McKinney (Texas) is less than 30 minutes from downtown Dallas but its atmosphere and character are worlds apart. Rated as one of the USA’s most liveable places, this is a historic city with an identity all its own and family-run businesses. At McKinney’s ensemble of preserved 19th-century buildings you can see how Texans lived 150 years ago, or amble along the city’s charming Main Street lined with independent shops. If you enjoy great food and drink you could easily spend your whole trip shopping at farmers’ markets, sampling local wines or taking tours of the craft brewing companies in the town.
1. Main Street
The first port of call for shoppers and diners in McKinney, Main Street helps set this city apart from its neighbours. There’s a quaint, small-town atmosphere on Main Street, from the restaurant and cafe seating that spills out onto the sidewalk to the proud mounted police that patrol the street. Many of the buildings on Main Street are historic, some as old as 165 years, and numerous volunteers work together to make sure there’s always something fun going on, like dances during Oktoberfest or art festivals in spring . The stores on Main Street are one-off and independent, be they antiques shops, galleries or boutiques.
2. Chestnut Square Historic Park
A couple of blocks south of McKinney’s downtown, Chestnut Square transports you back to McKinney’s earliest days. You’ll get to see how the town’s communities worked and played when you explore the ten preserved buildings that date between 1854 an 1930. Here there’s a chapel, a school house, a boarding house, a general store and an assortment of homes. Cheerfully helping to bring these buildings to life are volunteers who dress up in historic costume and demonstrate skills needed to get by in 19th-century McKinney.
3. Franconia Brewing Company
Franconia has been brewing beer in McKinney since 2008, when German brew master Dennis Wehrman arrived from Bavaria. He has real pedigree, with more than 200 years of beer-making expertise in his family and has drawn on these time-honoured techniques to create Franconia. After a tour of the brew-house you’ll understand more about how malt barley, hops, water and yeast are combined and fermented to create McKinney’s favourite local beers. The guides at Franconia are known to be knowledgeable and entertaining, and of course, the best part is when you get to taste Franconia’s beers at the end.
4. Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
This museum bringing children into contact with the natural world via a range of indoor and outdoor exhibits. Inside, children can browse and touch natural history collections including mammal skins, minerals, sea shells and fossils. Outside they can explore gardens where fragile indigenous eco-systems have been preserved so that future generations can experience Texas at its wildest. Walking trails lead you through vibrant butterfly gardens, native plant exhibits and carefully-designed bird gardens. If you have the nerve the snake exhibit brings you face to face with non-venomous snakes and teaches you how to treat bites.
5. Towne Lake Recreation Area
If you want to stretch your legs a little this 108-acre neighbourhood park is perfect. It curls around the shore of a 22-acre lake, which served by a pier and paddleboats. Throughout the year you’ll even find people fishing on the pier, or simply relaxing in the sunshine. There are also two picnic shelters in the park, each with electrical outlets, ideal for lazy summer days with the family. When it comes to exercise, you can hit the volleyball courts, try your luck at horse-shoe pitching or go for a leisurely wander along the 1.2-mile hiking trail.
6. Lone Star Wine Cellars
It might be news to some, but Texas has a wine industry that is growing by the year. In fact wine-growing goes all the way back to the first years of Spanish settlement in the 1600s. And there’s no better introduction to Texan wine than this establishment on East Virginia Street. You can come for a tasting session at this low-key, family run wine bar to compare Texan wine to better-known international labels. There are take-out restaurants close by and you’re free to bring food with you, and on weekends you can catch some great fine music at Lone Star.
7. Tupps Brewery
This rural micro-brewery has a comforting, weathered feel to it. Tupps is set in an old cotton mill and has put the old farm buildings and equipment to good use for the live music events that take place here a couple of times a week. Bulky cable spools are used as tables, old tractor seats serve as chairs, the music stage is in an old barn and for extra entertainment you can play on the Brewery’s vintage arcade machines. When it comes to beer, Tupps has a choice of seven, from a classic Texas wheat ale to a novelty spiced pumpkin beer brewed for Halloween.
