Downtown Parks Offer Green Gathering Spaces and Much, Much More
by Holly Beretto • August 1, 2016
The word park evokes a feeling of gathering and community, of waving at your neighbor or of making new friends among the grassy paths and canopies of trees. You’ll find those parks in downtown, but you’ll find other kinds of gathering places, too – where you can paddle a boat, run along the bayou, catch a movie at sunset or take a yoga class with the cityscape as your background.
This century-old, rolling green space features a picturesque gazebo, a lily pond with families of waddling ducks, eight frozen-in-time historic houses and one church. The Heritage Society, responsible for the preservation of the structures, offers tours of the historic collection Tuesday through Sunday for a low fee and admission to the Society’s museum gallery is always free. You can also relax on a blanket with your love, throw a Frisbee with your friend, or have a picnic with your family.
Active from dawn until dark, seven days a week, activities here include daily fitness classes, kids’ workshops, live music, recycling events, a nighttime flea market, dancing classes and more. The interactive Gateway Fountain and cooling Mist Tree help beat the Houston heat and the one-acre Kinder Lake serves as a signature feature of the park where kayak rides, as well as stand up paddle boarding are offered during the spring and fall. Enjoy a burger from waterfront restaurant, The Lakehouse, or fancier fare at The Grove.
Following the undulating curves of Buffalo Bayou, this park’s 160 acres of natural beauty hug the north end of downtown, stretching east and west into the surrounding neighborhoods. The multi-million dollar renovations and master plan for the park, with donations from the Kinder Foundation and oversight by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, have made this a city center showpiece. Joggers, bikers and their furry friends hit the pavement for exercise or leisure on the Sandy Reed Trail. The state-of-the-art, Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark offers free admission and classes for beginners and advanced skaters. Tolerance is a dazzling septuplet of kneeling metal figures. Created by Barcelona-based artist Jaume Plensa, the multilingual letters symbolize Houston’s diversity. Two dog runs are located at Waugh and Allen Parkway and the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony, home to 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats, is the place to watch the nightly show as they take flight for their evening hunt. Waterworks at Sabine Street is a great place to get more info about the park or if you are looking to explore on two-wheels, you can rent a bike from local vendor Bike Barn. Round out your visit by touring the Cistern, a former drinking water reservoir built in 1926 for the City of Houston. This is one of Houston’s newest and most popular attractions; you must buy tickets ahead and they sell out!
Developed along the banks of Buffalo Bayou next to Wortham Theater Center as a commemoration of Houston's 150th birthday and the founding of the Republic of Texas, this park features fountains, walkways, staircases, and sculptures. Mel Chin’s seven, 70-foot, stainless steel pillars, Seven Wonders, highlight Houston's history through the themes of agriculture, energy, manufacturing, medicine, philanthropy, technology and transportation. Each is constructed of 150 individual children's drawings, etched in stainless steel plate. The Common, a gently sloping, semi-circular lawn, serves as a staging area for outdoor events and activities and several sculptures such as The Big Bubble, Site Seeing and Sounds from the Past, by Houston-artist Dean Ruck. An eight-foot bronze sculpture of former President George H.W. Bush happens to be gazing across the bayou at his good friend, the newest art installation in the park, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
The space that’s home to this cozy park was originally home to Houston’s City Hall (multiple iterations) until 1939. Renovated and redesigned in 2010, in collaboration between the Downtown District, Downtown Redevelopment Authority and Houston Parks & Recreation Department, locals love the park for its dog runs, green space, live music, movie nights and authentic Greek and American café. Functional public art abounds in the form of benches, sculptures and a serene memorial garden and fountain to those lost on 9/11. Many major Downtown residential buildings are located in the Historic District, making Market Square Park their backyard. Old collides with new just across the street, where swanky new bistros, coffee shops and small nightclubs nestle nicely next to cozy, historic bars – many of which have been quenching our collective thirst for more than 30 years.