Whenever I visit a city that’s brand new to me, I struggle to figure out what events or sites will make me feel truly connected to that city. What can I do, see, or participate in that is interesting enough to justify the cost of travel yet local enough that I don’t actually feel like a tourist? In Houston, one attraction that meets all these requirements is Buffalo Bayou Park.
Wandering through the park, you’ll see Houstonians hiking, jogging, and biking. Your family can enjoy these everyday activities at the park plus have a few more interesting experiences without spending lots of money.
Buffalo Bayou Park is minutes from Downtown Houston and its famed Museum District. The park stretches along the Allen Parkway on one side and Memorial Drive on the other, from Taft to Bagby Street. You can see Houston’s distinctive skyline clearly from the section named Eleanor Tinsley Park at Taft Street. Many of Houston’s major celebrations and festivals are held in this space including the July 4th celebration. Be sure to check out the park’s website for upcoming festivals before visiting.
You can launch a canoe or kayak from Eleanor Tinsley Park into Buffalo Bayou, which runs from west Houston, through the length of the Park, and ends in southeast Houston. It’s a unique way to see the Park and Downtown Houston. I can think of no other city that you can paddle through without obtaining any permits or paying any fees. See the Buffalo Bayou webpage at http://www.buffalobayou.org/canoekayak.html for information on renting these boats and a list of safety precautions. The website also gives information on tours if you feel more comfortable with a guide.
If your family members aren’t experienced paddlers or your children are too young to set out in a boat, start exploring the park. Head away from the children’s playground and expansive skate park, although your children may want to hang out in these areas a bit longer. You will find a massive sculpture and fountain, both set on wide grassy spaces, that will captivate your young children. Your older children will enjoy hiking or biking through the park. In addition, to the beautiful scenery, you’ll find herons, squirrels, raccoons, turtles and the occasional shy alligator in Buffalo Bayou Park. The alligators are rarely seen but I usually tell my young son to be on the lookout for one which generates a bit more excitement on our walks than the occasions demand. Any stroller hardier than a flimsy umbrella stroller will manage the park trails.
Walking towards Sabine Street, you’ll come across the Waugh Bridge. However, before you see the signs for the bridge, you’ll smell the 250,000 Mexican free tail bats that reside below it. Houstonians come at dusk to watch the bats fly from beneath the bridge to seek mosquitoes and other bugs to eat. It’s an amazing site and one that children truly seem to enjoy.
At the Sabine to Bagby Promenade you can take a 30 minute Pontoon Boat ride. At $7 for adults and $5 for children it’s a fun way to tour the park and Houston. You will see much more wildlife while floating down the bayou and you have a greater chance of spotting an alligator. These rides are given every second Saturday from 10am to 2pm during the non-summer months. There are a number of other cruises and tours that leave from the Promenade including the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony Pontoon Boat Tours and a Houston History Tour. These tours have a higher price but are lots of fun. For all boat rides children must be at least 4 and any children over 12 will be charged as an adult.
In addition to the free artwork on display at the Sabine to Bagby Promenade and generous picnic space, free evening concerts are given on the Promenade once a month (visit the Park’s website for concert details). Bring a blanket, drinks and snacks, sit back and be entertained. Young children may not appreciate the performances and they do start a bit late. Tweens and teens may enjoy them though, depending on the performer. Be sure to bring warm clothing if you arrive in the winter. Evenings and nights can get very chilly here.
When visiting the park, be aware that there is not much space for parking, especially if you are visiting during a festival or attending a concert. I usually find parking in Eleanor Tinsley Park or a side street fairly quickly but give yourself plenty of time to find a spot. Also, this park is huge. Bring snacks and water for your family. Not much food or drink is sold inside the park or on the streets just around it. There’s a lot of walking and someone, maybe even you, is going to get hungry and thirsty. For more information on Buffalo Bayou Park see http://www.buffalobayou.org/parks.html#buffalobayou.
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