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A taste of the other side of Texas
By Ann Augunas, Contributing Travel Writer

Westin Galleria shops
Some of the high-end shops at the Westin Galleria, a shopaholic's dream place. (Photo courtesy of the Westin Galleria in Dallas.)
Dallas, TX -The conversation went something like this- "You're going shopping where?"
"I'm going to Texas."
"Why on earth would you be going to Texas when we have great discount malls here?"
"First, I was invited by friends and, secondly, why not?"

And, so, I went to Texas, the Dallas/Fort Worth area to be specific, and did serious damage to my budget. I also came away with a new perspective?that Texas isn't just a state; it's definitely 'a state of mind.'

In my limited analysis of what our largest state represents, Texas has always evoked pictures of cowboys herding cattle along dusty trails and fording swollen rivers. Jack Palance and Billy Crystal quickly come to mind attempting to rough ride the herd. On this particular trip, far from any ranch, including Southfork, I got to see the other side of Texas: the art galleries, museums, restaurants, a taste of its exciting nightlife and fantastic shopping opportunities.

Very elegant, high-end shops in glamorous settings, together with smaller boutiques and specialty shops, neighborhood malls with bargains galore and, in some of the smaller towns on our tour, country stores chock full of unusual items. I think I saw it all. At least, my friends who were guiding us about did their best to make sure I did! It became their objective and mission to take me all over the Metroplex, an area within a 100-mile radius of Dallas/Fort Worth, and I loved every minute of it.

Denton Courthouse
Denton's historic courthouse has been the community's centerpiece for over 100 years.
But, let's roll the film back a tad. A very early morning flight from Philly (with allowances for very long security lines) got me in early enough to still enjoy a full day of preparations for what lay ahead. I was pleased that lunch was to be first on our 'to do' list. We ate at a terrific spot called Big Buck Brewery and Steakhouse at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Grapevine. It's an awesome place that would capture the heart of any red-blooded American male who enjoys a good steak and handcrafted beers. Not a bad place for a red-blooded American female like myself either. Soaring ceilings upheld by massive beams, gorgeous stonework and a real Texas feel complemented the terrific dining experience. Should you be a sportsman, the Pro Shops have everything you could want for the great outdoors. After lunch we were on our way to other discoveries.

Denton, Texas was first on the schedule. If you like antiquing, collectibles, one-of-a-kind-shops and a small town feel in an urban setting, this is the perfect place for you. Considered the largest urban city in Texas, Denton awaited as our overnight destination. We stayed at The Heritage Inns (B & B), a small complex of three charming Victorian houses - the Pecan, Magnolia and Rosebud (circa 1902, 1912 & 1916), conveniently close to town. While there, we were the fortunate recipients of Texas hospitality with a breakfast that cannot be missed. This is not IHOP. This is where men are men, women are women and they start every day with a breakfast that will last until the next morning.

First Nation tribal member
A First Nation tribal member performs a ceremonial dance. (Photo courtesy of Trader's Village, Grand Prairie, TX.)
There was more. Its elegant centerpiece, the County Courthouse, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, anchors downtown Denton. It was built in 1896 and completely renovated in 1996. Time to get the camera out. The Square is famous as a popular venue for the filming of commercials, movies and TV films such as Walker Texas Ranger. Take that Hollywood!

We ambled around town enjoying our first taste of shopping at unique little places with names such as: Sleeping Lizzards, Stone Soup, Country Kitchen, Elements of Design and Kil'n Time Studio. This is where I made my first ever, ceramic piece?an olive dish, which they were kind enough to ship to me after it was fired. It was hard to leave any of these places without buying something!

For dinner, Hannah's off the Square, a trendy restaurant, which opened around the time of our visit, provided the perfect ending to a busy day. Before leaving Denton, however, we visited the Bayless-Selby House Museum, a Victorian beauty that reflects life as it was lived at the turn of the century. Definitely worth a visit. We said our final farewells after having a delicious lunch at the Chestnut Tree Tea Room and gift shop. Set in a cozy garden motif, it's quite a popular place and one worth visiting.

It was now time for some serious shopping after the warm up we had just enjoyed. Up next, Dallas! We anticipated a whirlwind experience and were not disappointed.

Westin Galleria Hotel
The four-star Westin Galleria Hotel, with its stylish, spacious and comfortable accommodations, is the perfect place to begin and end any trip to Dallas. (Photo courtesy of the Westin Galleria Hotel in Dallas.)
We checked into the beautiful, four-star Westin Galleria Hotel for the next several nights. This is the place to stay, not just because of its marvelous accommodations, but because you can leave the elevator and simply walk around the lobby to world-class shopping. The Galleria, a fantastic complex of over 200 stores in one location, was inspired by the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan. It boasts a skating rink, 28 restaurants and stores such as: Gucci, Versace, Saks, Nordstroms, Cartier and Tiffany & Co. And, so, I did my best to support the economy of Dallas by making the rounds of as many shops as I could. Porcelain and perfume from Tiffany's; crystal place card holders (I needed these?) from Baccarat; a small Waterford crystal elephant from another elegant shop; leather from Brighton's - and this was only after check-in!

We capped off our first night in Dallas with a great Tex-Mex dinner at Mi Cocina Restaurant in Highland Park Village where the salsa was hot and the margarita's refreshing!

