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Houston — Countless Attractions, Hobbies and Pastimes

From sports to the arts, Houston has something for everyone. "Houston's Countless Attractions, Hobbies and Pastimes" treats entertainment-minded readers to a detailed review of the diversions and activities available to the city's residents and visitors. Also featured are listings of performing arts companies and venues, museums and golf courses as well as a handy calendar of annual Houston area events.

Looking for some fun? You're in the right city - whether you like shelling peanuts at the ball game, defogging your opera glasses for a night at the theater, hoisting your sails for a jaunt on Galveston Bay or strolling amid the blooming gardens of an historic mansion-turned-museum.

The crack of the bat. The swoosh of the net. The roar of the crowds. The sports scene is crackling in Houston, the only city in the nation to build three new, high-tech, indoor sports arenas in three short years.

"Having three new public sporting facilities is a very positive thing for Houston," said Bob MacNair, owner of the National Football League (NFL) Houston Texans. "It says to the rest of the world that we can do outstanding things. People now recognize Houston for having the best sports facilities of any city in the country. There was a time when people questioned Houston's commitment to sports. They don't question it anymore."

For football fans, Reliant Stadium raises the bar as the only NFL stadium with a retractable roof. Home to the Houston Texans, who played their first season in 2002, Reliant Stadium can seat 72,000 fans. The state-of-art facility was a huge factor in bringing Super Bowl XXXVIII to Houston in 2004.

"Without the new stadium, Houston wouldn't have had the Super Bowl, which was a way to showcase the city that could not have been done otherwise," McNair said. "The Super Bowl put Houston on display for 144 million people."

Reliant Stadium also serves as home to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which attracts almost 1.9 million visitors each spring.

Minute Maid Park, home to the Houston Astros baseball team since 2000, combines the high technology of a retractable roof stadium with the history of the railroad's importance to Houston. Fans enter Minute Maid Park through Union Station, which features a replica of a 19th-century train (circa 1860) running along the low roof track on the ballpark's west side.

The field's 242-foot-high retractable roof allows views of Houston's downtown skyline when the weather is nice and the roof remains open. Minute Maid is the first major sports facility to feature a closed-caption board for the hearing impaired.

Overall seating capacity at the ballpark is 40,950, spread throughout nine different seating areas. Each of park's four levels - Main Concourse, Club Level, Suite Level and Upper Concourse - gives fans a different perspective of the action on the field.

The Toyota Center, Houston's newest multipurpose arena, is home to the National Basketball Association (NBA) Houston Rockets (1994 - 1995 NBA champions), the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) Houston Comets, who claimed four WNBA championships from 1997 through 2000, and the 2003 American Hockey League champion Houston Aeros.

The state-of-the-art facility, located at Crawford and Clay streets in downtown Houston, accommodates an estimated 18,300 patrons for basketball, 17,800 for hockey and 19,000 for concerts. It features 94 luxury suites.

Whether you're a spectator or a budding athlete, the Houston area offers lots of ways to enjoy a wide variety of sports. From professional women's football to college sports to hot-air ballooning to Little League soccer, Houston sports enthusiasts have their pick.

Houston has professional teams representing every major sport. Among them are:

• Houston Aeros, 2003 American Hockey League Champions, Toyota Center (713-758-7200);

• Houston Astros, Major League Baseball division champions (1997 - 1999, 2004), Minute Maid Park (713-259-8000);

• Houston Comets, four-time WNBA champions (1997 - 2000), Toyota Center (713-758-7200);

• Houston Energy, three-time Women's Professional Football League champions (2000 - 2002), Dyer Stadium (713-926-7677);

• Houston Rockets, two-time NBA champions (1994 - 1995), Toyota Center (713-758-7200); and

• Houston Texans, National Football League, Reliant Stadium (832-667-2000).

Ticket and schedule information can be obtained at each team's ticket office. Several ticket agencies also serve as clearinghouses for tickets to sporting events and other venues.

For schedule information for Houston's professional teams as well as seating charts of major arenas, please refer to the "Schedules" section at the end of this publication, beginning on page 248.

• Houston Baptist University Huskies (281-649-3342)

• Rice University Owls — The Rice men's and women's teams won 2004 Western Athletic Conference Track & Field Championships, while the Rice baseball team won the 2003 College World Series in collegiate baseball (713-348-4068).

• Texas Southern University Tigers— The Tigers of Texas Southern claimed their first South-western Athletic Conference Baseball Title in 2004 (713-313-7270)

• University of Houston Cougars (713-743-9444)

Houston's year-round moderate climate enables Houstonians to get out and play. Many residents take advantage of programs offered by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department's Athletic Office. From March to September, 550 softball teams coordinated through the City of Houston hit the diamonds. From September to November, 30 football teams compete in flag football. From November to February, basketball season attracts 75 teams.

