Best of Houstonia

65 Winter Must-Do’s

Explore the Houston that’s been in hibernation or stay inside and make hot cocoa—it’s up to you, but we’ll help you make the most of these precious cool months.

By Houstonia Staff November 29, 2015 Published in the December 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Whether they’re natives or newbies, sooner or later all Houstonians catch themselves saying the same thing. It happens during the hottest dog days of summer, when the air radiates intense, Hades-worthy calidity—and all hope, and all sane humans, have abandoned the city streets. “It may be terrible right now,” we say, “but at least we don’t have to shovel snow.” This is the mantra of Houstonians who endure, the mantra of Houstonians who’ve been waiting all year for this very moment: for winter. And now it’s here.

But the season is for more than scoffing at our bundled-up buddies to the north. It’s for enjoying a city that comes alive when the heat and humidity melt away, and all that’s left are clear blue skies and endless opportunities for making the most of these precious few months. Whether you choose to break out your boots and explore the Houston that’s been in hibernation or stay inside and make hot cocoa, we’ll help you uncover the season’s best. —Katharine Shilcutt

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Highland Village

Deck The Palms

…with boughs of fairy lights.

When it comes to Christmas shopping, no city can compare to the quaint charm of London or the many-splendored holiday windows of NYC, especially against a backdrop of delicately falling snow. We accept this in Houston, where Black Friday is often balmy, and instead do things our own way, decking out the palm trees in Highland Village and River Oaks Shopping Center with lights and red ribbons and Instagramming ourselves underneath them in our festive holiday tees. White Christmas it ain’t, but for the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.

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Image: Jeff Balke

Seriously, Let It Snow

It was Saturday, February 2, 1980. Ten-year-old me awoke to the sight of something my wondering eyes had rarely seen: snow, on the ground, in Houston. In the early-morning hours, a light dusting—just over an inch—had fallen, and I couldn’t wait to get outside. I bundled up in layer after layer, topping it off with a heavy coat, and headed outside in the freezing temperatures to find my friend Glen.

Of course, a game of tackle football in his backyard was just a pretense to roll around in what passes for snow here—not the powdery stuff of Colorado and upstate New York, but something more akin to slush. Nevertheless, to us it was still magical, made more special by its rarity. Glen and I wound up soaked and ready for hot chocolate a mere 10 minutes into our game, but nearly 35 years later I still remember that coat-soaking, bone-chilling, euphoric day.

Few and far between as they are, I remember every snow day Houston has had during my lifetime. Among my memories: me, not even four years old, begging to go outside during the February cold snap of 1973. Decades later, Christmas Eve 2004: the heart-stopping sight of the first flurries floating past our windows, transforming the entire region into a scene out of a Bing Crosby song. And those back-to-back Decembers—2008 and 2009—when I raced around with my camera to capture the ephemeral white glory before it melted, work be damned.

On the precious few snow days Houston gets, we gawk, transfixed, at the spectacle of it all before dashing outside into city streets and suburban backyards. We pretend it’s more than a fleeting moment, a glancing winter blow. We ponder, for a moment, the cursed life of Northerners who shovel driveways and invest in snow tires and hold cleared parking spots for neighbors. And finally, we rejoice in the knowledge that tomorrow it will be gone, without the help of snowplows or rock salt, though our memories of it will remain with us forever, frozen in time. —Jeff Balke

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The Hotel Galvez

Gobble Up Galveston

Galveston Restaurant Week gives you another great excuse to visit—even in winter.

