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Taupe79 Jan 10th, 2006 09:57 AM

Southwest Vacation: Need Help Picking Destination in TX or AZ!
My husband just surprised me with the sudden southwest trip he wants to take the first or second weekend of February. We'd probably extend it to be Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon.

We have it narrowed down to Dallas, TX, Houston, TX, Phoenix, AZ, and Tucson, AZ.

Beyond that, we're clueless! They all sound so nice (and warm.. we're in the upper Midwest, brr). That said, we need to narrow it down... the time to book flights and hotels is now.

We're not majorly outdoorsy... although we'd certainly visit a canyon or outdoor site (we just wouldn't probably do the 6 hour nature hike). We like museums, observatories, cool different-than-the-norm zoos, science stuff and aquariums.

We like history, too, but normal tours are a bit boring.. we prefer them to be interactive, or very different from any other historical site, etc. Oh, and we're not into amusement parks.

We'd shop, but probably not normal malls.. you can get that stuff anywhere. We like more unique things, and honestly, we probably wouldn't devote a major chunk of time to shopping... gift shops and a few cool and unique little stalls or shops would be fine. I'd love to find some Mexican or Native American jewelry or crafts, but not way over-priced.

We'd also like to relax while we're there... I'm not sure that any of those places will be warm enough to lounge by the pool, but warm sun would be nice, nevertheless.

I know, we've only got four days... but once we pick a destination, we can narrow down what we want to do to fit into our time allowance.

Is anyone familiar with these places? Been to more than one? Been there at this time of year? What's it like? Is one city majorly more expensive to stay in than another? Is there one to avoid? Any attractions you'd recommend?

We're under 30 and looking for a great vacation... we appreciate ANY help at all!


P_M Jan 10th, 2006 10:15 AM

Have you considered San Antonio, TX? It is a fantastic city and very rich in history. You can do endless shopping for Mexican jewelry and all sorts of things at the Mexican market. The Riverwalk is beautiful and you will feel like you're in Mexico. The weather could very easily be warm, but that's not a guarantee Feb. However, I think you stand a much better chance of warm weather in SA than Dallas at that time of year. And the food in SA--don't even get me started!! Additionally, you could take a day trip to my home city of Austin. :-)

AuntAnnie Jan 10th, 2006 11:37 AM

My parents are "Winter Texans" and head to Galveston every year. We usually join them for a week and just love it there. It has a New Orleans feel to it; they do a Mardi Gras, great seafood, old homes, etc...NASA is nearby and a good day's worth of entertainment. The seashell hunting on the beach is pretty good. The weather varies from cool to hot; generally warm.

MikePinTucson Jan 10th, 2006 11:49 AM

Well, I live in Tucson and I think we have evverything you are looking for. In February the weather can be warm, as it is now (hit 80F a few days ago) or it could be pretty cool. It just depends on the weather patterns.

For different shopping, you could head down to Nogales, Mexico, about 60 miles south of Tucson. On the way back stop at Tubac, an artist colony.

There are a lot of sights to see around here, not necessarily hiking, but definitely "outdoors" things. The University of Arizona has a very nice museum, the Arizona State Museum, right on the university campus

And west of Tucson is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

You could also see Kartchner Caverns, stroll through Tombstone, and go to Bisbee, a quirky old mining town that is now an artist colony.

I can also give you suggestions for restaurants, depending on your tastes.

TheWeasel Jan 10th, 2006 01:41 PM

I'd vote for Tucson. I've been to Phoenix, Tucson and Dallas, and the choice seems pretty easy for me. MikeP lists just a fraction of what you can do there. There's more history than you can shake a stick at, Mexico is just down the road, and it's even got mountains to dress it up a bit.

Not everyone loves the Desert Museum, but I thought it was pretty cool. They probably have their raptor encounters going on now (I did it last year end of January), so look into that on their website if you want to do something a little more in-depth.

ChristieP Jan 10th, 2006 01:51 PM

San Antonio would definitely work for you. As P_M says, there is a TON of history there, and the surrounding Hill Country has some wonderful day trips! (Bandera, Fredericksburg, Hunt, etc.)

Honestly, Dallas weather can be unpredictable in early February. There have been years when I've been riding my horse in a T-shirt, and other years when we've had ice. This year has been pretty mild and VERY dry so far, but things do change...

bigtyke Jan 10th, 2006 02:15 PM

For a short visit, I would pick Tucson, even tho I live in the greater Phoenix area. All of Mike's ideas are good. I would add Sabino Canyon for a nice hike.

The big rock show is in Tucson in Feb.(I think the second weekend) so rooms could be a problem.

