Like oysters, most of today’s metropolitan cities, at first glance, appear similar on the outside. It’s not until you dig a little deeper that you discover some contain unexpected treasures. Plano is a prime example.

Like oysters, most of today’s metropolitan cities, at first glance, appear similar on the outside. It’s not until you dig a little deeper that you discover some contain unexpected treasures. Plano is a prime example.

CNN Money Magazine named Plano one of the best places to live in the United States. A 2012 survey by Forbes resulted in Plano being named as America’s safest city. Its close proximity to major airports and the DFW Metroplex, prime sites for businesses and conferences and its multitude of sports and entertainment venues have already landed Plano at the forefront of desired locations, but the bustling city has more to offer than what first meets the eye. As viewed from Central Expressway, the sprawling urban area is a maze of high-rise offices, chain stores, restaurants, hotels and concrete parking lots. However, to the east and west of that main thoroughfare, Plano’s hidden gems, its true treasures, are drawing fans from across the nation.

For those who crave days gone by, there’s Plano’s historic downtown area, situated just to the east of Central Expressway. The city of nearly 270,000 people got its start when the first settlers came into the area in the 1840s. That heritage is being preserved in the historic downtown via the quaint shopping and dining district. Brick streets and sidewalks, streetlights and an old-fashioned Main Street feel await visitors. In addition, old town includes more than a dozen Victorian- and Craftsman-era homes that can be viewed, along with several museums, all within walking distance. The city’s popular Haggard Park is in the historic district, as well, serving as a beautiful site for local festivals and gatherings and providing an outdoor escape in which to play or simply rest and reflect.

Plano’s past can also be experienced at the Heritage Farmstead Museum, located near the historic downtown. The hustle and bustle of the city fade once entering the four-acre grounds of the museum. Visitors return to life as it was in the 1890s, exploring the historic Farrell-Wilson home, the Young house, prairie garden, one-room school house and other venues. Besides museum staff members, guests get to meet the site’s farm animals including two friendly pigs, a mule, donkey, horse, chickens, turkeys and guineas. There’s even a special, animated milk cow used for the many school groups that regularly visit the site.

For some modern-day history, travel just outside Plano to Parker, home of Southfork Ranch. The ranch gained its notoriety in 1978 when it became the focal point for the popular television series Dallas. As home to the oil-infused Ewing family, viewers became familiar with the sprawling ranch during the 13 years the Dallas series aired. Due to the show’s continued popularity, it was brought back to life with a new cast in 2012 and Southfork serves as the new Ewings’ home base, as well.

Tours of the two-story home are given daily for the many visitors who continue to flock to the site. A tractor-drawn tram carries the crowds to various points of interest with energetic tour guides providing tons of interesting and sometimes surprising facts about the site, the show and the actors themselves. The ranch also now features a Dallas TV show museum with photos and memorabilia, facilities for conferences, parties, weddings and other special events, a café and two gift shops.

If the great outdoors and nature are on the agenda, Plano can oblige with more than 3,600 acres of public parks and nature preserves. Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve is the city’s largest park, totaling 800 acres. Rolling fields, outlined in stands of trees, and a scenic small lake, provide more than three miles of concrete trails and five miles of soft surface trails. The park’s large and open landscape was also recently home to the first of what is to be an annual event, the Suburbia Music Festival, which featured more than two dozen bands ranging from regional favorites to platinum recording artists, performing on three separate stages. The festival drew an estimated 20,000 visitors who stretched out on blankets in the sunshine or plopped down in lawn chairs, sun shades firmly in place, clapping, singing with and cheering on the performers.

Another of Plano’s unexpected "pearls" is the Legacy Town Center and The Shops at Legacy, a thriving, small community within the much larger one. The urban chic, pedestrian-friendly area, located on Plano’s northwest side, serves as a place where people live, work and play, all within a few block radius.

Shoppers explore the colorful boutiques and lazily stroll down the beautifully-landscaped sidewalks. Residents of Legacy Town Center lofts or apartments walk their dogs and greet their neighbors or meander around the scenic small pond and garden. Cafes and restaurants offer indoor seating as well as outdoor venues, shaded with bright umbrellas or ornate awnings, beckoning you to pull up a chair, relax and enjoy life awhile. The enticing aroma of freshly-prepared foods fills the air. Music from street musicians and performers inside various eateries and night spots wafts up and down the street as does the laughter of the families and friends enjoying the casual, fun ambiance.