For more information about these activities as well as the numerous sporting clubs available, contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 713-845-1000.

The Houston Youth Diamond Sports League, also associated with the Parks and Recreation Department, is affiliated with Major League Baseball's RBI program (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities). This program offers youth, ages 4 to 18, an opportunity to participate in T-ball, baseball and girls' softball at all skill levels. For teams that qualify, there is an opportunity to compete in the World Series competition. Players also are eligible to be selected for the Major League Baseball National Team, which competes in the amateur Baseball World Championship Tournament.

Want to try a sport a bit out of the ordinary? Houston boasts several sporting clubs, from archery to auto racing, backpacking, bicycling, fencing, golfing, hot-air ballooning, squash and juggling. For more information, contact the Houston Parks and Recreation Department at 713-845-1000 or the parks and recreation departments of other area cities.

A harp's glissando. The rustle of a tutu. The glare of the spotlight.
Houston is one of a handful of cities in the United States boasting major symphony, ballet, opera and theater companies that enjoy worldwide acclaim.

In the more than 25 years that Hoyt T. (Toby) Mattox has been with Houston's Society for the Performing Arts, he has seen immense growth within the Downtown Theater District and major performing arts organizations.

"The performing arts in Houston are setting the standards very high," he said. "Today, Houston has such a high level of symphony, opera, ballet and theater locally. And their reputation is growing around the world the more they tour."

Thanks to the Society for the Performing Arts, Houston residents also have access to some of the best talent from around the world. "We are mindful of the great international community we have in this city," Mattox said. "Houstonians have the opportunity to see music, dance and theater from the Far East, South America and Australia.

"We often hear people say they are surprised by the wealth and variety of our performing arts opportunities here in Houston," he added.

From classical ballet to groundbreaking opera to world-renowned symphonic performances, aficionados of dance and music can find a wide variety of citically acclaimed entertainment in Houston.

Hailed by the New York Times as "one of the nation's best ballet companies," the Houston Ballet is the fifth-largest company in the United States. The ensemble of 51 dancers performs on tour around the world and at home, with more than 80 performances a year in the Wortham Theater Center. The company's extensive repertoire includes 19th-century classics and cutting-edge pieces. The Houston Ballet Academy offers classes for children through adults.

One of the oldest performing arts organizations in Texas, the Houston Symphony has enriched the Houston music scene with great classical renditions since it was created in 1913. The Houston Symphony performs some 170 concerts a year at Jones Hall and Miller Outdoor Theatre and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion. International tours have earned the ensemble critical acclaim. The Houston Symphony sponsors more than 300 separate educational and community service performances each season. Its concerts for schoolchildren, a 50-year-old tradition, have introduced more than 1 million students to live performances of symphonic music.

Da Camera of Houston, founded in 1987, brings together leading American and international musicians in a wide range of repertoire and musical styles. Da Camera features small ensembles performing classical chamber music, jazz music and contemporary music. It is nationally acclaimed for provocative chamber music programming and a jazz series that showcases renowned performers and emerging artists.

Other area symphony ensembles include the Houston Civic Symphony, Symphony North of Houston, the Houston Youth Symphony and Ballet, and the orchestras of Houston Baptist University, Rice University, Texas Southern University and the University of Houston.

One of the nation's largest opera companies, Houston Grand Opera (HGO) is internationally renowned for its unique, delicately balanced approach to programming. Contemporary works and classics are part of its standard repertoire.

HGO is the only opera company in the nation to win two Grammy awards, a Tony and two Emmy awards. The company is committed to commissioning and performing new works. HGO has presented seven American premieres and 33 world premieres. Celebrating its 50th season the company presents seven productions annually in the Wortham Theater Center, with a roster of internationally prominent artists. HGO offers a program to train young singers for major careers through its Houston Opera Studio, and its Community Connections initiative educates and nurtures new audiences.

Other music groups in the Houston area include:

• Houston Conservatory of Music - Concerts and recitals of classical and contemporary music.
• Houston Masterworks Chorus - Choral and orchestral concerts at assorted venues.
• The Moores School of Music (University of Houston) - Concerts by faculty and students at the university's Dudley Hall and Cullen Performance Hall.
• Opera in the Heights - Performances by emerging singers.
• Shepherd School of Music (Rice University) - Music performances and student recitals.

The Houston area also draws contemporary music in the form of national and international pop/rock, jazz, Christian rock, country, folk music and children's programming to venues such as Verizon Wireless Theater and The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands.

