50 Ways to Take Your Houston Summer to the Next Level
Summer in Houston is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s summer. Everybody loves summer. On the other hand, it’s also the season during which the entire metropolitan area migrates to the surface of the sun. Naturally, most of Houston’s summer involves finding ways not to melt. The good news is, we have 50 suggestions for how to make your Houston summer a blast, (mostly) without succumbing to the blast furnace that we call home.
2. If summer has you feeling flush, treat yourself to a meal at one of Houston’s finest restaurants, Tony’s. Check out the special seasonal “Haute July” menu for just $59 including wine pairings. Swanky Summer, here we come.
3. When the city is on its fifth consecutive day of 100-degree-plus temps, get out of the noon sun at Conservatory, a cool, subterranean food hall just off the Metro Rail downtown. Crêpes, barbecue, ramen, drinks, and A/C? Yes please.
4. Summer and barbecue go hand in hand in Texas. When you don’t feel like spending 14 hours minding your own pit, get your fix at Brooks’ Place in Cypress and at Pappa Charlie’s just east of downtown. Houston pit masters don’t just stick to the Texas Trinity, so check out this map to smoked meat nirvana.
Bonus: If you’re in town and hungry on July 18, you might be able to score a ticket to the third annual “Collaboration of Smoke.” This year’s event focuses on “Elevated ‘Cue,” with pit masters Wesley Jurena (Pappa Charlie’s) and Patrick Feges (Southern Goods) teaming up with recent Chopped Champion Erin Smith for a feast of fine-dining through a hazy smokehouse lens.
5. There’s just something about summer that cries out for meats in tube form. Whether you want the simplicity of a chili dog with all the right moves, or more au courant versions, our comprehensive hot dog list has you covered.
6. While other kids are chasing down the ice cream truck, Houstonians know their best bet to beat the heat is to head to the nearest refresqueria for a fruity frozen mangonada (frozen mango puree topped with chopped mango and an array of sour, salty and spicy adders) or the south-of-the-border snow cone called a raspado doused in tangy-spicy-sweet chamoy. Don’t forget a cup of esquites (corn-off-the-cob, gigged with mayo, lime, chile sauce and cheese), which is pretty much a fiesta to go.
7. If you’d like your frozen treats more in the ice-cream vernacular, Houston has plenty of parlors to scratch that itch, from traditionalists like Hank’s Ice Cream, to the avant-garde Cloud 10 Creamery. Meet in the middle at Fat Cat Creamery in the Heights, where classics like Mexican Vanilla rub shoulders with more out-there creations like Waterloo Strawberry Buttermilk.
8. For a great al fresco feast, stock up on cured meats and house-made sundries at Revival Market, grab some fancy cheese from the Houston Dairy Maids, a loaf of bread from Slow Dough Bake Shop inside Weights and Measures. Once you’re all packed, head to one of these lovely picnic spots and toast summer.
9. Few things say summer in Texas like a bushel of fresh peaches. Make the most of them with desserts like the Wood Roasted Texas Peach Crostada at Coltivare, or a month’s worth of peachy inspiration at Bistro Provence, where a new Texas Peach dessert debuts weekly through the end of July. If you haven’t had peach juice running down your chin, have you really summered? And what if nobody saw it?
10. Houston’s beefy-cheesy landscape is constantly changing, which is great news for your summer burger cravings. Both longtime favorites and upstarts like Killen’s Burgers and Kuma Burgers offer the best of beef and bun. Put away that “Kiss The Cook” apron and let the pros do the grilling.
11. Houston in the summer can make a bar excursion a sweaty affair. To beat the heat, try hopping on and off the light rail for a motorized tour of some of the city’s finest drinkeries.
12. Before Houston had air conditioning, we had Ice Houses. They don’t sell blocks of the cold stuff anymore, but they do keep Houston neighborhoods cool with plenty of iced longnecks. Start at the iconic West Alabama Ice House, but don’t forget neighborhood stalwarts like Sheffield’s or new-guard spots like D&T Drive Inn or Eight Row Flint.
13. Summer is about adventure. When you were a kid, that meant exploring that creepy abandoned house down the street. Now that you’re an adult, it might mean exploring that creepy building you thought was an abandoned house, but which turns out to be a hot new hidden bar. We’ll help you figure out which is which.
14. If you’re looking for some of those uh oh, those summer niiiiiiiights, we’ve got a few suggestions on where to get started. Summer fling might not mean a thing, but if you start it out at one of these spots, it just might.
15. Look, we know it’s hot. We know that it feels like the sun has a personal vendetta against you and the only way to remain safe is to stay somewhere with four walls, a roof, and air-conditioning, always. That’s no way to spend a summer, though. Wait for a cooler day (it’s all relative) or wait for the sun to start its retreat, then grab a drink at one of these, our suggestions for outdoor drinking in Houston. Yes, you can do this.
16. You think you’re the only one who gets a little stir-crazy cooped up inside all day all summer? Imagine if you didn’t even have the opposable thumbs necessary to open the door if you did decide to get out of the house. Have mercy on your four-legged friends and take them with you to one of Houston’s many dog-friendly bars.
