Play It Cool

100 Ways to Beat the Houston Heat

Summer may be our winter, but at least no one has to shovel the sunshine, so chill out—we’ll show you how.

Edited by Katharine Shilcutt With Ellie Sharp, Marianella Orlando, Layne Lynch, Sarah Rufca Nielsen, Jeff Balke, and Alice Levitt June 20, 2016 Published in the July 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

"He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through."

It’s not the most triumphant rallying cry, but it’s the most realistic. And Robert Frost, as usual, was correct in his assessment that the best way out of a situation is to just march right on through it.

Though we’re pretty sure the New England poet was not talking about a Houston summer, the sentiment remains: You’re here, it’s hot outside, why not make the most of it?

We’ll all get through this together, because the city offers no shortage of clever, creative, cheap and cheerful ways to stay cool.

Below, 100 of our favorites, from waterparks to watermelon raspas.

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Waterpark Wars

The lines, the slides, the parking, the rides—we waded through them for you, Houston. Which park reigns supreme, brand-spanking-new Typhoon Texas in Katy, or 10-year-old Schlitterbahn in Galveston?

Typhoon Texas

555 Katy Fort Bend Rd., Katy,

Rides: 30
Memorial Day week- end to Labor Day weekend
Texas cred: owned and developed by three Texas A&M grads; Hill Country-themed décor, rides and food
Main attraction: the Texas Twister, which uses water jets to propel a raft of six people up a Lone Star Flag–painted wall
Best for kids: Gully Washer, with 100 spray areas and seven slides
Best for teens: Slide Boarding, with laser guns and targets in a darkened tunnel
Best for speed-seekers: Lone Star Racer, which pits you against your friends on a face-first water track
Best ride for thrill-seekers: Gunslinger, with a 70-foot freefall drop
Picnics in the park: discouraged (no outside food or drink allowed)
Best food: barbecue from Ruffino Meats in Bryan, Texas-shaped and -sized funnel cakes, and taquería- style tacos
Best booze: none; it's not sold on site
Chance of getting your wallet wet: low, with a sMART Lynq wristband that works both for park admission and in-park purchases
Lines: long, unless you spring for Fast Access RFID wristbands allowing you to skip to the front (though there is a limited number of wristbands sold each day)
Life vests: free, and in three sizes
Shade: wanting, especially on hot concrete paths that will toast your tootsies
Cabanas: eight-person cabanas range between $175 to $275 depending on location
After-hours entertain-ment: a stage overlooking the wave pool offers events such as live bands, Splash Cinema Thursdays and Friday Night Slides
Traffic: terrible, but it’s the Katy Freeway, so what did you expect?
Not included: locker deposit return fee ($10–$20 per locker)
Day pass: $39.99–$44.99
Season pass: $119.99
Discounts: for military and seniors

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Schlitterbahn Galveston Island

2109 Lockheed St., Galveston,

Rides: 33
every month of the year
Texas cred: the third Lone Star location of the original Schlitterbahn that first opened in New Braunfels in 1979
Main attraction: MASSIV, with four uphill blasts along a slide the length of 2.5 football fields
Best for kids: Treasure Island Kids Pool, with toddler-size pirate ship
Best for teens: Screaming Serpents, with rave-like fog and light effects
Best for speed-seekers: Rohr!, which reaches speeds of 30 mph
Best ride for thrill-seekers: Cliffhanger, 81-foot freefall drop
Picnics in the park: encouraged (no alcohol or glass containers allowed)
Best food: barbecue nachos, red-velvet funnel cakes, chicken-bacon- ranch pizza
Best booze: anything at the swim-up bar in the Wasserfest heated pool
Chance of getting your wallet wet: low, with water- proof Splash Cash Cashless Wristbands you can pre-load with money and scan to purchase food and drink across the park
Lines: short, if you go on rainy days or off-season months
Life vests: free, as are tubes
Shade: plenty, especially in the covered section that stays open during inclement weather
Cabanas: $70 (private two- person Luxury Lounger) to $395 (eight-person River- bend Penthouse Cabanas) to $680 (24-person Grand Cabanas)
After-hours entertainment: whatever’s on HBO in your room; Stay & Play packages offer discounted tickets and rooms at a dozen nearby hotels
Traffic: terrible, but it’s the Gulf Freeway, so what did you expect?
Not included: Soaring Eagle Zip Line ($10 for single rider; $15 for two tandem riders)
Day pass: $50.99
Season pass: $144.99
Discounts: for children and seniors —Ellie Sharp

