top of page

Autumn in Big D

My 2-year-old son, Brooks, laughs as he jumps from one hay bale to the next in the dappled sunshine filtering through the arching shade trees. The shafts of light illuminate his red hair, which is the same shade as many of the 90,000 gourds, including pumpkins and squash, that make up Pumpkin Village at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

The village, where seemingly everything is made of gourds, is a magical highlight of the Autumn at the Arboretum Festival, running from September 21 to October 31 this year.

Moms, dads and grandparents have cameras out, snapping pictures as little ones pose next to pumpkins that are often larger than the little tykes.

The festival also includes thousands of different-colored pumpkins and other gourds that are artfully arranged into patterns and sculptures. Multiple small cottages are constructed with hay-thatched roofs and pumpkin-and-squash walls. Nearby are topiaries in the shapes of characters from the comic strip Peanuts, including a Great Pumpkin made of marigolds.

Brooks and I wander into other parts of the arboretum to explore more of its 66 acres on the shores of White Rock Lake in East Dallas. One of the top botanical gardens in the world, the arboretum includes about 150,000 fall flowers and other blooming plants, including 4,500 chrysanthemums blooming in the autumnal colors of ruby, orange and ocher.

We stroll through a series of beautiful gardens, marveling at rock hardscaping, waterfalls, ponds and bronze sculptures that are surrounded by lush plants and blooms. The leaves on the Japanese maples blaze with brilliant orange and red. As we walk by the lake, we see three kayakers paddle by, and two white egrets fly close to the water’s surface. In the distance are the skyscrapers of downtown Dallas. Who would guess, sitting in this quiet green oasis, that the heart of this bustling city of about 1.3 million people is only about 6 miles away?

Top of post: The Pumpkin Village is a favorite autumn activity at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Above: The Winspear Opera House’s 3-acre park and reflecting pool is a popular Dallas gathering place. Below: Landscape woodblock art by Japanese master Utagawa Hiroshige, is on display at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Exploring Big D

Dallas is known for its world-class entertainment, museums, restaurants and shopping. Land at Love Field Airport and you’re just a little more than 6 miles from downtown’s Dallas Arts District, which spans 68 acres and is described as the largest contiguous arts district in the country. The area is full of attractions, including the beautiful Winspear Opera from left: Dallas House, with its 60-foot-tall glass facade. The building is surrounded by a 3-acre park, which includes a reflecting pool. At the Dallas Theater Center, you can see In the Heights starting September 21, a Tony Award–winning musical written by LinManuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame.

On the west side of the district are two internationally acclaimed institutions, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) and the Nasher Sculpture Center. One of the largest art museums in the country, the DMA has more than 24,000 works from around the world that span 5,000 years of human history. DMA is hosting the exhibit “The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō” through November 10. The exhibit features works by one of the great masters of the Japanese landscape woodblock print, Utagawa Hiroshige. After seeing the exhibit, stop for a cup of green tea in the museum’s Hamon Atrium, which contains large windows that are adorned with colorful glass creations by Dale Chihuly.

Across the street is the Nasher Sculpture Center. The museum’s collection includes more than 300 masterpieces by artists such as Calder, de Kooning, Giacometti, Miró, Picasso, Rodin and more. The outside grounds include a 2-acre sculpture garden that displays about 20 pieces at any given time. The works are set among groves of trees, stone walls, walkways and ponds. The museum’s monthly “ ’Til Midnight at the Nasher” is being held on September 20, from 6 p.m. to midnight, with a free music concert and film in the garden, as well as museum tours, activities and games.

From the Nasher, take the one-block walk to Klyde Warren Park, a 5.2-acre deck park and urban green space built over a recessed freeway. You can take part in tai chi classes, play croquet and listen to live music. There are plenty of options for a meal, including food trucks, gourmet burgers at the Relish kiosk and dinner at the glass-walled Savor restaurant.

A few blocks from Savor is the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. The museum’s five floors house 11 permanent exhibits, with hands-on activities, interactive displays and educational games. You can see dinosaur fossils and skeletons, including an Alamosaurus and a Tyrannosaurus rex. You can also experience a simulated earthquake and put your hand inside a tornado simulator to feel the airflows as the twister forms.

