The Librarian’s Guide to Dallas: Itineraries for Your Every Delight

This was taken when the sculpture was in New York, but you can
now see this piece, Walking to the Sky, at the Nasher Sculpture Center.

This year, the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting will be held in my hometown of Dallas, TX.  I won’t be attending, but I thought I’d help out some of my colleagues by providing a guide to cool, fun, and bookish things to do when you’re in the Dallas area.  In this 4-part series, I’ll give you the lowdown on Dallas from the point of view of a very nerdy librarian and long-time former resident of the city.

Part One: Getting to Know the City
Part Two: Grabbing a Bite
Part Three: To See and to Do

I’ve given you a lot of random ideas for things to see and places to go in Dallas.  Here, I’ll put it altogether for you into fun itineraries that you can tailor to the amount of time you have.  Got a few hours to kill?  No problem.  Looking to spend a whole day of fun and excitement?  I’ve got you covered there, too! For your convenience, I’ve included a Google Map of all of these locales.

(By the way, I think I originally said I was going to do five itineraries, but it’s been a long day and I’m tired, so hopefully you can make do with four.)

The Luxury Afternoon

I recommend these together because they’re all in very close proximity to each other.  Plus, since there’s a DART stop not too far away, you could conceivably do this itinerary without a car.  However, any one of these is well worth a visit, depending on what you’re interested in.

NorthPark Center: I know sending people to a mall doesn’t seem very exciting, but if you do like shopping, NorthPark is really a very good mall.  It’s a place that combines a lot of my favorite stores that I can never seem to find in one place in LA, like Anthropologie, Lush, Steve Madden, Paper Source, H&M, and others.
La Duni: while you’re at NorthPark, have a nice lunch at La Duni.  It’s no quick food-court lunch, but it’s well worth taking some time out of your day to enjoy some of their delicious food.  As I’ve mentioned, the berry mojitos are great, and try one of the really yummy desserts.
Half Price Books: I can’t imagine a librarian not being in love with this store.  It’s literally like a toy store for librarians.  I could spend hours here.
Whole Foods: I know, it’s weird that I keep recommending grocery stores, but if, after your day of shopping, you fancy a glass of wine or beer, this is actually a great place to get one.  There’s a great little wine bar just past the produce section, behind the cheese counter, and they have some really enjoyable wines for very reasonable prices.  The cheese plates they have are really generous and could probably even be a meal for one.

The Movie Buff Outing

If you enjoy indie films and good food, this would be a great way to spend a day.  Going out for both lunch and dinner here would probably be a bit much with just a movie in between, but there’s some decent shopping in the area as well.  The area has the only Le Creuset store I’ve ever seen in the US, but good luck getting an enameled cast iron pan home in your luggage.

Breadwinners: start out with a great coffee drink and, more importantly, one of their really great baked goods.  If you actually sit down and get a table here, the bread you get in your bread basket is all different kinds of fresh baked and delicious breads, some sweet and some savory.
Inwood Theater: head over here next to catch a movie.  It’s a tiny theater, but one of the few in town where you can catch an indie film.  Supposedly it’s haunted – never had any paranormal experiences there, myself!  They used to have lots of chat-with-the-director kind of events, so if you’re into that kind of thing, check out their website.
Rise No. 1: after your movie, have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants – not just in Dallas, but almost anywhere.  As I mentioned in Part Two, if I had to choose a last dinner for some reason, it would be the salad, jambon et gruyere souffle, Sancerre, and bread pudding souffle.  I think it’s supposed to be very, very cold there this weekend, so warm up with a bowl of delicious French onion soup and a delicious souffle. This is like French comfort food.

The Downtown Art Day

This is another one you could do without a car, with the exception of breakfast at Breadwinner’s and drinks at Dragonfly (although you may need a long walk after breakfast if you indulge in the Normandy french toast I mention below).  Dallas’s art district is quite a nice place to spend some time, and these are just a couple of recommendations out of many great places in the area.

