Houston’s Discovery Green
Leah Walker July 17, 2012

All great cities have great parks. New York’s Central Park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and Chicago’s Millennium Park are just a few of the best urban parks in the United States. But what does Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, have to offer? You might be surprised.

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Houston’s been my home for a decade, and I’ve yet to scratch the city’s surface. Although, one place I often find myself is Discovery Green.

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This twelve-acre park sits on the edge of downtown and was created by the City of Houston and the non-profit group, Discovery Green Conservancy. The development of this lush, urban space began in 2004 with the land being acquired. Originally a giant parking lot, the purpose was not just to provide relief from the concrete jungle, but to attract conventions to the city.

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Surrounded by George R. Brown Convention Center, Minute Maid Park, and Toyota Center, Discovery Green is located in a prime location. Throughout the year, the park attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors not only for the environment, but also for the countless events, most of which are free.

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Discovery Green is a recent addition to Houston’s landscape as it’s only been open since April 2008. Compared to other great parks, Discovery Green is in its infancy, but certainly has made an impact.Travel and Leisure even named it one of “America’s Coolest City Parks” in 2011.

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Kids flock to the John P. McGovern Playground. Located near a tree-lined hill, this quirky playground’s design was influenced by the migrating birds that fly over Houston. With countless opportunities for exploration, children are often entertained for hours.

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Near the Anheuser-Busch stage is one of my favorite features of the park, Kinder Lake. At nearly an acre in size, this man-made lake features a water garden and a pier with tables and chairs to relax. Remote control boats can be rented within the park or you can bring your own. One of the best things about winter in Houston is that Kinder Lake is frozen and turned into an ice rink. From Thanksgiving through mid-January, the ice is open. I particularly love the atmosphere created when Christmas-themed movies are shown during the evenings.

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Giant, one-hundred-year old oak trees form a canopy over the limestone path known as Brown Foundation Promenade. It’s probably the coolest, most relaxing part of Discovery Green, and the benches are highly prized for their shade and prime people-watching location.

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The largest green space is located in the middle of Discovery Green. At 1.7 acres, Jones Lawn is where park visitors can participate in active pursuits. Games of Ultimate Frisbee, flag football, and soccer are often seen being played.

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There are a couple of dining options in Discover Green. The Lake House offers a casual atmosphere with burgers, hot dogs, chicken, and other snacks. There’s indoor seating, but on a beautiful day, the tables outside are hard to come by. For an upscale meal and one of the best views of the area, visit The Grove.  World-famous Chef Robert Del Grande, developed a rustic American menu specializing in seafood, rotisserie specialties, steaks, and sandwiches. This modern space of steel, wood, and glass blends seamlessly into the Discovery Green aesthetic.

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During Houston’s hot summers, the most fun and laughter can be found near Gateway Fountain. This is the spot where children of all ages beat the Texas heat.

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Sloping granite tiles create the surface while water creates the fun. With jets that arch the water as high as fourteen feet, Gateway Fountain might be the most joyful, if not coolest, place in the city.

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The water randomly shoots to varied heights and keeps those seeking to cool off waiting with anticipation. And the higher the water rises from the granite floor, the louder the squeals of delight.

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The Sarofim Picnic Lawn is the perfect place to relax and bask in the Texas sun, but the most eye-catching aspect of this area is the Mist Tree. Created by artist Doug Hollis, this interactive water feature draws in children as well as adults.

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Made from stainless steel, this sculpture forms a mist cloud and creates a curtain of rain through the use of nozzles. This environmentally-friendly feature recirculates the water and turns itself off in the event of too much wind.

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With a park full of unique identifiers, perhaps the most well known is the odd-looking red-white-blue sculpture across from the George R. Brown Convention Center.

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This free-form sculpture by French artist, Jean Dubuffet, is entitled “Monument Au Fantome” or “Monument to the Phantom” in English. Seven forms were chosen that represent Houston: a tree, church, chimney, dog, phantom, hedge, and mast. The forms are set in somewhat circular pattern, but provide enough room to squeeze through and explore from the inside as well.

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There’s so much more to Discovery Green. Dog runs, jogging trails, indoor and outdoor reading rooms, and even a branch of the Houston Library are found throughout. There’s also wireless Internet available in the park. Free entertainment abounds in the form of concerts, family and date night movies, exercise and dance classes, and a monthly flea market. In short, there’s something for everyone at Discovery Green.

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In my decade living in Houston, I’ve seen Enron Field change to Minute Maid Park. I’ve seen downtown become a destination for something other than the giant office buildings. There are bigger parks in Houston, but I really enjoy the juxtaposition of the steel and glass against the lush landscape of Discovery Green. It’s a place for all seasons and an escape from the madness that six million people create.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.

