Does a Bear Shop in the Woods?

Don't get malled. This year, do your business al fresco.

Let the record reflect that I think malls are normally a swell place to shop. They are climate-controlled and convenient. Husbands can wander off in one direction, in search of cordless drills, while wives are free to venture in another, looking for scented bath oils. At a predetermined time, the twain shall meet in the food court.

This holiday season, though, the mall might not be your best bet. Recent events have changed everything. I don't wish to come across like the alarmist crawls at the bottom of every CNN broadcast, but WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!

Excuse me. We all have our own way of coping.

Seriously, though, the malls always grow crowded this time of year, and one of the benefits of living in the South is that the weather will often permit al fresco shopping well into the holiday season. On a December day in Chicago, a jaunt down the sidewalk could lead to hypothermia -- or, worse yet, having to ask an actual Chicagoan for directions. In Dallas, where everyone is more cordial, the air will likely be just brisk enough to lift your spirits and give you that little push you need to find that last gift for Grandpa Ed.

With that in mind, here are some of Dallas' best outdoor shopping areas. They offer a high density of interesting stores and a delightful variety of dining options and other diversions. Because as every able shopper knows, it's not just whether you find the perfect gift that counts. It's how you play the game.

OLD TOWN SHOPPING CENTER (Greenville Avenue, between Lovers Lane and Southwestern Boulevard). One of the most convenient and easily navigable outdoor shopping areas in town, Old Town is anchored by a Borders (214-739-1166), which is always a smart place to begin a shopping excursion. Around the corner is Sun & Ski Sports Expo (214-696-2696), where you'll find all manner of inline skates, skis, sunglasses, and outdoor active wear. Wheels & Fitness in Motion (214-265-0811) offers a wide selection of pedal-powered gifts. Try CD Source (214-890-7614) for one of the best selections of new and used CDs in Dallas. For the latest and greatest in digital photography, go to Wolf Camera (214-691-3430). And the World Market(214-378-5370) is sort of like Pier 1, only besides home accessories, it also carries food and wine from around the globe. Which brings us to the stuff you eat. Old Town's strength is really its restaurants: Have a Route 66 beer brewed on site at Two Rows Restaurant & Brewery (214-696-2739); try the Peproni rolls and one of 80 beers at Double Dave's Pizzaworks (214-373-3283); sink your teeth into a sandwich at the very affordable Baker Bros. American Deli(214-696-6030); or grab the best cheesesteak in town at Texadelphia (214-265-8044).

MOCKINGBIRD STATION(northeast corner of Mockingbird Lane and Central Expressway). Those of us who live near the White Rock DART station are ever so pleased with Dallas' newest urban shopping and residential development. We can park our cars and take a short train ride to Mockingbird Station and feel for an afternoon like we live in an actual metropolis. Check out the sale rack at the Gap (214-823-4259). Get something red and racy at Victoria's Secret (214-824-9263) or something sexy and soapy at Bath & Body Works (214-824-9393). Buy any DVD your dad could ever want at the 25,000-square-foot Virgin Megastore(214-615-3887). Pick up an area rug or a Night Light Jesus at the always eclectic Urban Outfitters(214-821-4371). There are smaller shops, too. Francesca's Collections (214-370-3646), out of Houston, is scheduled to open by the end of November. Francesca's is a hip boutique that carries housewares; jewelry by Tommassini and Chan Luu; and cool handbags by Lottie Dottie. Scheduled to open in December is Movida, for fashion-forward women's apparel, such as French Connection and Diesel. For dining, there's the dependable Cafe Express (214-841-9444) and the trendy Rockfish Seafood Grill(214-823-8444). See what Patrick Esquerre, the Frenchman responsible for La Madeleine, is up to at his new joint, Cafe Patrique (214-826-7077). If it's not too late in the afternoon, you can catch great sun and the fish and chips on the second-story patio of Trinity Hall (214-887-3600). By early December, the Margarita Ranch, from the same folks responsible for the Martini Ranch, should be open. Cap off your trip to Mockingbird Station by taking in an independent flick at the Angelika Film Center & Cafe (214-841-4700), which features stadium seating at each of its eight screens.

