Wolf's Department Store & Pawn

For some people, including us, Wolf's Department Store & Pawn Shop is as much a Houston institution as Spec's, the Astrodome or the Galleria. At Wolf's, you can find a nice selection of new Kangol and Stetson hats, and the pawn shop collection is light years better than the typical stock. Even better, Wolf's has been around since 1955 and still maintains a vintage look that's truly authentic. It's the kind of place that makes the Third Ward so unique. Wolf's would be a great loss if the area ever goes the way of other wards and becomes overrun with condos and coffee shops.

Whole Foods

There's something fishy at the Whole Foods on Kirby. And we mean that in a good way. The fish section here is swimming with good buys, fresh fish and the coolest fishmongers in town. These guys and gals know their stuff. They stock only organic, sustainable seafood, and they'll tell you what's best and freshest and how to cook it. They also gladly go the extra yard for regulars. No crab-stuffed tilapia filets today? No worries, they'll make you some on the spot. And they'll shell and vein your shrimp and debone your Copper River sockeye (which, by the way, was cheaper here this summer than at that other high-end grocery store in town).

Fish Gallery

The name of this category does not begin to do justice to The Fish Gallery, which could almost pass for a museum of natural science — except for the comfy leather couches in a soothing pale blue. The Fish Gallery offers outreach programs as a museum would: a summer reading program for children and kids' birthday parties. This summer's kickoff party for the reading program drew 72 visitors — when was the last time you saw that many people in a library? The Fish Gallery, one of seven in a nationwide chain, offers custom-designed aquariums, freshwater or saltwater. Looking for a respectable handheld pool skimmer? Check. The delicate Discus fish? Check. Captive-bred or wild corals? Check. CO2 and H2O refill stations? Check.

Just like Madonna or Cher, our local hairstylist to the stars goes by one name only, thank you very much. Cerón's salon in Uptown Park (as well as his space at The Omni and his new Neiman Marcus shop in Dallas) caters to blue-hairs and socialites alike, but you don't have to be Becca Cason Thrash to get a color touch-up or blowout from a wonder in cowboy boots and tight-fitting leather pants. Anyone can get an appointment, if you book early enough. Cerón has been profiled in Texas Monthly and frequently appears in the party pages as arm candy for the rich and bold-named women around the state. But don't let that intimidate you. He's just a sweetheart wielding a blow dryer. Getting your hair done by Cerón is one of those things that should be on any Texan's bucket list.

Fishing Tackle Unlimited

If you ever get lost and you look over and see the world's largest anything, chances are you're in Houston. Fishing Tackle Unlimited helps with that, because the place is literally the world's largest tackle store. The good thing is, it's not an overdone Disney World-type place like other mammoth outdoor shops. The reel section alone is enough to make your head spin — especially if you check out the price tags. You can also "test drive" kayaks in the store's outdoor pool. Put it this way: If you're working on a research paper about fishing, skip the library and head to Fishing Tackle Unlimited.

Rover Oaks Pet Resort

Sit. Stay. Play. Doggies do it all at Rover Oaks Pet Resort, and why not? This five-year-old establishment offers luxury suites that rival rooms at Hotel ZaZa for pets staying overnight. Doggie Day Camp-ers can romp over acres of green space, get in a little cuddle time and gorge on "gourmet" meals. There's also a state-of-the-art spa and training facilities, all of it squeaky clean. But, just like any River Oaks private school, your four-legged love has to apply and go through a screening process to get in. If Fido makes the cut, the staff here will be your pup's new BBFs.

Replay on 19th

Houston is blessed with lots of wonderful vintage clothing stores, but right now our favorite is Replay on 19th St. This charming boutique, right in the heart of the Heights, features 2,500 square feet of reasonably priced clothes, jewelry, handbags and other accessories. Plus, the friendly, helpful sales staff is always open to bargaining. The styles (for both guys and gals) span from the '40s to the '80s, which means that you should have no problem finding the right kind of outfits for your look — or even discovering a whole new look.

No disrespect to any of Houston's handful of plucky independent record stores — which, by and large, are doing just fine, thank you very much — but the best selection of music-related merchandise often comes with a live show as part of the bargain. And it is a bargain: Not only does the average merch table these days generally offer more than is generally available at the store — like out-of-print or hard-to-find singles and LPs, much more than just stickers and T-shirts — but these over-the-counter transactions come without that bothersome sales tax and, if you're so inclined, usually with a ready-made autograph attached. Many local bands, such as the Wild Moccasins, have begun taking this a step further by giving away recorded products, like full-length debut Skin Collision Past, as a sort of party favor with the price of cover.

Mister Car Wash

The Upper Kirby location of this national chain packs 'em in on the weekends, but that's okay because there's plenty to do inside while you wait. Pull up to a lane, fill up the tank if need be and turn your car over to the army of attendants who hoover the inside and roll it to the auto wash. Inside, you can watch the cars being washed and rinsed and even shoot a little water at them as they go by. (Kids love this!) This place also has the best selection of greeting cards, plus scented candles, cookbooks, costume jewelry and stuffed animals. The lounge offers comfy leather couches and a shoe shine section. Oh, and there's free popcorn and coffee.

You know River Oaks Plant House, even if you don't recognize the name: Its breathtaking topiaries along the median at Buffalo Speedway and Westheimer are something of a landmark. And that's just the cherry on top of the expansive selection inside. Whatever your needs, and whether you're a horticultural expert or a wide-eyed novice, the helpful, experienced staff are there to make sure you find the plants, flowers or accessories you need. Sure, there are cheaper places, but just go check out what ROPH has to offer, and we're pretty sure you won't mind spending an extra buck or two on perfection.

Best Of Houston®

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