5 Must Do Things in Garden Oaks & Oak Forest

Volley, set and spike your way to glory with friends at Wakefield Crowbar's sand courts | Courtesy of Wakefield Crowbar

In our Must Do Things Around Greater Houston series, we take a look at Houston’s vast array of communities, neighborhoods and destinations to bring you five fun, tasty, surprising and enticing reasons you should give each one a visit.

Replete with oak, pecan, and pine trees, vintage bungalows, ranches from the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, plus top-rated schools, this duo of neighborhoods has drawn in a steady crowd of young families.

But that doesn’t mean the ‘burbs don’t have any cool factor, as an infusion of hip restaurants and some stellar craft beer bars keep the once-sleepy district rather lively.

Here are our 5 reasons you’ll want to check out the GOOF area.

Note: For the purposes of this list, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest is defined as the area covered by this map.

5 Must Do Things in Garden Oaks & Oak Forest

1. Get your craft brew (and fun) on

Take a flight of craft brew in the Garden Oaks/Oak Forest ‘hood | Courtesy of Great Heights Brewing Company

Not only does this franken-neighborhood boast some of the city’s best craft beer bars, those craft beer bars also have some extra fun attached. At Cottonwood, you’ll find 40-plus taps of suds alongside a lineup of live music, corn hole, fire pits, special events like seasonal boils, and one of the most happening outdoor spaces in town. Over at Wakefield Crowbar, you’ll find 39 taps, trivia and steak nights, and three sand volleyball courts where you can unleash that competitive side; and right nearby are two homegrown breweries: Walking Stick—offering a family friendly experience with a tap room, two beer gardens, kids play areas, and craft suds from easy drinkers to a variety of IPAs; and the laidback Great Heights Brewing Company, with taproom favorites like the Haze Not Hate Hazy Double IPA, Great Heights Hefeweizen, and Uncle Leo Fruited Sour.

2. Brunch with the best of them

Grub on Modern American foods at d’Alba in Garden Oaks/Oak Forest | Photo: Becca Wright; courtesy of d’Alba

Hit Cottonwood to brunch on green migas, biscuits and gravy, and tres leches french toas; grab  orange-glazed cinnamon rolls, Texas blue crab eggs benny and hanger steak & eggs; join the crowd at the family-friendly d’Alba for adult-approved brunch bites like blue crab & shrimp campechana, lemon ricotta pancakes, smashed avocado flat bread, and a killer brunch burger, plus kids eats, morning cocktails, and a playground; pop into Millie’s Kitchen & Cocktails for pancakes, breakfast tacos, bloody Marys, and steak & eggs; grab to-go bites at Common Bond On-The-Go; wake up with a trip to coffee shops like Slowpokes, where you’ll find various roasts (both local and not), cold brew on tap, and grub from ham & brie croissants to smoked salmon bagels; Luce Coffee Roasters, and Sunday Press; dig into chilaquiles and huevos rancheros at Valencia’s Tex-Mex Garage; and work through mimosa flights and chicken & waffles at Local Table.

3. Picnic & play at T.C. Jester Park

Connect with the White Oak Bayou Trail for a bike ride that stretches to Downtown | Courtesy of Houston Parks Board

Take your pup to this lush neighborhood park, where you’ll find a small dog park with plenty of other pups for yours to play with. You’ll want to hit up the 21-hole disc golf course, biking and jogging trails, sports fields, and a community pool and playground for the kiddos, too; and those looking for a nice long bike and running trail can connect to the White Oak Bayou Trail right from the park. Cozy up in a tree-shaded spot for a picnic before or after you play. And for more ways to play, bring the kids to the revitalized playground at Oak Forest Park.

4. Get messy at Gatlin’s BBQ

Gatlin’s ribs are a longtime staple of the Houston BBQ scene | Courtesy of Gatlin’s BBQ

Warning: You will get your hands (and face) dirty when you dive into the juice-dripping ribs at this all-star barbecue joint. After closing its doors in the original spot on 19th, Gatlin’s moved on up to this ‘hood in 2015. The new digs are quite bigger than the original (bumping from 700 square feet to 4,200), with more seating for you to sprawl out at while you go caveman on those aforementioned ribs. Choose from plump, meaty baby-back ribs; succulent, fatty St. Louis-style; or tender, dino-sized beef ribs. Then get some brisket, dirty rice and collards, new breakfast delights, and bread pudding, while you’re at it.

5. Wine & dine

Start your day with a nutritious brunch bowl at Local Table | Courtesy of Local Table

Once considered a sleepy part of town when it came to dining, the Garden Oaks and Oak Forest area is now ripe with excellent options, from old favorites like Plonk! Beer & Wine Bistro to newcomers including popular Montrose imports Aladdin Mediterranean and Vietnamese eatery and banh mi shop Les Ba’get, perfect happy hour spot Valencia’s Tex-Mex Garage, Vietnamese drive-thru Saigon Hustle, coastal and local spot Millie’s Kitchen & Cocktails, and d’Alba, a fast neighborhood favorite with a great playground and outdoor area that’ll satisfy both kids and adults. And those looking for vegetarian eats should check out Govinda’s Vegetarian Cuisine, which also offers vegan fare every day and all day on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.

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Brooke Viggiano is a food and lifestyle writer residing in Houston. When she's not contributing to publications like 365 Things to Do in Houston, Thrillist Houston and the Houston Press, she's on the hunt for the coolest happenings in the city. You can follow her musings on Twitter @BrookeViggiano .