Breadwinners: “but I just went to the other Breadwinner’s for lunch on this movie day, and now you’re sending me back for breakfast?”  Yes!  It’s just that good.  Their breakfast is possibly even better than their lunch.  I usually get the Normandy french toast, which is a delicious french toast stuffed with cream cheese and raspberry jam, then topped with whipped cream.  I’m getting hungry thinking about it…
Nasher Sculpture Museum: after breakfast, head over to the Nasher to take in the great sculptures.  The best part is the cool sculpture garden in back, with the striking sculpture in the featured image above.  Also, they have quite a nice (although expensive) gift shop.
Dallas Museum of Art: walk across the street to the DMA – I’m not sure, but you may be able to get discounted admission if you’re going to both museums.  They have a decent-sized and pretty widely varied regular collection, and they tend to feature some pretty interesting traveling exhibits as well.
Stephan Pyles: head a block east from the museum and have dinner at this nice restaurant, named after its chef owner.  I also wrote about this in Part Two and will repeat my recommendation to sit at the ceviche bar, where you can order from both the ceviche and regular menus.
Dragonfly: if you’re still up for more, cross I-75 and get a drink at Dragonfly’s cool lounge.  It’s attached to a pretty cool hotel, and is also a restaurant, but I enjoy it for tasty adult beverages in a mellow, lounge-y kind of environment.

The Texas Experience Itinerary (aka the “Everything is Bigger in Texas”)

I’ve already explained that Dallas doesn’t really live up to the stereotypical expectations that many people have about Texas, but there are places you can go if you want to see people in cowboy boots and horses and such.  (Actually, you will probably see some cows when you’re near the airport, to be honest.)  This itinerary is the longest, as it takes you about half an hour west to Grapevine, and then on to Fort Worth.  If you do the whole thing, it’ll take you a day.  However, if you had a little extra time to kill before you flight home, Bass Pro is right by the airport, so you could always pop over to see the rattlesnakes!

Bass Pro: I described this in Part Three.  Besides just being an outdoor sports megastore, this place has a crazy aquarium with native Texas fish (which are mostly tremendously ugly, I’m sorry to say) and some live rattlesnakes.  The last time I was there, they also had tons of odd little things that would make interesting souvenirs.
The Gaylord Texan: head west down Highway 26 to get to this crazy, huge resort that recreates different parts of Texas in this huge indoor pavilion.  There’s literally a full-on river walk, reminiscent of the San Antonio Riverwalk.  It’s really most incredible when they have it all decorated for Christmas, but it’s still pretty impressive the rest of the year.  Have lunch at one of their restaurants – lots of different options.  I haven’t eaten at any of them, but I hear they’re all good.
Fort Worth Stockyards: going out here is quite a trek, but if you really want to have a Texas cowboy kind of experience, this is pretty much the place to do it.  I’ve only been here once, when I was taking some friends from France to see the stereotypical Texas scene.  There are some shops, and I think a museum, which seemed a little touristy, but we had some decent Texas-style barbecue there.
The Modern in Fort Worth: this has nothing to do with stereotypical Texas, but if you’re in Fort Worth, you owe it to yourself to check out the Modern Museum in Fort Worth.  Even if you’re not a fan of modern art, the architecture there is just gorgeous.

Photo by doreen from Shanghai, China (walk to the sky) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Librarian’s Guide to Dallas: To See and To Do

This year, the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting will be held in my hometown of Dallas, TX.  I won’t be attending, but I thought I’d help out some of my colleagues by providing a guide to cool, fun, and bookish things to do when you’re in the Dallas area.  In this 4-part series, I’ll give you the lowdown on Dallas from the point of view of a very nerdy librarian and long-time former resident of the city.

Part One: Getting to Know the City
Part Two: Grabbing a Bite

There’s quite a lot to see in Dallas, no matter what you’re interested in.  I’ve focused here on things that I think librarians might be interested in, but also things that are hard to find elsewhere or are truly unique to Dallas or Texas.

Places to Shop

For booklovers: Half Price Books
Ah, Half Price Books – I miss it so much.  As far as I’ve found, there’s nothing that comes close to it in LA.  In addition to nice quality used books, they do have some new ones, somehow available for half price (as their name implies).  In addition to books, there are also CDs, DVDs, and I think even records.  There are locations all over the Dallas area, but the best one is on Northwest Highway a few blocks east of I-75.  Librarian heaven, I tell you.  I challenge you to come out of there without at least a couple of awesome finds.