Check out the cost of flying into Phoenix and driving to Tucson. Fares to Tucson can be expensive. The drive is all freeway.

If you do go on a day trip to Bisbee, be sure to do the Copper Queen mine tour. It is always fascinating and I imagine it would have a special meaning coming so close after the mine disaster in West Virginia

xbt2316 Jan 11th, 2006 07:03 AM

Dallas in February is usually crisp and springlike... unlikely to be hot or warmish... more like 60ish...

For historic sites, the Dallas/Ft Worth area is especially blessed. Dallas has Pioneer Park near the downtown convention center, which contains bronze lifesize statues of an entire cattle drive... 70 bronze steers, three mounted cowboys. Nearby is the city's oldest cemetery, pre civil war, with interesting epitaphs to read.

Dallas' Old City Park is an historic village of life in the 1870's. It has many lovingly restored and furnished buildings to wander around, guided tours, a gift shop, a restaurant, a farm, even a working blacksmith shop.

Dallas' Fair Park is an art deco masterpiece. It was once the site of a world's fair, and the shape and feel of the buildings will put you back into the 1930's. It has several museums to wander through, many parks with flower displays. Check out the Hall of State, looking like an enormous throne room, or the Women's Museum, dedicated to the accomplishments of American women... the only one like it in the USA.

Dallas is surrounded by big suburbs with quaint smalltown downtowns. I like downtown Carrollton with some of its original shops from the 1880s, downtown Plano is quaint, and you can reach it by rapid transit from downtown Dallas. I'll give Christie's hometown a plug and also reccommend downtown Grapevine as an interesting place to wander. Fort Worth has an interesting downtown district in its Sundance Square, and its Stockyards district has a lot of Texana-Old West flavor, and lots of arts and crafts shops.

For one-of-a-kind shopping, try the Bishop Arts District, in the Dallas district of Oak Cliff, at the intersection of Davis and Bishop. Also, you can wander along Routh and Fairmount streets in Uptown Dallas for antiques, gift items, unusual things. Along Harry Hines Boulevard, between Walnut Hill and Royal Lanes, there is a warehouse district that has been subdivided into hundreds of unusual and discount shops. It does have a strong East Asian influence, and the area is known as Koreatown, but it is also very diverse in its offerings. It is such a popular shoppng mecca that the district has off-duty police directing traffic on weekends.

For ultra-luxurious, rich-and-famous, shopping, or window-shopping... try the original Neiman-Marcus in downtown Dallas, or go to the very quaint Highland Park Village. Also, NorthPark Mall is a good place to go, as is the Dallas Galleria.

For more accessible shopping, try the West Village, with it's big-city environment, or go to the Mockingbird Station and Urban Outfitters. You can reach them both on rapid transit, but you can also take the McKinney Avenue Trolley from the Dallas Museum of Art to the Westr Village. The Trolley is a visitor attraction in itself... the hundred year old cars will carry you down McKinney Avenue, perhaps Dallas' coolest, quaintest street...

Zoos and Aquariums? Dallas has them in spades. The Fort Worth zoo is rated as a little better than the Dallas zoo, but they both have unique, interesting attractions. In Dallas, there is a small building devoted to insects (Bug-You), there is a good Bengal Tiger exhibit, there is a monorail ride that takes you thru several kinds of African terrain, but I'm not sure if it is open in February. Much of the African exhibit can be seen from a secluded forest trail that ends in an incredible chimpanzee viewing area. I'm not knowledgable about the Fort Worth Zoo... perhaps others can help me out.

Dallas has a good aquarium in Fair Park, and it is usually very populated (and cheap). The crowning jewel is, however, the Dallas World Aquarium, downtown, in the West End district. It is huge, covers an entire city block, and contains an enormous jungle, a ruined Mayan temple area (complete with jaguars behind plexiglass), as well as many varieties of fish, birds, crocodiles, monkeys, otters, Venezuelan Manatees, sharks... you name it. The exhibits in the fish tank area are simply breathtakingly beautiful.

Dallas and Fort Worth have a good dozen art museums between them. Fort Worth has a museum district with three very good museums. The Kinbell is famous for its very rare European Art, the Amon Carter has late 19th century Western art (Remington and Russell), and the Fort Worth Modern has... modern art.

Dallas has an arts ditrict with a major concert hall, several more concert halls and an arts highschool under construction, and three art museums. The Nasher is world famous for its modern sculpture, indoors as well as in the garden. The Crow Collection has three floors of very exquisite Asian art... jade, scrolls, paintings, ivory, metalwork, you name it. Finally, the Dallas Museum of Art has a little bit of everything, including a large African collection and a comprehensive collection of American art and furniture, from the pre-columbian times, through the Spanish occupation, to the present day.

