Houston City Guide
Located 50 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States, a sprawling metropolitan area with a friendly, but hard working atmosphere. Though Houston is known primarily for its robust economy, specifically in the industries of energy, manufacturing, aeronautics, and healthcare, it also happens to be one of the most diverse cities in the United States. This foundation of progressive infrastructure and acceptance has allowed the health revolution easy access, accommodated further by the climate.
To make the most of this Houston City Guide, note two patterns within this post. The first concerns sections, which follow in this sequence:
The second pattern is to do with the detail on each venue. Exact hours aren’t always indicated alongside venues unless very restrictive or seasonal, and prices are also omitted in the knowledge that no listed facility charges more than $25 for day access. Instead, a full directory of telephone numbers is provided in the final Directory section, so you can call ahead to confirm your intended training time. The place names in the Directory link to the venue’s Google Maps profile – click on the venue’s name to generate directions with the actual app.
Orientation & Logistics
Houston’s footprint is roughly bounded by the Sam Houston Tollway, also known as Beltway 8. The area inside Highway 610 loop is referred to as the “inner loop”, where real estate is more expensive and urban density is greater. Even so, areas within Houston’s inner loop retain a suburban feel. Neighbours can enjoy large gardens and quiet streets just a few miles away from the central downtown district. A notable few neighbourhoods include the Heights, Montrose, Downtown, Midtown, the Texas Medical Center. While Downtown and Midtown are oriented on a grid, the neighbourhoods south-west of that area are generally quiet and shaded.
A handful of major roads are worth noticing to help orientate your movements across town. Major east-west thoroughfares in the inner loop include Braeswood Blvd, Holcombe Blvd, Richmond St, and Washington Ave, descending from north to south. Westheimer Rd is the “heart” of Montrose, running east to west with many shops and restaurants alongside it.
North-south thoroughfares include Main St and Fannin St, which house the above-ground MetroRail and pass through the Texas Medical Center, Montrose Blvd, Heights Blvd, Kirby Dr, and Buffalo Speedway. South of US-59, Rice University has a picturesque campus surrounded by a host of stunning oak trees. Three bayous cut through Houston from the west to east, flowing towards the Galveston Bay: White Oak Bayou, Buffalo Bayou, and Brays Bayou, each of which have hike & bike trails along their banks. Interstates 59 and 10 run across the city and have exits to many desired locations.
For all its road networks, Houston has limited public transportation. The above-ground MetroRail is a good choice for north-south transportation between Downtown and NRG Stadium, but doesn’t connect to many other destinations. For short trips, bike-sharing system BCycle or bike rentals are feasible, though getting to destinations outside the loop or travelling during rush hour can be a challenge for cyclists.
Houston has a hot and humid climate, with steamy summers and mild winters. Daytime highs are usually above 90 degrees in the months of June through September, with high humidity as well. During the winter, low temperatures tend to remain in the 50s, though temperatures get below freezing a few days per year. Houston receives strong thunderstorms especially in the spring and summer, and is prone to localized flash flooding. Houston can also be affected by hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, including notably Hurricane Harvey in 2017. In the summer, sunrise is around 6:30am and sunset is around 8:30pm. In the winter, the sun will be out from about 7:15am to 5:30pm.
Despite Houston’s swallowing up of a significant portion of Texas’ south-eastern corner, the town is predominately flat. Efforts to control the direction of the city’s waterways provided planners with an opportunity to build some robust running infrastructure, a substitute for the shortage of graded terrain within the metropolitan area.
Three running tracks are worth noting for your interval training. In the centre of town at the University of Houston is the Tom Tellez Track, which is matched by the Alexander Durley Stadium at Texas Southern University, located one mile to the west. Further still is the track at Rice University which wraps around the campus’ main soccer pitch, also adjacent and north of Texas Medical Center.
Houston has a number of developed trails, most of which run along its bayous, offering continuous running across extendable pathways. The Brays Bayou trail is a popular paved route, as is Buffalo Bayou which has some shaded sections and several attractions along it. The Buffalo Bayou trail itself is roughly three miles long, and connects to the beautiful White Oak Bayou trail on the east near downtown. The White Oak Bayou Trail then continues in a northwest direction for 15 miles. A combination of these routes are well trodden by participants in the annual Houston Marathon in January.
On the west side of town, running 1.5 miles on the sidewalk along Memorial Drive will connect you to Memorial Park, which has a 3-mile crushed gravel loop trail and water fountains. Make a 6.8km loop of the park by following this route.
South of US-59, Rice University has a 2.9-mile crushed gravel trail on its perimeter, which connects across Main St and Fannin Street to Hermann Park, which has an additional two miles of crushed gravel trail. These trails are almost entirely shaded, and have water fountains spaced approximately every 1-2 miles. Hermann Park can also be connected to the Brays Bayou Trail by crossing S. MacGregor Way on the south end of the park, but note that Brays Bayou Trail has no shade. Running beneath the beautiful oak trees of the neighbourhoods of River Oaks, West University Place, and Boulevard Oaks is always pleasant.
For hill training, your options are limited, but try in front of the United Way at Feagan and Waugh (on Thursday with the Houston Striders, or solo). Runners can also do hill repeats in Hermann Park, next to the Miller Outdoor Theater.
To join up with a group, the Houston Striders have an extensive weekly schedule that includes a track workout in Memorial Park on Tuesday mornings, a hill workout Thursday evenings, a long run on Saturday mornings at Memorial Park, and more. The Bayou City Road Runners meet Monday evenings at Memorial Park, Sunday mornings at Memorial Park, and Wednesday evenings at Rice University. Brian O’Neill’s Running Club also meets on Tuesday evenings at Rice University.
