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
As first steps go, the Trinity Levee Trail opened earlier this year is pretty modest. Even now it's still mostly an idea, a few signs with arrows added to pre-existing access roads. Yet a walk, jog or ride on the 6.2-mile gravel loop is a testament to the area's enormous potential. On the stretches of the trail at the foot of the levees, the slopes cut off both the view and the noise of the city, leaving only the crunch of your footsteps and the wind through the trees. Then a quick climb up the hill reveals downtown Dallas spread out before you. It's easy to be cynical about Dallas' grandiose plans for turning the Trinity River into a manicured green space to dwarf New York's Central Park when the beautiful but unnecessary designer bridges are the only aspect of the plan that city leaders seem to care about. But if the thing somehow comes together, the Levee Trail shows that the result could be grand indeed.
"This isn't a gay bar or a straight bar," says longtime manager Henry Arter. "It's a neighborhood bar." Although the place is certainly gay-friendly and, for that matter, straight-friendly and neighborhood-friendly, Arter may be selling it short. More than anything else, Bill's is music-friendly. Along with Bill Munoz, owner for 23 years, and Buddy Shanahan, music director and house pianist for 15 years, Arter has created a spot for live music of nearly every kind. Depending on who's in town, one can hear show tunes, country, disco, jazz, pop and gospel in the intimate front room. The quality is always high, the setting and sound system perfect for small groups, and there's never a cover charge. Open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., Bill's serves an ever-changing clientele throughout the day and night. It's also a Wi-Fi hotspot where many people conduct business during the day. True to Arter's assertion about the nature of the place, Bill's offers a genuine sense of community, featuring charity fund-raisers, sponsoring a softball team and holding semi-annual book fairs.
If this city has a posh pied piper, it's Dallas Morning News columnist Mr. Dallas, the man who scores an invite to every spot with a velvet rope and a "list." Not to say he should be anyone's idol (he's just a nightlife writer, for God's sake), but he does have a certain air of mystery, with his cartoon mug shot and lack of a real name. He's sort of like a superhero whose powers are sniffing out Grey Goose cocktails and spotting designer duds. If you want to catch him out, your best bet is probably Sense, the Tristan Simon-owned members-only nightclub on Knox-Henderson. People there actually call him "Mr. Dallas" to his face. If you're not a member, find a friend who is, and see if you can spot him. It's like a high-fashion game of "Where's Waldo."

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