Escape the hustle & bustle of the city with these awesome outdoor spaces right in central Houston
I moved to Houston from Colorado in 2017 somewhat begrudgingly. I was excited about the lower cost of living (and admittedly a bit excited about not having to scrape snow off my car to get to work), but Houston always seemed like a boring concrete jungle without much to do.
I quickly learned that Houston is a thriving, diverse city that offers so much to do. Houston’s food scene is awesome, the beach is only an hour away, the museums here are world-class, and there’s a professional sports team for everyone. On top of that, Houston has some super awesome parks and outdoor spaces that are great for walking, running, biking, relaxing, picnicking, and everything in-between.
In fact (and this may sound controversial!) – I think Houston has more and better parks than Colorado has.
There. I said it.
If you’re visiting Houston and are looking to get outside and appreciate the under-appreciated beauty of this city, these are the 6 best parks and outdoor spaces you need to check out in Houston!
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Buffalo Bayou Park & Eleanor Tinsley Park
Taking up a massive space of 160 acres in the heart of inner Houston, Buffalo Bayou Park stretches from Shephard Street to Sabine Street between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive. Filled to the brim with green space, memorials, art installations, and even a dog park, there is so much to do and see at Buffalo Bayou.
Buffalo Bayou Park is my favorite park in all of Houston. It’s my Saturday tradition to take my little dog, Dixie, on a 2-ish mile walk along the bayou. We get sweeping views of the downtown Houston skyline, a cool breeze coming off the bayou, and some wonderful people watching – everything from runners, walkers, bikers, skateboarders, rollerbladers, picnickers, and everything in-between.
Buffalo Bayou has dedicated walking & running paths to keep you separated from bicyclists which is awesome for safety. There is also tons of open green space which is used for fitness classes, volleyball, soccer, picnics, baby showers – really, if you can dream it, you can do it.
Buffalo Bayou is where Houston feels alive. I love this park and it is absolutely one of the best parks in Houston. If you zoom in on the map below, most of this activity happens at the green space labeled “Eleanor Tinsley Park.”
But there’s so much more to explore at Buffalo Bayou Park. There are so many art installations (which you’ll have to find on your own!), Johnny Steele Dog Park, the famous Waugh bat colony, and the Buffalo Bayou Cistern – which offers frequent (and free!) tours.
My favorite route is to park off Sawyer Street and Lubbock Street and walk towards Memorial Way. Meander towards the bridge and follow the trail. Once you’re on the trail, it’s easy – take a right when the path splits, cross the bridge (and check out the a-maz-ing Houston skyline!), turn left at the Houston Police Officers Memorial, and follow the paths – any paths – until you get to Eleanor Tinsley Park. Eventually, you’ll have to go up the stairs towards Sabine Street. Once you get to Buffalo Bayou Cistern, head back down to where you entered the park. Voila, a 2 mile walk, in the heart of Houston, complete with beautiful views!
Memorial Park & Clay Family Eastern Glades
Memorial Park is probably the most famous park in the Houston “Inner Loop area” and for good reason. It’s super easily accessible and a huge complex. Memorial Park is arguably the “sportiest” major park in Houston and offers a ton of great activities, including cycling, tennis, golf, volleyball, hiking, and even croquet! For families, Memorial Park even has playgrounds, so it can be a great one-stop-shop for any outdoor needs you may have.
There are multiple main walking trails that you can check out if you’re looking to walk or run. I find these trails to be less scenic than Buffalo Bayou, so if you’re looking for a beautiful spot, you definitely need to check out the branch of Memorial Park called the Clay Family Eastern Glades.
The Clay Family Eastern Glades is a gorgeous 100-acre subset of Memorial Park where you can really escape Houston and feel like you’re out somewhere in the forest. Featuring some pretty legit hiking trails (and this is coming from a Coloradan!) and a beautiful lake, it’s easy to spend a couple of hours in this area and enjoy the scenery. There are frequently food trucks at the Eastern Glades so you can spend even snag some food and enjoy a little picnic!
Memorial Park is pretty large so check out the map below and zoom in to figure out what you’re interested in. You’ll be able to find parking from the satellite view.
Heights Hike & Bike Trail
If you’re looking for a good, long trail for walking, biking, or running on, then the Heights Hike & Bike trail is a great Houston park for you. This trail doesn’t offer up space to play, lounge, or picnic, but it has miles and miles of expansive, paved trails that cut all throughout the Houston Heights.
If you look at the map below, there is a pin dropped at one starting point for the trail, but the trail continues on all the dark green lines below. You can see that it follows the White Oak Bayou south, trends east towards some popular Heights restaurants, and follows Nicholson street to the north. This means, if you’re staying anywhere in the Heights, this trail is going to be pretty convenient for you!
Each branch of the trail offers different perks. The bayou path is beautiful and offers gorgeous views of the Houston skyline. The east/west running path heads straight towards Heights Blvd and gives you plenty of options for great food – like Coltivare! (Houston is a foodie’s dream city and has so many fantastic restaurants). The Nicholson branch is a tree-lined boulevard with so many cute houses and is a great place to walk if you want to dream about new places to live.
The Heights Hike & Bike Trail may not be a “park” in the traditional, grassy sense but it is one of the best outdoor spaces in Houston.
Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
Located just around the corner from Memorial Park, the Houston Arboretum is another awesome Houston park. Although it is so close to Memorial Park, it is an entirely separate facility which is why I’m mentioning it separately.
The Arboretum is a nature conservancy and education center so there are a ton of different events, like learning to draw birds or yoga on the lawn. If you’re looking for more of a guided outdoor experience, the Arboretum is definitely the best park in Houston for you.
On top of that, there are a bunch of beautiful hiking trails that you can check out. Look at the picture below – this is literally just a few miles from downtown Houston! Isn’t that amazing?
Because this is a conservancy and not really a park in the true sense of the word, it isn’t free to visit, but costs are low and all go to preserving this beautiful landscape. And if you’re lucky, you might even get a chance to see the hard-working goats who help maintain the landscape!
Hermann Park is probably the furthest on this list from downtown Houston but it is still within the Inner Loop and is super close to the Texas Medical Center, the Museum District, and the Zoo. If you’re visiting Houston, you’re likely going to end up near Hermann Park!
Hermann Park is probably the most family-friendly of all the Houston area parks on this list. Offering up plenty of play areas, pedal boats, and more casual walking paths – not to mention the close proximity to the zoo – make it an awesome place to spend the day with family.
In addition to all these family-friendly activities, there’s also a golf course, a beautiful Japanese Garden, and some spectacular water features. Spend a laid-back day exploring Hermann Park and picnicking or golf a quick round – really, Hermann Park offers something for everyone!
When you’re done with Hermann Park, I recommend you check out Tiny’s Milk and Cookies, just a few miles to the west. They have legitimately the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had. Tiny’s is just one of many amazing restaurants in Houston that I recommend visitors check out!
Discovery Green is the smallest park on this list but the closest to downtown Houston. If you’re visiting Houston and staying downtown, you may not want to venture to one of the further out parks but may still be looking for some green space. If that’s the case, Discovery Green is an awesome park option in Houston for you.
Located right next to the Convention Center, Discovery Green has a lake and a large lawn area where you can hang out or check out one of the many events planned here. Everything from yoga to Cinco de Mayo celebrations are hosted at Discovery Green which makes this park an awesome place to see the energy and pulse of Houston.
No visit to Houston is complete without checking out these awesome parks – all close to downtown!
Have you visited Houston? Which park do you think is the best?