29 Comments

  1. Three things surprise me: 1. That such a park exists in the middle of Houston – who knew! 2. That it gets cold enough there for the lake to freeze and become an ice skating rink and 3. That you lasted around kids for more than one picture 🙂

    1. Responses to your surprises:

      1. There are a couple other green spaces in downtown, but none a large as this one.

      2. It does freeze in Houston, but not very often. They use some sort of fancy technology to freeze the lake, I think. Mine is not to ask. Mine is to skate. #IamTaraLipinski

      3. Kids are great when they’re in the wide open spaces as nature intended (and you’ve got some awesome tunes playing in your ears). I have to admit, you’re #3 surprise made me laugh, but you make me seem like the old hag in Hansel and Gretel. 🙂

      Anything else, Doughnut Boy?

  2. I know very little about Houston from my few days there, but I am glad to see it has such an oasis among the steel towers. And yes, I agree every major (and cool) city must have its park (and a market 😉

    Also, I’d add a 4th surprise to Raul’s post – Houston has 6million people… I would have taken the under for sure on that one..

    stay adventurous, Craig

    1. Yep, the metro Houston area has an estimated 6.22 million people as of April 2012. It just took over Philly and is behind NYC, LA, and Chicago. It really is an under-rated city.

      Discovery Green is no Central Park, which I’m sure you frequent, but there’s no way it could be. Instead of trying to duplicate any one of the storied parks in this country, the city created something new and different. I think Discovery Green has given my hometown a gathering place to be proud of. Now, if we could just get some better markets. 🙂

  3. As hot as it is in Houston, I love the splash park! Awesome. I haven’t been to Houston since my sister moved from there 9 years ago, but it looks like I should.

    1. I’m sure your little one would love it, Kristin. Heck, I wanted to kick off my shoes and get it. The Children’s Museum would also be fun to take him to. There’s stuff for all ages.

  4. I love urban parks and this one seems to have so much to do. I’m headed to Houston in October for the first time and will have to stop by here 🙂

    1. What brings you to Houston, Scott? I’ll be around in October, so let me know if you need any advice on what to see/do/eat.

  5. This park is beautiful!, and the perfect place to take kids. From the mister to the fountain and that playground, this is like a child’s paradise!

  6. love this!! you can learn a lot about a city from its parks, and we always make it a point to visit when traveling. will have to put discovery green on our list when we finally make it to houston. second to crashing your house and demanding alcohol.

    1. Mi casa es su casa. The alcohol? There’s plenty for you. I’m not much of a drinker, but I just keep a stocked liquor cabinet for guests. 😉

    1. Here’s my first tip for visiting Texas: don’t come in the summer. Wait until the fall or spring. I’d love to tag along on a Captain and Clark Texas adventure. Sign me up!

  7. I’m with Raul. I was all, “It gets cold enough in Houston for a lake to freeze?!” Then I figured there’s probably some mechanism that aids in the freezation (I think I just made up a word). Anyway, this place looks fantastic! I really should give Houston another shot…

    1. I think you’d be surprised at Houston. It really has everything that every great city has. Come to Houston and see me.

  8. i really LOVE this post. what absolutely stunning photos. i think i would really enjoy escaping into the Discovery Green myself. i recognize that cool colorful wall from your profile pic, i believe 🙂

    1. Yes, ma’am. This is where my profile picture was taken. In fact, I had a photo shoot there last year. You’ll find several pictures throughout my site from Discovery Green. There are two colorful walls, a red one and blue one. An artist from the University of Texas designed and installed it, I believe.

  9. Markets and parks are always on my agenda when visiting a new place – you get a much better sense of a city and its people, which is the best thing when travelling. Am I going to need a month in Texas??

    1. Yes, you will need a month in Texas at least. I’d be happy to be your guide. I’d love to take you to some of the festivals. They’re also a great way to get a sense of a place. We have some pretty neat ones here.

    1. There actually is quite a bit of green space. Since Houston is such a spread-out city, there are lots of parks and trees. There are a few other small bits of green downtown, but this is the largest.

  10. Yay, Texas Tuesday has gone urban! 😀 Discover Green has a bit of a Millennium Park feel with the water-splashing kids and outdoor art, doesn’t it? I love major big city parks and I’ll add this one to my Houston to-do list (I hope to visit soon enough).

    1. It is a little bit of Millennium Park, but not nearly as big. I really enjoyed when we went to Millennium, especially the giant concert area and the video instillation. Discovery Green is still pretty new, so I look forward to seeing how it evolves and grows.

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