the best houston parks

6 favorite public parks to soak up the best of the Bayou City

6 favorite public parks to soak up the best of the Bayou City

McGovern Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park
McGovern Centennial Gardens at Hermman Park. Hermann Park Conservancy/Facebook
Buffalo Bayou Park
Buffalo Bayou Park. Photo by David A. Brown
The Broken Obelisk and the crowd at lunch at Love Your Enemies seminar with Robert Thurman at Rothko Chapel October 2014
The Broken Obelisk.  Photo by Ben Doyle
Emancipation Park, June 2012
Emancipation Park.  Photo by Karen Burd
McGovern Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park
Buffalo Bayou Park
Memorial Park Master Plan Eastern Glades rendering
The Broken Obelisk and the crowd at lunch at Love Your Enemies seminar with Robert Thurman at Rothko Chapel October 2014
Emancipation Park, June 2012

Out-of-towners scoff at the abundance and beauty of Houston’s green spaces, preferring to dwell on the traffic and “concrete jungle.” But the the Bayou City boasts amazing parks — with pristine and manicured greenery — that are perfect for exploring. These spaces are perfect for that finite window of glorious Houston weather, and even for an evening experience when the temps go from sunny to scorching. Here are six of our favorite Houston public parks.

Memorial Park 
With over 4 million visitors each year, Memorial Park is known as the largest urban park in Texas. One of the most active and highly trafficked parks in the city (just inside Loop 610 at Woodway Dr.), it's one of Houston’s most popular three-mile running trails (technically it's 2.9 miles) and so much more throughout the 1,500 acres of parkland. This is a great spot for meeting friends for an all-out sprint or leisurely stroll, hitting up the stretch deck for an easy meeting spot (with a bathroom), or for joining an intramural league or tournament at one of the many fields. 

Good for: intramural sports, volleyball, softball, baseball, tennis, swimming (indoor), track, running, biking, cycling, golfing.

Hermann Park
This 445-acre urban park space is Houston’s most historically significant public green space, dating back to 1914. Also home to Hermann Park Golf Course, the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theatre, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Japanese Garden, Rose Garden and McGovern Lake, it is one of the most family-friendly parks in Houston. So popular in fact, it gets an estimated 6 million visitors each year. 

Good for: hiking, running, biking, cycling, golfing, fishing, and picnics.

Discovery Green
It’s hard to believe this almost 12-acre downtown park is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. It seems like just yesterday plans for this downtown development were underway; it has since hosted several events like Super Bowl LIVE (Super LI), Final Four festivities, movies on the green, and other free programming year-round. ​This space redefined the landscape of a once dwindling downtown environment and adds to the beauty and vibrancy of the city of Houston. Folks head here in need of some fresh air, or when looking for a new spot to take the kids or enjoy upbeat, urban vibes. Discovery Green features tree-shaded walks, a new jogging trail, one-acre lake, open lawns (perfect for picnicking or a friendly football game), a children’s playground, and more. 

Good for: picnics, canoeing, playground, running (new), flea markets, nearby dining, free weekend programming (such as yoga or movies on the lawn).

Buffalo Bayou Park
Still not fully operational since Hurricane Harvey (Harvey update here), it would be remiss not to include Buffalo Bayou on the list of Houston’s best parks, mostly because of its central locale to the city and the unobstructed, beautiful views of the city’s skyline. Houstonians enjoy this popular park anytime of day, thanks to its recently completed transformation in 2015 turning this 160-acre, 2.3-mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou from Shepherd to Sabine Street — making it one of the most fit-friendly parks in the entire city. Don't miss the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, new art installations at The Cistern (105 Sabine Street, tickets required), and the newly opened visitors center Sunset Coffee Building to rent kayaks, canoes and bikes and enjoy the beautiful fresh air and skyline views. Click here for a detailed guide of this sprawling park.

Good for: picnics, running, walking, hiking, skateboarding, kayaking,canoeing, biking, city skyline views.

Menil Collection Campus
Occupying an entire city block, this 30-acre campus located in the hip Montrose neighborhood provides a serene setting not only for visiting the Menil Collection, but simply embracing the outdoor and thought-provoking spaces that fill the campus in this oft-overlooked green space. Located between the gallery and the chapel sits an open park covered by beautiful canopy trees making it the perfect spot to bring a favorite book. Pack a lunch or stop by Bistro Menil to grab a picnic to-go while taking in the gorgeous campus. The University of St. Thomas adds to the serenity of the area. The Rothko Chapel, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places back in 2001, is arguably one of the most . 

Good for: picnics, inspiration, outdoor reading, walks.

Emancipation Park
Located in the third ward of Houston on the outskirts of downtown, this 10-acre park boasts revitalized and refurbished landscapes, playgrounds and even a beautiful new Community Center. Having been around for more than 140 years, this landmark park’s recent transformation was completed in 2017, adding a whole new level of excitement and heritage to its previous claim to fame. And this isn’t just one of the best parks in Houston (not to mention oldest in all of Texas), but perhaps the entire nation. NBC News calls it “one of the nation’s most spectacular cultural and recreational facilities.”

Good for: picnics, walking, baseball, softball, tennis, basketball, swimming, cultural events. 

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