OKAY, SO THE HOUSTON ZOO isn’t exactly an unknown attraction, but how can I ignore this warm and fuzzy institution, especially its newest addition, the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo? Most of the munchkins I saw scurrying around there were more interested in scaling the giant sculptures of frogs and dolphins and such than they were in watching live critters like otters, bats, and dozing kit foxes—until they spied the prairie dog town, that is. Kids (and a few agile adults) crawled through tubes and popped up in clear plastic domes in the midst of the rodents’ village for eye-to-eye encounters. The prairie dogs remained, for the most part, oblivious to the intrusive humans, but the appearance of one little girl in a floppy chartreuse hat triggered barks and stares. Perhaps the animals thought she was some tasty variety of rapid-growing vegetation?

SOMETIMES NOTHING SOOTHES LIKE MOTHER Nature. In the midst of a residential neighborhood bordering Memorial Drive, I stumbled onto one of her grand works—the Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary, 17.5 thickly forested acres along Rummel Creek. Judging by the posted bird lists, flocks of feathered friends have stopped by to pay their respects to the Houston Audubon Society, which headquarters here. In addition to the birds, bunnies, and woodsy trails, the preserve contains evidence of Houston’s relative youth as a city, even by Texas standards: the log cabin built by Moore and her husband, Jesse—who made a living logging and dairy farming on this land—way back in 1930.

LOOMING LARGE ON THE EAST side of downtown is Enron—oops, I mean Minute Maid Park. (I ought to show this subsidiary of Coca-Cola more respect; after all, it will pay an estimated $170 million over the next 28 years for the privilege of naming the stadium and plastering its logos everywhere but the toilet seats.) Sports fans will love the stats on this $265 million facility: a retractable roof that opens in twenty minutes, a 29-acre footprint, a field covered with real grass (Seashore Paspalum), 1,400 speakers throughout, and—my favorite—a 50,000-pound replica of an 1860 locomotive that makes noisy celebratory runs back and forth along an eight-hundred-foot-long track near the roof. Did I mention clubs, restaurants, concession stands, shops, an art gallery, luxury suites, and an interactive kiddie corral? Oh, yeah—sporting events are held here too. Along with about 40,000 fans of every race, creed, color, size, and socioeconomic class, my husband, Richard, and I watched the Astros lick the Texas Rangers 4-0.

FOR THE SWEATIEST SOCIAL SCENE in town, I checked out the Seymour-Lieberman Exer-Trail, in Memorial Park, where an estimated 10,000 joggers, power walkers, stroller pushers, and beautiful bodies navigate the wide gravel path every day.