Best Of :: People & Places
When we were a kid, last month, used to be a drive up Central Expressway to McKinney lasted a week; 75 was one lane north and south, and it wasn't so long ago. Now it takes 20 minutes, without much traffic, to head up to this Collin County town that's growing every day without losing much of its charm. In fact, it still looks like it did when Joe Camp shot his first Benji up there--giant old homes with rustic front porches, a town square anchored by an old courthouse. That it's slowly been populated by big-city folk in search of small-town charm hasn't harmed McKinney; they came not to speed up the city but to slow themselves down. So they opened quaint restaurants (from cheap diners to gourmet eateries), charming antique stores, homey clothing boutiques, inviting used bookstores and beckoning bed-and-breakfasts. It's a place Doc Hollywood would love, a town where it's Groundhog Day every day, and in the fall and winter we can be found here celebrating "A Dickens Christmas" (the weekend after Thanksgiving, locals dress up in Victorian garb to welcome visitors in the holiday spirit) or drinking hot cocoa in the old county jail that's now a hot dining destination. We hate gentrification as much as the next guy who can't afford it, but at least the yuppies live on the other side of Central, in El Dorado--ya know, where the Starbucks went in.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, we gather defenses, pool resources and try our damnedest to beat the heat. And, though we may win a few battles along the way, the heat always wins the war. You can't beat it, so why not--as the cliché goes--join it. Revel in it. Bake in it. And the best place to do it is Hurricane Harbor, which opens just as the heat kicks into gear and closes as it begins to peter out into fall. The water park offers respite in the form of dozens of slides for the novice and the cowardly to the experienced and the brave, along with a lazy river for floating, pools and a pirate's ship play area for the kids. Though the lines twist up and up for popular rides such as the Black Hole, most of the waiting area is shaded and, with a 500-foot drop into a pool, the payoff is worth the wait.
The large, renovated ballroom upstairs at Sons of Hermann Hall is the perfect venue for swing-dance nights, which it hosts every Wednesday. There's a refinished hardwood floor, smooth enough for twirling without friction but with enough traction that you can stay on your feet. There are tables and chairs for those who need to take a breather, and a bar for those who need some liquid incentive to strut their stuff. With the air conditioner cranked and music blaring from the sound booth or from the bandstand, it's easy to feel as if you've stepped back in time, since Sons was around decades before swing was popular the first time.
On the weekends you can't stir the bicycles with a stick. Mom and Dad are there with their trail bikes, and the kiddies, some still maneuvering with training wheels, tag right along. There's a maze of off-road cycling for all ages and all levels of expertise. The park's most popular trail is a collection of three single-track routes that wind through woods and a tall grass prairie with a nice, cooling view of Joe Pool Lake. If it has rained recently, you might want to call and check on trail conditions before loading up and heading out.
Little kids who like airplanes, trucks and other big stuff (which means all of them, natch) will truly be thrilled to spend an hour watching the jets come and go from this busy airport. The plaza overlooks main runways and provides a clear view of takeoffs and landings. Voices of air-traffic controllers and pilots can be heard over a speaker on the plaza. There is room to walk around on grass around the plaza, but parking is also plentiful from places where you can see the big beasts soar.
A true hidden paradise for local anglers, this Turtle Creek estuary is home to 1- to 2-pound bass. On a recent summer day, a single fisherman was casting his line (a light-action pole with an open cast reel), relishing the solitude away from the city traffic just a few yards away. Besides the bass, there are also some nice-sized bluegills and carp around here, according to the University Park Wildlife Department. All are edible, say the park officials. Ready to be fried up on one of those $5,000 Viking stoves in the mansions nearby.
Along with its sister club, Escapade 2009, Escapade 2001 is the No. 1 destination for Dallas' swelling Latino population (the people who've made KNOL-FM one of the highest-rated radio stations in the area) every weekend, the place to go for people looking to blow off steam by dancing to ranchera and cumbia music. And there are quite a few of them: Every Friday through Sunday--the only nights Escapade 2001 is open--the parking lot outside rivals that of a Mavericks game, and the bar receipts routinely top the list of drinking establishments in the city. With that many people voting yes, who are we to say no?