For fashionistas: NorthPark Center
This is the best mall in Dallas, hands down.  They have every store you could want, from your basic stuff to your fancy, high-end designers.  Highlights include a great Anthropologie, Lush (for the most incredible-smelling bath products you’ll ever try), a Lego store, and Paper Source (for beautiful stationary and crafting supplies).  There’s a La Duni here, too, so you can kill two birds with one stone!

For getting a taste of “Texas”: Bass Pro Shop
Dallas is a fairly cosmopolitan city.  Stereotypes that people generally hold about Texas and Texans don’t really apply to the people of Dallas.  Of course, there are still people in Dallas who are into hunting, ranching, fishing, boating, and other such activities that one might stereotypically associate with Texas.  Since everything is bigger in Texas, of course Dallas has the biggest, craziest amusement park of an outdoor store that I’ve ever seen.  Checking out the Bass Pro Shop in Grapevine, near DFW Airport, is like taking a trip into a strange back country hunting expedition.  Plus, there’s an enormous aquarium, several stories-high (like something you’d pay to see) of native Texas fish, and a display case with three live rattlesnakes that mostly just lay there all curled up.  I’m sorry to report that you’ll have just missed the Texas State Turkey Calling Championship, which was held there on January 14.

Landmarks and Points of Interest

For history buffs: The Sixth Floor Museum, JFK Memorial Plaza, and the Grassy Knoll
It’s a sad page in Dallas’s history, but of course the city was the home of Lee Harvey Oswald and the site of the JFK assassination.  Kennedy is remembered at a Memorial Plaza built in his honor, which is located about a block east of Dealey Plaza, the site of the Book Repository where Lee Harvey Oswald took aim from a sixth story window.  The Book Repository is now a museum.  It’s been a very, very long time since I was there, but if memory serves, I think you can actually go to the window from whence the fatal shots were fired.  Heading down to the street below, walk west along Main Street toward I-35 (the big freeway right in front of you).  Just before the Grassy Knoll, on your right, you’ll see an X painted on the curb.  This is the spot where the motorcade was when Kennedy was hit.  If you’re interested in the Kennedy assassination, check out Don DeLillo’s very strange novel Libra.  It’s fictional, but still an interesting read.

For those wanting a view of the city: Five Sixty at Reunion Tower
The featured pic on this post is Reunion Tower, located in the heart of downtown Dallas and the best spot to see all of the city.  The ball at the top of the tower revolves at a rate of one full rotation every 55 minutes, so don’t worry – it’s not so fast that you’re going to be falling all over the place or anything.  It’s beautifully illuminated at night, but if you want to check out the view, obviously I’d recommend going during the day.  The tower now houses a Wolfgang Puck restaurant called Five Sixty.  I can’t speak to the quality of the food, as I haven’t been since the restaurant changed hands (it used to be a sort of average and over-priced restaurant you mainly went to for the view), but even if you just go there for a drink or a quick bite, the view is well worth it.

For foodies: Central Market
I know it’s kind of weird to recommend a grocery store for a sight-seeing expedition, but this is no ordinary grocery store.  Also, I’m not the only person who thinks of this as a place for city visitors to check out, as when I used to shop there, I used to regularly see bus-loads of Japanese tourists touring the store. Central Market is a chain of absolutely incredible grocery stores for the food-obsessed.  The location most convenient to downtown is located on Lover’s Lane, a block east of I-75.  You’ll find difficult-to-find gourmet and ethnic/foreign foods; an incredible bulk section where you can buy as much or as little as you want of a spice, an unusual flour, granola, and tons of other stuff; a great wine and beer selection; and if you go on the weekends, lots and lots of delicious samples.  Truly a foodie heaven.

Again, this is just a very, very tiny sampling of everything Dallas has to offer.  If you’re in the mood to have a certain kind of experience, let me know about it in the comments, and I’ll send you where you need to go!

