A child plays in the fountain at Main Plaza. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
A child plays in the fountain at Main Plaza. Summer has arrived. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Summer is a great time of the year to try something new, especially when you live in a city as culturally diverse and community-centered as San Antonio. If you are looking for ways to stay cool or have fun, consider adding one of the following activities to your summer itinerary.

1)  Take A Dip

Summer swimming lessons are available at any City pool. Photo courtesy of the Parks and Recreation Department.
Summer swimming lessons are available at any City pool. Photo courtesy of the Parks and Recreation Department.

The 2014 outdoor pool season runs from June 14 to Aug. 16. The hours of operation at the majority of the Parks and Recreation Department’s 24 outdoor pools are Tuesday through Sunday, 1–7 p.m., but some are open from 2– 8 p.m. For indoor swimming, check out the San Antonio Natatorium, located at 1430 W. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd.

If your kids don’t know how to swim, the Parks Department has that covered with the “World’s Largest Swimming Lesson” on Friday, June 20 at 10 a.m. The free lesson will be available at nine different pool locations. Children ages 4-12 are invited to participate so that they can learn the basics at this Guinness Book of World Records sanctioned event.

Call 219-207-3299 or check the Parks and Recreation website for more.

2) Take in a Show

Movie theaters generally have two settings for their air conditioners: “off” and “arctic blast.” This chilly tendency makes the cinema a great destination for those seeking refuge from the oppressive summer swelter. But if standard movie-watching isn’t engaging enough for your tastes, try visiting the Alamo Drafthouse.

At the Drafthouse you can watch the latest releases or pick something you’ve always loved and experience it in an exciting, new way alongside other hardcore fans. For instance, the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Quote-Along, featuring prop whips and limited edition Holy Grail cups on June 15, or a Nirvana/90’s grunge music sing-along party with free inflatable guitars on June 9. The Drafthouse offerings change every month though, so make sure to check the website for new events and special promotions.

The thrill of watching a movie under a blanket of stars at a local drive-in is, for many young people, a foreign concept. And while drive-in theaters as an institution might be flirting with extinction, the unique experience of watching an outdoor movie can, thankfully, still be savored.

A recent Friday night at the San Antonio Botanical Garden with Slab Cinema.
A recent Friday night at the San Antonio Botanical Garden with Slab Cinema. Photo courtesy of Slab Cinema.

Slab Cinema has been showing its free Movies by Moonlight film series for six years now at Hemisfair Park. This year, however, they will be hosted at the newly-renovated Travis Park. This summer’s line-up will feature a number of family friendly titles, including “Frozen” and “Finding Nemo.” Check the Slab Cinema website for showtimes and information about other special screenings, including some at the new Mission Marquee Plaza – formerly the Mission Drive-in later this summer.

3) Get Some Cold Comfort

When it comes to frozen confections, most San Antonians agree that El Paraiso Ice Cream on Fredericksburg is practically a city landmark. If you’ve never tried one of their paletas, or “ice pops” for the uninitiated, that is almost as blasphemous as saying you’ve never visited the Alamo.

El Paraiso Ice Cream. Courtesy photo.
El Paraiso Ice Cream. Courtesy photo.

Fresh, flavorful, and reasonably priced, there’s really no bad choice to be made at El Paraiso, but if it’s your first time choose the pecan or chocolate bars if you’re in the mood for something creamy and the lemon or strawberry fruit bars if you’d prefer a more refreshing treat.

SA Pops at 3420 N. St. Mary’s St. offers handcrafted paletas as well as soft-serve ice cream and it’s conveniently located close to Brackenridge Park and the San Antonio Zoo.

I’m sure crushed ice has its place in the world, but for my money, when snow cones are involved, it’s either shaved or nothing at all. For smooth ice and sweet treats with a decidedly Mexican edge to them, try visiting Chris & Kids Snow Cones on the Westside. They have mangonadas, piccadilly raspas, and changos with vinegar, pickle juice, chili powder and chamoy.

If you’re in the mood for a more indulgent dessert, you should check out Brindles Awesome Ice Creams, an independently run ice cream shop known for its specialty flavors. Two popular flavors newbies might consider for their indoctrination are “Azteca” (a fusion of chocolate, cinnamon, and vanilla) and “Bacon Walnut” (self-explanatory). For extra fun, ditch the cup and ask your server to build your treat inside one of their new waffle cone tacos.

4) Explore a Museum

June 7-8 UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures will host the 43rd annual Texas Folklife Festival. The celebration will feature the music, dance, and cuisine of more than 40 cultural groups that have influenced our Texan heritage. Admission is $5 for children and $12 for adults.