HIGHLAND PARK VILLAGE (southwest corner of Mockingbird Lane and Preston Road). Opened in 1931, Highland Park Village was America's first planned shopping center and was recently named a national historic landmark. With its Spanish architecture, terra cotta roofs, and 10 acres of brick paths and walkways, it exudes charm. It also exudes money. Throw a stone in any direction from the center courtyard, and if you don't hit the curious Tom Thumb (214-521-5025), you'll hit something expensive and Italian: Bottega Veneta (214-526-7394), Escada (214-521-2882), Prada (214-559-0200). If perchance you miss something Italian, you'll hit French: Hermes (214-528-0197), Christian Dior (214-252-0049), Chanel Boutique (214-520-1055). If you need to ask what the preceding are purveyors of, then chances are you can't afford to do anything but browse. There is practical shopping to be done here, too. Last year, I found something for every man in my family at Harold's (214-521-4770). For women's gifts, try Ann Fontaine (214-522-0070), a Godsend to gals because it carries more than 75 styles of white blouses. If your legs grow weary, get your mouth in gear. For seafood, try Cafe Pacific (214-526-1170), which is more than 20 years old. For something lighter, a Continental-style morning meal perhaps, visit the family owned Celebrity Café & Bakery (214-528-6612). Bump into Jerry Jones at the affordable trattoria Patrizio (214-522-7878). If Tex-Mex is your thing, drop by Mi Cocina (214-521-6426). Pamper yourself with a massage at one of the top 10 day spas in the country according to Bride's Magazine, L'Image(214-526-6410). Finally, if you've eaten and shopped to your purse's content, catch a movie at the newly refurbished Regent (214-526-9666).

PRESTON CENTER(intersection of Preston Road and Northwest Highway). This outdoor shopping area is actually a conglomeration of the Plaza at Preston Center and something called Berkshire Court, and it includes the still-under-construction Preston Center Pavilion, but folks from the Park Cities just call it Preston Center. On the gift-getting front, you will find the upscale and well-known: Translations (214-373-8391), which offers "remarkable giftings," i.e., jewelry, handbags, china, and home accessories; the jewelry store Castle Gap (214-361-1677); and Rolex watches and Bacharat crystal from Bachendorf's (214-692-8400). You will also find the offbeat and unique: The Tiecoon (214-369-8437), with gifts for kids of all ages; Apples to Zinnias (214-361-2200), may be the best place in town to get an outlandish flower arrangement; E.G. Geller (214-373-8066), purveyors of the world's finest comfort shoes; and Purple Glaze (214-350-9297), where you can make your own bisqueware plates and cups right in the store. To give you strength, Preston Center offers an equally diverse range of places to eat. Everyone knows about the Brinker-owned Corner Bakery (214-368-7101) and La Madeleine (214-346-9733), but I suggest you try the fried catfish at the funky Metro Diner (214-368-9255), the pork tacos with achiote-citrus marinade at Taco Diner (214-696-4944), and/or grab a counter seat and sink your teeth into a pastrami on rye at the always-busy Stern's Delicatessen (214-360-0001).

SNIDER PLAZA (off Lovers Lane and Hillcrest Avenue). Highland Park Village gets the credit for being America's first planned shopping center, but Snider Plaza opened four years earlier, in 1927. Start at Cotton Island (214-373-1085), one of my favorite boutiques in town. The clothes are affordable and always au courant but not so out there that they don't hold up for several seasons. Cotton Island also carries a delicious selection of beaded bracelets that make perfect gifts for any woman on your list. Discover sensuous soaps and handmade chandeliers at Rue No. 1 (214-265-0900). For more French finery, look for handmade quilts from Provence at Mary Boyle (214-373-9717). You'll find one of the best antiques stores in town at the appropriately named Snider Plaza Antiques (214-373-0822). For something smaller, check out the eclectic gifts and jewelry at Earth Bones (214-369-0693) and the cards at The Muse (214-739-6011). When it comes to food, Snider Plaza might be the best outdoor shopping area in town. You can't go wrong at Peggy Sue's BBQ (214-987-9188) -- or at its offshoot, The Corner Club, where you can grab a cocktail daily after 4:30. For the best sausage in town, served by women with thick German accents, go to Kuby's (214-363-2231). Try the chicken tacos at the friendly Cisco Grill (214-363-9506). For burgers, Snider Plaza offers two of Dallas' best joints: the fabled Burger House (214-361-0370) and the comfortable Balls Hamburgers (214-373-1717), which is also a good place to grab a beer.

