It's 98 degrees outside, though the temperature display in your car claims it’s 108. You have a trunk full of groceries (and quickly melting frozen foods), a backseat full of squirmy, sweaty kids (one of whom has just shoved a Lego up a nostril), and about 30 minutes to get dinner on the table before at least one family member has a full-on meltdown, partly due to hunger and partly because of heat madness.
When people in other parts of the country talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder, they’re usually referring to the cold, gray winter months in which a lack of sunshine leads to depression. In Houston, our summers present the opposite problem: too much sun, too much heat, too much humidity—it’s enough to make you want to lock yourself inside the air-conditioned house until Halloween, crying at the mere suggestion of leaving. Have you seen the asphalt outside? It’s so hot it’s wavy. No, thank you.
Except … it doesn’t have to be this way. When you can’t beat the heat, the best thing to do is join it—preferably pool-side, with cocktails and a good book or two. In these pages, you’ll find recommendations for relaxing, refreshing, restorative, time-tested and Houstonian-approved activities—both indoors and outside—to get you through the season. With this issue in hand, those summertime blues? They’re toast.
Treat Yo' Self
Rent a Private Villa
Clearly, Ray Henderson and Buddy DeSylva hadn’t visited Galveston’s Villas at The San Luis Resort (from $1,099 per night) when they wrote that “the best things in life are free.” Separate from the actual hotel itself, the villas provide the comforts of home on a grander scale, with a private entrance to each 800-square-foot abode, each offering views of a secluded pool and bar (both also private), a terrace with a personal hot tub, access to individual cabanas and daybeds—even pillowcases embroidered with the initial of your last name for the ultimate personalized touch.
Hire a Maid
According to a recent poll, couples spend more time arguing over chores than any other issue. May we humbly suggest throwing some money at this problem? The bill for a one-bedroom, one-bath house-cleaning starts at less than $60 per three-hour session on Handy if you book a recurring service. Coming home to a spotless house and fresh laundry? Now that’s priceless.
Get a Fancy Manicure
Contrary to popular belief, the delight of a mani/pedi isn’t only about how nice your nails look when you’re done. For $50 or so, you have a legit excuse to leave your house in yoga pants, relax in a comfortable chair, put your feet in a bubble bath, indulge in a sugar scrub treatment for your legs, receive a foot/arm/neck massage and, yes, end up a little bit prettier. We especially love the tranquil atmosphere and selection of non-toxic polishes at Paloma in Uptown’s BLVD Place.
Indulge in Retail Therapy
Experts these days love to tell us how experiences bring more happiness than owning stuff—but shopping still counts as an experience, no? And if a spree at River Oaks District or CityCentre isn’t in your budget, just grab the cash you’re comfortable spending and hit the garage and estate sales that happen throughout Houston on any given weekend. The only thing better than a new handbag is a new handbag you nabbed for $8.
Try Houston’s Most Luxurious Spa Treatment
When your masseuse leads you to the womb-warm confines of your massage room for the Diamond Rose Experience at Trellis: The Spa at The Houstonian in the Galleria area, she describes each step of the 100-minute, $320 journey of luxurious inertia to come, including the products from Barcelona company Natura Bissé—made either with roses or diamond dust—used at every stage. After a full-body exfoliation, every inch of skin gets sprayed with a mist of Moroccan damask roses, followed by a thorough massage. In the end, a “finishing protecting veil” uses collagen, silicone and more rose to lock in moisture and leave you literally shimmering all day.
Enjoy the Silence
Have a Float
After J.J. Watt informed the world last year that he owned a sensory deprivation tank—a lightless, sound-proof pod filled with water—it was only a matter of time before the device, reported to help ease stress, anxiety and muscle aches, became a trend. Mizu Integrative Medicine Clinic + Float Center in the Galleria area offers one-hour float sessions in private luxury suites for $120 a pop. Each is equipped with a personal pod containing a thousand pounds of pharmaceutical-grade Epsom salt, body-temperature water and spa music to slow down the normal heart rate. Visitors conclude the appointment with a cup of specially crafted herbal tea for ultimate relaxation.