The next two days were a lesson in stamina worthy of the most die-hard shopping mavens among you. Millions of square feet of malls were covered. Okay, almost millions. There were the Shops at Willow Bend in Plano, 175 stores catering to sophisticated shoppers with palates and pocketbooks to match. We were enticed with samples, then bought, the most delicious Belgian chocolates ever, from Neuhaus Chocolatier (forget Godiva for the moment) that were truly scrumptious! Next, it was off to Grapevine Mills Mall, a mega retail and entertainment complex, the first of its kind in the Southwest, one that includes an AMC 30 Theatre, themed restaurants such as Dick Clark's American Bandstand Grill, and Polar Ice Skating Arenas...two NHL-size ice surfaces and an arcade. Food became a necessity for fuel on this trip so we enjoyed lunch at the Rainforest Caf? - a fun place serving dishes with flavors of the Caribbean, Asia and Mexico, then we browsed through a variety of shops before heading to downtown Grapevine.

Sundance Square
A striking trompe-l'oeil depiction of a scene along the Chisholm Trail graces the side of a vintage structure in Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth, TX.
The City of Grapevine was settled in 1844, a year before Texas became part of the United States. Named for the wild Mustang grapes that grow plentifully throughout the area, the town is a delightful step back in time, a place where we took a breather and did the sort of things that were slow-paced and pleasant. It still has a blacksmith shop and one place, The Bermuda Gold Jewelry store, is located in an old bank once robbed by Bonnie and Clyde's gang. We stopped in at The Bath Bar, where we made our own concoctions of bath fragrances, and then ended our visit by stopping in at the town's authentic ice cream parlor, A Scoop in Time, for a cone - okay, maybe more than one.

In 2004, Grapevine will welcome the Opryland Hotel Texas bringing in some 1500 guestrooms for visitors. It should be a great addition for the city, already the fastest growing community in Tarrant County.

The North East Mall was next on our "hit" list. Only 10 miles west of the airport, this mall presently houses six major department stores and will bring the number to seven with the arrival of Lord & Taylor next year.

Our final destination before dinner was the Irving Mall in Irving, Texas (only five minutes from the airport), known to many football fans as home of the Dallas Cowboys and, to Oprah fans, as home of Dr. Phil (McGraw). Celebrating its 30th anniversary, this super-mall has over 150 stores and, needless to say, we managed to browse in a few. We were more than delighted to end our day with a fabulous dinner at the elegant Four Seasons Hotel in Irving. The serene, Oriental atmosphere of the Caf? on the Green not only helped restore our energy but gave respite to our aching feet as well.

The marathon continued (are you still with me?) early Saturday morning as we made our way to Traders Village in Grand Prairie and the Arlington Antique Sampler Mall & Tearoom. Traders Village is a uniquely famous Flea Market that draws over three million visitors annually. Over 2000 vendors display their wares - that includes everything and anything you could imagine - every Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free and parking is only $2. The Arlington Antique Sampler Mall and Tearoom is a great place for a tasty lunch of homemade soups, salads, breads and desserts, and is just the right place should you be looking for antiques or special, nostalgic memorabilia.

A cowboy stops for a photo in the stockyards of Fort Worth.
You can't visit Dallas without including Fort Worth despite the fact that there is a "line in the sand" between the two cities. The only thing that they seem to share in common is the airport. It is a Texas territorial thing and we went along with it. Fort Worth generates excitement and pulses with the best of the old and the new. The 'suits' inhabit the steel and glass towers and the cowboys in the Stockyard area provide the tourist with what they hope to see when they visit Cowtown, the descriptive tag still given to Fort Worth.

Sundance Square, named for "you know who," is a vibrant area encompassing the arts, entertainment and shopping. The area was a major stop along the Chisholm Trail in the 1800's. In the past, the area was know as Hell's Half Acre and was frequented by Sundance and his buddy Butch Cassidy, as well as Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp. A very short distance away is the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. This is a great place to get in touch with the past and get to see the only daily cattle run still in existence. The American cowboy in full regalia...and it's a treat. One more photo opportunity. Get your own picture taken atop a sturdy looking, yet docile, Longhorn!

Our last night in Dallas was spent at Deep Ellum, where those who know, go. Clubs, bars, music, and fantastic eateries... it's all there waiting for you. Our choice was Sweet Endings, a neat, casual spot where we sat on a rooftop deck for drinks while watching the street action below, followed by snacks and dessert downstairs.

Breakfast on our last day was a fun brunch at Dick's Last Resort, a great tourist attraction - unique to say the least - that was easily responsible for another five pounds. A terrific Gospel group that rocked the place for the appreciative crowd of diners provided entertainment.

The last stop on our itinerary was in Granbury, a neat mix of past and present all wrapped up in a small town setting. The town square has the unique distinction of being the first in Texas to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It had also been featured as "Small Town America" on CNN's worldwide millennium coverage. We settled in for an overnight stay at the very genteel Southern Country Inns B & B, recently visited by President and Mrs. George W. Bush.

Victorian house
An example of the gracious Victorian architecture found throughout the town of Granbury, Texas.
The time in Granbury was well spent. A horse and carriage ride gave us the chance to see its lovely Victorian neighborhoods. A leisurely walk around the square provided time to browse and a final attempt to set the Guinness record for shopping on one trip.

We enjoyed a great lunch at Off the Square Studio Caf? where I had the best cream of carrot soup I ever put a spoon to and even came home with the recipe! A milkshake at Rinky Tinks "50's" Ice Cream Parlor and a wonderful dinner at the Merry Heart Tearoom - just the name warms the heart - capped our visit. All that remained was the purchase of more clothes a few sizes larger than those with which we had set out.

Your survival and advisory guide for shopping in Dallas is simple. Ditch the heels (I know this goes without saying), even if your destination is Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue. Use a small rectangular wallet-like bag that you can sling diagonally across your neck and shoulder leaving your hands totally free. You'll not have to worry about putting your handbag down. One clean and paid up credit card will do. Take only your ID and some "emergency" cash. Do only one mall per day (most important!) because there's so much to see. Ship all items home so you don't have to pay sales tax. Get some rest before going out for dinner and, lastly, enjoy!

When You Go: Contact the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-232-5527 for further information.