Best Houston parks for picture-perfect picnics

By Natalie Harms

Summer is here. OK, I know technically summer starts next month, but let’s be real. Here in Houston, summer comes early. May is one of my favorite months because summer hasn’t gotten unbearably warm, meaning outdoor activities are less sweaty and sticky. Aka, the time to plan a picnic is NOW!

What's the first step? Well, pick a park!

Buffalo Bayou Park

You have a lot of options within BBP, but most come with a breathtaking view of downtown! Try Eleanor Tinsley Park or the police memorial or the Sabine Street Promenade! (Or even Spotts Park just adjacent.)

Pros

      • Tons of options!
      • Skyline views

Cons

      • Parking to posting up distance
      • Not a whole lot of picnic tables to choose from.

Hermann Park

Hermann Park was my favorite park in college (it was super close to UH campus and Coogs got free entrance into the Houston Zoo!). I had plenty of picnics in Hermann Park from huge groups to just me and a few friends, and it was perfect for both. There’s a whole dedicated picnic area, but my favorite place to post up is right by McGovern Lake, where there are cute turtles, persistent geese and pretty ducks! Not sure if it’s allowed, but I fed them all some crackers.

Pros

      • HUGE! You can def find a good spot secluded from other people and still with a great view.
      • Picnic tables galore.
      • Wildlife to feed, either legally or illegally. Plus, the Zoo is right there if you need more animal interaction.

Cons

      • Zoo parking nightmares.
      • Tons of children running around, because zoo.
      • Zoo parking nightmares.
      • Zoo parking nightmares.

Memorial Park

I know Memorial Park as a 3-mile track that I ran almost daily preparing for my quarter marathon earlier this year, but it’s way more than that. First of all, it’s got some incredible hiking trails. Second of all, the park has dozens of picnic tables and areas for your enjoyment. The best spot set up camp is south of Memorial Drive on Picnic Loop (go figure).

Pros

      • Also huge, with tons of trails to discover.
      • There are volleyball courts, bathrooms etc. all around you.
      • Picnic areas perfect for big groups.

Cons

      • Definitely more of an exercise-focused park. It’s never fun to have to watch fit people run by while stuffing your face.
      • Kind of disjointed and hard to find out where to park/go/etc. Definitely plan where you want to go.

Levy Park

Levy Park is constantly being recognized as one of Houston’s most beautiful parks, so it makes for a great spot for a picnic.

Pros

      • Very kid friendly — whole playground for the kiddos
      • Games on site, including ping pong, foosball, putt putt, etc.
      • Coffee shop and a few restaurants around
      • Tables and chairs everywhere!

Cons

      • Parking can be an issue. There are street spots and a garage, which costs money if you don't get validation.
      • There’s so much programming, which is amazing, but it means you need to check the schedule before you plan a picnic.

Discovery Green

Discovery Green is a little more straight-forward of a park to picnic in. It’s significantly smaller than Memorial or Hermann parks and there are restaurants and food trucks surrounding the area, so you don’t even need to pack a basket. Because it’s small, go with a small group here. There aren’t tables, so opt for the traditional picnic blanket experience.

Pros

      • Small park surrounded by street parking, so you won’t have to walk too far.
      • Even better: There’s a parking garage.
      • Sometimes there are performances and entertainment.
      • Surrounded by restaurants and sometimes food trucks.

Cons

      • Small park so can get busy and not very intimate.
      • No drinking, since the park is in the Central Business District.

Bring a basket

OK, so we all know what to bring to a picnic, but here’s my own comprehensive, 100% serious list that you can print out and check off as you pack. Or not. Whatever. I’m just here to help.

      • Adorable picnic basket you bought half off at Michael’s with a cute totally useless piece of fabric that pops in photos.
      • 2-3 bags and coolers to actually hold things your useless basket cannot.
      • Fresh cut plastic sunflowers also half off from Michaels.
      • An entire pineapple you have no intention of eating because how the heck would you… pineapples are hard enough to cut in a kitchen.
      • A picnic blanket, aka a normal blanket you are OK with converting from snuggle accessory to tarnished, damp and dirty “picnic blanket.”
      • Napkins and/or paper towels (pack as much as you think you’ll need then double that).
      • Paper plates and cutlery.
      • Wine/bottle opener.
      • Trash bag if you’re with a big group. If not, reusing grocery bags would suffice.
      • A cute hardback book that you will pretend to read for a photo but then will turn into a level place to put your drink.
      • A tray (if you don’t even want to go through the charade of the hardback book reading and just want a damn spot to set your drink down).
      • It’s Not Hou koozies. All other koozies are illegal. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
      • Hand sanitizer. Trust me.
      • Bug spray and sunscreen, for the weak. (JK, use ’em).
      • Fun cups (with lids!!!!) with fun straws to use probably for photo purposes until you feel too basic to continue.
      • Lastly, and most obviously, food and drink (see below).

Go with a pro

I get it. Making decisions is HARD. Luckily, there are a few local companies you can invest in to ensure you have a good time! Picnics in the City is the most extra thing you could do — and it’s SO worth it. They create an ENTIRE experience for you. Want a them? Done. A remote park or a downtown skyline view? Of course. From blankets to candles, it’s a one-stop shop to a fantastic time.

Graze is your top pick for boards! The Houston company has an assortment of options for you. Think party picnic, and less of a date night. The smallest board feeds 4 to 6 people, and goes upwards to the appropriately named “Texas Board” that feeds 25 to 30!

Both these options take the stress and planning off your plate, and put yummy locally sourced food there instead! Both also deliver— hella perks!

graze its not hou its me cheese board

What’s a picnic without food, eh? Here are my favorite, picnic-friendly food around town!

Side note: Drinking in Houston is legal aside from state parks and the Central Business District in downtown (the parallels of which are Dowling Street and I-45, McGowen Street and Buffalo Bayou). Anywhere else, you can drink out of cans or plastic — most likely, glass is forbidden. PSA: Discovery Green is in the Central Business District, so hold the booze there.

Local Foods. With multiple locations, chances are there’s a Local Foods near where you wanna picnic. Plus, their sandwiches (which you can get in a gluten-free wrap) both travel and photograph really well. Plus how good do their homemade chips and fresh fruit sound?

Antones. This Houston sandwich staple has been feeding picnickers and other patrons for more than 50 years, so you can’t go wrong with an original po’boy or, my favorite, the turkey and swiss. Pro tip (or should I say “po” tip): HEB sells Antone’s sandwiches!

Central Market. If you’re not looking for take out from a restaurant, Central Market is my favorite grocery store for photo-ready food. They have a great prepared foods section, amazing bread selection for sandwiches, and yummy fresh juices — all for cheaper than Whole Foods. Win, win, win.

Three Brother’s Bakery. My favorite sweet spot has amazing desserts that make for an excellent touch especially if your picnic is in celebration of something.

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