Dallas: The Pursuit of People-Watching

I’ve lived in Dallas for a long time now, and have mostly gotten used to its car-to-mall culture. When I do get homesick for New York City, though, it’s the opportunities for people-watching that I miss. With no Central Park or a Fifth Avenue to ease this pleasurable pastime, I wondered if I could occupy myself similarly in Dallas.

My self-imposed parameters for this adventure were that the sites be in Dallas (not the suburbs), free (no restaurant patios or museums, then!), outdoors (you can hack the heat, can’t you?), and outfitted with generous amounts of seating.

Here’s what I found:

Dallas Farmer’s Market: A bench in the shade outside Shed 2 of the Market on a Sunday offers some of the city’s best people-watching. During my stint there, a busker with a guitar chatted with a buddy by the snack bar, an older gent sat reading a newspaper across the way, a little boy had a minor meltdown because his folks wouldn’t let him try to catch a pigeon on the shed roof. (Not clear how he intended to do that, but I’m sure he had a plan.)  Benches and tables and chairs are well place, and and the scene is a cultural crossroads, from sleek blonde mommies to grizzled bikers in bandanas and leather.

Pioneer Plaza Cattle Drive: I stopped here on impulse en route to the Farmer’s Market. Around the larger-than-life sculpture of longhorn and horse-riding cowboys, kids dabbled in the water, couples sat on stones in the shade, a tour bus pulled up and disgorged tourists with cameras, and an ice cream man set up shop. The downtown skyline added a touch of urban excitement. The scene is more tranquil than dynamic, but this inviting spot attracts all kinds of people — and is said to be the second-most visited attraction in the city (after Dealey Plaza).

Bishop Arts District: Benches in the Bishop Arts District are seldom ideally placed (what’s with the bench facing the parking lot?), but this funky intersection in the Oak Cliff neighborhood is ripe for people-watching. On a Sunday morning, diners line up in front of Oddfellows, waiting for brunch and a crack at the eatery’s famed coffee menu. At other times, a full calendar of events in the area — from chili cook-offs to crafts markets, plus the popular First Thursdays, draws an eclectic and always-colorful crowd.

Photos courtesy of Visit Dallas

Fair Park: The fountains burbled and the gardens were lush, but the park — which offers a great collection of Art Deco exposition buildings, as well as several specialty museums — was pretty empty on a Sunday afternoon. I did find clusters of strollers at the Texas Discovery Gardens, ten themed areas that offer everything from a butterfly habitat to a scent garden. I sat on a wall outside the gardens’ entrance, near a couple of fellows with their noses buried in books, and watched families come and go.

OK, so it’s not New York yet. But at least I see glimmers of hope — when I know where to look.

Sophia Dembling is the author of The Yankee Chick’s Survival Guide to Texas.