Park the car, and revel in the season amid the glorious blooms of Dallas.

Dallas, Texas Park

Spring has never looked more dazzling to me than it does on this sunny afternoon in Dallas.

Strolling through the Jonsson Color Garden at the Dallas Arboretum – surrounded by thousands of spring bulbs, azaleas, and other flowering plants – I find I'm not the only one here with spring fever. I can hear it in the laughter of a small boy chasing a butterfly. I see it in the smiles of young couples sharing picnic lunches, taking time away from work on a day too perfect to spend indoors.

Mounds of azaleas wrap emerald sweeps of lawn with ribbons of showy colors. Legions of tulips, as bright as Easter eggs, shout for attention. The sweet smell of wisteria perfumes the air.

"I'm not one for fancy words," says Naud Burnett, the Dallas landscape architect who designed the color garden and nurtured it to maturity. "But when you see something beautiful in the garden, your spirits are lifted."

Think of Dallas, and images of sculptured skyscrapers and freeways reaching for the horizons might be the first thoughts to cross your mind. Big D is all that, but it's also a place with a homegrown spring that's truly breathtaking. All across the city, there are good places to step outside and enjoy the season. Here are some of the best.

Flowering at the Arboretum
Dallas Blooms, a five-week-long celebration at the Dallas Arboretum, March 15 through April 20, is the centerpiece of spring. The event at the 66-acre arboretum on White Rock Lake, about 6 miles northeast of downtown, is especially stunning this year. The arboretum staff planted an additional 40,000 tulips to highlight a Dutch theme, "Windmills of Color."

You could spend the better part of a day at the arboretum, touring the specialty gardens and walking the flower-lined fitness trail, which is known as "the prettiest mile in Dallas." You'll see parents pushing infants in baby carriages and kids splashing in jets of water at Toad Corners Fountain. You can browse for books, planters, and other gifts in the arboretum's garden shop--one of the best in the city. Then have tea, scones, and cakes in the parlor of a historic home on the grounds, or bring your own picnic.

About 150,000 visitors attend Dallas Blooms each year. Dress is casual, although a dozen or more women arrive every day in lacy veils and wedding gowns. Each one poses for photographs, usually watched from afar by gaggles of small girls.

"I don't think a day goes by when there isn't a bride here," says Dave Forehand, a former Walt Disney World horticulturist who is vice president of the gardens.

Azaleas on Turtle Creek
Thousands of spring flowers brighten the paths along Turtle Creek through the suburb of Highland Park, north of downtown. To see the color up close, take a stroll through Lakeside Park on Lakeside Drive.

Then head to Highland Park Village for lunch outdoors at Patrizio. The popular Italian restaurant is tucked away in a quiet corner of the elegant shopping center. But you'll feel welcome, even if you've been out for a hike all morning. Try the spicy grilled Italian sausage dish, Penne Arrabbiata ($7.81). Don't miss the delicious Pane Budino--a chocolate-chip and rum raisin bread pudding ($4.43).

Blossoming at the Market
Morning is the best time to visit the busy downtown Dallas Farmers Market, a little piece of the country that thrives in the heart of the city. Jars of honey and bags of aromatic onions fill tables beneath brightly colored roofs at the open-air market. You can even find watermelons here in March--trucked in from the Rio Grand Valley.

Start your day with a hearty breakfast of migas (eggs scrambled with tortillas and peppers; $3.75-$6.95) at Casablanca Cocina. Afterward, stroll through the impromptu garden that appears in late March when nursery operators put out thousands of flowering bedding plants. The blossoms turn entire blocks around the market into a Texas-size palette of colors.

"Spring is always the best season in Dallas. People get cabin fever, and they're ready for a change," says Stan Miklis, owner of Caliper, a nursery located in the Dallas Farmers Market.

"What I try to do is offer new and different colors--things you can't find anywhere else," says Stan, who stocks the nursery with plants he grows in 28 greenhouses at his farm in Royse City. He earned his degree in horticulture from Texas A&M University and remains partial to plants with maroon and white flowers. "We have maroon and white impatiens. We sell a lot of those colors out of this store," he says.

No matter what colors you root for, when sunny days chase away winter's chill and flowers are all around you, it's a winning season in Big D.

Shopping and Dining
Outdoor dining is popular at Lombardi's, Landry's, and many of the other restaurants on Market Street in the West End Historic District downtown. (Be sure to feed the parking meters. They operate well into the evening hours, and parking police are extremely attentive.) Elsewhere around town, cowboy-chic Star Canyon serves sophisticated Southwestern fare and, at lunch, the best chicken-fried veal steaks ($10) in Dallas; (214) 520-7827. Near Love Field, the original Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse at 2202 Inwood Road looks like a total dive, but the brisket, sausage, and pork ribs are delicious and the homemade sauce will make your day. Serving stops when the barbecue runs out, so get there early for lunch. Closed Sunday; (214) 357-7120.

If you're ready for a rest, hop aboard one of the McKinney Avenue electric trolleys that run from the downtown Arts District to the new West Village restaurant and retail center. There are more than 60 shops, restaurants, and other attractions, from Legacy Trading Company, with its hip clothing and decorating accessories, to the Magnolia, a five-screen theater, which shows a variety of movies.

When You Go
Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau: 325 North St. Paul Street, Suite 700, Dallas, TX 75201; (214) 571-1000.
Dallas Arboretum: 8525 Garland Road, Dallas, TX 75218, (214) 327-8263. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission: $7 adults, $6 seniors, $4 ages 3-12, free ages 2 and under.

A red neon Pegasus horse glows atop The Magnolia Hotel. The beloved Dallas landmark was the tallest building west of the Mississippi when it was headquarters for Magnolia Petroleum Company during the early part of the 20th century. It's refurbished as stylish lodging, mostly for business travelers, but it's an inviting place to stay if you feel like splurging a little. Stroll down the block to the original Neiman-Marcus. Rates start at $119 for two on weekends; (214) 915-6500 or 1-888-915-1110.

This article is from the March 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.