The performing arts are alive and well in Houston, which has one of the country's largest concentrations of seats within its Theater District.

Founded in 1947 by pioneering educator Nina Vance, the Alley Theatre is one of only a handful of professional theaters in the United States to employ its own resident company of actors. Recipient of a 1996 Special Tony Award, the Alley performs year-round in its two-theater complex, which includes the 824-seat Hubbard Stage and the Neuhaus Stage, with up to 310 seats. Its company has toured 40 American cities and abroad. The Alley also offers children's performances, special Monday night events featuring contemporary authors, special holiday performances, backstage tours, theater classes for young people and post-show discussions where audiences can interact with the artists.

Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS), one of the largest nonprofit producers of musical theater in the country, has generated national acclaim through 37 seasons, creating more than 275 musicals. TUTS stages Broadway classics, world premieres and new works. Its name, "Theatre Under The Stars," originates from its first venue, Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park. Today TUTS is the resident company of the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Houston. TUTS' Humphreys School of Musical Theatre provides instruction and stage experience for more than 1,000 students annually.

Houston residents have the opportunity to see some of the best of Broadway touring productions here at Hobby Center for the Performing Arts due to Broadway in Houston. Its Houston series has included Tony Award winners such as "Chicago," "The King and I" and "Titanic," in addition to long-running Broadway blockbusters such as "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Miss Saigon."

A professional Equity theater, Stages Repertory Theater is known for challenging, provocative theater that includes ground-breaking new works and modern classics. Stages Repertory Theater sponsors the Southwest Festival of New Plays, an annual festival featuring the best new plays from across the country.

Other Houston area theater groups include:

• A.D. Players - Theatrical works with Christian themes.
• Children's Theatre Festival (University of Houston) - Professional theater for children and their families.
• Ensemble Theatre - The largest resident minority theater in the Southwest.
• Main Street Theater - A varied mix of drama, comedy, musicals, classics and experimental works for audiences of all ages.
• Texas Mime Theater - Professional mime troupe of Houston Community College.
• HITS Theatre - Heights-area musical theater productions showcasing young artists.
• Rice Players (Rice University) - University student theatrical productions.
• Shakespeare Festival (University of Houston) - Annual professional productions of Shakespeare works produced by the University of Houston Department of Drama. Plays are performed in English and Spanish.

In addition, regional theater groups include Actors Theater of Houston, The Actors Workshop and Theater LaB Houston. The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts presents regular theatrical programs.

The Houston Theater District is a 17-block concentration of world-class performing arts venues located in the northwest corner of downtown Houston. More than 2 million people each year attend performances within the district, which also encompasses plazas, parks, restaurants and movies. With 12,948 seats for live performances and 1,480 movie seats, the district has one of the highest concentrations of theater seats in a single downtown area.

Within the Houston Theater District are:

• Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, home to Theatre Under The Stars, the Broadway in Houston series and the Hobby Center's own Uniquely Houston performance series. Offering a panoramic view of downtown and Tranquility Park, Hobby Center has two venues: Sarofim Hall, which seats 2,650, and Zilkha Hall, which seats 500.

• Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts is home to the Houston Symphony and the Society for the Performing Arts. The elegantly designed venue seats 2,912.

• Verizon Wireless Theater, located within the Bayou Place entertainment complex, serves as host to more than 100 events a year, including pop/rock and classical music concerts, plays and comedy acts.

• Wortham Theater Center consists of the Alice and George Brown Theater, which seats 2,465 people, with no seat more than 138 feet from the stage, and the 1,100-seat Roy and Lillie Cullen Theater, which is intimate enough for solo artists, chamber music and small touring shows.

In The Woodlands, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion outdoor amphitheater holds summer concerts by the Houston Symphony and performances by the Houston Ballet, Houston Grand Opera and London City Opera. The Pavilion, which also provides an array of culturally diverse entertainment ranging from classic rock, jazz and folk music to children's programming, can seat 3,000 in its reserved area and nearly 12,000 on its hillside lawn.

According to the City of Houston, the first Miller Outdoor Theatre opened in 1923 as a "classic Doric proscenium structure." Now, 82 years later, the city's current theater, which opened in 1968, is an open-air venue located on nearly eight acres in the center of Hermann Park. The Houston Grand Opera, Houston Symphony and other multicultural and theater companies perform at the 1,582-seat facility, which also offers hillside seating on a grassy area.

Seating charts and season event information for Houston's major performing arts groups and venues are located in the "Schedules" section, beginning on page 248.

