Go Outside

Get to Know Houston’s Top Parks

With dozens to choose from, here’s a look at the best places to play, walk your dog or just have fun in Bayou City.

By Gladys Fuentes Published in the Spring 2022 issue of Houstonia Magazine

It’s not hard to fin
a great park in Houston. There are a few hundred to choose from, which makes it tough to go wrong, whether it’s the waterfront vibe of the Buffalo Bayou Park trails or the serene mood of the Japanese garden at Hermann ParkThe variety of Houston parks reflects the diversity of the city’s people. You can find small, intimate urban parks just the right size for dog walking or spending a Sunday out on the grass with a blanket. Meet-ups to play beach volleyball are possible in some parks, or walking through wetlands with exotic animals at your feet is likely in others. Houston’s got the best of the best when it comes to parks. Take a look at some of the best the city has to offer and the things you’re guaranteed to love about them.

Elizabeth Baldwin Park in Midtown is currently under renovation until the fall of this year including playground upgrades and new perimeter lighting to improve visibility around the park.

Elizabeth Baldwin Park

What this park lacks in size, it greatly makes up for in beauty. The 4.88-acre park is home to enormously twisted, century-old large oak trees that have provided generations of Houstonians with a place to master their tree-climbing skills. It is named after the second wife of William Marsh Rice, founder of Rice University, who reserved a portion of her estate to purchase and preserve parkland in the Houston area. The historic Midtown plot provides a peaceful relief from the sun and surrounding busyness of the city. The park houses the remnants of one of Houston’s oldest water fountains, a playground, exercise equipment, a jogging trail, chess tables and the Vietnamese Heritage Plaza. 3200 Crawford St.

Cherryhurst Park

Nestled in the picturesque Cherryhurst neighborhood in Montrose, this park offers a cozy spot in which to relax and play. Surrounded by a blend of beautiful, historic homes and newer townhomes, Cherryhurst Park is the ideal place to relax despite being within walking distance of many busy bars and restaurants. The park offers tennis courts and a playground, as well as a community center, which offers free after-school programs housed inside a historic, 1939 Public Works Administration Building. Children who spend time there can learn about the importance of gardening through the park’s “Living Wall” that offers them a chance to grow their own vegetables. 1700 Missouri St.

Levy Park occupies 6 acres in Houston’s Upper Kirby District and includes a dog park.

Image: Visit Houston

Levy Park

It’s amazing how the city managed to squeeze in so many great things into such a small space. Visitors to Levy Park, occupying 6 busy acres in Houston’s Upper Kirby District, can enjoy the community gardens and planned programming throughout the year. It has a Dr. Seuss-like playground with water geysers for hot summer days. It has a dog park and winding walking path built around a large tree. Visitors can pack a lunch, enjoy the available games and activities for all ages, or eat at any of the four restaurants that are in and around the park, including Love Shack, the popular Fort Worth burger restaurant. 3801 Eastside St.

River Oaks Park

Located inside one of Houston’s most prestigious neighborhoods, this park would appear to be off-limits to those who do not reside in the massive homes nearby, but that’s not the case. The small park, lovingly referred to as “Pumpkin Park,” is open to everyone. Kids can enjoy one of Houston’s best playgrounds, including the pumpkin shaped carriage play structure that inspires the park’s nickname. Visitors are greeted by brightly colored papers hanging from the small “Wishing Trees” outside the community center, where hopeful Houstonians share their inner thoughts with each other, which anonymously serves as a beautiful reminder that everyone shares a desire for a better future. 3600 Locke Lane.

Walkers on Eastern Glades Wetlands Boardwalk at Memorial Park.