Image credit: By Batrak [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Librarian’s Guide to Dallas: Grabbing a Bite

The tasty treats at Society Bakery, home of some of the most sinfully
incredible desserts in Dallas.  Featured as one of Dallas’s best
bakeries on the Food Network show Sugar High!

This year, the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting will be held in my hometown of Dallas, TX.  I won’t be attending, but I thought I’d help out some of my colleagues by providing a guide to cool, fun, and bookish things to do when you’re in the Dallas area.  In this 4-part series, I’ll give you the lowdown on Dallas from the point of view of a very nerdy librarian and long-time former resident of the city.

Part One: Getting to Know the City
Part Three: To See and To Do

In part 2 of our 4-part series, we explore the myriad dining options in Dallas.  I assure you, I could easily make my list ten times longer.  Dallas has so many excellent options for fantastic food and libations, whatever your mood.  I’ve tried to focus here on spots that are unique to Dallas, close to where you’ll probably be staying, or so stellar in their offerings that you just shouldn’t miss them.

  • For a delicious whoopie pie or other tasty baked treat: Society Bakery
    My friend Monica works here and introduced me to possibly one of the best dessert’s I’ve ever had: a bread pudding whoopie pie.  It was one of those “I’ll just have a taste of this while I’m driving home” moments that turns into an “I just downed an entire whoopie pie in under two minutes because it was too good to stop” moments.  They have lots of tasty baked goods and have been on the Food Network a couple times, so you can pretend you’re a food or travel show host while you get your treat from Monica.
    Updated to add a special offer: mention “FRBR” on Jan 21/22 to get 20% off your food order at Society!
  • For an awesome, locally-source pizza: Fireside Pies.
    Pizzas topped with herbs grown on the rooftop garden, homemade sausages from local Italian market Jimmy’s, mozzarella from local artisan Paula Lambert – you can’t go wrong with any of the ones you pick.  There are several locations in Dallas, but the most convenient for ALA-goers would be the uptown location on Henderson, a block east of I-75.  Be ready for a wait.
  • For a great glass of wine: Mercy Wine Bar
    If you don’t have a car, you probably won’t be able to do this, but if you’re able to, head about 15 minutes north on the tollway into Addison (exit Beltline) to check out this great wine bar that has tons of wines from around the world by the glass at reasonable prices.  Full disclosure: I used to be their event coordinator. 🙂
  • For a cool fine dining experience: Stephan Pyles Restaurant
    Dallas is definitely a foodie town, so there are lots of places you can get a fantastic meal, but one of my favorite is Stephan Pyles, located just east of the art museums.  For a more casual and fun dining experience, sit at the communal table or even better, at the ceviche bar, where you can watch them cooking.  If you’re at the ceviche bar, strike up a conversation with one of the chefs, and you’ll probably get to try some interesting stuff when they have a little extra of something.
  • For an impromptu journey to France: Rise No 1
    It’s not far from downtown, but if you come to Rise, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a Parisian cafe.  Fantastic onion soup, a delicious house salad, and the souffles…well, I am not a talented enough writer to convey how phenomenal these souffles are.  I am being absolutely serious when I say that if I have to choose a last meal, it would be the Rise salad, the jambon et gruyere (ham and cheese) souffle, a nice crisp Sancerre (a French white wine), and a bread pudding souffle for dessert.
  • For an impromptu journey to South America: La Duni
    I’m not sure which of their multiple locations would be closest to where ALA is being held, but you’ve got to try La Duni’s fantastic South American-fusion food.  Their restaurants are beautiful, with fresh roses everywhere, the food is great, the tres leches cake is to die for, and the berry mojito will change your life.  Ever had a yucca fry?  They’re like big, thick french fries made out of yucca root, and La Duni has the best I’ve tried.  If you can make it for their Sunday brunch, you’re in for a real treat – try the enchiladas montadas, a pair of delicious chicken enchiladas topped with a fried egg and two different kinds of delicious sauce.
  • For an impromptu journey to Spain: Cafe Madrid
    You can find several tapas restaurants in Dallas, but my personal favorite is definitely Cafe Madrid.  They have a fantastically broad menu with choices for any taste, from the adventurous to the meat-and-potatoes.  Don’t miss the garlic shrimp, and be sure to order a basket of bread to mop up the sauce.  Well worth the $1 or whatever nominal fee you pay for it.  The classics are also hits: albondigas with almond sauce, Spanish tortilla, some nice chorizo dishes.  Their wine list is extensive, plus they have a nice selection of sherries, if you want to get really authentically Spanish.  You should do yourself a favor and give it a try – it’s not your grandma’s sherry!  Be forewarned that they’re often out of half their wine list.  Be prepared to have a backup or two when you make your order, or just ask your waiter to help you with your selection.

