When Cactus Music stops deserving to be called Houston's best record store, we'll stop doing it. In the past year or so, the vinyl stock at the Shepherd Plaza mainstay has probably doubled, reason enough to give them this year's award. The frequent in-stores with free Saint Arnold's you may know about, but here's some neat stuff about Cactus you may not: Cactus was founded in 1975 by Don and Bud Daily, son of legendary Houston record-label owner and jukebox supplier H.W. "Pappy" Daily. It has been in its present location since November 2007, after the original space next to the Alabama Theatre closed about 18 months earlier. Between record-company promo cutouts, historical photographs, framed 45s, oversize album covers and periodic installations, it's almost as good of an art gallery as it is a record store. It doubles as a gift shop par excellence, too, with all sorts of music-themed knickknacks and novelties. Even if you're just browsing, it's much more fun when a local luminary is spinning in the Record Ranch, which often happens weekend afternoons (and selected other times). And no true Houstonian is complete without at least one Cactus T-shirt in his or her wardrobe.


The store is packed to the doors with clothes, jewelry, hats and shoes that have somehow survived long enough from the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s and on to end up in this gem of a place in the Heights. It's basically a vintage mini-mall with different vendors offering up their finds. We still get giddy seeing all the racks of clothes just waiting to be pawed through in search of a '40s-era rayon swing dress, a canary-yellow bikini from the '60s or the perfect 1900s real velvet dressing gown. You can wade in and dig through the entire stock if you're so inclined, or — once you've learned your way around — you can just head straight for the booths that specialize in the eras of clothes you're after. You get what you pay for, so prices will go up based on the condition and rarity of the items, but they aren't astronomical, and you can score some amazing finds with a little luck and good timing.

READERS' CHOICE: Buffalo Exchange

According to the Briar Shoppe website, this Houston institution was born from a $500 loan from legendary Texas attorney Richard "Racehorse" Haynes to single mother Alice Amason, who had trouble getting a loan to open a tobacco shop because, bless her heart, the poor thing didn't understand it was a man's industry. Fast-forward 53 years, and it's a wonder to behold what that $500 created: one of the most impressive walk-in humidors in the city, with nearly 100 different labels, featuring everything from Alec Bradley to Zino. And the Briar Shoppe is especially well-known for its professional and courteous staff, who can help you find just the right cigar, whether you're a novice or an aficionado. Don't forget to check out the impressive selection of cutters, cases and other accessories, as well.

This sprawling bazaar bills itself as "A Texas-Size Marketplace," and this is one time where the hyperbole is warranted: It features more than 100 acres of goods — we're talking art, jewelry, auto parts, bicycles, electronics, comics, housewares and everything in between. Since 1989, Traders Village has basically set the standard for flea markets in Houston — if it exists, chances are it's here, and for a price that won't make you feel like a chump. It's fun to go even if you don't have anything in mind — it's like a window-shopper's paradise. Check the calendar for special events, like concerts, cookoffs and even a Native American Pow Wow.

READERS' CHOICE: Traders Village

David Rozycki

Heights Cigar Lounge calls itself "Your den away from home," and for those who enjoy a good cigar, it certainly has all the amenities. You can visit and engage in good conversation with fellow customers over a few smokes while lounging on comfortable leather recliners or sofas; the great selection here also makes Heights Cigar Lounge the place to frequent when you need some good stuff to go. The lounge's huge walk-in humidor has just about any kind of cigar you might be looking for, as well as plenty of smoking accessories like cutters, lighters and home humidors; most of the inventory is geared toward cigar smokers, but a few brands of cigarettes are sold here as well as tobacco for pipes. The owners are friendly and knowledgeable and will patiently answer any of your questions to help you find the right cigar for you, without any arrogant, elitist cigar-smoker attitude.

Designer Kate de Para is both an artisan and an artist. The textiles and women's clothing she designs are simple, elegant and forward-thinking. With an MFA in fibers from the Savannah College of Art and Design, de Para creates responsibly sourced textiles that are dyed and printed in her Houston studio (that's her artisan side). For a time in 2015, pieces from her Evens clothing line are hanging in a museum (that's her artist side). De Para's among the 35 Texas-based designers participating in the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston's "Texas Design Now," an exhibit of cutting-edge fashion, accessories and furniture being created across the state.

Parking lots are the worst. Our most base, selfish selves come out in them. An event ends and we all pour back to our vehicles, ready to declare war on each other just so we can get into traffic a few seconds sooner. While the METRORail has been real handy in helping fight parking-lot chaos at NRG Stadium, the new lines and their stops at the Convention Center/Minute Maid Park, BBVA Compass Stadium and TDECU Stadium open up a whole new world of options when it comes to attending major sporting and music events. Being able to move around most of Houston by rail is probably decades down the line, but these latest additions take what was a solid service and begin to make it something really special.

There are tons of choices when it comes to yoga studios in Houston these days, but Joy Yoga Center is hands-down the place to go for your stretching and bending and mindful breathing. The thing that's so great about Joy Yoga is that it offers all kinds of options for all kinds of yogis, so whether you want a workout that will kick your ass or an hour and a half of practice that will expand both your mind and abilities, or you just need a chilled-out class to help you unwind at the end of the day, Joy Yoga has you covered. The center also has Acro-Yoga, Pilates, Yoga for Runners and even prenatal. The studios are kept warm but not roasting, the staff is always both chilled out and helpful and the instructors are great about making sure there are options for every practice level in the class.

READERS' CHOICE: Yoga One Studios

Walking into Game Over is like walking back into childhood. The store is completely packed with beloved old hits reaching from before Atari to the present generation. Game Over also traffics in all kinds of obscure and hard-to-find titles, accessories and systems like the Philips CD-i and Japanese imports. You literally never know what you're going to find when you walk in, but among the shelves you'll hear delighted squeal after delighted squeal as gamers stumble across gaming treasures long forgotten. Ask the staff for helpful advice on maintenance of vintage systems so your purchases will keep going strong.

If you're a geek who loves non-digital games, you may have already met the folks from Ettin Games even if you've never stepped in their store. At local conventions, they show up not only to sell their wares, but to help others discover new games via their board game library. These folks love gaming, and when you make the trip up to their store, you'll find the latest and greatest games and plenty of table room to play them. For those looking for more structured gaming, Ettin also participates in Friday Night Magic and D&D Adventurer's League, among other weekly events. If you're looking to make some friends and chuck some dice, this is your place.

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