Go It Alone
“Getting away from it all” doesn’t always mean getting away from all of those pesky people, unless you book an Individual Directed Retreat at the Cenacle Retreat House in Memorial. On the wooded grounds of this French-founded Catholic convent adjoining Terry Hershey Park, you’ll be rewarded with an atmosphere of total silence and solitude—complete with swings, hammocks, gurgling fountains and a labyrinth—in which to relax and reflect on your spiritual direction. First-timers are encouraged to stay for the day (which includes lunch and costs $40), while those more experienced with extended periods of stillness and quiet often stay for a week at a time (each overnight runs $75 and includes three meals per day).
Breathe. Notice your breath, the rising and falling of your chest. Are you relaxed yet? If not, maybe a little additional reflection is in order at the Houston Zen Center. This refurbished bungalow on Heights Boulevard offers a regular schedule of classes in calmness. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to participate, although the center offers talks on the Dharma if that’s your thing. Best of all, it’s a quiet, contemplative place to sit, breathe and simply be.
Keep the Kids Busy
Sometimes Mom and Dad need a bit of peace and quiet, and kids don’t always understand that. Fortunately, the folks at the Galleria-area Omni Hotel do, which is why they offer a Kids’ Sensory Suite—which is sort of like a toy store located inside a hotel room. The space—adjoining a king-sized room for the ’rents, which must be booked simultaneously—boasts a bounty of ways to keep the kids occupied while you indulge in some R&R: an arts and crafts area, board games, video games, a wall-mounted basketball hoop, a stocked bar full of snacks, e-books, a chalkboard wall, an electric guitar, and, to top it off, a delivery of milk and cookies on their first night.
Become More Mindful
If you’ve never heard of Montrose’s Jung Center, that’s because it’s one of Houston’s best-kept secrets. Founded in 1958 by a group of five Houston women in a reading group centered around the psychologist Carl Jung’s writings and ideas, the center has evolved over time into a space in which you can “examine your life in really creative and meaningful ways,” says executive director Sean Fitzpatrick, through classes on everything from mindfulness and meditation to memoir writing, Chinese brush painting, religion and spirituality. A class held each semester on dreams and their meanings is particularly popular.
Get Away From It All
Hit the Beach
Galveston Island recently unveiled Babe’s Beach, a new shoreline stretching 15 blocks west of 61st Street. The beach is named for former state representative A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, who was born on the island in 1926 and helped make the Gulf of Mexico accessible to the public with the Texas Open Beach Act in the late ’50s. Celebrate Babe’s legacy by setting up under an umbrella, summer read in hand, and dozing off to the soothing sound of waves crashing. Or get out there and rent a float boat from Extreme Water Sports before taking a sunset horseback ride along the shore with Galveston Island Horse & Pony Rides.
Take a Staycation
Three alluring destinations, each close to home:
- Urban Escape: Experience the wonder of a Texas-shaped lazy river and the fab brunch buffet at Hugo Ortega’s Xochi during an urban escape at downtown’s Marriott Marquis, the perfect gateway to the cultural activities at Discovery Green and the new art-and-food-filled Avenida Houston promenade.
- Lakeside Break: Take in the Gulf breeze at the surprisingly chic South Shore Harbour Resort and Conference Center, stylishly made over in 2016 and located just minutes from the bustling Kemah Boardwalk and the waters of Clear Lake, the country’s third largest boating destination.
- Waterway Getaway: Check in at the swank Westin at The Woodlands, take in a concert at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, and explore the restaurants, shops and bars around pine-lined Waterway Square.
Hop a Fast Flight
Three divine destinations, each less than two hours away:
- Birmingham, Alabama: One of The New York Times’s “52 Places to Go in 2017,” Birmingham is a destination not only for its rich history and Southern culture, but for its burgeoning arts community, James Beard–recognized restaurants, and attractions including the historic Red Mountain Park, where old iron ore mines have been transformed into scenic hiking trails.
- Monterrey, Mexico: In-the-know fashion fans love Tokyo, Milan and Monterrey—yes, Monterrey, especially if they’re Texan. Mexico’s third largest city is an acclaimed shopping mecca, where fashionistas splurge on artisan crafts, modern couture, and better-than-Cavender’s cowboy boots.
- Pensacola, Florida: Sparkling blue waters and white-sand beaches make Pensacola a truly picture-perfect vacation spot for couples and families. Each week through the fall, the town hosts free live music on the water, the better to take in that breathtaking sunset.
Try an International Spa Treatment
Morocco: Hammam Spa
Moroccan-bathhouse hammam-style exfoliation, complete with argan oil, offers two advantages over the real thing: It’s private, and you don’t have to do your own scrubbing.