17. Sometimes you want to have your cake and eat it too. Or have your frozen treat and drink it, too. From spiked milkshakes to cocktail push-pops, check out these options for sweet, ice cold adult indulgences. If you prefer the slushy mode, the folks over at Grand Prize Bar and Lei Low are doing god’s work with cocktails dispensed via Slushee machine.
18. Sometimes you and your crew just has to save a buck and drink at home. With a broad range of reliable chains like Spec’s, beer-savvy grocers like HEB, and independent operators like Houston Wine Merchant or D&Q The Beer Station, Houston home drinking is a great way to beat the heat, and you won’t even need an Uber.
19. As Alice Cooper says, school’s out for summer. That means more parents with kids in tow. If you find yourself so encumbered, but still want a place for a nice drink, this list of kid-friendly bars will help you find your happy (hour) place, without making you feel like a social degenerate.
20. Houston has a bunch of great drinking neighborhoods. Pit them against each other in a no-holds-barred tournament with the crown as the prize. Regardless of which one of them wins, you all do.
21. Texas summers require swimming. Not just any swimming, swimming in natural aquifer-fed limestone swimming hole at a year-round 70 degrees. That’s Barton Springs Pool in central Austin, just a few hours west of town, and it’s just one of the state’s many natural swimming areas, many of which boast fantastical natural surroundings as backdrop to your dip.
22. We all appreciate the pleasures of mixed company, but sometimes it’s nice to just hang out with the boys, or to have a girls’ night out. This summer, take that to the next level and create some memories on one of these his and hers road trips.
23. Corpus Christi is the birthplace of Whataburger. That alone should be enough to send you on a pilgrimage. In case it’s not, there’s a lot of other cool stuff going on in Corpus, from baseball to otter fights to ride-in theaters. But seriously. Two. Story. Whataburger.
24. Whether you prefer bouldering, rappelling, or lead climbing, Texas has plenty of sick routes to please the most discriminating gym rat longing to get outside. From the hills of central Texas to the mini mountains and huecos of the state’s western reaches, here’s all the beta you need. Belay On!
25. Texas has 600 miles of coastline. That’s a lot of beach to explore, and a lot of beachy activities to enjoy. Surf fishing or wind-surfing; movies on the side of a lighthouse; dolphin watching. Texas’ gulf coast has a little bit of everything, and is well worth the journey.
26. Small towns make for epic road-trip destinations. 19th Century dance-halls, steamboats, gator parks and more await you just a few hours’ drive from Houston in all directions. Here are some of the best bet destinations within spitting distance.
27. If you’re going to be sweating anyway, you might as well make it the meat sweats. Clustered along the Texas Barbecue Trail, in small towns all around Austin, the state’s best pit masters ply their trade in smokehouses large and small. You won’t get plates at most of these places, let alone such frippery as silverware, but you will get toe-curling brisket in a place whose walls fairly reek with barbecue history. You’ll smell like meat for a month, and you’ll like it. Dedicate a couple of days, making Austin your central hub. It does OK with barbecue, itself.
28. Barbecue:Texas:Boudin:Louisiana. It’s important to understand the gravity of boudin in Cajun country. Like with the best barbecue, the best boudin is often found on back roads in ramshackle buildings. This will not be a luxury trip, but it will be a delicious one. Be on the lookout for other unbeatable regional delicacies as well, with a special focus on cracklins.
29. Just a few hours’ drive from Houston, walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas. If you’re willing to drive a few more hours, Crater of Diamonds State Park lets you dig for a girl’s best friend for a small entry fee. You keep any gems you find. Step 3: PROFIT!
30. San Antonio might be best known for The Alamo, and that’s a spot worthy of a drive-by, if nothing else. Beyond that, though, the city offers an amazing array of restaurants, from regional Tex-Mex (home of the Puffy Taco) to trailblazing modern barbecue (the Granary). Stay at the new Hotel Emma on the grounds of the 1894 Pearl Brewery (a destination in itself), and use it as home base while you explore area attractions like San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (beats the Alamo by a mile) or the byzantine underworld of Natural Bridge Caverns.
Because summer without a little heat would be pretty boring. Add even more spice to your plans by escaping with Jack Fire, a red-hot blend of cinnamon liqueur and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
31. If you like trail running, scavenger hunts and beer, the Hash House Harriers might be for you. Often described as a drinking club with a running problem, the Hash is a loosely organized international association of social runners who turn exercise into an adventure, with a cooler of beer as the reward. Join the Hash, find the trail and chase the Hare. On-On.
32. Summer is for swimming, grilling, and NASCAR. Since you probably won’t be getting a sponsorship any time soon, go-kart racing is your best bet if you want to go fast. K1 Speed offers high performance machines on an indoor track, hitting speeds of nearly 45mph. When you’re in a vehicle the size of a large box, that’s fast. If you’re looking to burn some rubber outside, Houston Grand Prix has you covered. Not literally, of course.
