You know the old adage “It takes a village to raise a child?” Well, for more than 10 years we’ve been asking DallasChild villagers — ahem — readers to share with us their favorite haunts and hot spots so we can give you the definitive guide to the Best for Families in Big D. What better way to find out your neighbor’s best-kept secret: the hottest mommy hangout, the picture-perfect photographer or most hospitable hospital. After all, you may think your neighborhood baker serves up the most delectable birthday cake, but Ashley Witherspoon’s mom from one suburb over swears by the bakery down the block. Only by swapping notes — like which family-friendly event can’t be missed or the name of that sizzling spot everyone’s taking their kiddos to for cooking class — can we parents get clued in to the community and seek out the best of the best for our families.
The city of Dallas has a lot to offer — a vibrant arts scene, champion sports teams, world-class shopping, and an all-around high quality of life. So why shouldn’t we brag a little?
• Cultural Spot: DMA
Your choice for quintessential cultural spot and must-see museum is the Dallas Museum of Art. In addition to world-class exhibits (don’t miss Van Gogh’s Sheaves of Wheat on now and Matisse: Painter as Sculptor early next year), the museum also offers classes, camps, family events and even a special membership for your family’s youngest art lovers.
• Indoor Playground: Galleria
“Shop ‘til you drop” has new meaning at Galleria Dallas. The Galleria boasts not only fabulous designer boutiques and upscale anchor stores, but also the preferred indoor playground. Rest your weary bones in the warm glow of the mall’s third floor glass ceiling, as your little ones wear themselves out.
• Hike/Bike Trails: Katy Trail
Get a little bit of fresh air on Dallas’ Katy Trail. This 3.5-mile path has historic origins, tracing the Missouri Kansas Texas (MKT) Railroad’s path through Dallas as it was in the late 19th century. Today, Friends of the Katy Trail work to help maintain and landscape this treasure of Uptown Dallas.
• Attraction: Six Flags Over Texas and State Fair of Texas (tie)
For entertainment in the fast lane, families head to Six Flags Over Texas. The famed Texas Giant roller coaster has been hurtling passengers 62 miles per hour and dropping them 143 feet since 1990. And, once a year families greet Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas (also voted best Big D event for 2006). This year’s fair (the 120th) was record-breaking, bringing in more than $26 million in revenue.
• Park: Celebration Park
Celebration Park is the City of Allen’s premier park, with 15 soccer fields, two baseball fields, a spray ground for keeping cool in the summer, and plenty of picnic and lakeside amenities. Situated on 102 acres, there’s something for every taste in athletics and leisure.
• Family-friendly Photographer: Sugar Photography
Dallas photographer Jennifer Weintraub, of Sugar Photography, has a gift for discovering the artistic in the everyday. Her photographs capture the emotions and relationships between families with a freshness and purity — and instantly become heirlooms. A natural with children, Weintraub combines art and photojournalism to achieve unique and evocative portraits. (Jennifer is also a regular contributing photographer with DallasChild – we discovered her first!).
• Mall and Movie Theater: NorthPark Center
With almost two million square feet of shopping space, Dallas’ NorthPark Center is the place to shop like a rock star. A recent expansion added a corridor devoted almost entirely to children’s retail, and the Center’s art collection makes shopping, well, an art form. The new AMC NorthPark was also voted most popular movie theater.
• ’Burb: Plano
Of all the cities and towns surrounding Big D, you’ve declared Plano your favorite suburb. Dallas’ kid sister-city to the north has come of age, now boasting a population of 240,000. A historic downtown district, the famous Southfork Ranch and more than 700 restaurants give Plano a lot to brag about. • Sports Team: Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks have come a long way in NBA lore. Now with state-of-the-art facilities, passionate ownership and coaching, and scores of “rowdy, loud and proud” fans, the Mavs can now call themselves 2006 Western Conference Champions. The ever-popular hoops camps let players share their skills with kids each summer.
• Sports Venue: American Airlines Center
Just five years old, the American Airlines Center has already seen its share of sporting spectacles and exciting entertainment. The venue seats 20,000 fans, whether they’re cheering for the Mavericks, Stars, Dallas Desperados or major music acts. And, no matter where your seats are, you won’t miss any of the action on the 80,000-pound score board.
Today, more than ever, it’s just plain cool to be a kid. There are child-centered classes (baked ziti by age 10? Absolutely!) and tot-tailored services that even make something as humdrum as a haircut, well, fun!