Celebrating a new year may mean starting things off on the right foot with a new diet and exercise routine. Here to derail your best-laid plans is Galveston’s fifth annual Restaurant Week, at which it’s almost impossible to resist tasting and tippling until you tip over. Okay, “week” is misleading; the event is actually a two-week foodie fest featuring special prix fixe menus at dozens of the island’s best restaurants, including newcomers like Number 13 and stalwarts like Shearn’s and the Hotel Galvez, all offering multicourse meals ranging from $10 to $40 per menu. And hey, look at it this way: if you resolved to spend less money on dining out in 2017, then this event is ideal.
Galveston Restaurant Week, Jan. 7–22, 2017

Get Steamy: Cool Your Heels with a Hot Drink

Hot Chocolate 

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Sipping chocolate at Cacao & Cardamom

At Cacao & Cardamom, owner and chocolatier Annie Rupani makes a luxurious European sipping chocolate that’s so decadent, it takes two to finish a single cup. Her secret? Keeping the base simple. “People get so crazy over needing to buy a hot cocoa kit, and hot cocoa is just chocolate and milk,” Rupani says, though that’s not to say you shouldn’t feel free to gussy it up.

Visiting Rupani’s Galleria-area store is a treat in itself: it’s the perfect place to score some seriously high-quality dark chocolate, the must-have ingredient for making the best hot cocoa at home. As for toppings and extras, there are marshmallows, of course, but Rupani also suggests pistachios, peppermint and cardamom. “Anything that’d go great with actual chocolate,” she says, “you can put into hot cocoa.”

Three (More) to Try:

  1. The frozen hot chocolate at The Chocolate Bar for those temperate winter evenings.
  2. The hot masala chocolate at Kiran’s for when you want to spice things up.
  3. The hot chocolate made from house-ground cocoa beans at Hugo’s for when you want a double dessert: it comes with hot, sugary churros.

Recipe: Cardamom European Sipping Chocolate

  • 3 oz. 64 percent Manjari Chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 oz. whole milk
  • 1 t. freshly ground cardamom seeds
  • 1/4 whole vanilla bean
  • Optional: 1 T. brown sugar 
  1. Heat milk, vanilla bean and cardamom in medium saucepan.
  2. Bring milk to a boil. Turn off stove, cover pot and allow to steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Remove vanilla bean and begin heating milk again. 
  4. When milk is warm, whisk in chocolate, stirring until melted and steaming hot.
  5. Add brown sugar if desired. 
  6. Serve warm. 

Optional: top with your favorite marshmallows or homemade whipped cream.

Mulled Wine

A how-to: Despite what some may think, mulled wine is not just for Renaissance Festival–goers. Antonio Gianola, oenophile and general manager at Houston Wine Merchant, first learned to love the stuff back home in Chicago, where it’s more prevalent thanks to the far chillier winters. Here in Houston, he rarely finds the drink in restaurants or bars. “When it’s 80 degrees, you don’t want to be drinking hot beverages,” he says.

If you’re whipping up a batch at home, Gianola suggests using a medium-bodied red such as a Côtes du Rhône or Barbera. “I like the earthiness and softer tannin of those wines,” says Gianola. “And since you’re cooking it with other spices, you can pick a more affordable bottle.” While cloves, star anise and Chinese five-spice are customary for mulled wine, Gianola opts for cinnamon and orange peel for his own brew, simmering them in the wine for 10 to 15 minutes on the stove.

That said, the concoction—like wine itself—is a matter of taste. “There’s no one recipe,” Gianola says. “You can just play around with it.” Whichever you choose, there’s at least one guarantee: your kitchen will smell incredible. 

Hot Toddies

  1. The Double Barrel Toddy: Arnaldo Richards’ Picos sweetens up a base of apple-lemon tea with agave nectar and caramel liqueur and spikes it with tequila.
  2. Mom’s Spiced Tea: Stone’s Throw mixes rum with a secret blend of winter spices (think cinnamon, allspice and cloves).
  3. Graverobber’s Grog: Voodoo Queen blends dark-roast coffee and Bacardi 151 with Drambuie aged scotch, rich Velvet Falernum, tropical Coco Lopez, and lemon and orange zest. —Jennifer Nguyen

Say Adios, Mosquitos 

At least for now…

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Image: Chris Danger

The first hard freeze—when temps drop below the mid-20s for at least a few hours—may not be great news for your pipes, but it does mean a respite from that most Houstonian of foes: the blood-thirsty mosquito.

