Hidden GemsParks & Outdoors
Dragons, Dogs and Bears, Oh My
10 Gems Await Discovery in Dallas Region
Remember that abandoned house down the street with the light flickering in the attic? Can you still smell the cotton candy and feel the pinch of the admission bracelet from the amusement park you obsessed over at age 8?
Adults living in a metro area of 7.2 million souls might think such mysteries, obsessions or wonders exist only in cloudy memories.
If so, they are wrong.
Obscure-yet-public spaces still exist in the Dallas region, for those willing to strap on sturdy/sensible footwear and step into the unknown.
Say Yes to Dallas has compiled an inaugural list of places in the Dallas Region – both living, dead and spirit-infused – that urban explorers should visit, if they really what they want to be considered such.
Our criteria were straight-forward: These places must be accessible without committing misdemeanors, i.e., the need for hypnosis of groundskeepers, or the use of chloroform on distracted security guards. They must be physical destinations as much as states of mind, and they must be places that most people pass by, but are mostly bypassed because they’re not places anyone has to be.
We knowingly excluded well-known or larger gems (like the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens and Fort Worth Water Gardens) because, well … they’re not exactly hidden.
Given those parameters, we’ve aggregated a list of destinations that deserve to be included in your adventurer bucket list, and which will likely turn to halcyon memories with the passage of time. Entry is free, unless otherwise noted.
The Great Trinity Forest
Address: 6500 South Great Trinity Forest Way, Dallas, Texas 75217*
Note the asterisk at the address above. That’s because this place is so wild, even Google has trouble pegging it with an accurate location. That address belongs to the Trinity River Audubon Center, one of 12 destinations and multiple trailheads within a 6,000-acre plot of land in Southern Dallas. Much of the forest is a landfill that nature (and the City of Dallas) has reclaimed. Gear up if you’re planning a deep exploration. Far into the forest, in a place called Big Swamp, naturalists have reported lairs of water moccasins, snorting feral hogs, hand-size spiders and chest-high poison ivy.
Sandy Lake Amusement Park
Address: 1800 Sandy Lake Road, Carrollton, Texas 75006
At the turn of the last century, small-town amusement parks of this ilk were common. Most have been abandoned, replaced by megaparks. Every day, tens of thousands of harried commuters whir past this tribute to Tilt-a-Whirls, paddle boats and ski ball. And every day, their inner child dies a little.
Meadows Foundation Dog Park
Address: 2917 Swiss Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75204
The Swiss Avenue Historic District is renowned as a showplace for early 20th Century architecture, from Prairie, Craftsman to Italian Renaissance. Within the district lies our hidden gem for dog lovers: a place known to some just as the “Swiss Avenue Dog Park.” This hunk of green-space, owned and operated by the Meadows Foundation, encourages users to abide by their own code of conduct: Bring your own water, be sure to clean up, and owners of small or leaping dogs must be mindful that the park’s fence can be compromised, especially by escape artists.
Address: 3520 Cedar Springs Road, Dallas, Texas 75219
Dragons are nestled in the green space a few blocks from Dallas’ exhaustively traveled Katy Trail. Facebookers have described this place as a “little oasis in the midst of a major city.” Aside from the (of course) dragon, an archangel issues a clarion call, and griffin (winged lions) stand guard at the park’s entrance. Though the address is listed on Cedar Springs, it’s best to enter from Hood Street.
Marie Gabrielle Restaurant and Gardens
Address: 2728 N Harwood Street, Dallas, Texas 75201
Another example of urban green-space, Marie Gabrielle hides in the shadows of foliage, and can be easily missed. An English garden and reflecting pools often serve as makeshift picnic spots for patrons of Marie Gabrielle Restaurant, but many people visit or happen upon this place out of pure curiosity. Like a woodland sprite, much of Marie Gabrielle’s charm lies in her seclusion, and in the delight that comes in discovering her.
Dallas Heritage Village: Genteel Dallas
Address: 1515 S Harwood Street, Dallas, Texas 75215
More than 100 years ago, before Interstate 30 spliced Dallas in half, the Cedars neighborhood was a premier destination filled with Victorian homes. Every week, mesdames and messieurs would depart their mansions, stroll past greenhouses to hear concerts at the neighborhood bandstand. Dallas Heritage Village has recreated this experience, right down to a reconstructed plantation-style (haunted?) mansion known as Millermore. Side note: Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus fame was born here. Second sidenote: Bring your wallet.
Mysterious Teddy Bear Sculptures in Lakeside Park
Address: 4601 Lakeside Drive, Highland Park, Texas 75205
On Christmas Day 1995, the Harlan Crow family donated several larger-than-life Teddy Bear statues to the town of Highland Park, where they remain to this day. Sure, there’s a waterfall, lily pads and a rolling creek. But it always comes back to the Teddy Bears. The largest bear stands 8-feet-5 inches tall, and smiles and stares vacantly forward, as a cub perches on its left hind leg. What are you looking at, Giant Teddy Bear? Don’t answer. This has gone far enough.
Address: 1627 Pacific Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75201
The streetscape outside Chapel of Thanksgiving is similar to any other urban center; the light rail’s bell clangs, traffic jams, and office dwellers scurry to or from wherever they generally scurry. Amidst all this rises an off-white conical form that looks suspiciously like a misshaped serving of vanilla soft-serve. Walk up the ramp most afternoons and enter. Inside, a ramp carries visitors upward, into a silent chapel, whose ceiling is an upward swirl of stained glass. Listen closely and you might hear the low trickle of the water feature outside. Or is that just peace filling your mind?
Prairie Creek Park
Address: 200 block, Fall Creek Drive, Richardson, Texas, 75080
Aside from being a Rough Rider and taking some hill in Cuba, Teddy Roosevelt was renowned for taking friends, family and even the French ambassador on scampers through the brambles. We’d like to think that Roosevelt would feel right at home in Prairie Creek Park, with its large, sun-covered stones, covered bridge, fields of wildflowers and a mossy waterfall. “Oh, that lovely, relaxing waterfall,” writes Yelper Ali G. “What more can I say? The beautiful patch of wildflowers is enough to make me visit.”
Address: West Lee Street, Weatherford, Texas 76086
Hidden gems have fascinating backstories, and Chandor Gardens is no exception. In this tale, a world-renowned portrait painter once determined to create a living work of art within the confines of his Weatherford, Texas, estate. Englishman Douglas Granville Chandor, famous for his paintings of some of the 20th century’s most pivotal figures developed a cactus-strewn cow pasture as a showplace. Chandor died before he could paint a combined portrait of the “Big Three” – Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin – to celebrate their second meeting, which would have occurred in Yalta. Admission is $5 for adults and teens, free for children 12 and under.