33. What’s summer without a waterslide (or a lazy river, if that’s more your speed)? Houston has a few excellent options nearby, from the Galveston outpost of perennial favorite Schlitterbahn, to our own home-grown splash fest, SplashTown and new hotspot Typhoon Texas (their waterslides have laser guns).
34. Houston is often derided for its looks, but spend a day seeing another side of Houston, and it may just be like it took its glasses off and let down its hair. She’s been beautiful all this time.
35. Underneath downtown Houston is a whole subterranean town of restaurants, shops, and services. While many office workers use the system as a way to get around downtown out of the heat, there’s enough down there for not one but three separate tours, focusing on architecture, history, and culture.
36. If you’ve ever wanted to jump out of a moving airplane, if not for that whole “jumping out of a moving airplane” bit, iFly is for you. As a giant column of air keeps you weightless and your face ripples into a series of ridiculous smiles and grimaces, you’ll already be planning your next flight. Plus, no hot-wind chafing.
37. If you can’t decide whether you’d rather stare at a screen all day or get off the couch and get outside, perhaps geocaching is a good compromise for your brain and your butt. All around the country, geocachers hide “treasure” for their compatriots to find. Whether the treasure is a small trinket or just the thrill of the hunt, it’s a fun blend of ancient and modern, with plenty of sites to be found in and around Houston.
38. If you’re more interested in actual treasure, The Secret might be more up your alley. In 1981, an enigmatic book hinted at the locations of 12 keys buried in 12 locations around North America, each granting its finder ownership of one 12 gems the publisher, Byron Preiss, stashed in a New York safety deposit box. Only two have been found, and one is rumored to be buried in Houston’s Hermann Park. If you can decipher the series of cryptic verses and imagery, it’s yours for the taking.
39. TopGolf isn’t necessarily about golf. Sure, many scratch-players practice their drive at the multi-deck covered range, but just as many go out just to hit. Add top shelf drinks and food, and you’ve got a few hours that you can claim as exercise.
40. Accommodating all skill levels, Houston’s indoor rock gyms offer everything from top-roping to bouldering, plus Crossfit, yoga, and other exercise classes as well. They also provide all the gear you’ll need, available for rental. Texas Rock Gym offers a classic wall with plenty of experienced climbers, while Inspire Rock is a massive indoor space with a perfect picnic spot built right in.
41. Beer garden? Check. Drinking Hammocks? Double-check. Notable jazz trumpeter Kermit Ruffins? Check yeah. Every Thursday, midtown’s Axelrad delivers this trifecta of awesome, like a weekly mini-festival all summer long. If you can’t make that, Axelrad also hosts a weekly outdoor movie, Mondays throughout the summer.
42. Summer in Houston means getting sweaty. Once you get comfortable with that fact, you learn not only to live with it, but to love it. If you can get sweaty while listening to great live music, all the better. This list of Every Outdoor Summer Concert in Houston ought to help.
43. Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theater features always-free stage productions and cultural events, from Shakespeare to film screenings. If you don’t want to pack a blanket and sit on the hill, you can reserve seats (also free) in person at the box office.
44. Check out the The Orange Show or the Art Car Museum for a look into Houston’s eclectic alternative arts scene, or things you never even thought had museums, like the National Museum of Funeral History or the Museum of Printing History. Want a comprehensive list of Houston’s free museums? We’ve got you.
45. The two main downsides of summer in Houston are heat and mosquitos. Beat both by heading over to the Waugh bridge at dusk to watch Texas’ largest constant population of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge and launch a full-on aerial assault on the bloodsucking insect scourge.
46. Fight fire with fire at the annual Houston Hot Sauce Festival, featuring dozens of spicy samples to tingle the taste buds and test your endurance. If your body’s going to sweat, your tongue might as well get in on the act.
47. Shred some wicked pretend licks at the US Air Guitar Championship. Well, you won’t be competing, but you can pretend. Wait, wouldn’t that mean you are competing-?
48. Check out CSs Houston’s staging of Back to the Future: UNSCRIPTED, an audience-suggestion-based improv staging of the classic film. Get your tickets and play along, and you can send Marty back to June in a taco truck, for a vicarious summer re-do. Saturdays through the end of the summer.
49. Under the fields and paths of Buffalo Bayou Park sits a secret cavern, just waiting to be explored. OK, so it’s not secret, but Houston pretty much forgot about it for a few decades. And it’s not a cavern, it’s a cistern. But it is cavernous. And you can’t really explore it, but they do have guided tours now. Still, it’s really cool (you know, because it’s underground).
50. You probably have at least some obligations now, even during the summer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t relive your childhood a little. That’s where BooTown’s Grown-up Storytime comes in. The third Tuesday of every month, BooTown and friends gather at Rudyard’s British Pub to stage a reading of audience-provided stories. Funny, heartwarming or just plain weird, GUST has a way of connecting with that childlike part of us that still wants to be read to. But also likes drinks.