Actually Cool Things to Do in Houston this Summer

Time to sit back and unwind.

Okay, so last summer may not have been so great… but Summer 2021 is already looking up! Not only does Houston’s most scorchingly hot season bring plenty of opportunities to work on your tan, it also brings fun events like free concerts, disturbingly good ice cream, and a little thing called turtle racing that you kind of have to experience for yourself to truly comprehend. Since it’s basically your job to get out and attempt to undo whatever the hell happened in 2020, we’ve come up with some of the best ways to do just that. Whether you’ve lived in Houston all your life or are only in town for the next five minutes, here are a few ways to dig a little deeper into this big, beautiful melting pot of a city this season.

Go stargazing at George Observatory

Brazos Bend State Park
The stars at night are legit “big and bright” if you head deep in the heart of the historic George Observatory, a satellite facility in the Houston Museum of Natural Science that recently re-emerged after a two-year facelift. On Saturday nights, the deck is open for your star-viewing pleasure, with real-time camera feeds from the observatory’s monster telescopes (you can also bring your own telescopes and binoculars). Snag the required advance tickets for $10 a pop.

Take a picnic to the stage

Museum District
We missed it last year, but the open-air Miller Outdoor Theatre has finally reopened, putting on a season of lively stage productions—think: live jazz, ballet, and musical theater—that are absolutely cool and absolutely free. Show up early with a blanket, some boxed wine, and a spread of local cheeses and have yourself a merry little picnic on the lawn or score one of the covered seats by reserving a ticket ahead of time.

Escape the heat and smash cider at the arcade

East End
We love Houston summer, but it DAMN, is it ever hot. Duck out of the sun for a few hours by hitting up the newly-unveiled Cidercade off Canal. There, you’ll find over 275 arcade games, a whopping 48 hard ciders, kombuchas, seltzers, and wines on tap, and, perhaps most importantly, glorious, glorious air-conditioning. Admission runs 10 bucks for the day or 15 for a monthly membership.

Welcome live music back into your life

Concert venues have begun to open back up, including local standbys like Warehouse Live, The Continental Club, and the sprawling indoor-outdoor spot White Oak Music Hall. You can also go acoustic at AvantGarden, get into the divey vibe at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar or Last Concert Cafe, and check out country lineups at The Rustic. Or make your very own live music with some questionable singing at Midtown favorite Glitter Karaoke.

Place bets on turtles

In the summertime, Thursday eves are made for one thing and only thing only: Cheering on tiny, adorable turtles as they race around a ring at Little Woodrow’s Midtown. Buckets of beer, a designated turtle MC, prizes, and the rowdy race itself are all part of the fun—as is betting your buddies a bucket of beer on the most ridiculously-named shellmaster.

Get the scoop on Houston’s most coveted ice cream

You’ll have to be good at solving riddles, and stay glued to your IG account on release day, but if you do EVERYTHING right, you may be able to get your hands on a slew of dope-ass pints from local ice cream star Underground Creamery. The pop-up teases its new releases (including a mystery flavor) on its IG mostly every week, then gives you an approximate time of day via a coded riddle when you can purchase your pints online. If you’re one of the lucky ones to score some sugar, you can pick up your purchase that weekend at its pop-up location in Montrose.

See bats spiral out of the Waugh Bridge

True story: when the Waugh Bridge was built, no one realized it was the perfect structure to host a whole bunch of Mexican free-tailed bats. Well, apparently it was, because locals started noticing a bat colony around ‘99. Before Hurricane Harvey and this winter’s devastating ice storm, the bridge hosted about 300,000 of the little guys, and though some sadly didn’t make it through the storms, the colony remains intact. Today, you’ll find the bats hanging tight until they spiral out from the bridge’s crevices on warm nights around sunset. Head to the viewing platform and you may just catch a bat show, which never fails to both fascinate and creep the hell out of anyone you bring along.

Flex your skills at Topgolf

Katy, Webster, Spring
Smacking golf balls at colored targets, dominating life-size Connect Four, and drinking a decent amount of beer are just some of the top notch activities you can get into at this interactive golfing megaplex. You don’t even have to let the fact that it’s outside-the-Loop keep you away from the good times, as there are always rideshare options on hand to help if you’re planning to, er, drink and drive.

Take advantage of Market Square Park’s Movie and Bingo Nights

Market Square Park has brought back its ever-popular free outdoor movie screenings alongside $10 Blanket Bingo, with this summer’s lineup featuring throwback crowd-pleasers like Rear Window and Some Like it Hot. Bring your own lawn chairs, blankets, and picnic delights. (Note: outside booze is not allowed but there’s beer and wine for purchase along with gyros and more from Niko Niko’s.)

Continue to make the most of patio season

Patio season is basically year-round in Houston, and even though it’s hot right now, most spaces do their best to keep things cool whether it’s with extra shading, misting fans, or simply a few rounds of ice cold drinks. Some of our current favorites include spunky Mexican-American haunt Monkey’s Tail, super chill craft beer garden Axelrad, even chiller old school dive West Alabama Ice House, Truck Yard, a bonafide adult playground with an actual Ferris wheel, and King’s BierHaus’ sprawling biergarten. Go forth and imbibe.