Please note that this is a mere smattering of the many, many good places to eat and drink in Dallas.  I could go on, but I don’t imagine that people really want to hear my take on every single restaurant in Dallas.  So if you have a food craving and would like to know how to fulfill it in Dallas, or if you’re thinking of a place to go and want to get a local’s take, let me know about it in the comments, so I can help make your dining dreams come true.

Image credit: Monica Waterston (the same one who works at the Bakery.  She’s multi-talented!)

The Librarian’s Guide to Dallas: Getting to Know the City

Downtown Dallas skyline as seen from the south.

This year, the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting will be held in my hometown of Dallas, TX.  I won’t be attending, but I thought I’d help out some of my colleagues by providing a guide to cool, fun, and bookish things to do when you’re in the Dallas area.  In this 4-part series, I’ll give you the lowdown on Dallas from the point of view of a very nerdy librarian and long-time former resident of the city.

Here’s what we’ll discuss to get you ready to make your way to the Big D.

  • Monday: Getting to Know the City.  Get yourself oriented with a guide to the major neighborhoods and figure out how to navigate the city.
  • Tuesday: Grabbing a Bite.  Check out some of the tastiest restaurants and best drink spots in town with options for your budget.
  • Wednesday: To See and to Do.  Places to shop and points of interest to see.
  • Thursday: Itineraries for Your Every Delight.  Got a few hours or even a half day to kill?  Here’s how to make the most of it!

So let’s get started, shall we?  Allow me to introduce my city to you.  I don’t say my “former” city, partly because I’m back there so often to visit family and friends, but also because it’s a place that has left an impression on me.  Even though I don’t claim the “Texan” identity, I don’t mind being associated with Dallas, which is a pretty awesome city in its own right.

One thing about Dallas is that it is very large and spread out, much as Los Angeles is.  Like Los Angeles, it also has its own unique neighborhoods.  Here, I will introduce you to some neighborhoods you might like to visit or where you might happen to find yourself and how to get to those neighborhoods, transportation-wise, as well as introduce you to some landmarks that will help you navigate the city.

The Neighborhoods

This list is by no means all-inclusive.  Dallas has so many neighborhoods, and spans many, many miles, so I will only touch on the ones I think it most likely that you might actually visit.

Bishop Arts District and Oak Cliff
This used to be the dangerous part of town.  Parts of it still are, from what I understand – I worked with a woman who lived there who was late to work on more than one occasion because the police shut her street down after a shooting.  You will likely have to go through some of these areas if you want to get to the cool parts, but I assure you it’s well worth it and not like going through what are considered the “bad” parts of LA.  When you get there, you’ll find a refreshingly bohemian neighborhood of artists, vintage clothes and furniture sellers, and stellar chefs and bar mixologists.  Places to check out: Shambhala Body Gallery for soaps and body products made in-house; Tillman’s Roadhouse for fantastic chef-driven restaurant that was previously featured on the Food Network for its Tableside Smores dessert, complete with made-in-house marshmallows in three flavors (which yours truly once had as her birthday celebration dessert); Bolsa for more tasty foods and fantastic drinks; and much more.

The area where your convention center, and likely your hotel, is located.  Downtown Dallas is not, unfortunately, the most happening place in the world.  Like many downtowns I’ve visited, it’s very much a business district that gets very quiet on the weekends.  You’ll probably be tempted to visit the West End; it’s very touristy, so just don’t get a mistaken impression about what Dallas is like based on that!  You might also find yourself near Victory Plaza, where the Dallas Mavericks (basketball) and Dallas Stars (hockey).  If you happen to find yourself down there on a night when one of the teams is playing, you’ll probably be able to connect with some of the players at the W Hotel’s Ghost Bar, right across the street.