The breathtaking Monet. The contemporary sculpture. The vibrant art car.
A feast for the eyes, art lovers can take advantage of a full complement of art museums and critically acclaimed galleries within the Houston Museum District, which draws almost 6 million visitors annually. The District, which lies on the new METRORail line between Reliant Park and downtown, is home to a range of museums, galleries, and art and cultural institutions, including the city's major museums.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) exhibits more than 45,000 works of art that reflect a wide variety of geographic regions and historic periods. The first art museum in Texas, opening in 1924, MFAH ranks as the fifth-largest museum in the country in terms of square footage and attracts more than 2.5 million visitors a year. The Beck Building - a $100 million, 192,447-square-foot exhibition hall designed by Rafael Moneo - displays many of the museum's exhibitions, as does the classic Caroline Wiess Law Building, which reflects the work of Mies van der Rohe.

The museum's Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, created by Isamu Noguchi, features works by such masters as Giacometti, Matisse and Rodin. MFAH's Glassell School of Art offers art history and studio classes for adults and children.

Bayou Bend, the restored mansion of Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg, is the decorative arts wing of MFAH. It contains one of the finest collections of American furniture, paintings, glass and textiles from 1620 to 1870. Another home, Rienzi, was donated to MFAH in 1991 by Houston philanthropists Harris Masterson III and his wife, Carroll Sterling Masterson. Rienzi, which holds the Southwest's most important collection of European decorative art, showcases an important collection of 18th- and 19th-century art and antiques.

The Contemporary Arts Museum is a non-collecting museum for visual arts with international, national and regional art of the last 40 years, documenting its role in modern life through exhibitions, lectures, original publications and a variety of educational programs.

The Menil Collection displays one of the most significant private collections of the 20th century. Consisting of nearly 15,000 works dating from the Paleolithic era to present day, it is largely defined by four eras - Antiquity, Byzantine and Medieval, Tribal, and 20th-century art (with a concentration in surrealism).

Other museums near The Menil Collection:

• Cy Twombly Gallery showcases works by contemporary artist Cy Twombly.
• Rothko Chapel displays oils by Mark Rothko and "The Broken Obelisk," a sculpture by Barnett Newman.
• The Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum houses a set of 13th-century Byzantine frescoes that originally decorated the dome and apse of a small church on the island of Cypress.

The Rice University Art Gallery on the nearby Rice University campus, the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston and the Texas Southern University Museum feature touring and locally curated exhibits.

One of the most heavily attended museums in the United States, and one of the most attended venues in Houston, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is a centerpiece of the Museum District. With four floors of permanent exhibit halls, including the Wortham IMAX© Theatre, Cockrell Butterfly Center, Burke Baker Planetarium and George Observatory and as host to world-class and ever-changing touring exhibitions, the museum has something to delight every age group. With such diverse and extraordinary offerings, a trip to the Houston Museum of Natural Science is always an adventure.

More than a dozen permanent exhibit areas feature astronomy, space science, Native Americans, paleontology, energy, chemistry, gems and minerals, seashells, Texas wildlife and an African Hall. More than half a million school children visit the Houston Museum of Natural Science annually.

The museum's satellite facility, the George Observatory, is located in Brazos Bend State Park. The observatory houses a 36-inch, 10-ton research telescope, the largest telescope available for public viewing of the night sky, and two smaller telescopes.

The Children's Museum of Houston serves more children than any other children's museum in the United States on a per-square-foot basis. Housing 14 galleries, the Children's Museum of Houston provides bilingual family learning programs and educational services to a broad cross-section of children through area schools, child-care centers, community centers, public libraries and social service agencies. Interactive exhibits and activities incorporate science, technology, the environment, history, culture, health and human development and the arts.

The Harris County Heritage Society maintains eight historic, restored Houston structures dating from 1823 to 1905. Located on 19 acres of parkland in the heart of downtown, the historic structures include seven homes and a church. The reconstructed Long Row Building includes a general store, a barbershop and the first lending library in Houston. Society members conduct regular tours.

The San Jacinto Museum of History offers a wealth of historical Texas artifacts and documents covering four centuries of Texas history. The museum is located within the San Jacinto Monument at San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park.

The John P. McGovern Museum of Health & Medical Science is Houston's only interactive medical science center. Visitors can take a voyage through a Texas-sized human body in the Jim Hickox Amazing Body Pavilion, which includes giant models of human organs and dozens of hands-on exhibits and science stations. The museum, in the Museum District, is a member institution of the nearby Texas Medical Center.

South of Houston in Clear Lake is Disney-designed Space Center Houston, a $70-million visitor's center for NASA's Johnson Space Center. The center features Texas' largest IMAX theater; Kids Space Place; live demonstrations; rotating exhibits; Apollo, Mercury and Gemini space capsules; a space suit collection; and the world's largest collection of moon rocks.

