When Okies think of a weekend getaway, they often head for our neighbor state to the south. Me, I’d rather roller skate through hell than face the traffic in the DFW metroplex. There are, however, attractions to the metropolitan area that are worth the automotive aggravation; here are just three of the numerous satellite cities that can make me stiffen my spine and hit the highway.
Grapevine is great.
I love the historic Main Street, which is lined with antiques, boutiques and good eats. Specialty shops such as One Posh Place and Ooh La La, carrying interesting and unusual items from clothing to jewelry and decor, are joined by a variety of other shopping options. One of my favorites is Good Things for All Seasons, whose name says it all: decor for every holiday and lots of fun things for any time of year.
A handful of art galleries carry paintings, sculpture, pottery and more. At Vetro Glassblowing Studio and Gallery, you can watch artists at work, purchase beautiful pieces or even try making something yourself.
Eateries range from Main Street Bistro and Bakery – they serve three meals a day, but I especially love them for breakfast – to Tolbert’s Restaurant and Chili Parlor; its claim to fame is an original family recipe, Bowl of Red, created by Frank X. Tolbert, founder of the Terlingua Chili Cook-Off. Mi Dia from Scratch is noted for over 50 kinds of Margaritas and killer queso, while its neighbor, Winewood Grill, is the place for steaks – just don’t miss the smoked Gouda mac and cheese.
I couldn’t leave Main Street without a stop at Dr. Sue’s Chocolate. This practicing physician has the cure that empty space that only chocolate can fill. At the north end of the historic district is British Emporium. I’m an Anglophile and this place is a must for me. Yes, you can get tea and digestive biscuits, but also a solar-powered, waving, Queen Elizabeth (the power is in her purse) or a “Doctor Who” souvenir.
If Main Street were its only attraction, Grapevine would still be worth a trip. But there’s also Grapevine Mills – with over 100 stores, including a Nieman-Marcus outlet. And queening it over a number of accommodations, there’s the Gaylord Texan. You can get lots of exercise here just walking through the hotel and convention center. For fun with kids, nearby Great Wolf Lodge offers both wet and dry adventures for the whole family.
Grapevine didn’t turn its back on its western heritage – check out the clock tower where the moving figures are gunfighters, or catch a vintage train to the Fort Worth Stockyards.
There’s a reason Grapevine got its name, too: The wild grapes are gone but you’ll find a number of wineries and the Southwest’s largest wine festival. Grapevine’s got it all going. Maybe it should have been named Greatvine.
Plano is posh.
Just check out the city’s Legacy Park area – the largest mixed-use development in North Texas. It includes upscale shops, luxury hotels, dining ranging from super-casual to uber-elegant and offices and living spaces. I was there during the holiday season, and the whole area sparkled and glittered like an appealing Christmas package.
My hotel, the AAA Four Diamond Renaissance, was a real treat. Each hotel in the collection is unique, and this one had a truly improbable theme – Samurai Cowboy. The dichotomous combination works, reflecting influences important to the owning family of Korean-born David Moon and his sons Sam and Daniel. The ceiling over the bar is covered with leather belts, 18 resin longhorn heads adorn the lobby and the restaurant’s birdcage lighting fixtures are reminiscent of a Hong Kong park. The whole hotel is like an art museum.
The sound of a gong reverberates from the bar at 6 p.m., and guests quickly gather to watch baristas prepare a special punch. Ladles are lifted, glasses are filled and hotel guests are delighted.
Strolling the sidewalks in the Legacy area is a major pastime; window shopping is spectacular. Just be sure to bring your credit cards, because shopping options range from Tommy Bahama to Tesla.
Restaurants cover the globe with international cuisines, while not neglecting local favorites. If you have trouble making decisions, skip Legacy Hall, an amazing food hall with everything from brats to banh mis in several dozen food stalls offering artisan eats and craft beverages. Top this with entertainment and you have a whole evening’s outing.