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[Clockwise starting from top left] Loko cup: strawberry snow cone, sour belts, gummy worms, gummy bears, spicy chamoy; Mangonada: mango, spicy chamoy, mango sorbet; Picoyada: spicy chamoy, snow cone, dill pickles; Green Monster: lime sorbet, pineapple, green chamoy

Tex-Mex Treats

Magnolia’s Ice Cream & More is not your average raspas stand. In fact, it’s not a stand at all, but a Magnolia Park bungalow that boasts both A/C and a menu offering far more than the humble snow cone. Laminated sheets announce endless colorful concoctions with even more colorful names—the Loko Cup, the Green Apple Rose, the Strawberry Bomb. Fans line up to order favorites like chamoy-spiced mangonadas, and to discover the new creations co-owner Marlene Garza has come up with since their last visit.

Garza and her sister opened the shop in 2013, across the street from Tijerina Elementary, which they attended as children. While the two originally envisioned the place as a candy store, they quickly changed course after noting the popularity of their other offerings, expanding their short menu of fruit ice creams, Kool-Aid pickles (a.k.a. Koolickles, which originated in the Mississippi Delta), and snow cones into the joyous jumble of neon-tinted treats that greets patrons today. “We paid attention to what our customers were asking us for the most or what they would come up with,” says Garza. “We always let our staff try it and make sure they like it before putting anything on the menu.”

Magnolia’s raspas, Garza stresses, aren’t the traditional Mexican treats, which consist of crushed ice and flavored syrup in a cup, nothing more, nothing less. Her creations, she says, are Tex-Mex. Garza herself is Mexican-American, born and raised in Houston, which is why it’s important to her to infuse both cultures into her menu. “We have a little taste of both worlds,” she says. “The topping bar has chamoy and traditional gummy bears, so we can go very Mexican or traditionally American.”

Whatever their origin, the treats appeal to Houstonians of all backgrounds. Who wouldn’t be charmed by a strawberry snow cone topped with Sour Punch belts and gummy bears on a hot day? —Marianella Orlando

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Lucky Strike

Image: Lucky Strike

Let the Good Times Roll

Microbrews, craft cocktails, gourmet fare and dress codes—yes, today’s bowling alleys have gone upscale. But that’s not to say we don’t still have room in our hearts for the old-school spots, with their Mortal Kombat games and ’80s-style carpet. Luckily, no matter where you go, the days of smoking at the bowling alley are gone—unless it’s those pins you just smoked with that strike.

Lucky Strike

1201 San Jacinto St. 713-343-3300.

Though the weekend wait is often hours long, bowlers adore this pricey, polished downtown venue where deejays spin tunes while you roll neon spheres down one of 14 super-slick lanes. The food here is on point, as are the cocktails—get the blackberry-basil mule. Feeling fancy? Book the VIP suite’s four private lanes, complete with top-of-the-line service.

Max Bowl

Multiple locations,

This unpretentious, up-to-date alley has cultivated a following across three locations in Baytown, Humble and Port Arthur. While adults gravitate to the Pin & Tonic bar, with its craft beer and karaoke, kids head straight for laser tag and classic skee-ball. Friday and Saturday nights bring “intergalactic cosmic bowling” complete with smoke machines and black lights.

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Bowlmor Houston

925 Bunker Hill Rd. 713-461-1207.

Tucked into the leafy Memorial Villages, this popular spot boasts disco-blue lanes, billiards tables, a lounge, up-to-date arcade games, and lane- side service offering a menu of salads, burgers and pizzas. Be warned: There’s a dress code, so leave those baseball caps at home.

Emerald Bowl

9307 Boone Rd. 281-933-6180.

If you’re nostalgic for the bowling alleys of yore, this Alief destination channels simpler times with its hot dogs, rigged crane games and timeworn bowling balls. Offering an impressive 40 lanes and a spacious parking lot, the place is about nothing more— and nothing less—than knocking over pins. —Layne Lynch

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Rummel Creek, Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary

A Cool Quiet Place

Summertime in the Bayou City: Unless you go walking at night or in the wee hours of the morning, you’re going to need the protection of a thick canopy of trees. Under the leafy oaks and tall pines of our three favorite walking paths, you’ll be hard-pressed to tell you’re in the city at all.

Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary

440 Wilchester Blvd., 713-932-1639

A little over 17 acres along Rummel Creek is what remains of Edith Moore’s original 180-acre homestead in west Houston, along with a restored log cabin built in 1932 from the native loblolly pines that still shade its meandering paths. Quaint wooden bridges over vine-shrouded bayous lend a fairytale feel to the landscape.

