Cooling centers, Costco and the local cineplex: The best places to avoid extreme heat this summer

How to stay cool this summer. (Getty Images)
How to stay cool this summer. (Getty Images)

Temperatures are rising this summer, and with it, so is your risk for heat illness, sunburn and dehydration. For a lot of us, it’s too hot to linger outside for long stretches of time. The best course of action is to stay indoors — but that can also mean blowing up your electricity bill by blasting the air conditioning (assuming you have it) all day.

If you don’t want to spend your summer on the couch, however, there are a number of places that offer respite from the heat and a level of entertainment you can’t get at home. Bonus: Many of them are low-cost or even free.

Ready to beat the heat? Here are the best places to go.

These free, indoor air-conditioned locations allow people to keep cool when there are extreme heat weather conditions. Cooling centers are available in each state, and are particularly important for the unhoused population. You can access maps to cooling centers around the United States on the National Center for Healthy Housing website.

Libraries are open to all whether or not you have a library card, and often serve as cooling centers during extreme heat. Libraries are particularly good for families, as they often have free programs for children. Sit with a book, bask in the A/C and let your kids enjoy story time or a craft workshop..

Movie theaters are famously chilly. If you’re a cinephile, you can also save money by joining programs like AMC A-List, in which you pay a flat rate for three movies per week. A second-run theater in your area may also offer cheaper tickets, if you're looking for a bargain. (Pro tip: Pick a movie with a long runtime to get the most bang for your buck.)

When the weather heats up, get your steps in by strolling around a mall — even if you’re not looking to buy something new. If you’re not into crowds, aim to arrive when the doors open (some malls allow people in before the stores inside open) and avoid peak shopping holidays like July 4. It’s also worth checking online to see if your local mall has a play area for kids or in-store events.

Culture and A/C? We call that a win-win. If you are looking to save money, search your area for free or pay-what-you-wish museums, as well as ones that might offer student, senior or family discounts, should they apply. (For example, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is free for kids under 12, and kids 16 and under get into the city’s Museum of Modern Art for free.) It may also be worth paying for an annual membership if you plan to visit regularly (even if it’s just to beat the heat).

Much like malls, stores like Target, Walmart, H Mart or Costco (the latter of which costs $60 per year to join) keep you cool while you browse. Roaming the aisles will allow you to get your steps in, but the real challenge is getting out of there without loading your shopping cart to the brim.

You don’t have to stick to indoor places in order to cool down. Public pools — some of which are free, or require a small entrance fee — make for a refreshing summertime escape. And if you have small kids, check to see if your area parks offer free splash pads.

It may not seem like the most obvious summertime activity, but indoor ice skating is one way to stay cool in the summertime while also getting some good exercise — and you might even need to put on extra layers to keep warm. You can probably skip the hot chocolate afterwards, though.

If you’re bowling more gutter bowls than strikes, consider booking a lane for an hour or so. Many alleys have snack bars and arcades where you can extend your visit.

Whether it’s an adult-friendly version (complete with alcoholic beverages or fancy appetizers) or your standard kids’ fare, an arcade is a good way to stay cool in the summer while putting your Skee-Ball skills to the test.

There are few places as relaxing as the fish department of a pet store, especially when it’s sweltering outside. Go to pick up dog food, stay to gawk at guinea pigs,, parakeets, geckos and more. Depending on your local store policies, you might also be able to bring your dog in to cool off too.

Much like a library, you can peruse the shelves of a bookstore in the air conditioning while picking up the latest #BookTok read. Some stores, like Barnes & Noble, have cafes, so you can grab a lemon loaf while you catch up on your reading.

Be our guest — or not. A hotel lobby is an easy place to work on your laptop while indulging in vacation vibes without actually being a paying guest. If you want to cool down outside, you can look into services like ResortPass, which allow you to buy a pass for a hotel pool for the day. Prices range from $20 to more than $100 for the day.

When it’s hot, the last thing you may want to do is break a sweat — but hear us out. Many gyms like Crunch and Equinox tend to be super air conditioned (no one wants to work out at a place that’s already sweaty, after all) and no one is going to stop you from walking on the treadmill at a slow speed just to spend time in the cool air.