By Kim Robson:
Big cities are heat islands. All that concrete, asphalt and glass absorb heat, then reflect it. Rooftops and cars heat up quickly in the summer sun. Add to that a dearth of shade from green spaces and mature trees, and being in the city during the dog days of summer can be downright intolerable. Plus, air-conditioning units are all cranking away, adding to the outdoor heat effect.
Take heart, though, there are places you can go to beat the heat and get a bit of culture as well. Check out these ideas:
Hit the Public Library
All public libraries are designated Cool Zones, where the public can go to cool down on hot days, free of charge. There are even programs that will give the elderly or disabled rides to Cool Zones. Libraries also have plenty to keep you occupied. Bring your laptop and earphones, and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. Get some work done in the cool. Catch up on emails or YouTube videos. And there’s even a whole separate area for kids to have fun playtime.
Try the Public Pool
Most public pools offer monthly or seasonal passes, with a substantial discount from paying the daily rate. (I spent entire summers at the local high school’s pool, which opened to the public over the summer hiatus. Mom would drop me off in the morning and pick me up at closing time.)There are professional lifeguards on duty, plus showers for rinsing off and bleachers to camp out on.
Don’t Forget the Ice Skating Rink
Just as the pool, many rinks have seasonal passes, and they are controlled environments in which mothers can feel safe leaving their kids for a few hours. In addition to an indoor lake of ice, rinks are also air-conditioned to keep all that ice from melting. Kids love the soda fountain, hot chocolate, candy machines and video games.
Splash Around in a Water Park
There are more than 1,200 waterparks in North America keeping about 85 million guests cool while having fun every year. They’re great places to take the whole family. Most offer some form of restaurant, plus changing rooms with lockers and showers. Get a tan while staying cool,and have a blast riding the slides or floating on an inner tube.
How About a Waterfront Park?
Many cities are developing new waterfront parks, converting formerly industrial waterfronts to recreational uses. Being in close proximity to a body of water always has a cooling effect. Some waterfront parks are even using the opportunity to reuse wastewater. Along the San Antonio River Walk, billed as Texas’ No. 1 tourist attraction, recycled water is used.
Find Little Known Private Parks and Gardens
Many downtown skyscrapers offer serene little green oases beside the building’s footprint for employees to enjoy during breaks. But anyone can hang out in them. I love the garden beside San Francisco’s TransAmerica Pyramid building. There’s plenty of shade from large mature trees, benches, and there’s a gorgeous fountain.
Seek out Botanical Gardens
Botanical gardens are frequently overlooked shade sanctuaries. Bring a bag of discounted bread and feed ducks by the pond. Get back in touch with nature, right in the middle of the city.
Go to a Museum
They have the coolest, driest air in town, to protect the museum’s contents. Most also have a café attached. Don’t overlook the museum’s gardens. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden in New York’s Museum of Modern Art has free admission between 9:00 and 10:15 a.m. After that, you can pay admission to the Museum, but the space, designed by architect Philip Johnson and landscape architect James Fanning in 1953 and revitalized in 2004, is worth the fare.
Haunt an Independent Bookstore
Independent bookstores have been struggling or outright closing recently, due to the rise of online booksellers and eBooks. The ones remaining truly need your support. No charge for enjoying their air-conditioning, but if you spend a fair amount of time there, buy a book or three.
Take in a Flick
The air conditioner was invented originally to cool factories, but one of its first public uses was in movie theaters. They revolutionized the business; most theaters were empty in the summer. In 1925, inventor Willis Carrier persuaded Paramount to install his system in New York City’sRivoli Theater, their flagship movie house still under construction on Times Square. The experiment was an amazing success. People flocked to the Rivoli as much to enjoy cool relief from the heat as to see the movie. Over the next five years, Carrier installed his climate control technology in 300 movie theaters across the country. Air conditioning transformed the summer months from a financial write-off for the movie industry to its most profitable season of the year.
Lounge Around Hotels
Fine hotel lobbies have several advantages: fancy décor, tinkling soft music, a stately bar, plush upholstered furniture, free WiFi and, best of all, air conditioning. No one knows or cares that you’re not actually staying at the hotel. Some even have outdoor bars and swimming pools. I used to regularly sneak (read: walk in as if I owned the place) into the downtown San Diego waterfront Marriott and use their pool and jacuzzi.
So, use your imagination! Starbucks was a little obvious to include here, but they have AC, free WiFi and all the caffeine you could want. Not that they care if you buy anything — they’re good that way. Share your own secret places to go when it’s unbearably hot in the city in the comments below.