Look for: Carolina chickadees, downy woodpeckers, green herons and more; this is prime bird-watch- ing territory.
Look out for: Truncated hours; the sanctuary gates are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (9 p.m. during the summer).

Terry Hershey Park

15200 Memorial Dr., 281-496-2177

Bordering both sides of Buffalo Bayou from Beltway 8 all the way to Highway 6, this massive park sprawls across 500 verdant acres. Paved asphalt paths that follow the tree lines are popular with both joggers and bikers, while walkers and hikers favor the dirt paths tucked along the bayou’s scenic, shady banks.

Look for: Rabbits, armadillos, turtles, owls, raccoons and other wildlife that still occupy the park’s pristine, six-mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou, which has remained largely unchanged for decades.
Look out for: Muddy, washed-out hiking paths and bike trails after rains

Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

4501 Woodway Dr., 713-681-8433

While solitary strolls are encouraged in this Memorial Park preserve, guided tours and other learning ex- periences are what sets this Houston treasure apart. Summer programs keep the kids busy by day, while the popular Arboretum by Night walks offer ice cream and Saint Arnold beer for the adults—along with the occasional firefly.

Look for: The R.A. Vines trail, which mimics East Texas wetlands and traverses some terrain with actual elevation—hills, here, in Houston!
Look out for: Crowded trails close to the entrance; those in search of a quieter walk should head for the Outer Loop trail, where jogging is prohibited. —Katharine Shilcutt

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(Look) Cool This Summer

The next time you see someone looking effortlessly chic in the heat, remember this: There was effort involved. Plan for a warm-weather wardrobe, and you too will look cool even when you’re really not. Our tips, below:

Just Keep Breathing

Seersucker is every Southerner’s best friend for good reason. Fabrics made from natural fibers like cotton and linen absorb moisture and don’t cling to the body. “You want something that’s going to allow your skin to breathe,” says local stylist Lisa Powers.

Dress Like a Virgin

Just like your physics teacher taught you, white repels a broad spectrum of UV rays, while black absorbs them, drawing extra heat to the body. So make like a cherub, a maypole dancer or a guest at one of Diddy’s parties and stick to light-colored threads: beige, khaki and the ever-popular white.

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Upgrade your Workout Wear

If your yoga pants were going to come off right after the gym, any old spandex blend would probably do. But we both know you’re going to wear them all day—did you even go to yoga?—so make sure they’re made out of fabrics labeled as sweat-wicking to pull the moisture away from your body and help it evaporate.

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Accessorize Appropriately

Layered looks will mostly have to wait until fall, but there are plenty of accessories that can pull an outfit together while helping you stay cool. A wide-brim hat or visor keeps your face in the shade, a light scarf can give your shoulders a respite from the hot sun (or provide protection from frigid air conditioning), and sunglasses make you look cool enough to pull the whole thing off.

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Stay Breezy

Save the skinny jeans for fall and choose flowy, loose-fitting dresses and tops that shield your skin from the sun while allowing cooling breezes to circulate. “My go-to is a Sibel Saral top in white—it has a square, boxy fit that doesn’t stick to you, which I love,” says Abejas boutique owner Christina Mitchell.

Don't Sweat It

Guys who struggle not to sweat through their shirts should start with moisture-wicking undershirts by brands like Under Armour—the better to stop the sweat before it hits your button-up. Some dress shirts also have sweat-wicking capabilities including performance-fabric shirts by J.J. Watt’s preferred brand, Mizzen + Main. If all else fails, stick to white, which camouflages wetness better than gray or bright colors. —Sarah Rufca

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Start here.

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The Ultimate Summer Six-Pack

Sure, Bayou City beer connoisseurs love their stouts and porters, but it’s the pils and kölsches we know most intimately—the beverages that power us through July’s yardwork, August’s block parties, and September’s longest dog days. Here, our six favorite local lagers:

Weekend Warrior

Karbach Brewing Company
ABV: 5.5%

An instant classic from the Spring Branch brewery that’s quickly taking over Texas, this pale ale is dry-hopped, which rounds out the bitterness of its four-hop blend into something crisp yet mellow that pairs easily with everything from Indian vindaloo to chili cheeseburgers.

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Oso Bueno

Oso Bueno

11 Below Brewing
ABV: 5.3%

The Willowbrook brewery specifically designed this American amber ale to pair with “Tex-Mex, days that end in Y, and patios,” and it does, thanks to a balance of three malts and three hops that keep “oh-so-bueno” both toasty and crisp.

Sam’s Daily

Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co.
ABV: 5.8 %

The Sam pictured on the can is none other than Sam Houston himself, for whom this bright, barely malty cream ale is named. If you’re looking to wean a friend off big-name adjunct lagers, this is the stuff to buy (and lucky for you, it’s almost as cheap as, well, the cheap stuff).