Don’t forget that the institute offers free admission to their museum the second Sunday of every month. Make sure to stop by sometime so you can peruse their Texas Contemporary Artists Series or Folklife in the Piney Woods of Texas exhibits while they’re still here.

Texas Folklife Festival 2009 at UTSA's Institute of Texan Cultures. Photo courtesy of ITC.
Texas Folklife Festival 2009 at UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures. Photo courtesy of ITC.

The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center will offer  a five week circus camp June 9– July 18 where children they can learn about juggling, acrobatics, the art of clowning, and the history of Mexican American carpas, traveling circuses that used to tour the southwest in the first half of the 20th century.

The circus camp isn’t the cheapest endeavor at $150 for one week, but if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll find lots of budget-friendly activities available for children throughout the city. For example, Ser Padres Magazine and the San Antonio Children’s Museum will be sponsoring a free admissions and programming day Saturday, August 16 from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

5) Heed the Call of Nature

Have a beautiful day on your hands but nothing to do? Why not visit the San Antonio Botanical Garden? If the flora isn’t enough to entice you, the garden will be hosting a human-sized Birdhouse exhibit until June 29.  There will also be a wealth of activities to entertain both human and canine attendees alike August 2-3 during “Dog Days of Summer.”

If you’re interested in getting your thumb green, you might try attending one of the free Gardening 101 classes offered by the San Antonio Food Bank. They take place at 2 p.m. on the fourth Friday of the month at the Spurs Community Garden. You must call 210-431-8347 to register at least one week before the class you’d like to attend.

Students take a tour of the Spurs Community Garden. Photo courtesy of Growing Hope.
Students take a tour of the Spurs Community Garden. Photo courtesy of Growing Hope.

Children who are engrossed by all things creepy, crawly, or fluttery should enjoy Bug Bonanza, Butterflies of South Texas, or Slithering Serpents. These programs have been organized by the Parks and Recreation Department so kids can gain exposure to these creatures and cultivate an appreciation for them. Check out the department’s events calendar for times, places, and registration. This calendar will also give you the low-down on lots of other nature-centric activities that will be occurring throughout the summer.

6) Express Yourself

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to capture someone’s likeness in a charcoal drawing or transfigure a lump of clay into a masterpiece, consider enrolling in an art class via the Southwest School of Art or Northside ISD’s Adult and Community Education program. Both institutions have courses that will appeal to a wide range of interests, skill sets, and age groups.

Southwest School of Arts student - pottery
Photo courtesy of Southwest School of Arts.

If painting and sculpture don’t float your boat, learn something else. You’re not limited to the fine arts. Lots of colleges offer non-students the opportunity to audit classes at a fraction of the cost of their normal tuition rate. You can devote a portion of your summer to learning Korean or studying Victorian literature. Try expanding your knowledge of something that’s always interested you. Better yet, challenge yourself by studying something that’s always intimidated you.

If you’d like to strengthen your creative writing muscles, you can participate in one of Gemini Ink’s workshops, or attend their readings to get some inspiration. The workshops are available for a variety of ages and many of them are free. Even if you’re not interested in taking up the pen, you might still want to drop by Gemini Ink’s Paletas y Poesia event at the new Mission Marquee Plaza on Saturday June 7  from 4-9 p.m. There will be music, poetry readings, an open mic, and – of course – paletas for everyone.

(Read more: Rebirth of the Mission (Drive-In Theatre) Marquee Plaza)

7) Book it to the Library

The San Antonio Public Library‘s many branches have an abundance of resources and activities to combat boredom. There are books, naturally, but the library also has DVDs, CDs, ebooks and audiobooks. For those people who actually enjoy required reading lists, the library also offers a summer reading program for adults. You can register, start a log, and enjoy one of their closing parties at the end of the summer when the program finishes.

Diamond smiles at the completion of yet another book with her Reading Buddy Darryl Byrd. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Diamond smiles at the completion of yet another book with her Reading Buddy SA2020 President and CEO Darryl Byrd. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Your branch should have plenty of options available, but if you’re still looking for something new (or if you just want to rub elbows with San Antonio’s literati) try to attend the Book Swap Happy Hour at the Liberty Bar on July 16.

If your love for the written word requires no incentive, perhaps you’d like to foster the next generation of readers by assisting the San Antonio Youth Literacy Program. The volunteers there are dedicated to promoting literary skills in elementary school kids who are reading below their appropriate grade level.  Office assistants are needed between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so if you’re available during that time give them a call to see if they could use an extra hand.