The collagen facials are appealing, but the long-lasting manicures featuring everything from 3-D sculptures of sushi to paintings of anime characters are the main attraction.
South America: Alira Boutique Spa
The Ultimate Treatment & Luxury package employs handmade wooden tools to deeply work muscles in a technique called maderoterapia (literally, “wood therapy”). Imagine rolling pins that tenderly knead your tired body like dough.
Thailand: Therapeutic Thai Massage
Using gentle techniques that combine assisted yoga positions and acupressure, the standard Thai massage here is anything but standard. Add-ons like hot stones and herbal rubs are intended to accelerate healing.
India: Ayush Wave
It depends on what you need—each treatment has a different health goal—but we’re partial to the Pinda Sweda Bolus therapy, which uses muslin filled with herb-soaked rice pudding during a relaxing massage, followed by an herbal steam.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Let Someone Else Make Dinner
It may sound like a juicy secret, but it’s not, at least not anymore: Every Monday at Velvet Taco on Washington Avenue, the Backdoor Chicken special offers the best to-go dining deal in town. For only $10, you get a large rotisserie chicken, six fresh tortillas (corn or flour), two sizable sides of elote (spiced, roasted corn), and a tub of pico de gallo—a meal that easily feeds four. Add a side of chips and red coconut curry queso for $5, and your Monday’s made.
Plan a Picnic
When it comes to hosting a picnic in June, the shadier the park, the better. And as always at a picnic—no shoes,
- Spread a large blanket (bonus points if it’s water-resistant) under a broad-limbed live oak near the reflection pool in Hermann Park while wetting your whistle with cold, canned brews—alcohol is allowed; glass is not.
- While libations are prohibited at Menil Park, a chill playlist (Leon Bridges, Otis Redding) on a Bluetooth speaker, something to read, and a frisbee or football on deck makes relaxing beneath the Collection’s tree canopy a—hopefully literal—breeze.
- Of course, a picnic isn’t complete without provisions. Upgrade your spread on a picnic table at the Museum District’s Fleming Park (1901 Sunset Blvd.) with a pre-made cheese plate from Houston Dairymaids.
Cool Off with an Agua Fresca
Or dos. At H-E-B-owned Mi Tienda, selecting only one flavor is folly. Why limit yourself when there are 12 varieties to choose from at the Latin supermarket’s straw-roofed stand, not to mention carts that can hold as many drinks as you desire while you shop? Classic flavors include watermelon (sandía), coconut and horchata; for something different, try pink and creamy, cinnamon-inflected mamey juice, or the light and fresh celery-cactus-pineapple.
Get Your Groceries to Go
One thing your busy life doesn’t need? Tedious searching for just the right box of blueberries. Make the annoyance of the aisles obsolete with these handy helpers:
- Instacart: Depending on the store, some things are marked up, but who cares when you can get items from Central Market, H-E-B, Spec’s, Whole Foods, Costco and Petco all in one basket?
- Burpy: This service extends to most of the same shops as Instacart, but also Kroger and Walmart. Your first order of $150 or more is $15 off, so it pays to buy in bulk.
- Shipt: This company, which delivers groceries from H-E-B and Central Market only, is cheaper than most of its competitors. Pay a fixed $7 per delivery plus a price mark-up; or become a member at $99 per year or $14 per month.
Toast the Temperatures
If you can’t beat the heat, join it, with these five superlative summer sippers:
The Cocktail: Mai Tai
The Bar: Lei Low
You know you’re at a proper tiki bar when you can get a Mai Tai on draft. Garnished with a tropically appropriate orchid, the Hawaiian-inspired drink features two different rums, warmly spiced orgeat syrup, and fresh-squeezed citrus juices, heavy on the pineapple for maximum beachy effect.
The Cocktail: Gin and Tonic
The Bar: Mongoose versus Cobra
You won’t be able to go back to other G&Ts after trying this one, featuring a unique, house-crafted tonic made with cinchona bark, citrus zest, agave, lemongrass and allspice. It’s served in its own small bottle, so you can adjust the flavor to fit.
The Cocktail: First Kiss Fizz
The Bar: The Refuge Bar and Bistro
Fresh strawberries and pineapple shavings add a nice touch to this fizzy, fruity concoction made with Tito’s vodka and Bauchant orange liqueur. Fizz in hand, grab a spot on the couch out front perfect for people-watching; The Woodlands Waterway never disappoints.