• Cooking Class: Central Market
The health food maze, also known as Central Market, can now lay claim to something other than the organic produce and healthy foods overflowing from the shelves (but that’s nice, too!) — cooking classes for your kids.
• Music Instruction: Kindermusik
The premier publisher of music and movement curricula for parents and their children ages newborn to 7 years, Kindermusik is taught by independent teachers all over the city. With more than 25 years of experience, parents have come to love the developmentally geared programs for their budding babes.
• Theater/Drama Classes and Children’s Theater: Dallas Children’s Theater The Dallas Children’s Theater takes the cake again this year with not one, but two awards – theater/drama classes and the best children’s theater for the fourth year running. It’s the place to be and be seen for admirers and actors of children’s theater.
• Dance Studio: Dallas Power House of Dance
A first-time winner, Dallas Power House of Dance is the premier studio for just about every type of dance imaginable. All ages are welcome, as Shella Sattler, director/owner and director of the Dallas Mavericks Dancers, and her staff teach dance to a passionate perfection.
• Sports Program: YMCA
A worldwide sensation, YMCA offers the unsurpassed sports programs for kiddos aspiring to be the next Emmitt Smith or Dirk Nowitzki. With one on almost every corner, YMCA is the Starbucks of kids’ sports – and obviously, for good reason.
• Place to Spend Allowance: Club Libby Liu and Target (tie)
A little girl’s paradise, Club Libby Lu, which offers tot-tailored makeover parties, as well as clothes and accessories, tied with Target as the best allowance buster. Target also nabbed several other categories, including one-stop shop to get “to-do’s” done, school supplies, kids’ clothes & shoes and toys/gifts, earning it bragging rights a the ultimate in convenient shopping.
• Gym for Kids: The Little Gym
Title champ for the third year in a row, area parents love what The Little Gym has to offer their kids ages 4 months to 12 years — developmentally tailored programs that focus on motor, emotional, intellectual and social skills.
• Kids’ Haircut: Cool Cuts 4 Kids
Want to keep your child from squirming in her seat when it’s time for a trim? Try, Cool Cuts 4 Kids — they’ll keep her contained and entertained (she gets to pick out a movie or video game to play) while the stylist gives her a new ’do.
Every mom wants to give her child the most talked about birthday party on the block, so according to you, here are the best of the best to achieve party perfection.
• Party Rentals: Ducky-Bob’s Event Specialists
A staple in Dallas entertaining, this is the number to know when hosting a shindig of your own. Whether you want tents, tables or linens, Ducky Bob’s has the know-how to put all other parties to shame.
• Party Entertainment: Pump It Up
Kids are great at bouncing off the walls, so why not make a party out of it? Pump It Up, with locations all over Dallas/Fort Worth, is the perfect place for kids to get busy celebrating amid a forest of inflatable play structures.
• Bakery: Celebrity Café & Bakery
What’s everyone’s favorite part of the party? The cake of course! Celebrity Café & Bakery is a Dallas legend, and what better place to secure the most important and anticipated party guest. Celebrity has expanded since their first store opened in Highland Park in 1989, and now offers 11 locations across the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.
• Place to Buy Party Favors and Kids’ Costumes: Party City
A perennial list maker of years past, Party City still reigns as party favor emporium, while also reclaiming the title of best kids’ costumes for another year running. It’s the place for favors and fairies … whichever you may need at the moment.
Treats & Eats
With more than 5,000 delectable dinning establishments dotting every corner throughout the Dallas area, it’s no surprise that local moms and dads logged on in droves to cast their vote for the tastiest vittles in town.
• Restaurant Diversion for Kids: The Purple Cow
Do your tots get rowdy in restaurants? Take ’em to The Purple Cow. With a rockin’ ’50s-style diner, child-friendly fare and signature purple milkshakes, Dallas-area moms and dads know that here, it’s OK for kids to be, well, kids.
• Restaurant for Children to Practice Their Manners: Outback and Olive Garden (tie)
But, if you want your little one to brush up on his table manners (elbows off the table, please) area parents say give Outback or Olive Garden a go. The Australian-infused setting of Outback offers a unique selection of food (bloomin’ onion, anyone?), while the Garden provides a chance to figure out which fork goes where.
• Sandwich: Subway
With fresh-baked bread, scrumptious meats and cheeses, plus a never-ending assortment of veggies to choose from, who doesn’t want to chow down on this year’s best sandwich winner? Plus, the smorgasbord of customizable sub selections means there are more than two million ways to “eat fresh.”
• Dessert: The Cheesecake Factory
Hello, dessert heaven! With 50 (yes, 50!) sweet treats donning the menu, The Cheesecake Factory, serves up the widest selection of decadent desserts one person — err family — could ever hope to choose from.