Shopping and Dining

Dallas is known for its high-quality shopping. If you are in the mood to shop, be sure to visit the original Neiman Marcus department store in its downtown location. The store offers impeccable customer service, high-end brands and a lavish interior. Take dining to the next level at the store’s The Zodiac Room restaurant, where the popovers are legendary.

Shoppers and architecture aficionados alike will appreciate Highland Park Village, located about 5 miles north of downtown. This Mediterranean Spanish–style development constructed in 1931 is considered America’s first outdoor shopping center and today is a National Historic Landmark. From Fendi and Forty Five Ten to Frédéric Fekkai and Frame, the stores and shops are carefully curated to showcase the finest products. While at the village, dine at a Dallas institution, Cafe Pacific. The menu never disappoints. I suggest trying the three-onion-crusted sea bass with grilled corn risotto, green beans, carrots and an ancho cream sauce.

Patio brunches are a way of life in warm, sunny Dallas. In the Uptown District, Henry’s Majestic restaurant has a spacious and shaded patio, and is a popular spot for locals, with 24 beers on tap. Wheelhouse, pictured above, a trendy restaurant in the Dallas Design District, boasts a covered courtyard and a brunch that includes blueberry pancakes with whipped lemon ricotta and housemade blueberry syrup. In West Dallas, enjoy excellent Italian fare on CiboDivino Marketplace’s large patio.

When evening arrives, get a feel for the Texas honky-tonk scene at Cowboys Dancehall in Northwest Dallas. Dance lessons are available Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights at 7 p.m. You can learn the Texas two-step and other popular Lone Star State moves. Another fun nightspot is the historical Bishop Arts District, a fashionable destination located in North Oak Cliff, less than 4 miles south of downtown, and home to more than 60 independent art galleries, boutiques, bars and restaurants. The district’s French-inspired bistro Boulevardier is known for many dishes, including its Bar N Ranch Texas wagyu steak frites. After dinner, visit Emporium Pies for some of the best slices anywhere. A favorite dessert is the Drunken Nut, a Texas bourbon pecan pie.

About 5 miles north of downtown, on the campus of Southern Methodist University, is where you’ll find the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The facility contains a powerful exhibit detailing the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Other exhibits describe life inside the White House during the Bush presidency. There is even an exact replica of the Oval Office.

To be immersed in the cowboy culture, travel 40 miles west to the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. Twice a day (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.), cowhands drive a herd of Texas longhorns down the district’s East Exchange Avenue.

You can also see a rodeo, dine at one of the city’s many restaurants and listen to music at locations such as Billy Bob’s Texas, which proclaims itself the “World’s Largest Honky Tonk.”

Sipping a beer and listening to country star Lee Brice at Billy Bob’s might even inspire you to learn the Texas two-step.

Hidden Gems

• Thanks-Giving Square in downtown Dallas includes a sunken garden, walking paths, historical exhibits, artwork and the Thanks-Giving Chapel, above, an interfaith chapel with gorgeous stained-glass windows that augment its spiraling ceiling.

• Enjoy some of the best views in Dallas by walking across the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, at right, a cablestayed suspension bridge spanning the Trinity River. The bridge features an arch that is 400 feet tall.

Where to go first in town if you’re a…

… Foodie: Visit renowned chef Matt McCallister’s Homewood Restaurant in the Oak Lawn area of Dallas.

… Family: The Dallas Heritage Village boasts buildings and furnishings that date back to the period of 1840–1910.

… History buff: The restored Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture was built in 1892 as a county courthouse, and houses some of Dallas County’s most noteworthy artifacts.

… Lover of popular culture: Visit Southfork Ranch, the set for the Ewing Ranch in the long-running TV series Dallas. Tours depart from the visitor center every 45 minutes and run throughout the day.

Distinctive dish and where to find it:

Pit-smoked Texas barbecue at its best at Pecan Lodge in the Deep Ellum District. The lodge’s beef ribs average about a pound per serving.

What to take home:

Wild Bill’s Western Store in Dallas’ West End is famous for its Western boots, clothing and hats. If you are looking for a classic Stetson, this is the place to go.

Leah Shafer writes from Dallas.

This article appeared in the September 2019 issue of Alaska Beyond, the in-flight magazine for Alaska Airlines.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
bottom of page