Why buy your "How to Talk Texas" books, Houston skyline postcards and Lone Star flag barbecue aprons at some sterile mall when you can do so in the heart of the city, at the foot of the statue of Sam Houston himself? Those who say downtown is a vacuum for shoppers likely haven't yet discovered this 6,500-square-foot Texana delight located on the first floor of City Hall. In addition to the usual Texas-proud inventory, the shop features snazzy, colorful decor, museum-quality displays, a theater that screens historical films, and informative computer stations all surrounding a larger-than-life bronze representation of the first president of the Republic of Texas.

It took a while for the folks at this proudly independent music and video store to get a DVD rental section going, even after bigwig video chains Blockbuster and Hollywood beat 'em to the punch. But once they did, theirs turned out to be the definitive DVD section for die-hard movie geeks. Apart from the regular lineup of new and amped-up releases, the store has just about every release from those packrats at The Criterion Collection (practically the DVD industry's preservation society) as well as rarities from Kino Video. But it's the outrageous collection of discs from Something Weird Video, home to such bawdy, campy finds as Blaze Starr Goes Nudist, that may have folks flocking to the store in curiosity. At last, there's a place where you can get the works of Hitchcock, Bergman, Scorsese and Chesty Morgan all at once.
Houston, Texas, a portal city for Japanese anime? Yes, thanks to forward-thinking ADV founders John Ledford and Matt Greenfield. For the uninitiated, anime is Japanese animation for adults, too, not just kids. It's extremely popular in its home country and increasingly so all over the world. Recently spotted at the Video Sellers and Distributors of America conference in Las Vegas, these local boys are pushing the envelope by acquiring cutting-edge anime titles and bringing them to the States. They've been around since 1992, but in the last few years they've really hit their stride.
We've all seen those boring, windowless wooden shacks on the side of the freeway with such original names as Adult MegaPlexxx. And if it's just porn you want, then those places are probably your best bet. But what if you're itching to grab a copy of High Society magazine and, say, some beef jerky? Or what about a nice, tasteful adult film and some cheesy nachos? If that's more your bag, then the quaint little Friendly Mart on Dallas is your best bet. Where else can you satisfy all your late-night cravings at once? Its bright neon signs advertising fountain drinks and ice cream might seem a bit incongruous with the stack of racy magazines and videos by the window. But who says it's wrong to eat ice cream and watch porn at the same time? Now, please pass the jerky.

Erotic Cabaret
Walk in nice, walk out naughty. This store has more selection than a buffet on Sunday brunch -- from complete drag-queen attire to standard dildos and edible underpants to sinfully seductive latex nurse outfits and she-devil getups. They also carry every prop you might possibly need to carry out any fantasy, from yummy body paint and furry handcuffs to whips and wigs, not to mention fangs and spiked dog collars. Also, on the opposite side of the store you will find hip, nicely priced pants, shirts, shoes, purses and jewelry. There's something for everyone here: a head shop, erotica, princess dresses perfect for the Renaissance Festival. It's definitely a great place to get a Halloween costume, no matter what kind of treat you're looking for.
A recent transplant from Southern California was shocked when we told her that people really do surf here in Texas. She would have died laughing if we had shown her our pick for Houston's best surf shop. It's true that the outside of the Surfhouse isn't what you might expect. Instead of seagulls, we have blackbirds. Instead of salt in the air, we have exhaust fumes. Pounding waves? Forget it. The nearest beach is an hour away. But on the inside, this north-of-the-Heights landmark is a shrine to Texas surf culture. The Surfhouse has been a fixture on the Houston scene since before most of its current customers were born. It opened in 1967, under the same owners it has today. "They're really into the history of it all," said one 28-year-old customer who has been shopping here since age 11. "It's cool to support a store where they really love the sport."
To think, a whole generation has grown up believing that bookstores are supposed to be run by boards of directors, serve 80 kinds of coffee and loom as large as airplane hangars. Yes, the megaplexes do have every book on every subject known to man, and yes, it's nice to be able to quaff a cup of chai while you're strolling the aisles, but something's missing, and that's a sense that anybody truly cares about the place or the books in it. Larry Turk definitely cares about Quarter Price Books and its inventory. Any one of his customers who betrays the slightest hint of being as much of a book fiend as he is will be treated to one of Turk's long discourses on the trade. He's been to Larry McMurtry's book town in Archer City, and he'll tell you all about it. He's also been to its forerunner, the English village of Hay-on-Wye. He'll even scout books for you while he's there. And if you find a book in his store that shows a little wear and tear, he won't let you take it away until he or one of his assistants gives it a little restoration. If you really want to score points with Turk, gesture toward his center table, a resting spot for numerous replicas of Rodin's The Thinker, and say "I get it! This is the headquarters for thinkers!" He just might give you a further discount.
Blue Willow Bookstore
Some parents regard their children as an extension of themselves, so show all your friends you're better than they are by improving your kids. How? Expand their minds. Take the time to read to them. And if you want to really blow the Joneses out of the water, find unique children's reading at Blue Willow Books. For six years they've been offering a variety of children's books organized according to age and special interests of the child. They can help you find a book about the ocean that's written exclusively for your three-year-old. So now she'll know more about the underwater world than SpongeBob SquarePants. Do the Jones kids know what a sea anemone is?
Ever toyed with the idea of seeking career counseling from a psychic or an astrologer but been put off by the garishly muu-muu'ed, incense-burning, turban-coiffed mystic promising to solve your love woes as you choke on perfumed smoke? Well, if you want career guidance from someone who not only talks the talk but also walks the walk as a professional herself, just call metaphysician Jennifer Bobbitt. She guides CEOs and mailroom clerks to their dream jobs and is more confidential than a headhunter, priest or therapist, while combining the motivational skills of all three. She also teaches astrology classes for beginners -- nights and weekends only, so she can give her all to her day job: accountant.
G & G Model Shop
Stepping into this little orange-and-brown shop in the Rice Village is like stepping back into 1954. Makes sense. That's when G&G moved into its current location. The cozy, jam-packed store has an endearing, musty quality to it. But the selection is second to none. Anything you ever wanted in model trains, boats or cars is here, displayed on shelves or housed behind glass (check out the Johnny Cash railroad car!). There's also a fine collection of magazines and journals for the model enthusiast, not to mention the huge supply of craft supplies: paint, glue, wood, etc. Not into trains or cars? Never fear. You can always purchase the Giant Volcano. The packaging promises you can "build and erupt your own volcano in 20 minutes." Now, who doesn't want to try that?

Best Of Houston®

Best Of