When you enter Fossil Rim, it's hard to figure who is really in the zoo: you and the wife and kids, locked up in your SUV, air conditioner running, carbon monoxide emitting, or the 50 species of well-attended animals languishing over 1,500 gently rolling, beautifully wooded acres in the North Texas Hill Country. Located 75 miles southwest of Dallas, no zoo could offer the contact, the closeness, the natural setting that is afforded over 1,000 animals that are free to roam its savannas and juniper-oak woodlands save only the carnivores and rhinos. Humans remain in their vehicles during the two hours that cover the scenic tour. The Fossil Rim mission is one of conservation rather than conquest; its intention is to better establish the balance between man and nature. What better way is there for your screaming 4-year-old to get up close and personal with an ocelot? Just make sure you keep things in balance and take your little creature home.
You might think you're just not old enough to visit Granbury, Texas; that it's a place for bus tours and blue hairs and history buffs. But that's precisely the reason to visit: The trip is a trip, a Victorian town that is remarkably well-preserved and riddled with legend and myth and memory--from Jesse James and John Wilkes Booth to the ghost-haunted Opera House. There is a fully functioning drive-in movie house, boat tours on Lake Granbury, and the town, located 65 miles southwest of Dallas, is damn near close to an antique shopping mecca, with more than 50 stores at your disposal. But if quaint you ain't, then Dinosaur Valley State Park (best-preserved dinosaur tracks in Texas) and Eagle Flight Skydiving (lessons available) are within jumping-off distance.
If you are willing to get wet and spend a little money for the privilege, the best water playground in the Dallas area is in North Richland Hills. NRH20 has something for everyone, priding itself on a safety rating system that identifies which rides are appropriate for which age category. Low speed is for shallow-water attractions and shallow-water kids. High speed is for the more skillful swimmer, someone who can navigate the new Green Extreme, a seven-story-tall water slide with 1,161 feet of twists and turns. The thoroughly modern water park has one holdover from days gone by: an outdoor "dive in" movie on Friday nights throughout the summer, where kid flicks like Shrek and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone can be seen while floating in the wave pool or relaxing in a lounge chair on the beach. Well, a simulated beach anyway.
You've done your Chuck E. Cheese's, your Fun Fest, your rain-soaked birthday party at the neighborhood park. And there's no way you are going to subject your own home to the kind of abuse 30 5-year-olds can cause after the giant Jaws bounce house you promised doesn't arrive on time. What you need is a seamless, low-maintenance, high-energy, modestly priced, kid-tested alternative to the mind-numbing childhood ritual known as the birthday party. You can find it at ASI Gymnastics, with its seven ground-level trampolines, its carpet-bonded tumble floors and its giant foam pit. Curb service for your store-bought cake and decorations, which can be any theme you bring in, from Sesame Street to Harry Potter. The first 60 minutes will be spent jumping and running and swinging and tumbling with coaches who are both cool and safety-conscious. The next 30 are spent in a private room with cake and pizza or whatever you decide to import. The best part is, ASI provides the cleanup. If they could only dispose of the 30 gifts that your child is dying to get his hands on and doesn't really need.
Some pools are just chlorine and water, a liquid playpen that, when combined with the intense summer sun, will cause the most exuberant of children to grow tired enough to take a nap. But then there are other pools that soak you in luxury, acting as therapy for the mind, a spa for the body. One of these is the pool at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Colinas: lagoon-shaped, waterfalls cascading, attractive attendants who not only serve you frozen drinks to relax your spirit, but also frozen face cloths and ice water to brace yourself against the hot Texas summer. Of course, it comes at a price: You have to stay at the hotel, but the Four Seasons offers weekend packages for those who need to get away from home without ever leaving it. Parents of young children understand this need. Parents of young children are willing to pay this price. Parents of young children can be found poolside at the Four Seasons Hotel, without their young children.