Colleges and universities always use the campus scenery to entice prospective students, but if you're looking into a Dallas County Community College, it's understandable if scenery falls far below practicality and affordability on your list of priorities. After all, El Centro and Eastfield are not much to look at. The Urban Wildlife Sanctuary at Mountain View College, however, is actually something to behold. A wooded, hilly area bisected by a creek softly gurgling along limestone banks, the northern boundary of Mountain View is one of the prettiest hidden gems in Dallas, perfect for a little early morning birding or a post-exam stroll.

Not many drives in Dallas can compare with the surreal scene that is Mountain Creek Parkway. Take the exit off Southbound Loop 12 and you'll come upon the desolate lakeshore that borders the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery—you might see the occasional van full of misguided fishermen parked under the giant power lines overhead, but there's also plenty of empty space in case you've got a body in the trunk or something. Keep driving and you'll come across Dallas Baptist University, a brightly lit congregation of buildings that resembles that giant FLDS temple outside Eldorado, Texas—you know, the one that was all over Dr. Phil last year. Then, take a left and you'll find the Potter's House and the under-construction utopia of Capella Park. Or take a right and cross Dallas' only toll bridge into Grand Prairie. Either way, it will be interesting...and creepy.

This spot, located only eight minutes from downtown, used to be an illegal dump. The construction debris and rotting garbage caught fire and burned for a month in 1997. But millions of dollars and many years later, the city has turned the 120-acre site into a home for hundreds of bird species and critters. Spend a Saturday morning exploring the two and a half miles of trails through three different ecosystems—forest, grassland and wetland. Look out from a perch over a bend of the Trinity River. Or just relax and explore the site's $14 million green building with insulation made from recycled blue jeans. The building has been deemed the city's official gateway to the great Trinity River Forest, which at 6,000 acres is the largest urban hardwood forest in the United States. See how much you've learned already?

Best Spot to Meet the Fledgling Community in Downtown

City Tavern

Beth Rankin

City Tavern is the Cheers of downtown. Everybody knows your name. That's because most patrons are downtown residents, especially on any given weekday. As the downtown population has grown from 200 to 6,000 residents in the last 15 years, the Tavern has been transformed by demand into the downtown community center. In May, a group of downtown residents threw their favorite barfly, a decades-long resident of the Manor building, a fund-raiser to help pay for her life-saving surgery. The next week she was back on her favored bar stool sipping a white Zinfandel. The heyday of the historic building housing the two-story bar was some 50 years ago, but the bar keeps that old-timey feel, with its high-backed booths, grainy mirrors and hardwood floors.

Don't book a hotel or buy airfare. Why waste money? Come spring, Dallas becomes another place entirely. For more than a week, you can escape, in your own city, into chilly theaters with tickets and badges as your boarding passes to a fantasy land, a nightmare, a place for romance, a realistic place in someone else's life—you call the shots. Thanks to Leiner Temerlin (founder, chairman emeritus) and Michael Cain (CEO, artistic director), for three years we Dallas film fanatics got to know the AFI Dallas International Film Festival and the joy of navigating a massive film schedule (attempting from one to seven screenings in a day), meeting high-profile celebrities (and likewise geeking out on character actors) and asking filmmakers direct questions about their creative process. It's been exhausting and exhilarating. Henceforth, Dallas will celebrate film with the Dallas International Film Festival as AFI Dallas is no longer, but this is exciting. As Cain told the Dallas Observer after the news broke in June, "This allows us to reinvest in Dallas...Each year we brought fewer and fewer people from out of state to work the festival, and we programmed 95 percent of the festival on our own. AFI gave us an amazing base of knowledge to lift ourselves up, [but] we're confident we can continue on our own."

So, you've finally given in. Maybe the peer pressure finally got to you. Or maybe you've resolved your issues with Mother and are looking to devote a patch of skin to honor her (or maybe you have really big mommy issues, so you're ready to have a death's head inked into your flesh). Now comes the hard part: finding an artist who can best translate your complicated emotional state into a long-lasting statement. Oliver Peck and his fellow inkers at Deep Ellum's Elm Street Tattoo are guaranteed to have just the image for you, whether your feelings for Mom are of the traditional red-heart variety or something darker. (Peck's winged hand-grenade design would work perfectly for us, but that's between us and our therapist.) From simpler ankle and forearm designs to elaborate shirt-sleeve and torso murals, Elm Street's artists will turn your skin into a window into what lies beneath. It's cheaper than therapy. Trust us.

Big things are happening this season for Uptown Players, the gay-centric company known for edgy musicals, body-baring dramas and drag comedies. For two shows in 2010—the drama Equus and the raucous musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels—Uptown will take over the stage at the Kalita Humphreys Theater on Turtle Creek. This is an important step in the evolution of Uptown, which now boasts more than 12,000 patrons per season. Founders Jeff Rane and Craig Lynch have improved Uptown Players year after year, hiring better directors, designers and actors. The move to the main stage at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed theater will make new demands on the troupe, but will also introduce Dallas' most ambitious company of artists to a wider audience.

Every spring brings another three-week onslaught of new plays, one-person shows, music, dance and other entertainments to the theater complex under the water tower in Addison. Performers fill the three acting spaces and sometimes spill out into the lobby for bursts of song and comedy. This year's biggest draw was the One Man Star Wars—all the movies, all the characters in just more than an hour—performed to sell-out family crowds by Canadian actor Charlie Ross. Unusual acts like that make Out of the Loop a fresh, fun celebration of non-traditional stage performances.

When people come to Dallas, they usually go to a strip club, see where JFK was shot, eat atop Reunion Tower or visit a sports venue (two of which are 20 miles away in Arlington). Some choose more than one, and others may add Deep Ellum or White Rock Lake to their lists, but those leaving town without a stay in the Arts District are missing the best of what the city has to offer. With the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts opening October 12 and the Woodall Rodgers Park on its way, Dallas has quickly established itself among the art hotspots in the county, and it's also making noise worldwide.

She sure doesn't look like a dean, but with Tracy Rowlett now out of the local television news business, Clarice Tinsley, who started at Channel 4 in 1978, is now the longest-running news anchor in the market. She was 24 years old when she took the job. During her tenure Tinsley has done lots of solid journalistic work, including a series she co-wrote with investigative reporter Fred Mays in 1984 called, "A Call for Help." Larry Boff, a Dallas man, had called 911 three times begging for help for his dying stepmother. Twice 911 personnel argued with him and hung up. When an ambulance finally got there, his mother was dead. By the time Tinsley and Mays were done with the story, people were fired and major reforms instituted. The series won a Peabody Award. Tinsley's solid reporting experience and familiarity with the city are all there when she reports the news every afternoon at 5 p.m. and evening at 10 p.m. It doesn't get any better than Clarice.

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