Hotel Derek
The new downtown luxury hotels, like the Magnolia and the Sam Houston, could've been contenders in this category if it weren't for one thing: construction. Downtown demolition ruins the luxury. Until the city center is put back together again, the stylish Hotel Derek remains the place to be seen lodging among the elite. Celebrity sightings are commonplace, and the surroundings are chic as ever. The initial hubbub over the Derek has abated somewhat, so you won't feel as if you've walked into a commercial. Houston's only boutique-style hotel has also recently announced that it's okay to bring your dog -- an important feature for the rich and famous who just can't bear to be separated from Fifi for a night.
Trellis is the newest, fanciest day spa in Houston. From the interior float pool to the Mediterranean-style balcony, this 17,000-square-foot spa wraps up luxury and serenity into one nice package. Visitors can relax with a Vichy rainfall shower or a tension relief cocoon body wrap. Those self-conscious about baring their aging bodies before the ultrafit Houstonian crowd can opt for a cellulite or stretch mark treatment. And for couples who can't bear to be separated even for a facial, the Trellis offers treatment rooms and hot tubs for use a deux.

At Mai's Nail Perfection, a converted house on Sunset Boulevard, everything is purple. When you get a pedicure, you sit on a purple throne, surrounded by purple walls. You'll feel like a queen, unless you don't take good care of your feet -- in which case Mai will chastise you and make you feel like a naughty little girl (or boy). The place is best known for its long-lasting French manicures -- it'll be a while before you need a touch-up if you trust yourself to Mai. Although lots of the joint's regulars hail from the surrounding West University and Southampton areas, there's a decidedly laid-back, un-snobby feel to the place. And if you're in the market for costume jewelry, the entrepreneurial Mai has a side biz going right at the salon.
It's December 1, and you're spending the holidays in the Caribbean. Lucky you. Of course, your pale skin hasn't seen the light of day in months, and that could be a problem. If you don't want to spend the first few days of your vacation hiding under an umbrella or nursing the sunburn you got after your 45 SPF washed off in the ocean, get thee to Darque Tan. Yes, we know about skin cancer. But we subscribe to the theory that moderate exposure is better than a burn any day. And the knowledgeable staffers will help you build up your sun tolerance gradually. Think of them as personal trainers for your tan. They'll encourage you to incrementally increase your tanning time and intensity (there are five different levels of beds to choose from) every couple of days, to trick your pigment into working at maximum capacity. Depending on your skin tone, sessions can take less than ten minutes. We like the Midtown location for a quick lunch-hour glow.

Is your biological clock ticking overtime? Are you having trouble conceiving a child? Eastern Harmony treats scores of stressed-out wannabe mothers with caring, compassionate acupuncture treatments in a soothing atmosphere complete with Eastern mood music. Acupuncturists Randine Lewis and Sadhna Singh hold both Western medical degrees and acupuncture certifications. They can use acupuncture alone or as a complement to their patients' other, more traditional infertility treatments. And while you're relaxing like a supine porcupine, have them throw on a few extra needles to cure a sinus headache, backache or other ailment. A peaceful nap is virtually guaranteed.

Patricia Williams has been helping folks cleanse their auras and balance their chakras for 30 years. But that's not all: A gift passed on from her great-grandmother allows her to read palms, tarot cards and crystal balls, as well as assist with something called Tibet meditation, which sounds pretty darn relaxing. She also sells potions, candles and crystals -- even a little mojo sack that she says will let your desires come true. Hot damn! For $20, you get palm and tarot readings with unlimited questions, but the crystal ball service is $125. For a fee, she'll also pray over missing loved ones, and she may even be able to tell you if they'll make it home safely. After all, she says she knew all along that Elizabeth Smart was okay. Bonus: She reads tarot cards over the phone. Get your credit card ready.

Bedrock City Comic Company - Westheimer
For 13 years comic book fans -- and more recently, parents exasperatingly herding Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh enthusiasts -- have trekked out to the intersection of Westheimer and Hillcroft to visit Bedrock City, the friendliest and most helpful comic book store in town. The shop is relatively bright and airy (rare in the literally low-rent world of "graphic novel" outlets) and the staff doesn't treat you like an idiot if you're just looking for a brief nostalgia fix (even rarer in that world, where some stores make you feel like you need a Ph.D. in Deservedly Obscure Comic Artists before they'll deign to answer a question). Bedrock City has the state's best selection from the so-called Golden Age of comics, the 1930s to 1950s; they also have a wide array of comics from other eras, not to mention action figures and gewgaws.
In a town that's not all that fashion-forward, up-and-coming British-born designer Vanessa Riley is a true find. Known for her extravagant, corseted couture gowns and sweeping, floor-length coats, Riley has dressed the beautiful people for events like the Grammys, the Academy Awards and Houston's society balls. But her designs are not inaccessible to the rest of us -- especially if you know how to rationalize. Her glamorous must-have pieces are more than worth the reasonable investment when you consider: 1) the quality craftsmanship, complete with satin linings and hand-sewn buttonholes; 2) the luxurious personal service -- Riley will custom-fit one of her designs in the fabric of your choice for a nominal fee; and 3) the fact that you'll never run into someone else wearing the same thing at a party. When you can't afford to rationalize, stop by the Vanessa Riley London studio for one of her terrific sales -- sometimes you can find last season's gorgeous creations for under $50.

She's exotically beautiful, she speaks four languages, and she designs killer jewelry. Mexican-born Mari Carmen Ibarra's trademark is unusual clasps -- one popular version resembles a ribbon of 18-karat gold. Her contemporary designs, appropriately sold under the name Contemporary Stones, also feature long strands of freshwater pearls and other semiprecious stones. No wonder the ultracool design store Kuhl-Linscomb decided to carry her earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Check out Kuhl-Linscomb's selection, or go straight to the source at the Contemporary Stones Midtown studio.

Why do those men in shorts and black dress socks comb the Galveston beaches with metal detectors? Because they know maybe, just maybe, they'll find a silver Rolex amid the shells and jellyfish. Tony Box sees it all the time. The burly, gregarious owner of Box & Box Jewelers restores and performs mechanical surgery on many a Rolex in his sprawling Rice Village storefront. The refurbished high-end timepieces are then sold at a fraction of the cost (Box recently saved a customer $14,000 on a gold Patek Philippe). You can stop in for a bargain-basement-priced used Rolex (starting at $1,800 with warranty) or to have him tinker with your Service Swiss mechanical or vintage watch. Box is not just a connoisseur but an equal-opportunity repairman, meaning he'll touch up a Timex with the same care afforded the timepiece of actress Goldie Hawn or an NBA athlete.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of