McKinney Avenue Trolley

With summer coming, why not take the kids for a ride on the McKinney Avenue Trolley. The vintage streetcars service downtown Dallas, connecting Uptown to the Dallas Arts District.

North Texas Ramblings McKinney Avenue TrolleyStreetcar History

Mules powered the first Dallas streetcars. In the early 1900s, electricity replaced the mules. The streetcars used today also employ electricity, with a trolley pole connecting the cars to their power source. Trolleys continued servicing Dallas until the mid-1950s. But the trolleys couldn’t compete with modern gasoline-powered buses, and, viewed as obsolete, streetcars disappeared from the Dallas scene.

Decades later, in 1989, the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority (MATA) returned vintage streetcars to Dallas. Today, we benefit from two decades of MATA expansion, with the trolleys running along McKinney Avenue, past Klyde Warren Park, and into the Dallas Arts District.

The Trolleys

MATA operates six streetcars, all with whimsical names like Rosie, Petunia, Matilda, and, my favorite, Green Dragon. Each of the trolleys has a unique story and history. Matilda ran for years in Australia before MATA purchased her. The Green Dragon once operated in Dallas and then served as a hay barn before its restoration. Riding these fanciful streetcars sure bets taking the bus! My family rode on Betty, an original Dallas streetcar retired from service in 1956. Betty had been used for a playhouse until she was donated to MATA.

Riding with Kids

North Texas Ramblings McKinney Avenue TrolleyTo find a trolley stop, look for the brown circle, M-Line sign. With no set timetable, you can expect a streetcar to stop about every 15 to 20 minutes. Step back in time as you enter the car. Lovingly restored, varnished wooden seats and floors; hand-straps hanging from the ceiling; and an antique fare box add to the classic ambiance. Kids love it!

The motorman (driver) operates the streetcar similarly to a car. The trolley even has turn signals! The trolley’s steel wheels run along rails set into the street and a trolley pole connects to the wire above it, powering the car. If you ride the M-Line trolley through its entire route, you’ll have automobiles in front and behind you, which brings up a safety note. Some trolley stops require riders to cross traffic lanes. Before entering or departing the trolley, be sure to look carefully for autos alongside.

When you go. MATA operates the M-Line trolleys seven days a week. During the week, M-line operations begin at 7 a.m., and on weekends, the trolleys start running at 10 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights, the streetcars run until midnight, and all other days, until 10 p.m. I suggest boarding the trolley at either its Uptown stop (co-located with the CityPlace DART stop), or at the Dallas Museum of Art (St Paul Street). The trolley ride is free, but donations are always welcome. The trolleys are not handicap accessible. Be aware, some may not be able to accommodate large strollers.

For a full day of fun, pair your trolley ride with a trip to the Dallas Museum of Art or a picnic in Klyde Warren Park.

 

Bethany Lakes Park

Bethany Lakes ParkIn our quest to explore attractions and seek out the unusual, we sometimes forget to look in our own backyard. Bethany Lakes Park falls into that category of overlooked gems. Like any good community park, Bethany Lakes has a playground with small climbing wall for the little kids. There are covered and open picnic areas, and trails to hike and bike. Bethany Lakes Park offers even more with a disc golf course, fishing ponds, and summer concert series.

Disc golf

How about a round of golf? At Bethany Lakes, you’ll find a nine-hole disc golf course. Similar to traditional golf, you play disc golf with a Frisbee instead of club and ball. You throw your disc from the tee, aiming it for the ‘hole.’ At Bethany Lakes, the hole is a raised pole with a chain basket. Just like in golf, your score is the number of throws it takes to land the disc into the basket.Disc Golf

It’s more difficult than it first looks, as many holes require throws over or near water. The first tee is just north of the parking lot. Bring plenty of Frisbees as you might lose a few in the ponds!

Ponds make all the difference

The ponds, and what’s swimming in the ponds, differentiate Bethany Lakes from other community parks. On any given day, you’ll likely find fisherfolk casting their line into one of the parks four ponds. Many set up camp chairs along the water’s edge. Others fish from the fishing pier at Pond C.

Each year, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) stock Bethany Lake with rainbow trout. Most trout stocking occurs between December and March. The trout fishing is best during the cooler months. However, you aren’t restricted to just trout at Bethany Lakes. Other ponds contain blue gill and bass, with fishing even during warmer months. TPWD fishing rules apply at Bethany Lakes. While the ponds are not exclusively ‘catch-and-release,’ you’re unlikely to snag a big enough fish to eat, so please release your catch.