8) Release Your Inner Foodie

CIA San Antonio at the Historic Pearl Brewery. Courtesy photo.
CIA San Antonio at the Historic Pearl Brewery. Courtesy photo.

The Culinary Institute of America is sponsoring a First Taste program where people can watch cooking demos, taste what’s being made, and then take home recipes to practice what they learned.

One tip to help you beat the heat while you eat: Though it may sound counterintuitive, spicy dishes made with chili peppers can actually help cool you down. Capsaicin in the peppers increases your blood circulation without increasing your body temperature, which makes you sweat more. When your sweat evaporates, you should be left feeling cooler than you were before.

And since summer is the time for adventure, why not get your bold, spicy fare from a food truck? Here are three that should satisfy your appetite for the piquant: The DUK TruckThe Institute of Chili, and SAbores.

Use the SA Food Truck Finder website or download the mobile app to locate them and discover other exciting edibles.

9) Feel the Rhythm

If a Sunday afternoon heat wave has ever left you burning for some cool tunes, you might like the McNay Art Museum’s Summer Jazz and Lunch Series. Enjoy a gourmet boxed lunch and jazz music for only $15 per guest. Seating is first-come-first-serve though, so make sure to get there early.

All throughout the month of July, the Parks and Recreation Department’s Fandango and Alamotion Dance Troupes will be sponsoring ¡BRAVO! An Evening of Song and Dance at the Arneson River Theatre at La Villita. This year it will feature dance and musical numbers from Mexico, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. There’s no charge for admission, but donations are always appreciated.

Another great recurring event for audiophiles is the County Line Music Series. Admission is free when you bring in canned goods to donate to the San Antonio Food Bank. Enjoy some barbeque, live music, and help your community out all at the same time. What’s not to love about that?

10) Take Care of Yourself

Health and wellness tips may not be the sexiest part of this list, but they’re still crucial to heed if you want to have a satisfying summer. Nothing will take the wind out of your sails faster than suffering from heat stroke or getting a sun burn.

If you’re going to be outdoors for an extended period of time, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., make sure to use sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours, especially if you’re swimming or sweating profusely. Seek shade whenever possible and stay hydrated by drinking non-alcoholic fluids, preferably those with little to no sugar, caffeine, or carbonation.

Don’t forget to bring your sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to help shade your face, neck, and head. Wear lightly-colored, light-weight, loose-fitting clothing. Heat-related illness claims the lives of hundreds of people every year, so now is not the time to get precious about style. The fleeting mortification of a potential fashion faux pas is nothing compared to skin cancer.

There’s a wide range of resources available for San Antonians who want to be healthier this summer: You can get exercise while simultaneously helping the environment by renting a B-cycle for your daily commute or a casual ride through the park. You can take your kids to the H-E-B Body Adventure exhibit at the Witte Museum where they can improve their health IQ, gain a better understanding of anatomy, and practice meditation and cooking techniques.

(Read more: Witte Museum Dives Deep into Community Health with Body Adventure)

A child interacts with the anatomy table during the Witte Museum H-E-B Body Adventure media preview event May 23, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
A child learns about the stomach with the anatomy table during the Witte Museum H-E-B Body Adventure media preview event May 23, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

If you’re not quite sure how to start a workout regimen, the Parks and Recreation Department’s Fitness in the Park program offers classes and activities for people of all ages, skill levels, and interests. They have almost anything you can think of, from cardio kickboxing to yoga, and even hula dancing.

If you’ve ever wanted the perfect excuse to wear neon sweatbands, you should definitely check out the “Totally Awesome 80s” themed Fit Pass 2.0 program, starting June 14 with the kickoff Fitnessthon 5k and Expo event at Ladybird Johnson Park. It is a free, interactive scavenger hunt that challenges people to participate in different wellness activities, live healthier, and get to know their city better. The expo will offer swimming, running, Zumba, exercise classes, door prizes, a best 80s-inspired workout ensemble costume contest, and much more.

No matter what you decide to do this summer, make sure that you and your loved ones are safe. Plan ahead and take the necessary precautions so that you can optimize your time together and make the best memories possible.

*Featured/top image: A child plays in the fountain at Main Plaza. Summer has arrived. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Related Stories:

Combating the Summer Slide

Witte Museum Dives Deep into Community Health with Body Adventure

Rebirth of the Mission (Drive-In Theatre) Marquee Plaza

San Antonians ‘Get Outdoors!’ at Mission San José

David Garza is a native of San Antonio who graduated from St. Mary's University with Bachelor's degrees in Biology, English and a Master's degree in English Literature and Language. He is a freelance writing...