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17 Things to Do in Houston to Beat the Summer Heat

child swimming in pool with floats on

Folks who live in and visit Houston know the summers can be brutal. We don't get too many days over 100◦ like our Dallas neighbors, but the humidity kicks the temps into high gear. We can all use ideas for things to do in the summer that will beat the Houston heat!

Houston has been dubbed the "most air-conditioned city in the nation," (though it's hard to prove) – with 95 percent of the homes having some form of A/C in 1980. Locals know to carry a sweater all summer for the freezing restaurants, malls, and theaters running air conditioning at full force!

Have some summer fun in Houston and stay cool while doing it with a few of these ideas:

Stay Cool in a Pool, Beach, or Sprayground

1. Houston Parks & Recreation Department offers free access to 37 community pools and 29 spraygrounds. Pools are open from 1 pm – 8 pm Tuesday through Sunday from Memorial Day through mid-August. Children 8 and under must be accompanied by an adult.

2. Get fit and cool at the same time, thanks to free water fitness classes offered by City of Houston. These are limited to 20 folks per class. Aqua shoes, towel and water bottle are recommended.

3. Noah's Ark Pool, operated by First United Methodist Church's Quillian Center, is a big hit for young families with toddlers, pre-K and early elementary-aged kids. This West Houston facility has an ark and animals in the shallow pool with slides, mushroom water drop, and sprays from the animals. The area also includes a large swimming pool, outdoor basketball pavilion, indoor climbing wall, and gymnasium. Admission is $7 and includes swimming in both pools. Pack a picnic lunch and eat outside the gates at picnic tables to save some money! Or cheap concessions are available including hot dogs and pizza.

Children playing at Noah's Arc pool playground area in Houston, Texas
Image via Quillian Recreation Center

4. Discovery Green's Gateway Fountain offers free water fun right in downtown Houston at this 12-acre urban park. Kids love to keep cool with the 14-ft high arcing jets. Fountain hours are noon – 7 pm Monday and 9 am – 7 pm Tuesday through Sunday. Note: swim diapers are required for toddlers. These are available for purchase in the park office, if needed.

children running through fountains in Houston, Texas
Image via Discovery Green

5. Take a day trip to Galveston Beach on the Gulf of Mexico, about an hour from downtown. The coastal winds can offer a nice breeze even though the water temperature isn't always very cool! There are many things to do for free including playing on the beach, viewing the Victorian architecture, walking the Historic Strand of shops and restaurants, watching the sunset, fishing, or catching a free family movie or concert at Saengerfest Park.

bike on Galveston Beach at sunset
Image via Vadim Troshkin/Galveston Chamber of Commerce

6. One of the most popular things for Galveston tourists is the free 20-minute ride on the Bolivar Ferry where you can often spot dolphins! Galveston Island State Park is just $5 per person with many options for free and cheap fun.

Keep Cool with Ice

7. Memorial City Mall offers a chilly escape on the ice rink called Ice Skate USA. Public skating is available seven days a week. Admission is $14. Memorial City Mall is located at 303 Memorial City Way.

8. Houston Galleria’s Ice at the Galleria offers public skating every day for $19 admission and skate rental. The Galleria is located at 5015 Westheimer.

people skating at the Ice at the Galleria in Houston, Texas
Image via Ice Galleria

9. The Aerodrome, where the former Houston Aeros often practiced, is another indoor skating complex perfect to stay cool. Public skating is available for $10 for admission and skate rental. Public skate hours are limited from around 11:15 am – 3:30 pm weekdays around skating lessons and practices.

10. Speaking of ice, chill out with a snow cone! Houston is home to a great variety of snow cone trucks, shops and more to keep cool. Some places to check out for snow cone delight is Friohana Shave Ice (103 Sabine St) which was dubbed the best snow cones in Houston. Another is Tropical Chill (7446 Elbridge Lane) which offers over 70+ flavors.

Beat the Heat Indoors

11. Bowling is a great summer activity to stay cool and not spend a lot of money. And free bowling is even better! Here are two programs where kids can bowl free this summer:

  • Kids Bowl Free Program — Several Houston-area bowling centers are participating in the Kids Bowl Free Program this summer: Copperfield Bowl, Emerald Bowl, 300 Bowl (Conroe), Times Square Entertainment (Katy), The Bowl on Bellaire, and Tomball Lanes. These locations all offer two free games each day to kids 15 & under. Times vary by location. Adults can purchase a summer season pass for up to four adult family members. Shoe rentals are not included in the free bowling pass.
  • AMF Summer Unplugged — AMF is offering its Summer Unplugged, a free bowling program for kids 15 and under. Kids can bowl three games for free each weekday until 8 PM and weekends until 4 PM. There are nine participating lanes in the Houston area including Bowlmor and Willow Lanes. You can find more information about the participating bowling lanes in Houston. An AMF Summer Pass is available for adults plus three guests. Shoe rental not included.

12. Skip the typical movie theaters and visit Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) for special movie presentations. Its Giant Screen Theater (60 ft. x 80 ft.) offers 3D documentaries with captivating video.

13. Make a visit to the world’s largest play area in a shopping mall. Frolic's Castle is a perfect option for hot summer days – and even rainy days. This new addition to Memorial City Mall in 2014 features a three-level Enchanted Forest playspace that is ADA-accessible. Parents like how it's fully enclosed to keep the kiddos in range. Kids love the drawbridge, two-level tube slide, and the interactive sounds such as the sleeping giant, fire-breathing dragon, bubbling cauldron, and swimming gator. If you're lucky, you can meet Frolic the fire-breathing dragon in person when he visits the castle every Friday this summer.

14. Catch a Houston Astros game this summer and take advantage of some of their discount promotions: Double Tuesday, $1 Hot Dog Wednesday, Kroger Family Sunday, Coca-Cola Value Days, and Big & Bright Friday Nights. The Astros play downtown at Minute Maid Park, 501 Crawford Street.

15. Enjoy seven museums for free each Thursday in Houston's Museum District. Plan a special day and hit the highlights of the Houston Museum District – for free!

  • Houston Museum of Natural Science: 6-9PM
  • Children’s Museum of Houston: 5-8PM
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: 10AM-9PM
  • The Health Museum: 2-7PM
  • Houston Museum of African American Culture: 6-8PM
  • Buffalo Soldiers National Museum: 1-5PM
  • Holocaust Museum Houston: Sundays Only

16. Explore the Downtown Tunnel System, an often well-kept secret in Houston for folks who don't work downtown. The seven-mile tunnel that dates to the 1930s features underground passageways that connect 80 buildings to government offices, restaurants, retail stores, hotels, banks, corporations and the Theater District. Explore this interactive map from Houston Downtown Management District.

view of the Cistern, an underground space in Houston, Texas
Image via Buffalo Bayou Partnership

17. Buffalo Bayou Partnership opened the Cistern, an underground space that originally served at the city's drinking reservoir dating back to 1926. It was rediscovered years ago and updated to allow visitors, thanks to $1.7 million in grants. This public space features both historic and architectural significance with its 25-ft. columns resembling ancient Roman cisterns under Instanbul. The Cistern is open for docent-led tours Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is just $5, or free on Thursdays. Due to its popularity, it is recommended that you make tour reservations online in advance.

About the author

Vicki Powers

Vicki Powers, formerly of Houston on the Cheap, is a native Texan and freelance journalist. She loves helping Houstonians learn how to live in a big city without spending big bucks.

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