A sampling of other museums and art galleries:

• The Art Car Museum - or "Garage Mahal," as many know it - celebrates the spirit of the post-modern age of car culture. The museum showcases zany cars that parade annually in Houston's downtown art car parade. Museum admission is free.
• The Art League of Houston offers classes taught by a variety of professional artists in a variety of media.
• Buffalo Soldiers National Museum preserves the history, tradition and contributions of the Buffalo Soldiers toward the nation's defense. "Buffalo Soldiers" is a generic term for African-American soldiers.
• The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Pioneer Memorial Log House serves as a memorial to Texas pioneers.
• DiverseWorks, a contemporary art center, is dedicated to presenting new visual, performing and literary art and serves as an open venue for artists.
• Forbidden Gardens, an outdoor Chinese historical museum, sits on 40 acres and features scale replicas of ancient Chinese buildings and statues of the Qin tomb, reflecting 2,000 years of Chinese history.
• Fort Bend Museum features historic homes, including the Moore House dating to 1883 and the Long-Smith cottage home, built in 1840 and owned by Jane Long, the "Mother of Texas."
• Galveston Island Railroad Museum showcases the largest collection of restored rail cars and engines in the Southwest.
• Gulf Coast Railroad Museum exhibits rail equipment such as locomotives, passenger cars, cabooses and freight cars as well as other artifacts related to the history of railroads in Texas and along the Gulf Coast.
• Holocaust Museum Houston features a permanent exhibit personalized with the testimony of Houston area survivors of the Holocaust, changing galleries that house special exhibitions, and a film by Holocaust survivors.
• Houston Center for Photography exhibits the works of known and new photographers to deepen the understanding and appreciation of photographic arts.
• Houston Fire Museum exhibits illustrate the importance of fire and life safety and pay tribute to the professional and volunteer firefighters who led the way from the days of the "bucket brigades" to today's advanced firefighting and lifesaving services. Firefighting equipment dating from the 19th century is on display.
• Houston Police Museum displays police artifacts such as uniforms and gear dating back to the late 1880s.
• Katy Veterans Memorial Museum features a military exhibit encompassing every foreign conflict involving the United States.
• Lawndale Art Center presents contemporary art with an emphasis on Houston artists.
• Lone Star Flight Museum houses a large collection of restored aircraft and historic photos and documentation inside a Galveston aircraft hangar.
• The Museum of Printing History exhibits early printing equipment and rare documents, including one of two copies of the oldest-known printing - the Dharani Scroll, printed in Japan in 764 A.D.
• The Museum of Southern History in Sugar Land exhibits artifacts primarily from the 1800s, including clothing, furnishings, antique guns, currency and an original sharecroppers' cabin.
• National Museum of Funeral History, with a $1 million collection of funeral paraphernalia, is the largest educational center on funeral heritage in the United States.
• The Ocean Star in Galveston is an offshore rig and museum that shows how oil and gas are produced offshore.
• Rice University Art Gallery commissions artists to create installations that t transform exhibition space into dynamic art.

For information on commercial art galleries, call the Museum District Business Alliance at 713-529-9802.

For information about special visual arts exhibits in major Houston museums, please see the "Schedules" section, beginning on page 248.

The appreciation of psychology. The understanding of cultures. The cadence of folk dances.
Houston's cultural and ethnic diversities are celebrated in various culture-specific art organizations.

Among them:
• The Ensemble Theatre is the oldest and largest African-American professional theatrical company in the Southwest.
• C.J. Jung Education Center of Houston emphasizes analytic psychology and the expressive arts of dance, art, music and body work.
• Kuumba House is a performing arts organization that produces and presents African-centered dance forms and contemporary works of art.
• MECA (Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts) exposes inner-city youth to the arts through in-school, after-school and summer programs in ballet, jazz, ethnic dance, music and visual and theater arts.
• Talento Bilingue de Houston is a Latino cultural arts center with programs and activities such as mariachi, ballet folklorico, drama, video and film production, professional theater, art exhibitions and festivals.

Among other multicultural arts groups are Ancestral Films, Community Artists' Collective, Community Music Center of Houston, Houston Caribbean Festival and Jazz Education, Inc.

For more information on the arts, contact the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County at 713-527-9330.

The celebration of orange. The tribute to beer cans. The humor of the "Flower Man."
Ready for a walk on the eclectic side of town? Here's a sampling of some homegrown Houston folk art:

Tempietto Zeni, 5420 Floyd at Deterring in Houston's West End, is the home and studio of artist Frank Zeni. It is made of corrugated aluminum and features giant stone frogs.