I Tell You Wit

Bakfish Brewing Co.
ABV: 5%

This crisp, sweet witbier pours the color of liquid gold, with the tart citrus and mellow banana notes of a good Belgian beer—an excellent example of the style from the brand-new Pearland brewery, which opened in March.

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8th Wonder Brewery
ABV: 5.2%

This throwback cream ale, as the EaDo brewery describes it, is meant to evoke memories of ordering frosty plastic cups of Dome Foam beer at summer baseball games inside the 8th wonder of the world itself—the Astrodome, the first air-conditioned stadium on the planet—hence its light flavor and colorful can festooned with the red, orange, yellow and navy of the ’80s-era Astros.

Blue Testament

Back Pew Brewing
ABV: 5.2%

The Kingwood brewery calls this pilsner its “most approachable” brew, though we’d also call it the most Texan, with a flavor that calls to mind the old-school Hill Country beers of our German and Czech settlers and a sweetness derived from Texas blue corn. —KS

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It's not truly a Houston summer until you have more jalapeños in your garden than you know what to do with.

Image: Shutterstock

Bring the Heat 

Don’t let the heat dissuade you from a little light gardening this summer; there are certain plants, after all, that flourish in the melting glare of the sun—like the ones below, which will grow like weeds, keeping you in stock week after blistering week. All are best enjoyed fresh; no cooking required.


Gardening gurus say: The more you prune this bushy beast, the bigger it will grow.

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Image: Shutterstock

Easy Caprese Salad

1 ½ lbs. ripe tomatoes, sliced
10 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces
10 fresh basil leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Arrange tomatoes in a layer on a platter. Top with torn pieces of mozzarella (we recommend Paula Lambert's hoja santa-wrapped mozzarella at the Houston Dairymaids). Drizzle with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Finish with basil leaves.

Serves 4.


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Image: Shutterstock

Gardening gurus say: Keep these water hogs well-saturated, and the cukes will keep coming.

Cool as a Cucumber Margaritas

2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
1 ½ oz. blanco tequila
1 ½ oz. fresh lime juice
1 T. agave syrup

Juice cucumbers in a juicer or blender (if using blender, strain pulp out of juice before using). Pour all ingredients into cocktail shaker; mix lightly. (For the tequila, try Tapatio Blanco 110, $48.99 at Spec's.) Pour over ice into highball glasses; garnish with lime or cucumber wedge.

Serves 4.


Gardening gurus say: Water these peppers every other day, but keep them in full sunlight.

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Image: Shutterstock 

Sweet-and-Spicy Salsa

2 c. ripe mangos, diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
½ c. red onion, diced
¼ c. fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
¼ c. fresh lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir until well combined. Serve with tortilla chips or on tacos.

Serves 4. —KS

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Star Snow Ice

How Ice, Beans and Jelly Can Make Magic

Taiwanese shaved ice, known in its homeland as baobing, is a cool treat that provides a dizzying array of make-your-own options. Chinatown has several purveyors of the crystalline dessert (we’re looking at you, Juice Box and Twinkle), but for our money, the two locations of Star Snow Ice (9252 and 9889 Bellaire Blvd., 713-779-8886) offer the most refreshing version.

Star allows guests to add syrup and four fixings to a not-so “small” pile of ice for $2.77. For first-timers, choosing from more than 30 different toppings, including fruits, jellies and mochi, can be overwhelming, hence our handy guide to building the perfect baobing:

  • The beans: It’s not baobing without a big pile of red beans to sweeten the deal.
  • The jelly: Green-bean jelly adds a shocking green hue and a snappy texture (we promise the light flavor tastes nothing like a salad).
  • The fruit: Kiwi provides the right sweet-and-sour contrast to your snow ice (melon would only make your ice too saccharine).
  • The junket: There are likely to be wiggly mango and egg-flavored junkets (think opaque Jell-O) on offer, but choose almond, which adds a Euro-style flair that recalls lighter-than-air marzipan.
  • The syrup: Cane syrup gives a pure stroke of sweetness without overwhelming the other flavors; condensed milk is too thick and creamy for a scorching day.  
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Other Sweet Treats Around Town

Connie’s Frozen Custard
12545 Jones Rd.,

Born on the Coney Island boardwalk in 1919, frozen custard took almost a century to take hold in Houston, which it finally did after this stand’s 2000 opening. Don’t miss the Choc-O-Rocko, a combination of chocolate custard, roasted almonds and marshmallow cream.

