Does a Bear Shop in the Woods?

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).

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Amanda Whitgarden