorite spot for picnickers, but also boasts a Beck’s Prime (a Texas gourmet burger chain) and Smoothie King.