The Bradford House, 143 Heights Blvd. near Washington, is home to artist Mark Bradford and his curious works of art visible in his yard.

The Beer Can House, 222 Malone near Memorial Drive and Wescott, is covered with 20 years' worth - that's 40,000 - empty aluminum cans.

The Flower Man's House, 317 Sampson, one block south of Elgin just southeast of downtown, is awash in flowers and trinkets, thanks to Cleveland "Flower Man" Turner.

The Orange Show, 2402 Munger near Interstate 45 and Telephone Road, is a tribute to the orange. The late Jeff McKissack, who had a passion for oranges, built the folk-art monument, which is maintained today by the Orange Show Foundation.

Pigdom, 4208 Crawford near Binz, is a house-turned-monument memorializing a life-saving, swimming pig named Priscilla and her successor, Jerome.

The splash of a pool. The swing of a golf club. The jog of a lifetime. The Houston region has more than 650 of the most beautiful and interesting parks in the nation. From shooting ranges to equestrian trails to romantic picnic spots to spray water parks, Houston's parks have something to offer every member of the family - even Fido.

Eager for some outdoor fun? Houston has 314 developed parks, of which 230 of those parks include playgrounds for leisure activities. An additional 200 open-space areas also are part of the system. Together developed parks and open-space areas encompass more than 18,000 acres of parkland. They include:

• One hundred miles of nature or hike-and-bike trails; which include trails along Brays, Sims, Hunting, Buffalo, White Oak and Halls bayous;
• Seven 18-hole golf courses and the First Tee Junior Golf Facility at F.M. Law Park;
• Forty-one swimming pools, including six Olympic size;
• Nine water playgrounds;
• Fifty-six community centers;
• Three tennis centers, with 60 courts;
• 156 neighborhood tennis courts at 81 sites;
• 174 baseball/softball fields;
• 121 football/soccer/rugby fields; and
• 108 open-air and 56 covered basketball courts.

Major City of Houston parks:

• Buffalo Bayou/Eleanor Tinsley Park is a 124-acre park along Buffalo Bayou west of downtown.
• Cullen Park, with 8,200 acres, is one of the largest U.S. municipal parks. It features the Alkek Velodrome bicycle track (one of 21 in the nation), seven game fields, hike-and-bike trails and picnic areas.
• Eisenhower Park on the San Jacinto River is stocked with rainbow trout, making it a favorite fishing spot.
• Herman Brown Park has a small fishing pond, tennis courts, basketball, playing fields and hiking trail.
• Hermann Park, located near the medical center, is 445 acres that include the Houston Zoo, Museum of Natural Science, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Japanese Garden, Houston Garden Center, International Sculpture Garden, Bayou Parkland nature center, eight-acre Lake McGovern, an 18-hole golf course and the Playground for All Children. The Playground for All Children features an inter-active water playground and play equipment for children of all abilities.
• Keith-Weiss Park, south of George Bush Intercontinental Airport, has tennis courts, five game fields, a picnic area and a large portion retained in its natural state.
• Memorial Park, three miles west of downtown, features a 2.9-mile, tree-lined trail and is a favorite spot for joggers. The park area includes Houston Arboretum & Nature Center (a 155-acre preserve with more than five miles of self-guided trails, a recreated Gulf Coast prairie, ponds and native wildflower garden), the George and Barbara Bush Presidential Grove, 18-hole golf course, driving range, 36-court tennis center, fitness center, Olympic-size swimming pool, croquet court, playing fields and picnic area.
• Sam Houston Park in downtown Houston is the city's first park, dating back to 1899. The park offers tours of eight restored historical buildings, the Museum of Texas History and the Heritage Society.

Harris County maintains 138 parks containing almost 23,000 acres, with 60.4 miles of hike-and-bike trails. Since 1980, the county has spent more than $21 million to acquire and develop county parks and to make parks accessible to the handicapped. In 2001 the voters of Harris County approved a $60 million county park bond referendum to fund the continuing acquisition and development of the county park system.

Included among the county's parks:
• Armand Bayou Nature Center, one of four Texas State Coastal Preserves, features 370 animal species on 2,500 acres of wetlands, bottomland forest and tall grass prairie ecosystems. The park, located on a major migratory North American flyway, has nature trails, boat tours of Armand Bayou and a working turn-of-the-century farm.
• Challenger Seven Memorial Park, located on Cypress Creek, memorializes the Challenger Seven astronauts on a 326-acre site, with a nature learning center and an elevated trail system rated "excellent" for migratory bird observation.
• George Bush Park features a model aircraft field, shooting range, euestrian trail, picnic facilities, Millie Bush Bark Park for dogs and a playground for the handicapped.
• Mary Jo Peckham Park is a 32-acre facility in Katy, with an indoor pool, play areas and picnic facilities overlooking a five-acre lake.
• Roy Campbell Burroughs Park, 320 acres located east of Tomball. This multi-use park offers sports fields, wilderness hiking and picnic facilities around a seven-acre lake.
• Alexander Duessen Park/Eisenhower Park is a combined 991-acre facility, the only public park on Lake Houston. This park offers access to the lake for fishing and boating as well as outstanding group and individual picnic facilities.