Outside of the arts district, try the African-American museum in Fair Park, the Meadows Museum (excellent art from Spain), The McKinney Avenue Contemporary for cutting-edge exhibitions curated by working artists instead of wealthy benefactors, and the MADI Museum. MADI is small and is devoted to a very colorful and graphic style that arose in Argentina in the 1950's.

Like something a little more macho? The Frontiers of Flight museum has many aircraft hanging from the ceiling, Smithsonian-style, and also many exhibits on flight, local air history, even a cutoff of a Boeing 737 cockpit.

Finally, no trip to Dallas is complete without a trip up the Reunion observation tower. You're up over 600 feet high, you see buildings, people, the entire city below you.... one heckuva view. Immediately above the observation deck is a rotating restaurant that will spin you around the city during your meal, and above that, a cocktail lounge.

Oh yes... Dallas has a good rapid transit train system to take you to many of these places, or to downtown Fort Worth.

Seamus Jan 11th, 2006 07:51 AM

Another vote for San Antonio. Especially nice for a brief getaway, you can stay in downtown and wander around for a few days, keeping yourself amused without having to drive, though if you have a car you can get to some great restaurants oustide downtown (of course, you could also take a taxi) though you would also have no problem arranging for great dining in the downtown area, too.

rjw_lgb_ca Jan 11th, 2006 08:26 AM

I vote for Tucson as well. The natural beauty of the Desert Southwest will blow you away (miles ahead of the scenery in Dallas or Houston). Besides, don't you want something that's a little different in feel than Just Another Big City?

I love the metro Phoenix area, but it's a vast big city; the Old Town part of Scottsdale would be closest to what you're after. Dallas and Houston are simply big cities. Tucson is, in this group, the standout, the clearly unique town.

mikemo Jan 11th, 2006 08:39 AM

San Miguel de Allende, Gto., MX
San Antonio, Austin and the Texas Hill country.
Big Bend Nat'l Park and the surrounding TX state parks: Gage Hot in Marathon; Marfa; Ft. Davis; Balmorhea. Hard to get to, but forever places.

mikemo Jan 11th, 2006 08:51 AM

Yes, variable and accurate, but I was very happy to exit after living there 25 years and retiring.
M (TA local expert for SMdA, Gto., MX)

bardo1 Jan 11th, 2006 09:30 AM

Tucson hands down! Here's something to whet your appetite:[email protected]

Make sure to read the "side trip" also...

MikePinTucson Jan 11th, 2006 09:44 AM

Taupe79, If you do decide on Tucson, send me an email and I can reply with clickable links for suggested day trips.

xbt2316 Jan 11th, 2006 11:37 AM

The West Village in Dallas has some fun things to see, do and eat, but I'll tell a story about something else.

There is a cafe in the Mondrian building called Tahitian Noni. It sells cafe-type foods, of course, but it also features drinks (non-alcoholic) made from a Tahitian plant called Noni.

This cafe is the first or second in the United States, with a few in Japan and Europe, and they promise more on the way. So... my curiosity being aroused, my daughter and I entered Tahitian Noni and ordered some drinks. She asked for a fruit juice cocktail with a splash of Noni juice, but I asked for the pure, unadulterated thing... straight, no chaser.

For some reason, the pure juice was served in 3 ounce containers. I thought that was strange, why not more. When they brought the drinks, mine looked like a shot glass of purple whiskey. I decided to drink it slow, to make it last.

Whoo... I'd honestly never tasted that flavor before. Was it good? Well, let's just say it is an ACQUIRED taste. What was it like? Nothing I'd ever tasted, maybe some things I've smelled. I was determined to get my money's worth and maybe learn to enjoy it... my daughter's drink was pleasant, she said, with just a hint of the juice... meanwhile, I kept sipping... small sips. Eventually, I worked my way through the entire three ounces.

Well, maybe this is why Captain Cook left Tahiti to the French. If they're willing to eat snails, they can drink Noni juice.

Let it be said that I'm not selling or endorsing this product... I don't know, honestly, if I care to ever drink it again... but take my story as one more episode of life in the big city...

Taupe79 Jan 11th, 2006 12:44 PM

Hmm. This is so hard! I think we're leaning toward Houston, Phoneix, or Tucson.

Narrowing it down has been hard... I thought we'd crossed off Phoenix, but both Phoenix and Houston have IMAX theaters, and my husband has decided he'd really like to see an IMAX.

I'm thinking I might rather go to the observatory in Tucson, I think, but it'd have to be clear. The climate's so different there, I wonder about the cloudiness. Are the nights at all consistent in Tucson? Out of two or three nights, could we count on at least one clear one... does it majorly vary.. is it often cloudy? Any thoughts? Anyone been to the observatory?