• Breakfast: IHOP
At IHOP, breakfast is big business and we mean BIG! Serving up more than 700 million pancakes smothered in 1.5 million gallons of syrup with 214 million sides of eggs, Dallas families aren’t alone in their early-morning devotion to this international house of breakfast fabulousness.
• Burger: McDonald’s
World-dominating McDonald’s has knocked local hot spot, Snuffer’s, out of top contention for best burger. The 100-percent pure beef patties covered with Kraft American cheese and served atop Tennessee-baked buns (with various condiments, depending on your burger choice) have local families saying, “I’m lovin’ it.”
• Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt: Braum’s
Ahh, Braum’s. Last year it was the family favorite for ice cream and it reclaims top honors again in 2006. With its banana splits, hand-dipped cups, cones and creamy shakes, plus 13 different kinds of smoothies, there’s something to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth.
• Cheap Eats: Chick-fil-A
Who doesn’t love a hand-breaded chicken breast cooked in trans-fat free peanut oil and served atop a buttered, toasted bun with dill pickles and served up at a great price to boot? Chick-fil-A fans know that quality doesn’t have to crush the wallet. (And the play area is always a bonus.)
• Donuts: Krispy Kreme
For three consecutive years you’ve kept your eyes peeled (and your votes rolling in) for that notorious neon-green “Hot Now” light that signals to the world that warm, delicious Krispy Kreme doughnuts have just rolled out. They’re the best — literally.
• Family Restaurant: Chili’s
With it’s skillet queso, chicken crispers and molten chocolate cake, Chili’s (originally founded in Big D in 1975) proves, yet again, that great food, affordable prices and a cool, casual atmosphere are what Dallas families crave in their go-to dining spot.
• Fast Food: Wendy’s
What’s better than food, fast? A drive-through joint that offers more than just fried fare. Area families are responding to Wendy’s new, healthier menu options like side salads, deli sandwiches, fruit cups and yogurt — voting it the absolute best when it comes to grub on the go.
• Pizza: CiCi’s Pizza
After being dethroned last year by Pizza Hut, Plano-originated CiCi’s Pizza, with it’s one-of-kind topping combinations like BBQ, spinach alfredo and mac-n-cheese, once again claims the winning piece of the Italian pie. Better still? It’s all you can eat!
What to do with those glorious two days that we call “the weekend?” Dallas families know just how to spend them: together. (Take Monday off too; we won’t tell.)
• Place to Picnic and Best Lake: White Rock Lake
Situated in the Lakewood and Lake Highlands areas of east Dallas, the lake’s surrounding park offers the perfect place to spread a picnic blanket. You can also jog its nine-mile trail or go fishing or sailing — if you’re feeling energetic.
• Local Family Fieldtrip: Fort Worth Zoo
The Fort Worth Zoo has been walking on the wild side for 92 years and is the oldest zoo site in Texas. Not bad for a place that started out with six species and now boasts more than 350. The zoo shelters some 35 endangered species and offers one of the largest collections of reptiles in the country.
• Quick Texas Getaway: San Antonio
Need to get away? Dallas families agree that San Antonio is the place to escape for a quick weekend out of town. Texas history is rich here, and educational opportunities are endless with the Alamo, Mission San Jose, and the recently reopened Tower of the Americas (the tallest observation tower in Texas, thank you). And for fun, there’s the Riverwalk, Sea World, Fiesta Farm and Market Square.
• Brunch: Blue Mesa Grill
Everyone loves brunch — that clever meal available all morning and afternoon, and families agree Blue Mesa Grill does it best in Dallas. There must be something about southwestern comfort that makes this a desirable “fourth” meal.
Mom & Dad
Parents need some fun, too. Whether it’s a quick workout or a well-deserved day of beauty, you’ve told us where you relax and unwind (sans the little ones) … if only for a few minutes.
• Mommy Hangout and Kid-friendly Coffeehouse: Starbucks
If it seems like there’s a Starbucks on every corner, you might be right. With 170 D-FW locations, the coffee giant has become a daily ritual for moms and their latte-loving youngsters. Don’t miss the sixth annual Joy Drive by donating new books and toys at any location through Dec 31.
• Place for Pampering: Elizabeth Arden
Elizabeth Arden knows a thing or two about pampering. Dallas moms swoon for the Red Door Spas’ royal treatments. Three Dallas-area locations offer everything from skin care, massages and hair to nails makeup and full spa packages — plenty of options for treating yourself right.