In addition to traditional parks, the county is designing and building one of the first "extreme parks" in the nation. The new park will have BMX biking, mountain biking, rock and wall climbing, skateboarding and rollerblading.

Counting all state, county and municipal parks, Harris County now offers 658 public parks continuing 49,705 acres and 171 miles of greenway trails. All park agencies cooperate to reach the goal of providing 80,000 acres of parkland and 611 miles of greenway trails in the next 20 years.

San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park, 20 miles east of downtown Houston, is the site where Texans won independence from Mexico on April 21, 1836. It features the San Jacinto Monument and the Battleship TEXAS, which served in World Wars I and II.

The thrill of the hunt. The one that got away. The perfect 10. From hiking to fishing to ice skating to polo, Houston residents and visitors can enjoy a wide range of outdoor and indoor recreation.

With Galveston Bay less than 50 miles south of downtown Houston and several fresh-water lakes throughout the area, boating, skiing and other water-related activities are popular pastimes.

Clear Lake is recognized by the state as the "Boating Capital of Texas" with more than 7,000 slips and 19 marinas offering access to Clear Lake and the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition to power boats and sailboats, Jet Skis, wind surfers, canoes, and water ski and parasailing equipment are available. The Houston Yacht Club on upper Galveston Bay sponsors youth and adult sailing programs and has fostered Olympic-level sailors.

With the popularity of boating on Texas waterways, it is important that people understand the rules and laws governing boating. Boaters can obtain a copy of the Texas Water Safety Act from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division at 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, Texas, 78744, 512-389-4800.

From saltwater fishing along the Gulf Coast for redfish, speckled trout and flounder to inland lakes that provide some of the best bass fishing in the South, the Houston/Galveston area is a fisherman's paradise.

Resident fishing licenses can be purchased at most bait, tackle or sporting goods stores for $23. All licenses expire Aug. 31 of each year, no matter when the license was purchased. A lifetime fishing license can be purchased for $600. Call the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at 281-931-6471 for a copy of laws pertaining to size and catch limit.

With an average yearly temperature of 69.3 degrees F and plenty of sunshine, it's no wonder Houston is a year-round golfing destination. The Houston region boasts more than 135 golf courses with 18 or more holes (see a list of courses on pages 66 - 67). About half of those are public. A number of private, championship-quality courses are affiliated with private clubs and various housing communities.

The Professional Golfers Association (PGA) recognizes the quality of Houston golf courses by scheduling the Shell Houston Open at Redstone Golf Club, 15 miles north of downtown Houston. Champions Golf Course also has served as host to the PGA THE TOUR Championship.

Houston has a rich heritage in gymnastics, from Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton to former national team coordinator Bela Karoyli, who has trained numerous Olympic contenders at his Houston-based training facility. Four members of the U.S. men's team that won a silver medal in 2000 have Houston ties, including Sean Townsend, the individual gold medalist on parallel bars. Townsend trains at Houston Gymnastics Academy, which has more than 1,000 students.

Other large Houston area gymnastics centers are Brown's Gymnastics in west Houston, where national team member Susan Jackson trains, and Cypress Academy of Gymnastics, home to 2003 junior national champion Jonathan Horton, a member of the U.S. team that competed at the 2003 Pan American Games.

Gymnastics programs - both public and private and for all levels - abound throughout the region.

The City of Houston Bikeway Network consists of 380 miles of off-road hike-and-bike trails, on-street bike lanes and on-street bike routes. The City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department maintains a system of hike-and-bike trails covering more than 98 miles. (713-845-1000).

A variety of species are available to hunters throughout the state, including alligator, deer, dove, duck, goose, pheasant, quail, rabbit and turkey. Hunters must purchase a resident hunting license for $23 or a combination hunting/fishing license for $32 to $49. All licenses expire Aug. 31 each year. A lifetime hunting license is $600 and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses are $1,000. Licenses may be purchased at local sporting goods stores. Contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at 281-931-6471 for more information concerning seasons, bag limits and laws governing Texas hunting.