8. Collin County Historical Society & Museum
Collin County is named after the early Texas settler and politician Collin McKinney, who helped instigate the Texas Revolution in 1835, which ended with Texas splitting from Mexico to form the Republic of Texas. The year 2016 is McKinney’s 250th anniversary so at present there are many exhibits at this museum that shed light on the man’s life and work. On display you can see documents signed by McKinney, an expansive scale model of his home, currency from the Republic of Texas and a collection of photographs from McKinney’s latter years.
9. Mitas Hill Vineyard & Winery
North of McKinney the landscape begins to undulate and many hillsides have bucolic vineyards. Just a few minutes outside the city you’ll get to Mitas Hill. Here they grow Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Black Spanish, Venus, Syrah, Tempranillo on heavily-laden vines enveloped by woodland. This unusual selection of grapes allows Mitas Hills to create wines that are at once fresh and familiar. You can book a table at the vineyard’s restaurant, join an enlightening tour of the grounds or if you’re here in August take part in the annual harvest festival.
10. Oak Hollow Golf Course
McKinney’s public course offers a satisfying afternoon of golf at a low price. You’ll get a lot of golf for your dollar here at this forest-lined 18-hole par 70: There’s a putting green, driving range and a short game area all complemented by a pro shop and new pavilion for post-round drinks and meals. Intermediate golfers will find Oak Hollow a fun challenge, while newcomers won’t be punished by the course’s forgiving layout.
11. Local Produce
If food provenance means a lot to you there are some great picks for grocery shopping in McKinney. Local Yocal is a “Farm to Market” butcher’s shop that only sells organic products sourced in the area, and alongside beef, these include poultry, eggs, cheeses, milk and bread. Meanwhile every Saturday from spring to autumn the Farmers Market is in business at historic Chestnut Square. If you’re renting a holiday apartment in McKinney then come here to stock your kitchen with fresh vegetables, artisan cheeses, homemade jams and an enticing range of grass-fed meat and poultry.
12. Lewisville Lake
On the western fringes of McKinney is this water reservoir, granting wonderful respite from the fierce Texas summers. Its indented shoreline twists and turns for 233 miles and the lake draws the crowds for water-skiing, fishing, boating, swimming or simply its waterfront where you can take it easy on a beach or pitch up at campgrounds. For the young and carefree the big reason to head to Lewisville Lake is for Party Cove, where you can rent a boat on weekends and party the night away on the water.
Midway between McKinney and Dallas is this small city with a few fun attractions. If creepy-crawlies give you the willies the Cockroach Hall of Fame might not be for you. This odd museum is the brainchild of a local pest-controller and has a large collection of dead cockroaches on display. Worst of all these exhibits are accompanied by African cockroaches that are still alive and hissing. For a welcome change of pace, visit the carefully preserved Plano Station, more than a century old and part of the Texas Electric Railway. This line operated from 1908 to 1948 and ran 170 miles between Waco in the south and Denison in the north.
Just to the south of McKinney and one of the USA’s top ten cities, there are many things that make Dallas famous. It was here in 1963 that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. His killer Lee Harvey Oswald’s roost in the Texas School Book Depository has been converted into the Sixth Floor Museum, which fills in the background to one of the 20th century’s pivotal events. You also don’t need to be a sports fan to know that Dallas is home to the Cowboys football team, who play their games at the gargantuan 100,000-seater AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Also see our Dallas Guide.
15. Fort Worth
In under an hour you can get to Texas’ fifth city, founded as a military stronghold in the mid-1800s and still redolent of the old west. If you have an eye for art the Amon Carter and Kimbell Art Museums are a must. The latter is a splendid introduction to the old masters; its collection runs to a concise 350 pieces but is enriched by works by Michelangelo, El Greco, Gauguin, Caravaggio and more. Fort Worth’s late-19th-century development had much to do with cattle trading, and at the Stockyards Historic District you’ll see the original corrals and storefronts of the old cattle market. Just before noon there’s a daily cattle drive, a tradition that goes back to the 1800s. Also see: best things to do in Fort Worth.