Of all the things that make living in Houston so enjoyable, high on the list are the city and county parks. Whether you’d like to relax beside a tranquil lake, jog amid an urban forest of tall pines, kayak down a freshwater bayou with glistening skyscrapers as a backdrop, or take the family for a picnic and listen to live music, you can do it all in Houston—practically year-round.
The Houston Parks and Recreation Department oversees 366 parks and more than 200 green spaces, along more than 125 miles of hike-and-bike trails. The Harris County Park System website (hctx.net/parks) provides detailed information and maps of parks as varied as the Armand Bayou Nature Center, Bear Creek Pioneers Park, George Bush Park, and Terry Hershey Park.
According to the Trust for Public Land, Houston was ranked first in the nation for total green space among cities of comparable density and fourth in the nation for total land devoted to parks. The watersheds that drain Harris County contain more than 800 miles of natural streams and 3,000 miles of human-made waterways.
Major city parks include the 445-acre Hermann Park nestled between the Museum District, the Texas Medical Center, and Rice University. Hermann Park is the home of a Sam Houston statue, the Houston Zoo, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Lake McGovern, Miller Outdoor Theatre, a miniature train, the Houston Garden Center, an 18-hole golf course, and more.
Memorial Park, encompassing nearly 1,500 acres, is about four miles west of downtown. It features a three-mile tree-lined jogging trail, 18-hole golf course, driving range, an 18-court tennis center, fitness center, 33-meter swimming pool, playing fields, and picnic areas. The park area includes the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, a 155- acre preserve with more than five miles of quiet, self-guided trails.
A 12-acre park in downtown Houston, Discovery Green opened to the public in 2008. With its proximity to the George R. Brown Convention Center, Minute Maid Park, and Toyota Center, Discovery Green is in an ideal location.
From the earliest stages of planning, Discovery Green was designed to use the latest technology in “green” building methods, energy conservation, and sustainable park operations. Among the features that make it so “green” are solar panels that have generated energy for the park since their installation in late 2007, and a high-efficiency irrigation system. Discovery Green has earned a Gold rating from the LEED Green Building Rating System, which is the national benchmark for the design, construction, and operations of high-performance green buildings.
“Discovery Green stands as a beaming example of environmental best practices applied to a public project that has become the centerpiece of Houston’s downtown,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Prominent features include a children’s playground, interactive water features, an amphitheater stage and slope, dog runs for large and small breeds, artwork, the HPL Express (a multipurpose Houston Public Library facility), open lawns, and great restaurants—the Grove and the Lake House—operated by Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group. In addition to surface lot and park perimeter parking, the Convention District Garage, operated by the City of Houston, lies beneath the park.
The Andrea and Bill White Promenade forms the heart of the park and offers a 360-degree view of Houston’s skyline. Kinder Lake, encompassing more than an acre of the park, features water gardens and a model-boat area, a shallow pool specifically designed to accommodate remote-controlled watercraft operated by park-goers of all ages.
Overlooking the park’s live oaks, Schiller Del Grande’s restaurant, The Grove, and its rooftop bar, The Treehouse, offer patrons exceptional food, service, and views of the park. The Lake House offers fast, casual, family-friendly food, with views of Kinder Lake and the Jones Lawn.
The Anheuser-Busch stage hosts a variety of musical, theatrical, film, and dance performances, and is oriented toward a sloped lawn for audience seating. When the stage is not in use, it is open to all park-goers as space for working, lounging or dining near The Lake House.
The Jones Lawn is the park’s largest green space, providing ample area for major events or pickup sports. The Brown Foundation Promenade is shaded by hundred-year-old oak trees, the largest of which is the Nancy G. Kinder Oak near Avenida de las Americas, one of four large live oaks that were moved to the park.
The John P. McGovern Children’s Playground is carved into an existing, tree-shaded hill, which shields youngsters from the surrounding streets and integrates the theme of the major migratory bird flyway over Houston. Individual species are represented in the playscapes, and accompanying signs educate visitors. Overlooking the Gateway Fountain and the children’s playground, the Alkek Building houses the park’s staff offices, information center, and public restrooms. The fountain offers a visual entry to the park for visitors approaching from McKinney Street and is an extension of the playground area. Two systems of jets create a variety of water activity atop a gently sloping granite surface, with 14-foot-high arching jets serving as gateway landmarks and with smaller jets cycling on and off to invite visitors for a closer look or some fun in the spray.
Discovery Green features public art, too, such as works by artists Margo Sawyer and Doug Hollis. Great care was taken to ensure that the installations would be visually prominent, yet at home in the park’s environment. In addition, Jean Dubuffet’s Monument au Fantôme, an iconic sculpture by the world-renowned artist, has been relocated to the park.
But Discovery Green is more than a beautiful green space; it is an experience waiting to be enjoyed. The park comes to life with active programming during its spring/summer and fall/winter seasons. Regularly scheduled music, dance, and theater performances, as well as films, exercise classes, children’s events, and an urban market, constitute the backbone of park programming. Park spaces also may be reserved for private and public events.
Discovery Green is open daily from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m.