Fishing Tips

Did you know that kids under 17 do not require a license to fish in Texas? Or that the first Saturday in June is Free Fishing Day, when everyone can fish in Texas without a fishing license? Fishing is a great way to get the kids off the couch and outdoors. Here are some tips for first time family fishing:

  • Keep the equipment simple. Little anglers need a child-sized fishing pole, hook, bobber and easy bait like earthworms dug from the garden.
  • Think safety. Position children at least a pole length apart for safe casting.
  • An adult should bait the hook and remove fish for young children.
  • Combine other activities with fishing.  A short fishing trip coupled with a picnic will likely be more successful than a marathon fishing session.

If you want fishing tips specific to Bethany Lakes, check out a website by fisherfolk at www.stockertroutfishing.com. You can find out what fish have recently been caught and with what type of lures.

Summer Sounds

The City of Allen hosts Monday evening outdoor concerts from late May to the end of June at Joe Farmer Amphitheater in Bethany Lakes Park. Concerts cover all music types from classical to country. What a great way to enjoy a summer evening — and best yet — the concerts are free! Light refreshments and snow cones are available for purchase. While the city does not prohibit lawn chairs, they prefer blanket seating for concert goers.

When you go

Bethany Lakes Park is located at 745 South Allen Heights, Allen. Operated by the City of Allen, the park is open dawn to dusk. The Summer Sounds concert series begins May 25 and runs through June 22. Concerts begin at 7 p.m.

 

 

 

Scarborough Renaissance Festival

What do turkey legs, knife throwing acts, wenches, and men in tights all have in common?

They’re all things you’ll find at the Scarborough Renaissance Festival.

Scarborough FestivalHeld on weekends from April through May, the festival combines high fantasy and courtly adventure, offering visitors an opportunity to enter a whimsical realm. Staged around sixteenth century England, Scarborough Renaissance Festival has a little something for everyone. You can ride a camel, engage in a sword fight, and  enjoy wine tasting at the Vinery. The entertainment is top notch. Be sure to catch Don Juan and Miguel who bill their show as sword fighting, comedy, and romance. These two have performed at Renaissance festivals for almost three decades. The Star Dancers are another crowd favorite, but be careful as you may find yourself onstage and part of the belly dancing.

Visitor tips

Buy a program. If you purchase nothing else, buy the souvenir program. It contains all the information you’ll need for the day including performance times, craft demonstration locations, and information on all the eateries and merchants. Best of all, there’ll be a map.

Dress the part. First, you don’t have to wear a costume to enjoy the festivities. However, the festival is the ideal place to wear that kilt in your closet, medieval Halloween costume, or leftover Harry Potter wizard cape. Visitors can also rent costumes inside fair grounds. And festival merchants sell everything from medieval robes to belly dancing outfits, though you’ll pay a hefty price for your attire. As for the kids, flower hair wreaths, fairy wings, and wooden swords are big hits with the youngsters.

The festival employs a troupe of paid, costumed actors. The actors set the stage. But it’s the costumed visitors who make for the best people watching.

Eat like a king. Within the festival grounds, food purveyors sell everything from turkey legs to baked potato. You won’t go hungry but you can expect to pay as much to eat as you did for your admission ticket. While you can’t bring outside food into the parks, one economical way to get around the high prices is to enjoy a tailgate picnic back at your car. Just be sure to get your hand stamped for readmission.

Bring dollar bills. Yes, admission includes entertainment on half a dozen stages along with smaller acts scattered around the village. However, expect the performers to pass the hat (or hat facsimile) around for tips following every performance. Tipping is optional. But these folks work hard for minimal wages, and some of the smaller acts working entirely for tips. If you liked the act, tip the performer a buck or two.

Wear sun protection. Don’t forget your sun screen. Texas can be hot even outside the summer months. A hand fan or paper umbrella work well to cool you down or provide a little shade.

When you go.

Scarborough Renaissance Festival is in Waxahachie at 2511 FM 66 (just off of Interstate 35). The festival operates Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. For the best price on admission, purchase your tickets online or visit your local Kroger for discounted tickets. Adult admission begins at $22 and children’s admission begins at $9. Visit the festivals website at www.srfestival.com for more information.

Dallas Area Wildflowers

Yes, you can find wildflowers in the Dallas area! Roadways and parks near Dallas offer Bluebonnetsplenty of springtime blooms including fields of bluebonnets!

In the Heart of the City

The best Dallas wildflower viewing may just be at Southern Methodist University and the George W. Bush Presidential Center. A 15-acre urban park planted with native prairie grasses and wildflowers forms a semi-circle around the back of the Presidential Center. Not only will you find bluebonnets, but also dusty pink carpets of evening primrose, brilliant reds and yellows of firewheel, and magenta wine cup. Benches scattered around the garden make for an ideal spot to stop and enjoy the magnificent spring display. The park is open sunrise to sunset. There is a fee for touring the Presidential Center, but entry to the attached park is free. The George W. Bush Presidential Center is at 2943 SMU Blvd, Dallas. For more information, contact them at (214) 200-4300 or visit their website.

