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A big time in Big D

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Helen, Andrew and Ben Walter

FALL IN DALLAS The writer's niece and nephews, Helen, Andrew and Ben Walter, make a trip every fall to play inside the Dallas Arboretum's life-sized pumpkin houses.

In Houston, Dallas gets a lot of flak. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find there’s way more than big hair and Big Tex in this iconic Texas city.

“We loved Dallas,” says Joanie Aron, who, with her husband Doug and their two children, lived there for three years. “The climate is better – you get more seasons, and you can wear all your clothes!”

Besides the weather, the Arons loved the shopping, restaurants and kids’ activities in Big D. Restaurants first: “If I come in town for the night,” Joanie says, “Shinsei is where we’re going. Their fried rice is out-of-control delicious. It comes with an egg on top that you mix in.

Bistro 31 is fun, and they have an outdoor bar that is upstairs and wonderful on a nice night. With kids, it’s Campisi’s for pizza.” Doug also counts Al Biernat’s, which hosts a lively mix of patrons from the Park Cities, SMU and farther outside the city’s center, as a favorite for steak and seafood.

“We moved [back to Houston] two years ago,” Joanie says. “There are some great new spots [in Dallas]. I’ve heard Grange Hall is supposed to have a wonderful restaurant and that Le Bilboquet is fabulous too.” Try Le Bilboquet for French bistro fare. The restaurant in Grange Hall, a home store touting “opulent oddities,” is open for lunch only.

For another lunch-shop combo, “I would add the T Room at Forty Five Ten to the mix,” Joanie says. Forty Five Ten, named by D Magazine as  “Best Women’s Designer Fashion Store,” carries home and gift wares inside what once was a 1920s art gallery.

Highland Park Village is amazing,” Joanie says. “Dallas also has some wonderful boutiques for women. My favorites were Cabana and Canary.” The stores share an owner, and neither has a sign, but look for a lavender door for Cabana. Then walk down the block to Canary, the more dressed-up of the two.

No worries if the kids in tow aren’t keen on shopping. With exposed architecture – to show visitors what goes on inside a structure – and a glass-encased escalator seemingly stuck to the outside of the structure (think Paris’ Pompidou museum), the Perot Museum of Nature and Science has become a new modern landmark in downtown Dallas. “There are floors full of all kinds of activities for kids and a ton to do,” Joanie says. “You could stay there for a long time.” If you do, try the Café – it’s run by famed chef Wolfgang Puck.

Another must: the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. “There’s nothing like it in Houston,” Joanie says. In the fall, visit the Pumpkin Village, where thousands of pumpkins and gourds are assembled to create life-sized pumpkin houses. Also in the fall, Thursday evenings bring concerts on the lawn. After Thanksgiving, be sure to see the 12 Days of Christmas: walk through the gardens to view 12 ornate, glass-encased, 25-foot gazebos that bring the classic carol to life.

“The Park Cities – Highland Park and University Park – have a ton of very nice parks,” Doug says. He and Joanie also recommend visiting the Klyde Warren Park downtown. “It’s a cool new park with a lot of green space, and there are usually a lot of food trucks set up around,” Joanie says. Built over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, the park offers free classes on meditation, tai chi and yoga as well as children’s storytimes and other community activities. Savor, the park’s restaurant, feels like a glass-walled treehouse dropped onto the parkgrounds.

After Klyde Warren, explore the Dallas Arts District, the largest urban arts district in the country. Pick up the M-Line Trolley in Uptown at West Village, where you’ll find fun boutiques and restaurants, then hit the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center, which showcases an extensive collection of works by Calder, Rodin, Matisse, de Kooning and others in an indoor-outdoor setting.

Also in the District: several performing arts centers, including the I.M. Pei-designed Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center and the Winspear Opera House, named by Opera magazine as “America’s finest opera house.”

For a temporary home base, Doug suggests the Ritz Carlton for couples and the Four Seasons Resort and Club at Las Colinas for families.

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