The inviting area is ideal for a day trip or a weekend get-away. The luxurious Marriott is located at the west end of The Shops at Legacy, enabling overnighters to easily traverse the interesting area on foot. Taxis are also available, as is valet parking, throughout the unique center.

Speaking of treasures, when it comes to food, Plano boasts a pearl for just about every palate. With a goal of providing the freshest food possible, many of the restaurants offer made-from-scratch items prepared from fresh, never frozen, ingredients. Some take it a step farther, purchasing their ingredients from as many local producers as possible. One such choice is Whiskey Cake.

Perfect for casual dining, Whiskey Cake draws hungry and thirsty fans in by the thousands with its eye-popping, wood grill entrees and specialty drinks such as the make-it-yourself bloody Mary bar. The restaurant grows its own herbs, no food items are ever frozen, and ingredients are purchased from local and area producers who are listed daily on an easy-to-view chalkboard.

The Urban Crust, situated in historic downtown Plano, is housed in one of the old, narrow, two-story buildings, providing diners with a unique, eclectic atmosphere. The main focus – wood-fired pizza – comes in traditional as well as different and exciting choices not found in the run-of-the-mill pizza place. Ingredients such as caramelized onions, buffalo mozzarella, fig preserves, goat cheese and truffle oil are among the unique choices available, many imported directly from Italy. The cafe also boasts the 32 Degree rooftop bar to wash down the lip-smacking pizza.

Among the Legacy Town Center’s many choices are the Main Street Bistro & Bakery, Mexican Sugar, Seasons 52 and the Marriott, each focusing on delectable, fresh foods.

The Main Street Bistro & Bakery is one of the area’s popular spots, especially for those who love homemade breads and award-winning pastries. New Orleans-style beignets, bread pudding French toast, paninis, and other irresistible treats await diners. Indoor and outdoor seating is available.

For something a little spicier, there’s Mexican Sugar. Mexican food favorites brimming with tantalizing, new twists are prepared on a wood fire grill. Music with a Latin vibe and exuberant patrons add to the relaxed yet fun-filled atmosphere. Like many of its neighboring cafes and restaurants, patrons can enjoy nature at the outdoor dining or venture inside to gather around candlelit tables.

Seasons 52 is known for its seasonally-inspired menu of fresh, delectable foods. Making is especially unique, however, is that every menu item, including appetizers, entrées and desserts, is kept under 500 calories without sacrificing taste or sufficient quantity. Soft sounds from the restaurant’s piano bar gently flow through the inviting dining areas as patrons select from such favorites as, sea bass or cedar plank roasted salmon. Be sure to top the meal off with the restaurant’s irresistible mini-indulgences – shot-sized glasses filled with chocolate peanut butter torte, key lime meringue pie, Belgian chocolate s’more, and others.

Chef Damon Simmons at the Marriott keeps food lovers coming back in droves with his mouth-watering, varied array of foods ranging from divine to sublime. Chicken and waffles, hollandaise- and poached egg-topped pork loin, smoked salmon, homemade cinnamon rolls (sometimes filled with ice cream if it’s a special occasion) are just a tiny tip of Simmon’s extensive menu selections. He and his staff go the extra mile such as curing their own salmon and pork loin and using as many locally-produced ingredients as possible.

After all the walking and exploring, Plano visitors will definitely want to rest up and there’s no shortage of options.

At the The Shops at Legacy, there’s always the tinkle of toasting wine glasses coming from the Cru Wine Bar in the Legacy Town Center. A favorite unwinding spot for locals and visitors, the wine bar has outdoor and indoor seating. It’s a frequent stop for wine enthusiasts, but is also ideal for wine novices. The menu categorizes the wines and explains each, offering "flights" with several different wines so patrons can taste test to see what they may like.

Need a bit more relaxation, try the Woodhouse Day Spa, also located at The Shops at Legacy. Quiet, peaceful ambiance, mimosas, facials, hot stone massages and other specialties are offered to relax and rejuvenate the body, mind and spirit.

With its historic sites, unique shopping, dining and entertainment attractions and top-notch hotels, Plano, like the pearl-bearing oyster, has treasures just below its surface. All you have to do is open the shell.

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