Memorial Park

Houstonians can thank the famous Ima Hogg for the ability to enjoy this priceless land. Measuring twice the size of Central Park, this landmark is still growing as it provides Houstonians with a safe and beautiful place to take a leisurely stroll or go for a run around the Seymour Lieberman loop named after the “Father of Jogging.” The park has many areas to play sports and bike trails, along with two Houston BCycle locations to rent bikes. The newer Eastern Glades section provides an ideal spot for a picnic or family outing. Currently, the massive land bridge under construction over Memorial Drive will connect the north and south ends of the park. 6501 Memorial Dr.

Bell Park

This plot of green space is just a stone’s throw from Houston’s world-class fine arts museum complex, and surrounded by beautiful homes and the Italian Cultural and Community Center, donors of a Christopher Columbus statue that once stood in the area. This 1.15-acre park is the perfect place to relax and read a book. Opened in 1970, the park is cute, with shade-covered spots, such as the unique rounded benches you can sit on while watching the water flow under the park’s tiny bridges. The spot offers a romantic and intimate place to spend time in the general hustle and bustle of city life that surrounds this little oasis. 4800 Montrose Blvd.

Visitors of Hermann Park can treat themselves to a paddleboat ride.

Image: Nash Baker

Hermann Park

Visiting this Houston treasure is a true rite  of passage for anyone who has lived in the city. You’d be hard-pressed to find a child who at some point hasn’t experienced the thrill of rolling down the large hill of the Miller Outdoor Theatre. A statue of Sam Houston overlooks one of the few roundabouts in Houston and leads visitors into the park, which is adjacent to the Houston Zoo and Museum of Natural Science. Parkgoers can treat themselves to a paddleboat ride, fun train ride or relaxing walk around the Japanese Gardens while also checking out the many friendly ducks and squirrels that call the park home. 6001 Fannin St.

Spotts Park

Located underneath the busy loops off Allen Parkway, this park appears petite at first because of its surprisingly hilly landscape, but it’s actually quite spacious. It provides a unique spot in which to exercise, or just keep trucking along the trail that connects from Buffalo Bayou to Eleanor Tinsley Park. It’s a convenient location that also allows access to watch the Waugh bat colony night flights from underneath the Waugh Bridge. Spotts includes two children’s playgrounds, exercise equipment, volleyball court and a covered basketball court, which all create the soundtrack to outdoor joy, while melding with the sounds of passing traffic and nearby construction to create an unassuming, yet beautiful and functional park experience. 401 S. Heights Blvd.

Mediterranean Garden looking toward The Alcoves at Houston Botanic Garden.

Houston Botanic Garden

This 132-acre living museum is the only one of its kind. Inaugurated in September 2020, the garden houses an impressive landscape of plants, vegetation, wildlife and the happiest butterflies in Houston. The grounds, formerly the Glenbrook Golf Course, manage to transport visitors to an exotic place with varying terrain. The nearby busy roads and freeways are drowned out by the sounds of birds, crickets and flowing water. The garden hosts live music, family events and tours year-round, making memberships well worth it to observe first-hand how nature holds up around Houston’s unique seasons. One Botanic Ln.

Just outside the doors of the impressive Menil Collection and Rothko Chapel, parkgoers of Menil Park can enjoy picnics under the shade of the oak trees. 

Menil Park

Montrose may be rapidly changing and morphing away from the quaint neighborhood it used to be, but Menil Park has somehow remained unfazed  in its appearance and continues to hold its place as a staple for the community. Just outside the doors of the impressive Menil Collection and Rothko Chapel, Menil Park houses sculptures sprinkled throughout the property, including a single hanging swing that invites visitors to tap into their inner child, and large trees as magnificent as the nearby art. On any given day, parkgoers can enjoy picnics, practice AcroYoga or even listen to band rehearsals under the shade of the oak trees. 1423 Branard St.

Emancipation Park is located in the historic Third Ward neighborhood.