The truth? They’re just hibernating. The idea that these pests are outright killed by the frost is an old wives’ tale, says Dr. Gabriel Hamer, an assistant professor of entomology at Texas A&M University.

“We have storm drains and storm tunnels … where these adults [mosquitoes] can seek shelter; it’s a microhabitat where they can survive.” They’ll be back in March or April, but even a short-lived reprieve is worth celebrating.

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The Remington at St. Regis

Fire Away

What’s that? You have your own fireplace? And you’ve been using it since October? Good for you (no, we are totally not jealous). The rest of us have to make do with borrowing a seat by someone else’s fireplace—and thankfully, these five spots are well prepared to make room. —Nick Esquer

Backstreet Café

In this charming house-turned-restaurant in River Oaks, chef Hugo Ortega’s seasonal sipping lineup includes a salted dark chocolate cashew cocoa and a roasted pumpkin version, both of which are best enjoyed around the hearth. When you make reservations, request a spot near the quaint fireplaces in either of the eatery’s second-floor dining rooms—but call early, says owner Tracy Vaught, because in true Houston fashion, “they get requested when the weather barely gets cool.”

Brooklyn Athletic Club

If Stefon from SNL were in Houston, he would definitely advocate for this Montrose eatery. This place has everything: croquet, table tennis, a backyard bar, people who wear Columbia fishing shirts to brunch... The casual hangout also lays on the winter charm with outdoor fire-pit seating complete with everything you need to make your own s’mores. 

Memorial City Mall

The massive West Houston mall provides a respite from the holiday shopping grind with an equally massive floor-to-ceiling fireplace. It also plays host to performances from groups including the orchestra Virtuosi of Houston, whose teenage prodigies present their annual Christmas concert on December 4.

Red Lion Pub

Inside Craig Mallinson’s cozy British pub, dim lighting and a blend of English classics plus Indian–influenced grub can inspire a long winter’s chat by the bar’s fireplace. On Wednesday Curry Nights, crowd around the outdoor fire pit for a spicy supper along with the pint of your choice for $22.

The Remington at St. Regis

You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to sidle up to the in-house bar, where deep leather armchairs await discussions of corporate strategies—or not. For our money, the elegant fireplace is the perfect setting for discussing whether to order a whiskey, neat, or the bar’s own Texas Bloody Mary, first concocted in 1934.

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Exploring Buffalo Bayou

Get Outside

The heat can’t hold you back now!

When the mercury dips, leaving the house can be low on the agenda—far lower than that Game of Thrones marathon. But when Houston gets chilly, we shouldn’t go into hibernation. That’s actually the best time to explore the city’s great outdoors, without the stifling heat.

Seeing Houston from the vantage point of the bayou is fascinating, and these days there are more options than ever for trying it. Thanks to the triumphant revival of Buffalo Bayou Park, you can now rent kayaks (and bikes) at Lost Lake off of Allen Parkway and The Water Works off of Sabine Street. Explore on your own, or sign up for the park’s three-mile, hour-long guided kayak tour through Bayou City Adventures. It takes a mere hour.

Another option is to pack a picnic, grab a seat on the Spirit of the Bayou, and pontoon your way through town. BBP’s “Looking Back” tour explores the city’s beginnings with local historian Louis Albach.

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Buffalo Bayou Park

Back on land, a stroll around downtown’s Discovery Green reveals a new exhibit, Firmament, a vibrant canopy of LED lights by acclaimed Burning Man artist Christopher Schardt, through January 8, 2017.

For lights of an entirely different kind, set your sights skyward at the George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park, just south of Sugar Land, where celestial scenery shines. “Winter skies are spectacular here,” says director Peggy Halford. “The weather cools down and skies clear, allowing us to see bright, beautiful winter constellations.”

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George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park

Crave more adrenaline? Take up cyclocross, the lung-busting, obstacle-ridden, off-road sport designed to keep cyclists in shape during the off-season. “Cyclocross brings all kinds of cycling together, and it’s spectator-friendly,” says Frank Karbarz, Cross Houston race director. The 1.5-mile looped courses pop up around town during wintertime in parks, fields or and anywhere else with open space.