Deep Ellum
The only reason I can think of to go here is if you want to get a tattoo or piercing or go to a dance club, though I will admit that there are a couple of good restaurants down here.  I’m thinking in particular of Local, home of one of the best champagne cocktails I’ve had in my life.  It’s champagne with a ball of rosemary grapefruit sorbet slowly melting into your glass and imparting its subtle and lovely flavors – truly a delight!

Lower Greenville
Unless you’re in a fraternity or would like to be, I’d avoid this area altogether.

At least when I lived there, sort of a more hip and trendy answer to the downtown area.  Just a few minutes north, you’ll find a much more hip neighborhood.  Uptown’s “main street” is McKinney, which runs up from downtown and further north.  Some highlights in Uptown: the West Village, featuring shopping, dining, and night life; Bread Winner’s, one of the top two places in Dallas to get brunch in my opinion and not too shabby for lunch and dinner, either; the Ginger Man, a fantastic pub for the beer lovers and also one of the few beer pubs that offers some options for the non-beer lovers as well!

Another great shopping/restaurant district that’s a little more mainstream than Bishop Arts.  Some places to check out: La Duni in a tie for best brunch spot, plus a great place for lunch or dinner and the best mojito you’ll find in Dallas; Cafe Toulouse for some of the most authentic French fare you’ll find in Dallas, with a fantastic Parisian-style patio; and Cafe Madrid for the best and widest variety of Spanish tapas in the city – don’t miss the albondigas and a nice glass of sherry or some of their fantastic sangria (this was a Lisa birthday spot on a different but equally fun year).

A neighborhood located a bit north of downtown that’s also known as “restaurant row,” as it features just about any chain restaurant you can think of, plus some innovative ones.  Some, but not as much, in the way of fine dining.

A small college town about an hour north of Dallas; I only mention it because they have an excellent library school and one of the best medical library programs in the nation.  It may well be that they will be hosting events in relation to the ALA meeting.  (Also, it is my alma mater for my MA in English and my BAs in English and French, but I got my MLIS at UCLA.  Also, Dr. Phil and Norah Jones went there, too.)

Of course Dallas is far bigger than that, stretching for miles in all four directions.  I’m leaving out tons of stuff and I’m grossly generalizing as far as the neighborhoods go, but this should give you a start, especially if you don’t have a car.  If you do have a car, here are some points of reference.

  • I-35 is the highway that borders downtown on the west and runs north-south.  Incidentally, I-35 passes through the state capitols of Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Minnesota.  Drive about 4-5 hours south on I-35 and you’ll end up in Austin, the capitol of Texas.  Take it an hour north and you’ll be in Denton.
  • I-75 is the highway that borders downtown on the east and also runs north-south.  Just below downtown, it turns into I-45, which continues south to Houston.
  • I-635: you may not make it this far north, but this it the main west-east highway through the Dallas area.
  • “the tollway”: there are several tollways in Dallas and Texas in general, thank to Rick Perry’s, um, unique ideas about financing the Texas state budget, but the one that’s referred to as “the” tollway in Dallas is the Dallas North Tollway, which runs north-south and connects downtown to several interesting neighborhoods, and eventually Addison and I-635.

Public transportation in Dallas, as far as I know, is not great.  They have a bus system, but I cannot speak to its utility, as I’ve never taken it.  I think it’s probably like any city’s bus system – it will get you where you need to go, but it will probably take longer and cost more than it really ought to.  Dallas also has a very limited light rail system called DART – Dallas Area Rapid Transit.  It will get you to some of the close-by areas, but it definitely doesn’t go all over Dallas.

So that’s your down and dirty, very, very abridged version of an introduction to Dallas.  In the next few days, I’ll take you through some of the highlights for dining and shopping and general gallivanting in Dallas.  Whatever your pleasure, I bet I can get you to where you want to go in my fair former city!

Got a question or want to know where to find something?  Let me know about it in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer!