Local, Free, and Fun: Summer destinations to get the family off the couch

By Barrett White

Over the summer months when the kids are out of school and the stress of homework, exams, and class projects fades into memory, it’s easy to let the body relax with the mind. It’s often joked that Houston is “the most air conditioned city in the world”, and with good reason—the average high over the summer months regularly hits the upper 90s with humidity to boot.

Of course it’s easy to stay indoors in our air conditioning if we’re unaware that there’s anything outside other than heat. But keeping active over the summer is important for not only your physical health, but your mental health, too. Vitamin D from the sun and proper cardiovascular health are just two benefits of getting off the couch this summer. Fortunately for Houstonians, there are plenty of parks, trails, and events at our disposal, and many of them are free for the community to use. Here are just a few of our favorites.

  • Fifth Ward
    • Boyce-Dorian Park is a sleek family park near Lockwood Drive and Lyons Avenue, often used over the summer for family cookouts and afternoons on the jungle gym. Pack plenty of water and bring a football, a Frisbee, and your favorite cousins!
  • East End
    • Marron Park, located on the bayou on North York, offers scenic nature views and family-friendly jungle gym equipment.
    • Buffalo Bend Nature Park is perfect for taking your four-legged friends out for a walk near the water. With winding trails, gazebos for resting in the shade, and plenty of wetland wildlife to look for, it makes for a great summer spot.
  • Third Ward
    • The trails at MacGregor Park take you right through Third Ward all the way to the Museum District. Largely walking trails, it takes you along Brays Bayou with scenic views of the historic MacGregor Way homes, the bayou, and Hermann Park.
    • Emancipation Park is a free urban recreation park with a weightlifting gym, swimming pool, and community-engaged summer courses. Stop by for a calendar of events like live music and crawfish festivals!
  • Downtown
    • Discovery Green is Downtown’s premier park. Located across from the George R. Brown, Discovery Green packs a lot of outdoor summer fun into its small footprint. Kayaking on the pond, concerts on the lawn, a splash park for the kids, and festivals almost weekly keep this park alive all summer with engaging events to keep you off the sofa. An added bonus is its location: Being downtown means it is easily accessible from almost any bus or train line.
  • Southwest Houston
    • Bayland Park is a large, open park off of Hillcroft, perfect for games of catch, Frisbee, football, and soccer. For kids who like to climb, there is a jungle gym on site, too.
  • Montrose & Museum District
    • Hermann Park is always bustling with kite flyers, joggers, picnickers, and bookworms. With ample parking around the premises, Hermann Park is perfect for a walk along the reflection pond, a stroll through the Japanese Gardens, or a free performance at the Miller Outdoor Theatre.
    • Memorial Park, located just northwest of Montrose near the I-10 and 610 interchange. There, one can take advantage of the free three-mile jogging trail surrounded by nature in the shadow of the city. The park’s playground offers some shade and picnic areas.
    • The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is located across Memorial Drive from Memorial Park (the entrance is on the 610 feeder road, though). The park offers plenty of shade and an air conditioned Discovery Room where you can learn more about urban wildlife and natural habitats.
  • Sixth Ward
    • Allen Parkway: The congregation of parks along Allen Parkway is the city’s most expansive greenspace, and arguably its most popular. Trails wind along the bayou from Shepherd Drive to Downtown. Buffalo Bayou Park, Eleanor Tinsley Park, Spotts Park, and the Houston Police Memorial all fall along the Parkway with gorgeous downtown views. Take your date for summertime stroll: Houston’s famous Love Lock Bridges are also located in this area—the pedestrian bridge over Allen Parkway between Crosby Street and Park Vista Drive, and the Rosemont Pedestrian Bridge over Buffalo Bayou near Studemont Street.
  • The Greater Houston Area
    • For a picturesque nature hike without going too far outside the city, consider Sam Houston National Forest, within a short driving distance from the city just north of Conroe.
    • Additionally, VisitHouston has a page dedicated to outdoor activities, which can be sorted by location so that you can easily find an event coming up near you.