For a 20-mile ride inside the city, make a route via the Heights and go northwest and set T.C. Jester Blvd as your gateway. Head back east through the different neighbourhoods, then south on Yale St, east on White Oak Dr to Hogan St, then take Maury south to Providence St, which will bring you into Downtown. From there, take Washington if you want to avoid the lights, or continue through Downtown, heading south on Caroline St. to the Hermann Park/Rice University area. Check out the beautiful neighbourhood of West University Place, and Boulevard Oaks via Sunset Blvd. To head north again towards the Heights, use Woodhead and then Dunlavy after Woodhead ends.
For a uninterrupted bike interval workout, visit Rice University and use the unique bike track inside the Greenbriar parking lot. Visitor parking is $3 and use of the bike track is free. A non-banked bike track is flagged off inside the parking lot and is usually available to the public when organised sporting events aren’t already in place.
If you have time for a casual ride, try the bike paths, but avoid Brays Bayou west of the medical center where the path is narrow and shared with runners. White Oak Bayou is the best and least used path, especially the further you get from the center of the city. An out and back on the full length of this trail will get you 30 miles.
Group rides take place Tuesday evenings from Bike Barn, Weslayan Street and Thursday evenings from Planetary Cycle. On weekends, Urban Bicycle Gallery hosts a 22-mile road ride with different pace groups on Saturdays, and a 35-50+ mile ride on Sundays. If you have a car and crave a lack of stoplights and open country roads, you can drive out to Zube Park where the Northwest Cycling Club begins group rides every Saturday.
To rent a Specialized or Trek road bike, check out Bike Barn on Weslayan Street in West University.
Houston outdoor pools open for the summer, with a smaller selection of indoor pools to get laps in throughout the year. Considering lap times and facility availability is well worth a call before you visit, especially given the long travel times in Houston.
Year-round, the Tellepsen Family Downtown YMCA in downtown Houston has a large indoor pool and offers day passes. Two miles to the south, the University of Houston has one of the best college aquatics facilities in the country with a 50m indoor pool which is open to guests from May through August at a cost of $12 for the day, $25 for the week, or $80 for the month. Find out more at the the university’s Department of Recreation. Finally, in the Memorial Park area is Memorial Park Athletic Club & Aquatic Center, a robust facility with a sufficient 25-yard indoor pool.
Outdoor pools can be more appealing during the summer months. Either head over to Memorial Park Athletic Club & Aquatic Center for a private facility or to Memorial park’s public pool, open for lap swimming Tuesday to Friday 6-10am, roughly from June 5th through October 26th. Colonial Park Pool is another outdoor pool open to guests from mid-Spring to early Fall.
Open water swimming can be found at 288 Lake, 20 miles due south of Houston just within the outer perimeter Sam Houston Tollway. The 1km circuit at 288 Lake is accessible whenever the facility is open. Download and complete the single-page facility waiver in advance to save time on arrival, and be sure to bring cash to cover the $9 entry (spectators also have to pay an entry, $7). Swimmers need to be 17 or over to use the facility, unless they are part of an organised training session.
The Memorial Park Fitness Center is only $1.95 for a day pass, which would be a steal in most cities. For a higher-end gym, try BeFit Gym in East Downtown for a $10 day pass.
Sleeping & Eating
Houston’s broad urban area can be daunting for first-time visitors. But a quick glance of the major business hubs and adjoining hotels is enough to refine accommodation choices for a short stay. These are linked with hotels and the town’s most pioneering healthy eateries. Any serious athlete should also pay respect to some local Texan dishes – tacos are on the menu.
As for healthy dishes, Local Foods run a number of venues across Houston, each serving delicious, locally sourced lunch and dinners. Common Bond Cafe & Bakery, a lovely cafe and bakery in the heart of Montrose. For more substantial meals, go with Roost for quality, healthy, and locally sourced dining (image above), or green seed vegan, which complies with vegan conventions, as well as being nutritious.
No trip to Texas is complete without a Tour de Taco. Don’t miss a trip to Torchy’s Tacos, Velvet Taco, or one of the local taco trucks like Tacos Tierra Caliente, which only takes cash. For dinner, El Tiempo Cantina delivers an authentic Tex-Mex experience.
To get your caffeine fix, Blacksmith is an excellent choice in the Montrose area, and Retrospect Coffee Bar is a quaint and artsy location not to be missed. Others worth noting are Blonde Biscotti, Catalina Coffee, and Boomtown Coffee.
The Hotel ZaZa is an sound choice to be centrally located to Rice University, Hermann Park, and Brays Bayou. Hotel ZaZa is a trio of boutique hotels in Texas, with the Museum District being the most central for Houston. Another venue is six miles to the north-west at Memorial City, and the third location is in Dallas. ZaZa, Museum District has a modest gym for guests, and a wide spread of healthy meals available throughout the day, including oats, eggs and fresh orange juice in the hotel’s Monarch restaurant.
The Marriott Marquis in Downtown Houston overlooks the beautiful public park Discovery Green, and comes with a sizeable gym. The hotel has a number of in-house restaurants which promise excellent Mexican fusion, but Walker Street Kitchen is your best bet for a healthy, locally sourced dish with enough calories.
Alexander Durley Stadium: no number
Rice University Soccer Stadium: no number