It would be tempting to spend your entire visit in the Legacy complex, but other areas of town have other treats. This is another town with a cool, historic area – the Interurban Railway Museum and its more shops, more food and an interesting museum.
If it sounds like my every trip is a gourmand’s getaway, that’s accurate. Plano was no exception. The most unusual spot I found in Plano was the Kura Revolving Sushi Bar. It’s great for a group into competitive eating. Dishes on automated tracks travel past booths of diners. Like tapas, these are small plates, often with several bites. Guests can order from an iPad, but taking things from the track is more fun … and if you take 15 plates, you get a prize. Great way to get kids – and not-so-grown-ups – to eat.
Plano’s more than just shopping and eating: Arbor Hills Nature Preserve is a great spot to enjoy the outdoors, and if nostalgia is your thing, mosey over to Southfork Ranch and trip back in time with J.R. and the Ewings. It’s not hard to find fun in Plano.
Irving is inviting.
A pineapple symbolizes hospitality, and nothing says that better than a big copper pineapple filled with a Four Seasons Frosé – Absolut Elyx, rosé wine and strawberry purée. I stretched out on a chaise lounge by a pool, luxuriating in the summer warmth in the shade of tall trees. And enjoying my Frosé.
There are three different pools here, so you’ll have a choice of experiences. And to be safe in the sun, use the Snappy Screen, the world’s first touchless sunscreen applicator.
The AAA four-star Four Seasons Resort and Club, located in the Las Colinas area of Irving, offers the epitome in hospitality. Like Cheers, the staff knows your name. The spa is great, the rooms are more than comfortable and the food is wonderful.
On top of this, guests can play the 18-hole TPC golf course – a Certified Audubon Sanctuary. Tennis players are accommodated with eight outdoor and four indoor courts, and guests are welcome to use the 176,000-square-foot fitness facility. Or, like me, you can laze by the pool with a cooling beverage.
Leaving the hotel, you’ll find there’s more to do and see in Irving. One of the newest things is the Toyota Music Factory – a truly cool entertainment, shopping, eating complex. One of my favorite stops is Nosh and Bottle, a combo restaurant, deli and purveyor of wine and beer. Best of all, IMHO, is their cheese selection, presided over by American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional Beth Regan. In other words, she’s a Big Cheese!
The main entertainment venue, The Pavilion, is a flexible theater/amphitheater hosting a variety of acts from Jim Gaffigan and Trevor Noah to the Doobie Brothers and Chaka Khan. Free live music is also a staple in the central courtyard of the 17-acre complex.
The small, but oh-so-smart, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema provided an unusual Sunday morning activity for us. Instead of sitting in our usual pew at church, we were eating breakfast while watching a movie. Great way to see a first-run film and enjoy a meal with your movie. Close by, take a gander at the magnificent Las Colinas mustangs. A small museum in a nearby building tells the story of the sculpture.
There are interesting things in old Irving, too: Check out the Ruth Paine house. Start at the Visitors’ Center for background on the Kennedy assassination, the investigation and the relationship between Marina and Lee Harvey Oswald and Ruth and Michael Paine. Shuttles then take visitors to the home of the Paines, kind Quakers who took the couple in when they were new to the area. This is truly a case of “no good deed goes unpunished,” as Ruth found herself embroiled in controversy as a result of her generosity. The tour’s not for everyone, but an interesting look at lesser-known aspects of the tragic event.
Check out the Big State Fountain Grill in historic downtown Irving. It’s a throw-back to the ’50s, with an old-fashioned soda fountain and grill serving classic burgers and shakes. A life-sized statue of Elvis stands next to a vintage jukebox.
For a romantic end to your Irving adventure, head back to Las Colinas for a gondola ride on the Mandalay Canal and Lake Caroline. According to tradition, couples should kiss under every bridge. Take a sunset cruise – the colors on the water make everything extra special. Irving, once a sort-of suburban step-child, has come into its own, combining a bit of nostalgia with a whole lot of new.
I guess my roller skating experience will have to wait. A trip to any or all of these cities is a thoroughly appealing prospect.