Emancipation Park

Located in the historic Third Ward neighborhood across from the legendary and musically important El Dorado Ballroom, Emancipation Park is a spacious, modern and inspiring use of land. The park features basketball courts, a baseball field, tennis courts, an aquatic center and gym, along with its own cultural center and the Blessings Theater. The 10 acres of land was purchased in 1872 for $1,000 by former slaves who were members of the community. They had a desire for a place to celebrate Juneteenth and got help from the Rev. Jack Yates to make it happen. The park is now maintained by the Emancipation Park Conservancy. Its indoor and outdoor spaces are available to rent and host special events throughout the year. 3018 Emancipation Ave.

Part of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Arts, Smither Park packs an imaginative punch and fits right in with its equally strange sibling, the Orange Show, next door. 

Smither Park

Part of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Arts, this small park packs an imaginative punch and fits right in with its equally strange sibling, the Orange Show, next door.  Created to honor the memory of John Smither, a supporter of folk art and the Orange Show, the park began its metamorphosis in 2011, and is now a colorful tribute to creativity and resourcefulness that should be required visiting for all Houstonians. The mosaic work that blankets the benches, walls and amphitheater are reminiscent of Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, but with a psychedelic and rougher twist with hidden details in every inch. 2441 Munger St.

There’s lots to do at Discovery Green while enjoying the fresh air and Downtown scenery.

Discovery Green

It’s hard to believe that what was once two large parking lots of the adjacent George R. Brown Convention Center is now a 12-acre playground filled with year-round activities for everyone. With its recently renovated playground, complete with small hills for kids and parents to slide down, the park is the perfect place to spend an afternoon and witness Houston’s diversity. Visitors can take in the rotating art installations, or enjoy the seasonal ice skating and roller rinks throughout the year, along with free concerts and movies. It offers so much, all while parkgoers enjoy the fresh air and Downtown scenery. 1500 McKinney St.

Buffalo Bayou Park runs for 160 acres along the Buffalo Bayou and is a popular spot for inner-loop Houstonians with its winding trails used for hiking and biking.

Buffalo Bayou Park

This hidden urban gem runs for 160 acres along the Buffalo Bayou and is a popular spot for inner-loop Houstonians with its winding trails used for hiking and biking, large dog park, art installations and access to the bayou for canoe rides. Connecting to Eleanor Tinsley and Spotts parks, this area is ripe with activities for busy locals who want to take advantage of the nature that Houston offers without going too far out of their way. Housing the amazingly unique Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, originally an underground water reservoir built in 1927, the park now serves as a space for visual art installations. 1800 Allen Pkwy.

Eleanor Tinsley Park is home to the Fourth of July Freedom Over Texas celebration and the Art Car Parade.

Eleanor Tinsley Park

Located immediately after the exit for Allen Parkway when leaving Downtown, this “park-within-a-park” is as magnificent as its namesake, a former City Council member who fought for Houston quality-of-life issues. Home to the Fourth of July Freedom Over Texas celebration and the Art Car Parade, this park definitely gets its fill of happy Houstonians.  Within the park is a place often ranked as one of the best skate parks in Houston, the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, which makes for a great spot to be adventurous or just people watch. Filled with large sculptures and many benches that make great reading nooks, this park is busy, yet peaceful, as it lends itself to finding a way to push out the sound of cars passing nearby. 500 Allen Pkwy.

Midtown Park is one of Houston’s newest parks and includes an open-air pavilion and stage area for hosting events and has a dog park among its many amenities.

Image: Midtown Park

Midtown Park

It’s one of Houston’s newest parks and a regular haunt for the Midtown high-rises in the area. A hybrid green space, it offers an underground garage, a performance stage, a giant chalkboard; you get it. There’s even a small hill reminiscent of the tall mound of grass atop Miller Theater in Hermann Park. The quiet gem of this park, though, is the woodsy mini-trail you can walk along while you listen to the soothing rush of the little stream that rolls through a patch of this 6-acre urban oasis. The flowing waters cascade into a pool of I-never-really-want-to-know-what, and lily pads, on the side of the park near Anita and Travis streets. The dog park (also with its own hill!) is a great place to socialize for humans and pets. 2811 Travis St.

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