Or just take a plain, old-fashioned bike ride: any clear winter day in Houston is perfect for a leisurely expedition. If you’ve got the whole afternoon, head to West Houston and explore Terry Hershey Park’s nearly 500 beautiful, hilly acres. —Fayza Elmostehi

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The Ice at Discovery Green

Image: Jeff Balke

Break the Ice

It’s unnatural for Texans to ice skate? Yeah, we know. Try it anyway.

The year was 1992. Kristi Yamaguchi had just triple-looped her way to Olympic gold, and my dad was only too happy to take me ice-skating at the mall every weekend—even rewarding me with a treat from Mrs. Fields after we finished at the rink. That is, until the day I did a single lap around the ice and declared myself ready to go. That’s when he figured out that I was in it for the cookie. My skating career was over.

Last month, however, I laced up at Ice at the Galleria to a soundtrack of hits by DJ Kung Fu, eager to discover whether the passing years had made me any more appreciative of the winter activity that so many Texans treat as a novelty rather than a pastime. (There’s a reason we don’t have an NHL team in Houston, after all.)

After an early moment of panic—did you know skates move entirely of their own accord?—I discovered that holding on to the wall is a fool’s errand. The ice is worse at the edges because of all the other beginners clip-clopping along, for one thing, and the small children trying to get around you will judge you with their tiny, judgy eyes.

Ice-skating, as it turns out, is a confidence game. Move quickly on the open ice, and your momentum will help your balance. Falls are inevitable, though, and getting back up is almost impossible. Yes, holding someone’s hand can convince you, momentarily, that this frigid endeavor is actually kind of romantic … until you fall again. Then you give up and go get a cookie. It’s the Texan way—or at least my way.

Still convinced you want to learn to ice skate? Fine. In addition to rinks at the Galleria and Memorial City Mall, skating complexes like the Aerodrome in Willowbrook and the Sugar Land Ice and Sports Center offer figure-skating lessons and hockey leagues for all ages, plus public skating. For a festive outdoor experience, try the tented Ice Rink at The Woodlands Town Center or The Ice at Discovery Green, the largest outdoor skating rink in the Southwest and, in my opinion, the one with the best view (no cookies, though). —Sarah Rufca

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Oysters at SaltAir

Slurp It Up

Winter on the coast means peak oyster season.

This time of year, cooler Gulf waters combined with low salinity make for heartier, tastier oysters. “They have more food in the water, so they grow faster,” says Louisiana Seafood owner and bivalve expert Jim Gossen. “If you look at the size of the Gulf oysters, there’s more meat per oyster, and more complexity.”

Our oysters cost a fraction of the price of Northern varieties, meaning you can put away several dozen without breaking the bank. East and West Coast snobs can have their modest Malpeques and costly Kumamotos. Here in Houston, we prefer our oysters plump, buttery and straight from our own backyard. “I always enjoy winter in Texas because football’s on, the weather is cool and the oysters are fat,” Gossen says. “There’s nothing like a cold, fat, salty oyster.”

Host a Snow Day Drinking Game   

Arctic blast? DRINK.

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The only thing Houston’s TV weathercasters get more excited about than hurricanes? The remotest chance of snow. On the off chance we get another winter wonderland this year, we’ve created a handy drinking game to help you pass the time. You’ll need a television, your drink of choice and some friends. 

  • Drink: Each time the weathercaster says “arctic blast,” “blustery,” “black ice,” “wind chill,” “thundersleet” or “wintry mix.”
  • Drink: if Khambrel Marshall’s pocket square matches his scarf.
  • Drink: if your neighborhood gets a shout-out from Frank Billingsley.
  • Drink: if the news team creates its own graphic for the storm.
  • Finish your drink: if your office closes for the day because your boss got scared by the weather forecast.
  • Spend the afternoon drinking: if your office closes for the day, and it ends up 50 degrees and sunny after all.
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From top left: pozole, chicken pot pie, boeuf aux olives, moules bisque

Dig Into Houston’s Best Cold-Weather Foods

We only get a few chances every year to savor something truly tummy-warming, and the dishes below encourage sharing, so tuck in with friends and family.