Kwality Ice Cream
5636 Hillcroft St.,

Indian-born, Rutgers-educated food scientist Dr. Kanti Parekh created this small chain of scoop shops specializing in big Indian flavors. Fruity sapodilla (chikoo) or soursop (sitafal) join smooth spoonsful of ice creams that taste just like milky Indian sweets.

SweetCup Gelato
3939 Montrose Blvd.,

Owner Jasmine Chida may have begun her business with gelato, but she’s not satisfied sticking with just one type of frozen treat. Yogurts, sorbet and custards are also available, in quirky flavors such as avocado–sweet basil and lavender–guajillotres leches. —Alice Levitt

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Summer Thrills (and Chills)

A Unique David Bowie Tribute: Labyrinth Singalong
Where: Alamo Drafthouse–Vintage Park
When: July 2, 7:30 p.m.

Since Bowie’s death in January, legions of fans have paid tribute to the musical icon. But we’re guessing few have belted out songs from this 1986 George Lucas–directed cult classic starring Bowie himself and a very young Jennifer Connelly.

Shakespeare, Meet Olivia de Havilland: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Where: MFAH
When: July 2, noon 

The museum pays tribute to actress Olivia de Havilland, who would have been 100 years old in July, throughout the month, screening classics such as this 1935 comedy featuring de Havilland as tough cookie Hermia, who risks everything for love.

India’s True Colors: Gurukulam
Where: 14 Pews
When: July 8, 7 p.m.

Follow students at an ashram in Tamil Nadu as they undertake a spiritual journey in this vibrant documentary shot in the dense Indian forest.

Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner: Dirty Dancing Quote-Along
Where: Alamo Drafthouse–Mason Park
When: July 9, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Alamo Drafthouse–Vintage Park
When: July 23, 7:30 p.m.

Nothing says summer like this sweaty ’80s romance about a bored teenager who falls for a hunky dance instructor. You could try to recreate the famous dance-scene finale, but for our money, the quote-along will be more fun—the more obscure the line, the better. Impress your friends by joining Baby as she announces, “I carried a watermelon.”

Playin’ with the Boys: Top Gun
Where: Alamo Drafthouse–Mason Park
When: July 10, 6 p.m.
Where: Alamo Drafthouse–Vintage Park
When: July 20, 7:30 p.m.

Tom Cruise plays a daredevil fighter pilot training to join an elite Navy unit as he challenges all comers in this vintage ’80s action flick. Almost as iconic as the movie itself are the songs—including “Take My Breath Away,” “Danger Zone” and “Playin’ with the Boys”—that set the mood for love, fierce air battles, and the single-greatest all-male beach volleyball scene ever captured on film.

Opera for the Masses: La Favorita
Where: River Oaks Theatre
When: July 27, 7 p.m.

Set in 14th-century Spain, this four-act French opera by Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti—recorded live—tells a tale of love and loss in a king’s court.

Cello There, Ladies and Gentlemen: Music of Strangers
Where: 14 Pews
When: July 29, 7 p.m.

This documentary—from Academy Award–winning director Morgan Neville—follows Yo-Yo Ma, arguably the world’s greatest living cellist, and his Silk Road Ensemble as they travel the world.

There Will Be Blood: Dr. Butcher, M.D./Burial Ground Double Feature
Where: Alamo Drafthouse–Vintage Park
When: July 30, 9 p.m.

What could be more thrilling than two low-budget horror flicks, back to back? The Alamo revives 1980 B-movie classic Zombie Holocaust (a.k.a. Dr. Butcher, M.D.) for one terrifying night, pairing it with 1981 grindhouse zombie film Burial Ground.

Sex, Drugs and Beethoven: A Clockwork Orange
Where: MFAH
When: August 5, 7 p.m.

Round out your summer with one of the freakiest cinematic experiences of all time by taking in Stanley Kubrick’s trippy A Clockwork Orange, part of the MFAH’s Restorations and Revivals series. —Jeff Balke

Houston's Cool Past

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Houston has always had lots of swimming pools to cool off its residents, bathing beauties or otherwise.

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Some of Houston’s earliest instances of air conditioning were found in theaters like the Majestic Theatre downtown.

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Bikers and neighborhood residents enjoy a cold one at the West Alabama Ice House circa 1981.

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Malls like the Galleria have offered respite from the Houston heat for decades, and the odd juxtaposition of ice skating in summer.

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In 1983, Water World opened next to Astroworld, putting a beach in Houston’s backyard.

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In the aftermath of 1983’s Hurricane Alicia. Houstonians trying to preserve food stores swarmed places like Sparkle Ice on North Shepherd.

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