Houston also sounds great... What is the Science Place like? My husband thinks it sounds really neat.. the IMAX and the exhibits. What's it like in person?

Also, how is the Downtown Aquarium with the restaurant? It sounds neat, but sometimes, it's hard to tell when things are kiddy or not.

Any opinions on the zoo.. worth seeing? How about which Art Museum you'd go to or where you'd shop for cool jewelry?

Also, there's a special astronaut tour of Space Center Houston that only runs Mon-Fri. It's the Level 9 Astronaut Tour. Do any of you know anyone who's done that? We would consider it, but if we do it, we'd have to rearrange our trip around it a little, so we want to make sure it's worth it and truly cool.

Also, am I right that the NASA center is about halfway from Houston to Galveston?

Thanks for all of your help and opinions.. we have enjoyed reading each one! :)

MikePinTucson Jan 11th, 2006 02:07 PM

By the observatory, I suppose you mean Kitt Peak?

Out of 3 or 4 days there should be AT LEAST one clear day/night and more than likely every day will be clear. The air in Tucson is very clear most of the time, with visibility usually 60 miles or more It has been generally sunny here with thin clouds or no clouds for several weeks. Of course, with the weather there are no guarantees. But Tucson is much clearer than Phoenix, and much, much clearer than Houston. Tucson has over 340 sunny days a year.

The IMAX theater in Phoenix (there may be more than one) is on the extreme south side, right along I-10. So from Tucson it would be less than 2 hours if you wanted to visit.

xbt2316 Jan 11th, 2006 02:29 PM

For the last few weeks, the Dallas-Fort Worth area has air temps in the 60s-70s, with completely clear skies. It should continue well into February.

The Fort Worth Science and Industry museum is usually pretty packed, with many exhibits, usually one or two traveling shows. Its IMAX, actually an Omnimax under a dome, is a big draw.

The Dallas Science Place is also a pretty good science museum, with many interactive exhibits that illustrate physical principles. Its IMAX/OMNIMAX theatre also has several different shows per day.

The Cinemark IMAX theatre is a little more commercial. It has the usual IMAX presentations, but also has feature films shown in big-screen format... pretty good. My brother-in-law from Boston and now Columbia, Maryland makes a point to visit when he's in town.

The Science Place is in Dallas' Fair Park, but other science museums are... the Dallas Museum of Natural History... with many exhibits abiut Birds in Texas, dinosaur fossils, dioramas about Texas wildlife. The last time I was there, they had an extensive traveling show about the ill-fated Shackleton expedition to the South Pole... not only artifacts, diary entries, but photos and motion pictures of the explorers and their grueling trek in -60 degree weather.

Also is the Dallas horticultural Cener in Fair Park... many plants, normally growing in a tropical atmosphere, inside the museum...

The Texas Instruments company has developed a motion Picture technology called DLP. At their Spring Creek facility in Plano, they have a sort of museum-exhibition area to demonstrate their products and highlight the technology behind them. Imagine a computer chip that has a TV picture on its face. Now, understand that the tiny dots that make up the TV image are millions of small mirrors, microscopic in size, and each mirror is individually controlled by a computer-like device. On a larger scale, this can give you a High Definition TV, or at an extreme, a movie in a theatre, with color and clarity that is stunning.

To see a museum containing the many DLP products, go to their offices at Spring Creek Drive in Plano, Texas... the exhibits contain many pieces of information as to how DLP High Def works, and some actual mockups of different sized rooms with DLP projectors.

xbt2316 Jan 11th, 2006 02:36 PM

Now that I think about, American Airlines also has an interactive flight museum in their offices between downtown Dallas and Fort Worth. I've never been there, but I hear it's pretty stunning.

xbt2316 Jan 11th, 2006 02:46 PM

Let's say that you come to Dallas for your holiday, because it has more than Houston... but you still want to see Houston's Johnson Space Center.

Fortunately, Houston is only a day trip from Dallas, about 240 miles. At 70 miles per hour, this is about a 3 1/2 hour drive, maybe 4 hours to get to Clear Lake/NASA.

Other day trips from Dallas... try Glen Rose. One attraction there is a great outdoor Zoo... it's like being in Africa, with African animals all around you as you drive through. Interesting.

An even better thing to see is the Dinosaur Valley state park on the Paluxy River. The river has eroded down to the point where you see dinosaur tracks in the rocks... yes, it's the real thing... Brontosaur tracks. In some places, you can see the smaller footprints of a predator, such as a T Rex, chasing the larger dinosaur and adding his prints to the river.

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