  • Pozole: Pork and hominy soup with cilantro, onions, lime and toastadas; Luna y Sol, $9.99
  • Chicken pot pie: Chicken, carrots and peas in a cream sauce with puff pastry; Kenny & Ziggy’s, $18.95
  • Boeuf aux olives: Beef stew in a hearty tomato and red wine sauce with green olives; Bistro Provence, $22
  • Moules bisque: Mussels steamed in bisque, cognac and cream, served with frites; Café Brussels, $16

Make the Most of Our Planting Season

It’s not just for perennials…

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Image: Chris Danger

Pity the poor Northerners, whose frigid climes won’t let them get out and garden for months. “We have a much more temperate climate in the winter, and we’re able to do more and able to be outside more,” says William Isbell, president of the Harris County Master Gardeners Association. “Go up into Vermont, Connecticut, New York—people don’t want to go out.”

Right now in Houston, ’tis the season for planting onions, lettuces, radishes, turnips, English peas, snap peas, beets, carrots and kale—made all the more enjoyable by the fact that the sun isn’t beating down on your back as you dig. If you're looking for seeds, Cornelius Nursery is a great place to start.

Cornelius Nursery, 2233 S. Voss Rd.,

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The Nightingale Room

Shake It Up

’Tis the season: the boys (and/or girls) are back in town! Much emailing, texting and IMing has preceded the reunion with your old chums, but no plans have been made—yet. This is where you come in. Show off Houston’s new-and-improved downtown and show your out-of-towners what they’ve been missing since they moved away.

First Stop: Dinner at Batanga 

Traditional tapas are as much the star here as the fairy light–draped patio. Weather permitting, enjoy a Houston “winter” under cozy heaters, or head inside for a platter of paella. Live Latin music starts at 9 p.m. on Fridays.

Second Stop: Drinks at Moving Sidewalk

No one takes cocktails more seriously—or less seriously—than the talented staff at this dimly lit bar, where you’ll find cheeky menus inspired by everything from favorite movies (Point Break) to Houston nostalgia (Astroworld).

Last Stop: Dancing at The Nightingale Room

There isn’t a bad seat in the house at this intimate live music venue, where artists perform in a loft overlooking the shotgun bar and its massive LP collection. Dance until dawn as two of Houston’s best homegrown bands take the stage at The Nightingale Room this month: the Craig Kinsey Band on December 3 and Second Lovers on December 17. Cover is free both nights. —Katharine Shilcutt

Huddle Around a Hot Pot

Once a curiosity, the communal dining experience known as hot pot has now taken over Houston. There’s intensely aromatic Vietnamese lau, light and herbal Japanese shabu-shabu, spicy Mongolian, and sweet-and-sour Thai suki, along with the Chinese-style hot pot that’s most familiar to many of us. Regardless of which version you choose, the process of ordering and eating the dish is more or less the same across cultures. But first, grab a group of friends—hot pot for one is the sad equivalent of sheet cake for one—and prepare to spend an evening making your meal just the way you like it. —KS

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Step One: Pick a place. Hot Pot City lets you choose among five different styles, though Mongolian and Thai are the most popular.

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Step Two: Pick a broth. This is the base for your soup and will flavor everything that’s cooked in it. Ask your waiter to explain if you have questions, and don’t be afraid to try a half-and-half pot with two varieties.

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Step Three: Pick the ingredients. You can put anything in hot pot, from shrimp and scallops, to thinly sliced ribeye and lamb shoulder, to enoki mushrooms and Napa cabbage. Most hot pot places offer various premixed plates of ingredients to choose from.

