In a city known for its aggressive driving culture and sprawling buildings, Houston has a remarkable amount of green space to explore. When the heat breaks and the weather is nice, get outside with one of these fun outdoor activities.
Go Kayaking Down Buffalo Bayou
You don't have to go far to embark on a little adventure. Buffalo Bayou — located mostly inside the 610 Loop just next to Downtown — is a great place to do a little kayaking or canoeing. Paddle through the trees of Memorial Park, follow the twist and turns of the bayou and emerge with Houston's iconic skyline on the horizon. Kayak and canoe rentals are available at Buffalo Bayou Park or bring your own.
Never paddled before? Take introductory courses or book a guided tour. The Buffalo Bayou Skyline tour takes you down seven and a half miles of the bayou over the course of about 3.5 hours, and it costs just $50 per person. It's a great way to get outside and enjoy some of Houston's greenery — without having to venture outside the Loop.
Catch a Show at Discovery Green
Downtown Houston's Discovery Green Park always has something fun and interesting going on. The events calendar is full of festivals, exercise classes, and concerts year-round. The park will also often host outdoor moving showings, where families can bring blankets and a picnic and settle in for the show. The activities are almost always free, making it a great low-cost way to get out and about this weekend.
You can even enjoy the park during Houston's brief winter season by checking out Discovery Green's outdoor ice rink. From the end of November to the beginning of February, the park creates the largest outdoor skating rink in the SouthWest United States by freezing recycled water from Kinder Lake over a total of 7,716 square feet. Come to skate or to enjoy one of the many winter and holiday-themed events hosted at the rink.
Take a Hike in Sam Houston National Forest
Walking through Sam Houston National Forest, it's hard to believe it's only an hour drive outside the city. The forest covers more than 163,000 acres and offers a number of camping grounds and hiking trails. With so much to do and see, you can spend a few hours or several days exploring the park. Come alone for some quiet tranquility, or bring along friends and family.
For a quick, yet relaxing, trip, try visiting the Big Creek Scenic Area — a gorgeous 1,420-acre spot punctuated by breathtaking views and diverse plant life. The Lone Star Hiking Trail goes through the area, with three different hiking loops ranging from 0.1 miles to 0.6 miles. Parking is nearby, and it's easy to get to, making it a convenient place for a weekend outing.
Take Your Pup to a Bark Park
Houstonians love their pups, and it shows in the quality of the dog parks. The city offers several high-quality, off-leash dog parks that go beyond just a sturdy gate and some benches. Several parks boast fun dog-friendly features like splash ponds, obstacle courses, and wash stations, as well as separate areas for large dogs and small dogs. They also provide plenty of shade and seating for pet owners, as well as walking trails around the parks, so the humans can get in their exercise, too.
Many of these parks also have water fountains for both the dogs and their owners, but even so, standard warnings to protect against overheating apply in the dead heat of Houston summers.
Head Out on a Houston Bike Trail
Sure, driving in Houston has traditionally been, for the most part, somewhat of a necessity. But that's slowly changing. Over the past several years, the city has invested in its hike and bike trail systems and expanded its bike lanes. It also installed a bike share system, making it easier than ever to get around Houston without a car.
Some of the best bike trails go through the city itself. The Houston Heights Hike and Bike Trail connects multiple parks and zips past plenty of restaurants. The Buffalo Bayou Bike Trail often veers away from the bustling streets and becomes surrounded by lush greenery and sparkling bayou, making you almost forget you're inside the fourth largest city in the country.
Meander Through the Houston Zoo
No matter how many times you've been to the Houston Zoo, there's always something interesting to see or do. The park is laid out in a way that encourages meandering and allows for a leisurely day-long venture or a brief excursion. If it gets too hot, there are air-conditioned spaces you can step into for a cool-down break, as well as a splash pad for the kids to run through. If it rains, large overhangs are spread throughout the park to hide under until it passes.
For a fun diversion, try finding the hidden koolookambas. If you look closely enough at the rocks habitats, you'll notice the face and outline of the koolookamba, a mythical creature believed to be half-chimpanzee, half-gorilla. There are more than 30 such hidden images throughout the 6.5-acre African Forest exhibit. Try to see if you can find them all.
Catch a Concert at Miller Outdoor Theatre
Miller Outdoor Theatre sits in the heart of Hermann Park at the base of a large, grassy hill. All year round, visitors can catch concerts and plays at the theater. Ticketed seats are available for free for a seat under the overhang, but many families often opt for a spot on the hill just beyond the seating area. With a large blanket and some light snacks, you can sprawl out and enjoy symphonies, ballets or Shakespearean plays.
During the weekdays, Miller Outdoor Theatre will sometimes also offer children's shows, featuring kid-friendly musical acts or plays specifically designed for young audiences. Afterward, families can ride the Hermann Park Train, walk to the Houston Zoo or saunter over to the Children's Museum to continue the fun.
Go to the Beach
Thanks to Houston's mild winters, sizzling summers, and gorgeous springs and autumns, Houston-area beaches are a great bet nearly year-round. Several area beaches are great for splashing in the water, spreading out in the sand, or going fishing along the piers. And as a bonus: delicious Gulf Coast seafood is never too far away.
Galveston Beach is a popular destination, but don't underestimate the Houston Bay area. Sylvan Beach Park in La Porte, Texas, for example, has a clean, sandy beach, paved boardwalk, calm swimming waters and plenty of grassy areas to set up a picnic. Parking and changing areas are also available, making it one of the best beach spots near the city.
Have Some Fun at Kemah Boardwalk
For a little fun and excitement, check out Kemah Boardwalk. The amusement park overlooks Galveston Bay and houses dozens of attractions, rides, and restaurants. Younger kids can go with their parents on the boardwalk's child-sized Ferris wheel, pet stingrays or take a train ride on the 1863 CP Huntington Train, while older kids and adults can take a spin on looping roller coasters or daring freefall rides.
When it gets hot outside, you can splash around in the dancing water fountains or step into one of the air-conditioned restaurants. Rides are pay-as-you-go for a short trip, or you can purchase an all-day pass to keep the fun going all day long. Be sure to check out Kemah's calendar for fun festivals and special events, like BOO on the Boardwalk or their October Wine Festival.