Snag hyper seasonal produce at a farmers market

If you’re looking for local eats, both Urban Harvest’s legendary Saturday farmers market and the newly refreshed Houston Farmers Market are a really, really good place to start, but so is urban farm Finca Tres Robles, where you can drive through and get a “plow” produce basket plus pastured eggs, ground sausage and beef, raw honey, and a pint of ice cream (we’re sure you can fashion yourself a Chopped-inspired meal out of that, right?). Or try the Hope Farms market, which runs on Saturday mornings and boasts everything from rainbow beets and seasonal squash to locally made fresh egg pasta (it’s operating as a drive-thru and has an order ahead option, too). The Heights Mercantile Farmers Market, taking place on the 2nd and 4th Sundays each month right off Yale, also holds its own.

Explore the 100-acre Eastern Glades project

Memorial Park’s latest green addition is ready and waiting. Stashed away in the park’s southeast pocket, the Clay Family Eastern Glades has reclaimed 100 acres of previously inaccessible landscape. You’ll find serene trails, wetlands with sunset views, native tree-lined nooks and crannies, and a grassy central lawn ideal for summer afternoon sunbathing sessions.

Visit the always-stunning Menil Campus

This local jewel reopened to the public last fall with reservations available for free timed entry. Hit the art museum for one of the best collections in town, complete with new exhibitions and Insta-worthy standbys like the Dan Flavin installation and the spiritual Rothko Chapel (because we could all use a little zen right now). And if you’re hanging out in the green space, remember to park yourself at least 6 feet away from others. Admission is free, but donations are more than welcome.

Reserve a seat for an intimate cocktail experience

High-class cocktailery Tongue-Cut Sparrow (easily one of the best drink slingers in Houston) can’t currently operate out of its tiny space Downtown, so the talented folks behind the pine reimagined their showstopping tipple procession and set up shop in the old Penny Quarter space off Westheimer. Reservations are live on Resy, and walk-ins are welcome if space allows.

Rooftop Cinema Club
Rooftop Cinema Club | Photo courtesy of Rooftop Cinema Club

Go old-school at a drive-in movie theater

While it's waiting to officially reopen, Rooftop Cinema Club has curated a limited-run retro experience over in the East End that’s primed to provide you with your movie-going fix. Stay tuned for its lineup of screenings and, in the meantime, check out alternatives like the pop-up Moonstruck (which rocks views of the Downtown skyline) and the OG Showboat Drive-In in Hockley.

Feges BBQ
Feges BBQ | Robert Jacob Lerma

Eat your weight in BBQ

This city’s barbecue game has come a long way in recent years, and we feel it’s finally getting the attention it deserves. So you should probably pay attention, too; and you can do so by getting your ‘q on at as many local barbecue joints as your stomach will allow. Our top picks include Blood Bros. BBQ, Corkscrew, Feges BBQ, Harlem Road, and more.

Nama-stay away from others with a sunrise yoga sesh 

Buffalo Bayou Park
Imagine this: It’s early morning, before the sun and your fellow Houstonians rise. You wipe off your wine mouth from last night’s driveway happy hour and get your bottom over to Buffalo Bayou Park, where you can set your yoga mat down for a responsible, socially distant yoga sesh under the Houston skyline. If you need guidance, several Houston workout studios have online workout classes available for streaming, including Black Swan Yoga, DEFINE Body & Mind, and BIG Power Yoga.

Spend some QT with your best pal (AKA your dog)

We’re guessing your four-legged companions have been providing you with some much-needed emotional support over the past year, so you should probably show them love by letting them run free with other doggos at one of the city’s top-rated dog parks. Go big at Buffalo Bayou Park’s Johnny Steele Dog Park or treat Fido to a roster of smaller, more secluded spots like Ervan Chew Park in the Montrose, TC Jester Dog Park in the GOOF-area, and EaDog Park in EaDo (this one’s right near 8th Wonder Brewery, where you can snag excellent craft brews to enjoy while you watch the lil’ guy let loose).

Pull off a brewery Triple Crown

Some of Houston’s greatest local suds spots are making it easy to visit safely (or snag their brews to-go). Pop by top purveyors like Eureka Heights, 8th Wonder, Ingenious Brewing Company, No Label, Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company, and Saint Arnold to quench your summertime thirst in style.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership
Buffalo Bayou Partnership | Jonnu Singleton/SWA Group

Take a hike

Some say Houston’s not the prettiest city, and to that we say, “Ok, you’re probably right.” But we DO have some pretty picturesque hikes and running trails. Lace up and break a sweat on one of the most beautiful runs in Houston, including but not limited to the winding hike and bike trails of Buffalo Bayou Park, the even more discreet Buffalo Bend Nature Park, and the 1,700-acre George Mitchell Nature Preserve. If you don’t mind venturing a bit further out, you’ll also want to check out these amazing hikes near Houston.