THE LOVERS LANE CORRIDOR (the nearly mile-long stretch of Lovers Lane from Douglas Avenue to Inwood Road). This area includes the Pavilion on Lovers Lane, the Inwood Village, and more. It's not as cohesive or aesthetically pleasing as any of the above outdoor shopping areas, but it has much to offer. East of the Dallas North Tollway, you'll find home furnishing and accessories at Anteks (214-528-5567) and a hot selection of what you'd expect at Barbecues Galore (214-696-0030). Elements (214-987-0837) is a fabulous women's boutique where you can find an extensive and modern collection of eclectic designers, including Jill Stuart, Trina Turk, and Sharagano. For something to eat, stop in at the inventive Kathleen's Art Café(214-691-2355), or, for something more pedestrian, have a burger at Chip's (214-691-2447). West of the Tollroad, on the north side of Lovers, you'll find a great new place for something sweet and Italian, Paciugo Gelato (214-956-7979). Across the street, in the Pavilion on Lovers, start at J. Tiras (214-956-8181), where you'll find very stylish and affordable women's accessories, including a sumptuous selection of handbags, from funky to elegant. In the Inwood Village, find the perfect Mont Blanc pen for your tony executive at Pen Wright (214-350-7814), the widest selection of Brikenstocks in town at Heart & Sole (214-366-0300), and a dress for that special gravid gal at the maternity store A Pea in the Pod (214-352-6665). To quiet the rumblings, try a sandwich to go from the Empire Baking Co. (214-350-0007), or have a margarita with your enchiladas at Casa Rosa(214-350-5227).

KNOX-HENDERSON / TRAVIS WALK (east and west of Central Expressway, along Knox and Henderson streets). Those of us who've lived in Dallas long enough to remember the old Knox St. Pub have a hard time believing what this once-humble area has become. With Crate & Barrel(214-219-1500), Pottery Barn(214-528-2302), Restoration Hardware (214-520-7255), and Weir's(214-528-0321) to the west of Central and with the myriad antiques stores to the east, it has become the yupscale Furniture Row. What would the erstwhile owners of the Pub think of all this? Stop in and ask them. Mere blocks from their old bar, Dan Dean and Mickey Miller now run Iota (214-522-2999), a wonderful little gift store with a piece of jewelry or an object d'art for anyone. For a gift that will brighten someone's life, visit the new Lamps Plus (214-520-2995), where the upscale designer showroom offers a kiosk that allows you to access thousands of items you likely won't find anywhere else. Up the street, you'll find a toy store for the young and young at heart in Froggie's 5 & 10 (214-522-5867). On the Henderson side, visit The Nest (214-827-5300) for whimsical jewelry and gift ideas. For food, the Knox-Henderson area offers several upscale eateries: in Travis Walk, find 23 wines by the glass and Cal-Ital cuisine at il Solé (214-559-3888), paella and a pitcher of mojitos at the Samba Room (214-522-4137), and an all-you-can-eat Mediterranean lunch buffet on Sundays at Ziziki's (214-521-2233). And no trip to this part of town would be complete without a trip to the lunch counter at the Highland Park Pharmacy (214-521-2126). But maybe the most compelling feature of a trip to the Knox-Henderson area is an apres-shopping horse-drawn carriage ride through Highland Park. You'll need to reserve a time. Try my personal favorite service, the Belle Starre(214-855-0410).

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