Buffalo Bayou Park

  • Where It Is: 1800 Allen Pkwy. and Memorial Dr., River Oaks
  • Why We Love It: This park is the beating heart of the city’s main artery, Buffalo Bayou, a 160-acre greenspace built along 10 miles of waterway in a $58 million undertaking.
  • What to Do: Explore the water in a kayak or on a pontoon boat, walk the Kinder Footpaths, take kids to the Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area, and ride bikes on the Sandy Reed Memorial Trail.
  • Who You'll Find There: Every stripe of Houstonian, but particularly young Inner Loop denizens thrilled by great recreational opportunities so close to town.
  • When to Go: It depends on what you’re looking for. Weekends and weeknights, the park is a scene, with lots of foot, bike, and dog traffic, but weekdays, it’s quieter, perfect for quiet contemplation.

Bellare residents love the new Evelyn's Park.

Evelyn’s Park

  • Where It Is: 4400 Bellaire Blvd., Bellaire
  • Why We Love It: This park, which opened last year, pays homage to the Teas Nursery, which occupied the acreage for over 100 years by filling its pathway-lined landscape with a vast variety of flowers and other flora.
  • What to Do: The 5-acre park hosts food trucks, farmers markets, free fitness classes, and other fun, family-oriented events on its grassy central lawn.
  • Who You'll Find There: Ladies-who-lunch and grannies-who-garden (the park is perfect for low-key strolls).
  • When to Go: Sunday mornings for breakfast at one of the pop-up café concepts at the park's Yellow House, whose oak-shaded patio affords a picturesque view of the park.

Levy Park doubles as a cultural destination.

Levy Park

  • Where It Is: 3801 Eastside St., Upper Kirby
  • Why We Love It: In the early 2000s, the Upper Kirby Management District took over maintenance of the previously neglected park, built in 1941, and recently debuted years’ worth of renovations.
  • What to Do: An outdoor reading room plus weekly public piano concerts, Houston Public Library story times and teen-poetry slams make this 5.2-acre park a green space that doubles as a cultural destination.
  • Who You'll Find There: Proud parents of human and fur babies alike (the massive playground and dual dog parks are big draws); community gardeners and composters.
  • When to Go: Saturday mornings; work up an appetite at the 8:30 a.m. boot camp or 10 a.m. yoga class (both free!), then head across the street to the massive Eastside Farmers Market and bring your haul back for a picnic breakfast. (Yes, we’re making that a thing.)

The newly renovation Emancipation Park will look like this.

Emancipation Park

  • Where It Is: 3018 Emancipation Ave., Third Ward
  • Why We Love It: A $33 million overhaul of Houston’s first public park, established in 1872, has brought all-new facilities, including a sparkling new swimming pool with dual twisty slides.
  • What to Do: The park’s glassy fitness center offers everything from a weight room and indoor gym to weekly Zumba and line-dancing classes.
  • Who You'll Find There: Athletes and adolescents, all taking advantage of the lighted basketball and tennis courts and softball fields.
  • When to Go: Any day you can catch RO Seafood Boiler Shack (2901 Emancipation Ave.) and the Crumbville, TX Bakery (2316 Elgin St.) open on the same day. Grab a to-go meal of fried shrimp po-boys from chef Wendell Price’s restaurant to enjoy in the park, then entice the kids to finally exit the playground with the promise of Ella Russell’s famous “stuffed cups,” cupcakes with a cookie baked inside.

Buffalo Bend Nature Park

  • Why We Love It: Recently rechristened the Yolanda Black Navarro Buffalo Bend Nature Park (a mouthful!) after the committed East End civic leader, this 10-acre park was built in 2016 from the remains of a construction fill site near the Port of Houston’s Turning Basin.
  • What to Do: Wander through the reconstructed wetlands meant to mimic the original landscape of the area, pre-industry, and take in a totally different view of Buffalo Bayou.
  • Who You'll Find There: Solitude-seekers and bird-watchers, the latter of whom are treated to regular sightings of black-bellied whistling ducks, blue herons, white ibis, and other migratory species.
  • When to Go: Weekday evenings when bustling Buffalo Bayou Park is packed, and you’re in search of an evening jog featuring more wildlife-spotting than people-watching.

Houston’s Shadiest Spots for a Stroll

Summertime in the Bayou City: Unless you go walking at night or in the wee hours of the morning, you’re going to need the protection of a thick canopy of trees. Under the leafy oaks and tall pines of our three favorite walking paths, you’ll be hard-pressed to tell you’re in the city at all.

Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary | 440 Wilchester Blvd.

A little over 17 acres along Rummel Creek is what remains of Edith Moore’s original 180-acre homestead in west Houston, along with a restored log cabin built in 1932 from the native loblolly pines that still shade its meandering paths. Quaint wooden bridges over vine-shrouded bayous lend a fairy-tale feel to the landscape.

  • Look For: Carolina chickadees, downy woodpeckers, green herons, and more; this is prime bird-watching territory.
  • Look Out For: Truncated hours; the sanctuary gates are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (9 p.m. during the summer).

Terry Hershey Park is massive and has plenty of shaded paths.

Terry Hershey Park | 15200 Memorial Drive

Bordering both sides of Buffalo Bayou from Beltway 8 all the way to Highway 6, this massive park sprawls across 500 verdant acres. Paved asphalt paths that follow the tree lines are popular with both joggers and bikers, while walkers and hikers favor the dirt paths tucked along the bayou’s scenic, shady banks.

  • Look For: Rabbits, armadillos, turtles, owls, raccoons, and other wildlife that still occupy the park’s pristine, six-mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou, which has remained largely unchanged for decades.
  • Look Out For: Muddy, washed-out hiking paths and bike trails after rains

Houston Arboretum & Nature Center | 4501 Woodway Drive

While solitary strolls are encouraged in this Memorial Park preserve, guided tours and other learning experiences are what sets this Houston treasure apart. Summer programs keep the kids busy by day, while the popular Arboretum by Night walks offer ice cream and Saint Arnold beer for the adults—along with the occasional firefly.

  • Look For: The R.A. Vines trail, which mimics East Texas wetlands and traverses some terrain with actual elevation—hills, here, in Houston!
  • Look Out For: Crowded trails close to the entrance; those in search of a quieter walk should head for the Outer Loop trail, where jogging is prohibited.