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Weekender: Fun in Frisco

This North Texas city is home base for shopping, sporting adventures

Flanked by a log cabin, a one-room schoolhouse, a church, historic homes, and a reproduction of a train depot, the Frisco Heritage Museum traces Frisco’s development since the 1880s. (Photo by Roger Robinson)

By Lori Moffatt

When I told friends I was heading up to Frisco for the weekend to see Cirque du Soleil, they all agreed it was a good plan. “Such a great city,” they concurred. “Will you have time to visit Napa while you’re in California?”

I cocked my head in a moment of confusion, and then clarified. “No, not San Francisco. Frisco. It’s a city north of Dallas.” I mentioned that there’s an IKEA there to really cement the recognition.

North of the Metroplex, with the skyscrapers and spaghetti-bowl highway intersections out of sight, it becomes clear that Frisco—which straddles the line between Collin and Denton counties—is Blackland Prairie country. Jackrabbits dart across suburban lawns, and the absence of any significant topographical variation affords a misleading, almost two-dimensional sense of scale. Frisco itself, founded in 1902 and named for a rail line intended to connect Texas to San Francisco, was in its early years a trading center for the area’s wheat, cotton, and corn farmers. As recently as 1990, I learned, Frisco had a population that hovered around 6,000. But in the past two decades, thanks in part to the many corporations thriving in Collin County, population here has skyrocketed—and now numbers nearly 125,000. “In the old days, our main business was cotton,” one resident told me. “Now, it’s roofs.”

 Sports are a big deal here, too: Most of Frisco’s tourist attractions and hotels are between Preston Road and the Dallas North Tollway, including the multipurpose Dr Pepper Arena, home to both the National Basketball Association Development League team the Texas Legends and the Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League. Here, too, hockey fans can watch free practice sessions of the Dallas Stars, as well as exhibitions of martial arts, professional tennis, boxing, skating, and family shows like Cirque du Soleil. Just south of the arena lies the Dr Pepper Ballpark, home to the AA Texas Rangers affiliate baseball team the Rough Riders; five miles north lies the FC Dallas Stadium, where you can watch professional soccer.

The big museum news in Frisco is the much-anticipated development of the 13-acre Museum of the American Railroad

The morning after the spellbinding Cirque du Soleil show, I took a pedestrian sidewalk under the busy Tollway to explore the Texas Sculpture Garden at Hall Office Park, the 62-acre business campus of developer and philanthropist Craig Hall. In the late 1990s, convinced that art stimulates creative thinking, Hall dedicated a four-acre tract at the campus’ entrance to highlighting works by Texas sculptors and entrusted curator Patricia Meadows to collect pieces from living artists he admired. The result, a 40-piece collection of contemporary pieces ranging from imposing limestone monoliths to delicate pieces of poplar and steel, is on view throughout the grounds and buildings, free of charge. “Craig likes to look out his office window and see parents and children, school groups, and tenants wandering around enjoying the art,” says Meadows. Artworks by some 120 national and international artists complete this outdoor museum.

Under the spell of Sanger artist Jerry Daniel’s graceful Dancers MM, a sculptural brushstroke of intertwined steel and concrete, I enjoyed the fresh air and gratifying ambiance of this rare museum without walls.

Museums with walls have their place in Frisco, as well. Since more than a third of the population is younger than 18, most attractions in Frisco are designed for children as well as adults. So when I learned that the Sci-Tech Discovery Center (one of three attractions that make up the new Frisco Discovery Center) was hosting a traveling exhibition on the science of animation, I jumped at the chance to try my skills at cartoon voiceovers and green-screen pratfalling. (The current exhibition here, Amusement Park Science, continues through September.)

Nearby, adjacent to the city’s Central Fire Station, lies Frisco Fire Safety Town, an interactive “museum” of sorts that highlights safety for kids in a variety of arenas. Skeptical about the entertainment value at first, I changed my tune upon visiting with firefighters about their jobs, studying a wall mounted with various firefighting equipment, and crawling into a real fire truck. For school-age children, Safety Town encourages tours of its Weather Safety Room, where visitors experience an extremely believable tornado simulation; and the Fire Room, a re-creation of a living room that fell victim to an electrical fire. “We don’t talk down to the kids,” says Fire Chief Mack Borchardt. “We want them to recognize the tools we use, and to know exactly what to do to survive.”  

Outside, 5/8-scale models of 20 Frisco businesses make up the attraction’s traffic-safety village, complete with paved streets and working traffic and crosswalk signals. A fleet of bicycles and battery-operated jeeps invite school groups to ride through the facility, learning about seat belts, helmets, and how to be street-wise.

Kids and adults alike enjoy learning about history at the Frisco Heritage Museum, where exhibits illustrate the area’s history in regard to the railroad, agriculture, and growth. Outside, a relocated log cabin and church, a re-created schoolhouse, and homes dating to 1896 help paint a picture of North Texas on the cusp of a new century.

But the big museum news in Frisco is the much-anticipated (and much-delayed) development of the 13-acre Museum of the American Railroad, which will eventually house the extensive collection of historic rolling stock—including the Union Pacific “Big Boy,” the largest steam locomotive in the world—now found at a cramped site in Dallas’ Fair Park. “The Heritage Museum is a few hundred feet from our new site,” says Museum of the American Railroad director Bob LaPrelle, “so visitors to the museum can watch the rolling stock come in. We’re in the process of packing and loading at Fair Park, and the trains should start arriving here by early May.”

Later that evening, after a fig-and-spring-greens salad at TruFire Kitchen (see for more on Frisco restaurants), I ventured to the massive Stonebriar Centre Mall to check out the thriving retail scene. Tourism studies indicate that shopping is Frisco’s Number One draw for visitors, so I wasn’t surprised to see the mall buzzing on a Friday night.  But the next morning, as I explored Frisco’s Main Street, I happened upon the Good Steward consignment shop and realized that Collin County’s affluence benefits the secondhand scene, too. “People bring us brand-new things—Louis Vuitton, Coach—that they never got around to wearing,” says owner Elizabeth Rimes, who carries both men’s and women’s clothing, a rarity in the consignment world. I ask her: What’s the key to finding the good stuff? Rimes pauses a bit, then replies, “Frequency. Come visit us often.”

Yet another reason for a return trip.

See full article in the May 2012 issue.

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