Half Forgotten Zion Cemetery

There is nothing quite as stunning as a hillside covered in bluebonnets. Zion Cemetery, a small pioneer cemetery in Little Elm, showcases one of the Metroplex’s best displays of bluebonnets. At the height of the season, this sleepy little cemetery becomes a parking lot with hundreds vying for that perfect snapshot of the kids in the flowers. I’ve even seen an industrious photographer lug a Victorian chaise lounge onto the hillside to capture just the right photo! Zion Cemetery is located on Farm to Market (FM) 423 between Eldorado Parkway and State Highway 380.

Highways and Byways

Since 1934, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has beautified state highways and roadways with wildflowers. TxDOT encourages wildflower propagation by delaying grass mowing until after the flowers bloom and reseed. To continue the highway blooms, TxDOT plants over 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed each year. Local areas with highway wildflowers include US highway 67 between Mount Lebanon and Beltline. South of Dallas in Ellis County, you’ll find bluebonnets along FM 85 from Ennis to the Navarro County line; and mixed wildflowers on FM1182 between FM 85 to Interstate Highway 45.

Wildflower Website

Be sure to check out the Wild About Texas Wildflowers website for updates on where flowers are blooming around the state.

Sundance Square Plaza

Sundance Square in Fort Worth is well worth a visit – even if you live in Dallas.

North Texas Ramblings - Sundance Square Plaza With so many people living in suburbs, city downtown areas often fall into decline. Dallas and Fort Worth are two cities bucking this trend by providing places for people to gather. Dallas has Klyde Warren Park, and Fort Worth has Sundance Square.

Anchored by the Bass Performance Hall, Sundance Square sports comedy clubs, jazz nightspots, and theater groups, not to mention the annual Lone Star Film Festival held every November. Shopping, dining, urban living, and hotels – Sundance Square has it all.

Sundance Square Plaza

Completed in November 2013, Sundance Square Plaza adds an almost European dimension to the Sundance Square scene. Outdoor seating surrounds a jetted fountain on the west side of the plaza. More than 200 jets shoot water into the air on a random schedule. Kids love it. They gleefully wait in anticipation for the water entertainment. Yes, kids can play in the zero-depth fountain (normally from 2 to 6 p.m.). There are some rules: no animals, street clothes only, and no pool toys.

On the east side of the plaza, you’ll find a cloud of four gigantic umbrellas sheltering outdoor tables from the sun. The 80-foot umbrellas, while immensely practical, have the elegance of an beautifully designed sculpture. At night, LED lighting illuminates the canvas ceiling.

Free Entertainment

With a new plaza, Sundance Square is the perfect spot for outdoor entertainment. A free, Sunday jazz series runs every other Sunday, through the end of June. Music starts at 3 p.m. Then on Wednesday evenings this summer, come by the square at 8:30 p.m. for a family movie shown in the plaza.

The Flying Saucer

What could be better than burgers and beer? How about burgers, beer, and bands? The Flying Saucer (111 East Third Street) has an outdoor stage that draws a crowd from within the restaurant’s outdoor patio and from people strolling Third Street. A beer emporium, the Flying Saucer has over 200 different beers on tap.

The Bird Café

The Bird Café (115 East, Fourth and Commerce) is a new restaurant opened following renovations to Sundance Square Plaza. The Bird Café has extensive patio seating facing the plaza, and indoor seating in the historic Land Title Block building. Decorated with bird prints from artists Scott and Stuart Gentling, the restaurant’s interior adds to the dining experience. The Gentling brothers toured Texas painting native birds in a style similar to that of naturalist John James Audubon. Bird Café sources many of its ingredients locally. The café offers some unique items such as quail and rabbit, along with more pedestrian choices.

Sid Richardson Museum

The Sid Richardson Museum (309 Main Street) is a unique little museum tucked in among Main Street storefronts. Richardson was a Texas oilman who made his fortune in the 1930s. The museum displays his collection of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell artwork. Western art is not normally my favorite, but I thoroughly enjoyed this small gem of a museum. A detailed guide gives you the story behind each painting. The museum is free.

When you go.

Sundance Square spans 35 city blocks. It supports a host of businesses, restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and even a radio station (The Ranch, 95.9 FM). The architecture is an eclectic mix of modern, in some cases, high-rise buildings; and early twentieth century architecture. Parking is available in three large garages: Garage 1 (Commerce and First Street), Garage 2 (Calhoun and Third Street), and Garage 3 (Taylor and Third Street). Parking is expensive on weekdays, but free on weekends and after 5 p.m. There are so many unique shops and wonderful restaurants that I can’t list them all here. I hope you enjoy wandering the streets and exploring the shops as much as I did. Be sure to take time to relax in the plaza.