PLANO - Among all the historic districts in North Texas that I've toured, I'd give Plano's a solid nine out of 10 for variety, friendliness, cleanliness and charm. It's just become one of my go-to spots for interesting shopping, noshing with friends or immersing myself in history.
The center of old downtown runs along 15th Street, just a few blocks east of Central Expressway. If you don't want to bother with driving and parking, take DART Rail's Red or Orange line (Orange is peak hours on weekdays only) to the Downtown Plano Station for easy access to bucolic Haggard Park, the fun Interurban Railway Museum and downtown's shops and restaurants. The Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation offers a self-guided walking tour, with maps available online. (See planoconservancy.org for information about downtown, including the Railway Museum.)
As you wander, be sure to watch for little pieces of history and whimsy - the horse statue outside of Kelly's Eastside, the historic plaque commemorating the site of the Mathews General Store (one of several brick buildings erected on what was then Mechanic Street after an 1895 fire) and a wall-mounted story about the W.R. George Harness and Saddles store from an October 1908 issue of the Plano Star Courier.
You'll also find a good-natured, laid-back attitude. Many signs reflect one I saw that read "open when we start, closed when we finish," so be sure to call ahead if there's a particular shop you want to visit. I also loved Plano Barbers, with its old-fashioned striped pole outside and a sign that reads "I fix $7 haircuts."
The historic atmosphere is infused with a lively dollop of modernity, especially in the variety of dining options. You'll find great pizza, barbecue, diner-style food and, on one corner, DàLat "Vietnamerican" comfort food and Jörg's Cafe Vienna Austrian cuisine and biergarten right across the street.
If you're a night owl like me, plan to attend the Night Out on 15th event, May 17 from 5:30 to 10 p.m., sponsored by the Historic Downtown Plano Association. The group also offers a list of other upcoming events, information about merchants and restaurateurs, and helpful hints on parking and directions.
Here are five of my favorite spots:
La Foofaraw: If you're looking for unique Easter-themed goodies, head here. You'll also find a beautifully curated selection of home decor, including small furniture and art.
Don't forget to venture upstairs in the wonderful space, which has a fabulously retro feel, including the marquee outside. My favorite item: the Ella B. Candles with signature scents representing Plano (sold out out right now, but more expected soon), Deep Ellum, Allen, Frisco, Dallas and other areas. (All those cities smell fabulous, I'm happy to report.) 1008 E. 15th St. 972-423-0001. lafoofaraw.com.
Nature's Finest Art: This store features gorgeous jewelry in every stone imaginable, with everything from inexpensive leather cords and hip skull-and-cross charms to Baltic amber and Southwestern turquoise. You'll also find a large selection of beads for making your own treasures. Sadly, the store is closing in early May, so get there now for terrific sales. 1012 E. 15th St. 972-422-3327. naturesfinestart.net.
Southern Vintage Glam: Whimsy and attitude rule at this emporium, which features interesting home goods, decor and more. I loved the T-shirts that read "I'm not always sarcastic, sometimes I'm sleeping," and the big metal letters for $8 each (or $6 each for four or more). 1024 E. 15th St. 972-423-4781. southernvintageglam.com.
Sutton Place Furniture: I'll return here for super deals on rustic-craftsy furniture - I've got my eye on a wooden bedside table painted vibrant turquoise for $169, or that flamingo-shaped metal sign (hey, I did live in Florida at one time). While I was in the store, a couple were wistfully visiting "their table," which they're saving to buy. You'll also find old signs, hitching posts, shop bells, maps and other ephemera. 1030 E. 15th St. 214-563-0972. facebook.com/suttonplacefurniture.
Fourteeneighteen Coffeehouse: I took a break from my heavy-duty shopping and browsing here. It's cozy, with comfy chairs, sofas and rugs, and you'll enjoy the company of hipsters sipping coffee, tea and more. And oh, the pie. The best $5 I've spent in a while was on a giant piece of "trifecta" - bourbon pecan pie with chocolate chips in a shortbread crust. I'm getting a little weak just thinking about it. 1418 Ave. K. 214-738-5664. fourteeneighteencoffeehouse.com.