The Cocktail: The Edison
The Bar: Edison
The restaurant’s namesake drink is a rum-based take on a Moscow mule, and wow, does it go down easily for a cocktail with a kick. Ginger lovers will adore its spicy notes, while rum lovers who are (somehow) tired of fruity cocktails will appreciate the change.
The Cocktail: Of the Clouds
The Bar: Beaver’s
This surprisingly sweet and light drink — made from tequila blended with herbal chamomile, refreshing citrus and cooling cucumber — is as ethereal as the name suggests. It’s best enjoyed in the shade, on either of the locations’ sprawling patios.
It’s a scientifically proven fact that shaking off the workday is way easier when you unwind in your backyard, particularly after the sun goes down and the heat of the day fades away. Have to fix dinner? No problem. Throw a few salmon burgers on the grill (H-E-B makes good ones), or marinate some chicken kebabs for half an hour (keep it simple with Italian dressing), then grill them up along with skewered summer squash and cherry tomatoes. Add some crusty bread, good olive oil for dipping, and a cold glass of wine. Wait—what workday?
Have a Cone
At any given time, there are 24 flavors of Lee’s Creamery ice cream on offer at Montrose’s Petite Sweets. But Lee Ellis (of Lee’s Fried Chicken and Donuts, Pi Pizza and Star Fish) has more than 50 kinds of scoops in his repertoire, all made from cage-free, local eggs and dairy from grass-fed Jersey cows from Tomball’s Gramen Farm. The offerings are intensely seasonal: When sweet corn is fresh, it finds its way into the mix. Same with peaches. Cookies and pies are transformed into ice cream, as are coffee and tea from Les Ba’Get. There’s even a boozy-sweet take on an Old Fashioned cocktail.
Taste Some Wine
Each month for the last two decades Rainbow Lodge in Shady Acres has been holding wine tastings meant to educate in an atmosphere of laidback fun. The picturesque restaurant sets up stations throughout the many-roomed, lodge-like space, each offering selections curated by sommelier Marc Borel, perfectly paired with small bites. Borel himself holds court over each event, pouring wine and telling visitors as much, or as little, as they want to know about the various regions and grapes. At the end of a recent tasting called Spring in Spain, we’d not only discovered four new bottles we loved, but the fact that we love smoked duck ham. Who knew? At $35 per person, the event’s a steal and often sells out, so reserve your spot ahead of time.
Unplug and Unwind
Read a Book
Shut off your screens and pick up the summer’s hot new page-turners.
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Following her 2015 runaway bestseller The Girl on the Train, Hawkins’s much-anticipated, addictive, dark-and-stormy thriller delivers twists and turns aplenty after the bodies of a mother and teenage girl are found at the bottom of a small-town river. Who done it? As usual, not who you think. $28; Riverhead Books
The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro
With her latest, one of the most talked about novels of 2017, the acclaimed author of Cutting Teeth (2015) transports readers to the summer of 1992 and the fictional island of Avalon, where a moth invasion, and the arrival of a biracial family, sends the locals into a tailspin. $26.99; St. Martin’s Press
The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder
Ginder’s third novel not only has a wildly relatable title, but all the elements of a page turner: destination wedding, dysfunctional family dynamics, and at least one drunk relative. $25.99; Flatiron Books
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
East and West collide in this funny, honest and timely tale from the Lambda Literary Award–winning author, about an unlikely friendship between two Indian-Americans living in Cleveland. $26; Picador
The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green
Pack your beach bag with The New York Times–bestselling author’s witty and heartfelt novel about three distant sisters who reunite—and confront old scars—at their sick mother’s request. Don’t forget the tissues. $26; Penguin Publishing
Hold the Phone
Here’s a weekly practice that will keep you both centered and creative: Screen-Free Wednesdays. Make these days your time to draw, write music, read, invite friends over, do a crossword, unwind on the couch, scrub the kitchen—anything, really, as long as it doesn’t involve a TV, computer, tablet or smartphone. It’s a celebration of passing each week’s midway point as much as unplugging and reconnecting with the real world, a tradition you’ll soon cherish. And if you hear your phone buzzing from the receptacle you dropped it in, just remember this: It will still be there in the morning.