Olympic gold medal winner Tara Lipinski put the Houston area on the ice-skating map, while the 2003 American Hockey League Champion Houston Aeros continue to cultivate the region's growing interest in hockey. Ice skating and amateur hockey leagues are available at:

• Aerodome Ice Skating Complex (16225 Lexington, Sugar Land, 281-265-7465)
• Aerodrome Ice Skating Complex (8220 Willowbrook Place North, Willowbrook Mall, 281-847-5283)
• The Galleria Ice Rink (5015 Westheimer Road, 713-621-1500)
• Sharpstown Ice Center (7300 Bellerive, 713-981-6667)
• Memorial City Mall (900 S. Gessner, 713-463-9296)

The Houston Polo Club, established in 1928, is the top-ranked polo club in the Southwest. The club has earned international acclaim with its high-goal polo and special events that have raised thousands of dollars for local and international charities (713-622-7300).

More than 25 private racquetball clubs exist in the Houston area. The largest public racquetball facility is the downtown Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), but racquetball courts also are available at many other locations. Call the YMCA at 713-659-8501 or consult your telephone directory.

Hundreds of youth and adult teams have the opportunity to play soccer in the Houston area, with 121 foot-ball/soccer/rugby fields provided by the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department (713-845-1000). The South Texas Youth Soccer Association (512-272-4553) oversees youth soccer programs for the eight-county Houston-Galveston-Brazoria Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area, including the activities of the Houston Youth Soccer Association (281-933-8995).

Swimming and diving competitions have become extremely popular in the Houston area, producing some world-class champions. Laura Wilkerson of The Woodlands captured the gold medal in 10-meter platform diving during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

The Houston City Parks and Recreation Department (713-845-1000) maintains 41 free municipal pools and the YMCA (713-659-8501) and Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) (713-659-5566) facilities have pools available to members. Other municipalities also maintain swimming pools.

Hundreds of Houston area subdivisions maintain neighborhood swimming pools and recreation centers as a homeowner amenity. Many organize swim teams for all age groups. Real estate agents are excellent sources to identify such areas.

With three major tennis centers and 156 neighborhood courts, the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department (713-845-1000) provides lots of opportunities for tennis buffs. The city's main tennis centers are: Homer Ford in MacGregor Park (5225 Calhoun Road, 713-842-3460); Memorial (1500 Memorial Loop in Memorial Park, 713-867-0440); and Lee LeClear in southwest Houston (9506 S. Gessner, 713-272-3697).

Numerous private tennis clubs and country clubs maintain high-quality indoor and outdoor courts. Consult your telephone directory.

Houston's Westside Tennis Club, 1200 Wilcrest Drive, one of the largest tennis centers in the country, is attracting professional tennis players to Houston. Home to the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships, Westside's 8,500-seat stadium served as host to the 2005 Tennis Masters Cup, the season's final showdown in which the eight best players of the year compete.

Houston earned the title of the 2003 International Tennis Hall of Fame's "City of the Year" for its contributions to the sport of tennis. Houston also is home to the World Headquarters of the United States Professional Tennis Association.

The perfect bloom. The bugs in the ground. The scent of rain. The traditional winter slumber that most gardeners across the nation face is virtually nonexistent in Houston. Gardeners here enjoy exercising their green thumbs almost all year long due to the area's moderate climate, which makes conditions right for an abundance of lush, green foliage and year-round blooming plants.

Native to the Houston area are buffalo grass, which provides a dense root structure to hold soil in heavy downpours; yaupon holly, which can handle heat and produces handsome bushes or trees; and the southern red oak, a slow but steady grower that provides even shade, a good shape and brilliant red leaves in the fall.

Harris County residents spend more than $106 million on lawn and garden products each year, not including sales at nontraditional nursery stores such as Wal-Mart or Target, according to the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association (

The Texas Agricultural Extension Service provides free pamphlets concerning all aspects of gardening and pest control in Texas. In Houston, call 281-855-5600.

Other landscape and gardening organizations in the Houston area include:

• River Oaks Garden Club (, 713-523-2483);
• Houston Arboretum & Nature Center (, 713-681-8433);
• Houston Bonsai Society (;
• Houston Rose Society (, 713-944-3437);
• International Oleander Society (in Galveston) (;
• Galveston Orchid Society (;
• Japanese Garden Society of Houston (, 713-284-1914);
• Lone Star Chapter of the American Hibiscus Society (;
• Plumeria Society of America (; and
• Urban Harvest (, 713-880-5540).

Any way you add it up, Houston offers something for everyone's taste, budget, athletic ability and interest. From perusing art car museums to biking on a velodrome to checking out the Beer Can House, there's plenty to do and see.

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