Several evenings last summer we popped up to Medici and found a real-life reenactment of those cartoon moments when the main character freezes and everything falls silent. Crickets chirping, that sort of thing. After the usual grand opening frenzy abated, the party people slinked away from Phil Romano's upscale lounge. Yet somehow Romano's hard-working fix-it man, Joe Palladino, managed to revive the place. This summer, hordes of comely youngsters bumped elbows and anything else that protruded. The well-appointed lounge now ranks amongst the hippest spots in Dallas, despite offering some of the most expensive drinks. Palladino guessed that relaxing the dress code, kicking up the music and loosening the door policy would pull the mob back, and it worked.
Dallas has an abundance of public parks, but some of them are poorly kept, and others, such as Kiest Park, are sprawling and green but offer too many places where danger could lurk. Best to go to the near suburbs, where parks departments don't have as much acreage to tend to and cops are all over the place. Head to Duncanville's Kidsville. Kidsville resembles a giant wooden fort: It's an intricate, multilevel complex of smooth wooden play structures, including a train engine, tug boat and castle. Each of the structures is connected by bridges and walkways, creating lots of "secret passages" and cozy spots where a kid can perch inside. Adjacent to the fort are swingsets and picnic facilities and benches where exhausted parents can sit down. Little kids can wring literally hours of imaginative play from this place, and you get the feeling, at least, that it's about as safe of a park environment as you'll find.

Readers' Pick
Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children Corner of Oak Lawn and Maple avenues
Celebration Station
It's loud. It's crass. It's overrun with grubby kids begging for more tokens. But every visit gets compliments from the most demanding customer of all--the kids themselves. On the food chain of kids' entertainment venues, it's a notch above Chuck E. Cheese but located in Mesquite, the epicenter of blue-collar Dallas County. So what do the kids see in it? A set price gets you wristbands that allow unlimited use of rides such as bumper cars, water bumper cars (the consensus favorite; the littlest kids must ride with an adult or older child) and a few kiddie rides, as well as two pieces of edible pizza per child and a handful of tokens for two floors of arcade games. We judge it by the results: Some kids at the birthday party we threw stayed for five hours and practically had to be lassoed and dragged out.

Readers' Pick
Chuck E. Cheese Multiple locations
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center
All along U.S. Highway 67, passing through two-bit towns, auction arenas and a grain elevator decorated in Holstein spots, the anticipation builds. You'll hear plenty of "Are we there yet?" on the 90-minute journey to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, a safari park in Glen Rose, but the payoff is always there. Once you purchase admission and your optional feed bag, you're a critter magnet. First up are the ostriches, pecking your car windows. Then seemingly every variety of deer, gazelle and cloven-hoofed beast known to man on rolling hills designed to approximate an African savannah. Down a steep drive are the aggressive zebras; open car windows at your own risk. Then the giraffes, who will occasionally bend down to peer at you through a moon roof (and drool). Very good munchies can be found at Fossil Rim's restaurant and the store is exceptionally well-stocked with the trinkets kids favor, as well as stuff you might actually like.

Readers' Pick
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens 8525 Garland Road 214-327-4901
Sure, the Dallas World Aquarium is world-class, but for $15.95, we want one of the fish we saw grilled and blackened. The Dallas Aquarium at Fair Park, on the other hand, charges $3 for admission, and while it's not as modern as the DWA, it does boast several recently added exhibits, including the "Amazon Flooded Forest" and the "Seahorse Rodeo." The Dallas Aquarium was also one of the first aquariums to breed several endangered Texas aquatic species in captivity, including the Barton Springs salamander and the desert pupfish. Our favorite resident, however, is the 135-pound alligator snapping turtle, who may or may not be older than your grandmother, but is certainly big enough to eat her.
Having a time machine would be awesome, but for those of us without Doc Brown's DeLorean, State Highway 180 is the next best thing. It's one of the original U.S. highways, was once called Highway 80 and was known as "The Broadway of America." Start your journey on the old Business 80-Fort Worth Avenue. Just past the Trinity River, the street turns into the land time forgot, an intriguing mix of roadside motels, flea markets, diners and retro neon signs. After turning into Davis Street near Oak Cliff, the road changes names with every city limit--it's Main Street in Grand Prairie, Division Street in Arlington, etc. While some stretches have been modernized, the ones that haven't offer a rare glimpse into America's roadside past. So crank up the oldies, roll down the windows and enjoy what's left before it's gone.
Everyone loves a drive in the country or a trip to the State Park, but with gas prices rising, not all of us city slickers can afford to drive so far to get our fill of nature. Luckily, Dallas is home to White Rock Lake Park, a recent recipient of the Lone Star Land Steward award from Texas Parks and Wildlife, a first for a public city park. As parts of the park's vegetation have been allowed to grow more freely, animals have also moved back into the area, pushed southward down the White Rock Creek corridor by suburban sprawl. Besides the park's plentiful bird population, including migrating white pelicans and feral green parrots, many species of mammals have been sighted, including red foxes, bobcats and even the occasional white-tailed deer. So grab yourself a guidebook and some binoculars; we'll see you at the lake.
Because it only costs five bucks. Yeah, you could go to Hurricane Harbor at Six Flags, but you'd pay $30 to get in. Then there are the lines, the overpriced concession stands, the fear that you'll lose your kid in this maze of slides and water and chubby people in swim trunks. And after all, the kids just want to get wet. So why not take them to Hurst? There are convoluted, multi-story slides there, diving boards, swimming lanes, a separate kiddie pool and a sand volleyball court, which we didn't see at Hurricane Harbor. And all of this is at the Aquatics Center, again, for five bucks per person, and one lonely dollar if you live in Hurst. A season pass--from late May to early September--costs $75 a person. Sure, the drive is hell, but by the time you get home, the kids will be asleep. It was a busy day, after all.

Readers' Pick
J. Pepe's 3619 Greenville Ave. 214-821-6431
It's like our own Central Park. By day, tourists snap pictures of the place, with its spigots of water in the center of the garden rising from the concrete, maybe 12 rows in all, mini-geysers that reach 10 feet into the air before falling back to earth and then rising again, but this time its rows ascending in different formations, the view always hypnotic. By night, the garden is a different spectacle. Most of the tourists have left, and the lights beneath the many fountains shoot skyward. Enter the park to the east of the Fountain Place skyscraper, and pools of water surround you on either side, the lights beneath them casting a glow. Trees stand as islands in the pools, and farther now from the entrance, toward the lesser-lit areas, are park benches on which you and a date can sit. All around you, the gentle hiss of the rushing water. And suddenly not a tourist in sight.
The timing here is key, and the approach must be delicate. If done correctly, however, the westbound I-20 split at Mountain Creek Parkway can, for a brief instant, make you feel as if you are thundering down a rolling mountain pass in your very own road-trip movie. Hit the road after dark, pop in some twangy rock and roll music and barrel west toward Duncanville with the windows down. Be sure to stay in the middle lane and slow to about 55 mph as you approach the curve just before the parkway exit. Gaze out in awe as Dallas County unfolds beneath you, suburban sprawl a-twinklin' as far as the eye can see.

Readers' Pick White Rock Lake

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