• Place to Get Fit: Life Time Fitness
Six D-FW-area Life Time Fitness locations make working out a little less of a burden. State-of-the-art facilities include a gymnasium, aquatic training, and plenty of kid-friendly activities including waterslides. Keep the kids occupied and burn off a few pounds — Life Time Fitness makes it easier for Dallas parents.
Having a baby is like gaining entry into an entirely new part of the world that operates independently from the rest. And its very embraced in Big D, where there are reserved maternity parking spots, specialty classes and little boutiques — smells like baby nirvana.
• Mommy Perk and Place to Stock-Up on Baby Accessories: Babies “R” Us
So, what’s one of the coolest things about being pregnant? Getting a front-row parking spot, baby! Dallas-area maternity gals voted Babies “R” Us (which also claimed victory as the best place to stock up on baby accessories) as having primo-privileges when it comes to commandeering a spot for your mom-mobile.
• Pre/Postnatal Massage, Resource for Nursing Mothers, Childbirth Class, Pre/Postnatal Exercise Class, Parent/Baby Class, Lactation Consultant, Place to Have a Baby: Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas
Talk about your one stop shop — err — hospital. From childbirth classes, breastfeeding-support resources and top-of-the-line mother-baby suites, it’s no surprise that Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas continue to sweep the baby-stuff category year after year. And, with nearly 6,000 babies being born at the hospital annually, how can you go wrong?
• Maternity Essentials and Place for Unique Baby Gifts: babystyle
Today’s mommies-in-the-making want fabulous clothes and baby gear. So, where to shop? Local maternity wearers are accentuating their bump at babystyle (also ranked supreme for its story times) with its wide assortment of fashion-forward silhouettes coupled with great gifts that are super, not schlocky.
• Doula: Anna Marie Nelson
Area moms have voted Anna Marie Nelson as the best doula in Dallas for the second year in a row. Also a trained breastfeeding educator, certified Lamaze instructor and registered massage therapist, Nelson says her passion is “birth, babies and breastfeeding.”
• Midwife: Susan Akins
A certified midwife (and deemed supreme by our readers back-to back), Susan Akins has been “catching babies” at the Women’s Health Alliance at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas since 1995. The best part of the job? “The relationships I’m able to build with my clients,” she muses.
We might take it for granted, but Dallas is the Texan Mecca for shopping. And how could it not be — we have nearly everything at our fingertips … including an abundance of great places to outfit little fashionistas in the making!
• Making a House a Home and Kids’ Furniture: Pottery Barn
Classy, simple and chic, Pottery Barn adds elegance and comfort to any home. Pottery Barn Kids, also won for best kids’ furniture in the Dallas area.
• Arts & Crafts: Michaels
For three years running, Michaels has been the arts and crafts champ in the Dallas area. Where would local parents be without Michaels for late night runs to get all the components of school projects due next week or the next day!
• Kids’ Books: Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble, the incumbent winner for the second year in a row inspires the bookworm in our city’s youngest readers with their extensive collection of kids’ books. Set in a storybook-like section, they’ll get lost in their books and be transported to another world.
• Groceries: Wal-Mart
For most households, grocery shopping is a weekly (and often daunting) task that takes up way more time than you like. But if you have to go, then Wal-Mart is the place to shop. With it’s low prices and always-ample stock of the necessities (as well as indulgences in some locations such as a café, sushi bar and nail salon), it is sure to be shop-ertainment.
• Resale/Consignment: Kid to Kid
A new gem this year, Kid to Kid offers “gently-used” clothing, toys and baby furnishings for those kids that grow 10 inches every time you turn around. With 10 locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, there’s sure to be one within a stone’s throw.
• Sports Equipment: Academy Sports & Outdoors
Texas born and raised, Academy Sports & Outdoors is the go-to store for anything and everything sports. Academy will even satisfy mom’s yearning for yoga mats and medicine balls at affordable prices – it’s no wonder that Dallas families voted them the best for the second year in a row.
Absolute Best of D-FW
So what makes something the absolute best of the best in D-FW? Is it superior service? Certainly. Unmatched attention to detail? Of course. Continuous ability to go above and beyond the needs of not only its patrons, but also its employees? Definitely. And the winner is …
Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas
Merriam-Webster defines best as “excelling all others,” and year after year, vote after vote, DallasChild readers determine the “best” to be Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. Not only heralded for its renowned maternity services, this medical facility has also been crowned the victor in two additional, noteworthy categories: best hospital and best family-friendly workplace — excelling all others indeed.