Embark on a DIY taco crawl

Have some extra time on your hands? Spend it wisely by setting out on a gut-busting taco crawl. Start with chorizo y huevo-loaded breakfast tacos, then move onto chicharron-, al pastor-, and carne asada-kissed numbers via the most important tacos in Houston. By the end, you’ll finally be able to proclaim your H-town taco allegiances. (And for more tortilla-fueled inspo, check out our list of Houston’s tastiest Mexican restaurants.)

Dish Society
Dish Society | Kimberly Park

Brunch, and brunch hard

Second only to inviting yourself over to the home of literally anyone you know with a pool, a Houstonian’s favorite leisurely weekend activity is definitely brunch. Don’t know where to start? We’ve got you covered with a lineup of all things boozy and Benny, from luxe Creole fine dining to Mexican brunch fare done right.

Mala Sichuan Bistro
Mala Sichuan Bistro | Photo by Heng Chen

Explore Chinatown one bite at a time 

The entire restaurant industry is continuing to struggle against the ongoing pandemic, but Houston’s treasured Chinatown started seeing steep declines in business earlier than most. Now’s a great time to show your support by feasting your way through all the neighborhood has to offer, from dumplings, noodles, and vegetarian joints to ramen, crawfish, and pho.

Rent a B-cycle

One of the best ways to get to know a city is by biking it, and if you don’t have wheels of your own, hit up one of B-cycle's 80+ (and counting) stations to rent yourself a shiny new ride. It’ll run you $3 per 30 minutes, or you can go full-on Tour de Houston and sign up for the $13 monthly membership, which will unlock unlimited 60-minute trips for the entire month. All in-use bike stations have posted signs reminding riders to wash hands before and after riding and wear gloves if they can, and strict disinfecting and sanitizing protocols remain in place.

Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House
Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House | Photo by Kimberly Park

Gorge yourself on seafood

One of the many reasons Houston’s dining scene totally rocks is its sheer proximity to the Gulf Coast, which in turn means we have some pretty badass local seafood. Over at Brennan's of Houston, the Gulf Fish Pontchartrain comes with a blanket of crispy Louisiana oysters, jumbo lump crab, shrimp, and Creole butter, while the Texas shrimp & grits are pretty much legendary. 1751 Sea and Bar serves its goods raw, smoked, preserved, cured, wood-grilled, or covered in butter and Caracol is where you want to go for coastal Mexican and char-grilled oysters. Local darling Goode Company Seafood has Gulf oysters, campechana, seafood gumbo and po-boys, and grilled red snapper, all available for dine-in or carry-out. And if you’re up for a bit of a drive, head down to San Leon for a blissful, bayside oyster experience at Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House.

Explore Buffalo Bayou Park

Stretching from Shepherd to Sabine between Allen Parkway and Memorial, Buffalo Bayou Park is the Crown Jewel of Houston’s green spaces. Take a walk along the winding hiking and cycling paths and you’ll be rewarded with grassy plateaus framed by trees, kayak rentals, a giant dog park and skate park, picnic spots and pavilions, and plenty of cool art installations like the Dandelion fountain and the six four-foot-tall “Monumental Moments” sculptures along the Kinder Footpath. Just be sure to respect the six-feet-away rule at all times.

Go mural hopping

You can kill at least a couple of hours Insta-storying yourself in front of some of the city’s coolest local art attractions. Stops include but are not limited to Market Square’s “Houston is...” mural, the Biscuit Paint Wall on Westheimer, the We <3 Houston Sign, the 10-foot tall Midtown letters in Bagby Park, the “Greetings from Houston” wall on White Oak, Synchronicity of Color in Discovery Green, Downtown’s Art Blocks, and all the cool stuff over in the Arts District Houston.

See why we take home so many James Beard Awards

Our JBA-winning chefs and restaurants continue to prove their worth even in the current dining climate. Over at his game-changing New American bistro, Theodore Rex, Justin Yu has opened up for limited-capacity dining while continuing his popular to-go service. (Yu’s partnership with neighborhood spot Squable might have something to do with it ranking as one of the best restaurants in town.) Elsewhere, Chef Hugo Ortega has reopened all three of his popular Mexican stunners—Hugo’s, Caracol, and Xochi—and Chef Chris Shepherd’s upscale riffs on classic comforts are on full display at Underbelly Hospitality’s various culinary offerings. Irma Galvan’s namesake Mexican haunt Irma’s remains a homestyle classic and Robert Del Grande, who won in 1992, continues to impress with dine-in and take-out via his storied The Annie Cafe and Bar.

Cheer on the ‘Stros at Minute Maid Park

Taking in a ball game while downing one-too-many hot dogs simply screams summer. Tick off this annual bucket list item by snagging a couple of Astros tickets and spending an evening cheering on our very own boys of summer under the lights at Minute Maid Park.

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Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who will apparently be doing A LOT this summer. Follow her journey through the hottest months on IG @brookiefafa or on Twitter @BrookeViggiano.
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