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Step Four: Make your meal. Experienced hot pot diners may choose to cook their own dinner, but novices may have their waiter cook the first few rounds, showing how long to leave in the slices of beef or mushrooms in the broth before they’re perfectly cooked and ready to enjoy. 

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Image: Chris Danger

Step Five: Eat and repeat. The beauty of hot pot is that it’s a leisurely meal, meant to be enjoyed over the course of an evening. Experiment with different combinations (shrimp and eggs in the Thai suki, lamb and bok choy in the Mongolian broth), and enjoy a different bowl of soup every time.

Forget Shoulder Season—Bask In Boot Season

Also: layers. All the layers.

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Image: Chris Danger

What three words fill every Houston trendsetter with unabashed glee? Winter is coming. Only when it finally arrives can Houstonians really go all out on accessories, layering up with boots, leggings, chunky scarves—god, the scarves!—and that one faux-fur vest we all keep in the back of our closet, waiting for the perfect chilly night.

Where to find…

  • The softest scarves: Saint Cloud, 5217 Kelvin Dr. in Rice Village
  • Outerwear with edge: Free People, Galleria and CityCentre
  • Polished coats: Sid & Ann Mashburn, 2515 River Oaks Blvd. in River Oaks
  • Boots for walking: Cole Haan, Highland Village and Galleria
  • Pretty ponchos: Pomp and Circumstance, 3209 Westheimer Rd. in River Oaks
  • Wear-everywhere knits: Madewell, multiple locations
  • High-style sweaters: Tootsies, 2601 Westheimer Rd. in Upper Kirby
  • Frost-ready furs: Sakowitz Furs, 5026 Westheimer Rd. in the Galleria area
  • Cozy menswear: Stag Provisions, 2614 Westheimer Rd. in Upper Kirby
  • Wintry accessories: Francesca’s, multiple locations
  • Comfy cashmere: M Penner, 1180-6 Uptown Park Blvd. in the Galleria area
  • Minimalist layers: Myth & Symbol, 2537 Times Blvd. in Rice Village
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Image: Shutterstock

Go Whole Hog

The mecca of meat awaits… 

Come February, NRG Park is warm and welcoming no matter the temperature, as more than 250 talented teams fire up their smokers for the annual World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Cook-off and compete for trophies in three categories: best brisket, chicken and pork ribs.

The scent of sweet post oak smoke over southwest Houston draws carnivores from far and wide for the three-day festival, which kicks off the monthlong Houston Rodeo season. Visitors who don’t get the VIP treatment inside the invite-only barbecue tents can still get a hearty meal, with a chopped barbecue sandwich plate at the Rockin’ Bar-B-Que Saloon and a brew from the Miller Lite Beer Garden.

Feb. 25–27. $15; $5, children 3–12. NRG Park, 1 Reliant Pkwy. 832-667-1000.

Cheer On Runners at the Chevron Houston Marathon

On your mark(ers and poster board), get set…

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The Chevron Houston Marathon, now in its 44th year, has a reputation for being flat and fast, making it an attractive race for world-class runners and first-timers alike. That, combined with Houston’s relatively mild January weather, makes it one of the best races for spectators.

You’ll feel inspired no matter where you stand as the 26.2-mile race passes by, but one of the best spots is along Allen Parkway, says Pete Smith. Smith organizes a group each year that hands out beverages at Mile 11/24—where the routes for the half-marathon and full marathon join back together—as runners near the finish line. Pro tip: get there early to see the wheelchair and elite athletes compete.

“Allen Parkway is the last open stretch that lets the runners and the crowd connect,” Smith says. “Before they hit the concrete canyon, they get to connect with fans for two solid, enthusiastic miles.” 

Chevron Houston Marathon, Jan. 17,

Double Down on MLK Day

Houston’s long-running dual parades kick off a weekend of festivities.

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The MLK Grande Parade

For decades, Houston has been home to two separate parades honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Each offers its own festivities, and although both start at 10 a.m. on January 18, the close proximity of the parades makes it possible to hit both in the same day.