Hit the Hammocks
Urban hammocking is the newest way to kick back with friends, but if you haven’t yet invested in a set-up of your own, Axelrad Beer Garden has you covered with a colorful garden of rope hammocks and fabric swings, perfect for day-drinking and night-napping alike. There are only a dozen, however, which means you may have to take turns with a friend. Our suggestion: whoever buys the first round of pints gets first swing.
- …on the road: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Houstonians spend an average of 28.1 minutes commuting to work. Keep road rage at bay with a meditation from Calm, currently the No. 1 app for mindfulness, which aims to help users manage stress and anxiety with guided prompts and, hopefully, the tools to ignore the driver who just cut you off.
- …at a class: New to meditation and looking for guidance? The Chung Tai Zen Center of Houston offers everything from free zen meditation classes and workshops for beginners to half-day retreats and trips to help hone your meditative mastery.
- …or in the chapel: The nondenominational Rothko Chapel, a revered Houston architectural mainstay since 1971, makes for an ideal venue thanks to abstract artist Mark Rothko’s 14 transcendent paintings. There’s a group twilight meditation on World Environment Day (June 5, 6 p.m.), along with other free sessions held throughout the year.
Take a Deep Breath of Fresh Air
Go for a Walk
The great greening of Houston over the last decade means you now have more options than ever for strolling the city’s bayous, greenbelts and parks. Here are four of our favorites:
- The Woodlands: Nearly every community here is connected to a 200-mile system of pathways, many of which pass by everything from lakes and parks to YMCAs and libraries.
- Kingwood: The famous greenbelts in the Livable Forest wind through 75 miles of piney woods so dense and filled with wildlife, you’ll forget you’re in the ’burbs.
- Eastex/Jensen: The huge, bayou-themed playground at the newly renovated, 12-acre Shady Lane Park will keep the kids busy while you walk the gently rolling trails along Halls Bayou.
- Memorial: At Terry Hershey Park, shaded footpaths follow a six-mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou through 500 acres of lush, undeveloped parkland.
Strike a Pose
Stretching yourself too thin? Finding your center at a local yoga class is as easy as shavasana—or the “laying on your back with eyes closed” position—with nearly 120 studios and gyms in Houston. Below, three we love:
- Black Swan Yoga: This donation-based studio in the Heights encourages you to go with the heated flow at daily Hot Yoga classes in a 90-degree room; you’ll be surprised by how much it acclimatizes you to the heat and humidity outside.
- YogaOne: These studios boast convenience, with seven locations and more than 500 classes across Houston every week, ranging from vinyasa flow to restorative yoga.
- Discovery Green: The downtown park offers 11 free outdoor yoga classes in June alone, including Core Focused Yoga, which is sure to have you—and your abs—saying namaste.
Wander a Labyrinth
Houston may seem an odd choice for last year’s annual gathering of The Labyrinth Society, which brings together enthusiasts from around the world, until you realize the city is home to more than 40 of the meditative pathways. True to form, each offers a single, clear, easily-navigable route to the center; the goal is not finding your way, but rather clearing your mind as your footsteps follow its whirling patterns. Our favorite is found on the tranquil grounds of the Villa de Matel Convent, where the labyrinth is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; you can also find one near you at labyrinthlocator.com.
Hit the Links
The Houston area boasts some fine golf courses, but if the main goal is to relax, we can think of no better option than the Wilderness Golf Course in Lake Jackson. The beautiful, secluded 18-hole fairway lies within a wetlands area similar to that of its neighbor, Brazos Bend State Park. It doubles as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, so don’t be surprised if the wildlife is as interesting as the golf.
Consult an Expert
Local psychotherapist Jill Robin Payne provides her quick and dirty tips for de-stressing over the hot Houston summer:
- Exercise: Dance around the house to music when you’re cleaning, doing laundry or playing with your kids, or do some yardwork or gardening. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re moving.
- Have a support system: Humans are social creatures, so nurture those relationships. But remember, you’re allowed to say no to put limits on your social engagements.
- Self-awareness: Stay in the here and now.
- Breathe: Just taking three to five deep breaths provides immediate relaxation.
- The two-hour rule: Two hours before bed, discontinue use of electronics, food consumption, arguments and exercise.
- Laugh: It not only releases feel-good brain chemicals, it’s also a mild workout.