The Black Heritage Society’s 37th Annual “Original” MLK Birthday Parade begins at Minute Maid Park before winding its way through a crowd of thousands downtown. The four-day celebration focuses on community education, from health fairs to voter registration.

Meanwhile, the 22nd Annual MLK Grande Parade kicks off in Midtown, with an emphasis on entertainment—fitting for the nation’s third-largest parade, which draws an average of 300,000 spectators each year. As part of the Grande’s weekend celebration, there’s also a Battle of the Bands at Rice Stadium on Sunday, January 17.

Daniel Gonzales, a Black Heritage Society board member, says there’s plenty of room in Houston for both celebrations. “We were the first organization in America to honor Dr. King with a parade, and we’ve been doing it ever since,” he says. “I would love to make Houston a destination city for that holiday.”

The 37th Annual “Original” MLK Birthday Parade, Jan. 18,
The 22nd Annual MLK Grande Parade, Jan. 18,

Turn on the Bright Lights 

A long holiday tradition in a revitalized neighborhood.

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Image: Chris Danger

“A week and a crew.” That’s what Leann Salmons needs to put up her family’s holiday lighting display. The roofing contractor she hires to turn her house into a display that (presumably) could be seen from the moon “knows that we are crazy Christmas people,” Salmons laughs.

When you realize her home is in Shepherd Park Plaza, the neighborhood just north of Garden Oaks where over-the-top holiday lighting displays have been a tradition since the 1960s, it seems a little less insane. “It’s not like you just throw out some lights,” Salmons explains. “That would be fantastic and easy, but it’s not what we do.” The resulting wonderland—with entire streets decked out in matching colors—draws long lines of holiday light enthusiasts decade after decade.

The tradition did lose a bit of steam in the early aughts, a period when the area’s aging residents weren’t quite as active as in previous years. Among them were Salmons’s own parents. “If they put up a few strands of lights, it’s a good day,” she says. But today the lights are burning brighter than ever.

“We have so many young professionals moving into our neighborhood,” Salmons explains. Less than a decade ago, as part of that same infusion of homebuyers, she herself moved back to the area, where many of the houses come with lights from the previous homeowner. “You move into the neighborhood,” says Salmons, “and you get Christmas in a box.”

Each year, Salmons’s family pulls out 30 to 40 boxes full of lights, adding a waving Santa in a rocking chair one year or another in a helicopter the next year, all ready to be displayed and set to music that can be heard via radio broadcast—visitors simply tune in to the station on the front-yard sign. “Christmas is my favorite,” she says. “My house looks like a winter wonderland.”

There’s one downside, however. “There are days on the weekend when I have to wait in line to get to my driveway,” she says. But she and the other residents don’t mind much, and decorations go up earlier and earlier every year. “Everybody loves Christmas lights. The more that people decorate, the better.” —JB

Look Back in Time

Houston’s 5 most significant snowfall events of the last 30 years

January 2, 1985

Amount: 1.0 inches
While we got one, our neighbor to the west, San Antonio, recorded record snowfall to the tune of more than 13 inches. It’s not enough that they have the River Walk?

December 22, 1989

Amount: 1.7 inches
This was the closest Houston had ever come to a truly white Christmas, with nearly two inches of snow and temperatures in the single digits. By Christmas, however, the high was back to 60.

December 24, 2004

Amount: Trace (officially)
A Christmas miracle! The entire upper Texas coastline was treated to the kind of holidays only seen in postcards. The vast majority of the precipitation was south of Houston—Brazoria got 13 inches!—but even the lightest dusting let Houstonians pretend it was a White Christmas.

December 10, 2008

Amount: 1.4 inches
The first of three straight years of snow in winter, this matched the earliest date Houston had ever seen the white stuff—dating back to the trace amount we got in 1944. And then …

December 4, 2009

Amount: 1.0 inches
This year set the record for the earliest snowfall ever seen in the Bayou City. The storm coming on the heels of the previous year’s cold snap made it even more anomalous—and miraculous. 

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