Texas’ ninth most populous city can be found nestled between the rolling grasslands and prairies and the booming megacity of Dallas, right on the northern fringes of the Lone Star State.
Home to more than 250,000 people, the city is far from small, and continues to attract settlers who prefer something of a slower pace of life than is offered in D-Town. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do here. Far from it!
Plano boasts everything from mouth-watering Texan smokehouses and BBQ joints to fascinating heritage museums that reveal secrets of the railroad and agricultural stories of this section of the south.
Add to that a clutch of beautiful parks, a multicultural medley of eateries that tout crusty Italian pizzas and craft beers alike, some great art house cinemas, walking trails and top-quality shopping, and it’s easy to see how Plano, the little sister of Dallas, is worth the visit! Here are the best things to do in Plano.
1. Discover the history of Texan agriculture at the Heritage Farmstead Museum
The ancestral home of the Farrell clan is now one of the most enthralling museums in all of Plano.
Billed as a living museum for its dedication to preserving every minutia of the day-to-day lives of its former early 20th-century inhabitants, the site reveals the ins and outs of sheep and wheat farming on the backcountry prairies of Texas during the period from 1890 to 1930.
Today, visitors can explore the old outhouses that were raised by the Farrell family, see the single-room school house that one taught the country children of North Texas, and unravel stories of the scouts, local firefighters and more in the various temporary exhibits.
2. Enjoy bona fide Italian pizza pies at the Urban Crust
Headed by pizza maestro and Sardinian-born Chef Salvatore, it’s hardly surprising that this inner-city Italian joint is home to some of the most authentic Mediterranean cooking in all of Plano.
The menu of mains ranges from mouth-watering platters of real Tuscan cold cuts to truffle-topped carpaccios, Caesar salads and the conspicuously Texan-influenced Cowboy ribeye.
However, it’s the pizzas that really take center stage, with the crusty, chewy pies mimicking the flavors of the trattorias lining the Bay of Naples. Regular deals and monthly set menus add to the mix, while a fine selection of wines from Piedmont, France, Argentina and the US is a welcome addition.
3. Get the adrenaline pumping at the Go Ape Zip Line & Treetop
Set high over the canopies of the Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve on the northern fringes of Plano city, this high-energy action park makes the most of the North Texan wilderness.
Visitors can challenge themselves by scaling the series of swinging Tarzan vines, tenuous rope ladders, the soaring series of no less than five ziplines, and other adrenaline-inducing attractions with equally adrenaline-inducing names, like the Pirate’s Crossing and the Fisherman’s Trap.
The whole area is also awash with beautiful sections of woodland, streams and trekking paths, making it a perfect choice for any travelers eager to escape the city streets of Plano for a spell.
4. Get on the tracks at Plano Station
Now boasting a proud place on the Lone Star State’s Register of National Historic Places, the curious colonial-style building of Plano Station, the erstwhile home of the Texas Electric Railway, is one of the top heritage sites in the city for sure.
It was completed way back in 1908 and remains one of the finest examples of Spanish revivalist architecture in the area. Today, it’s been transformed into the informative Interurban Railway Museum that showcases restored carriages from the days of the Texas Electric Railway; a network of tracks that once joined Plano to a web of rails going from Waco to Dallas and beyond!
5. Check out some independent cinema at the Angelika Film Center Plano
Rarely has an independent cinema been quite as swish as the Angelika Film Center on Plano’s Bishop Road! Done out in a medley of 1930s elegance and Art Deco styles, the institution is home to no fewer than five individual silver screens.
The repertoire is famed for its medley of interesting art house pieces and offering of thought-provoking world cinema, drawing everyone from critics to families to hipsters during the week and weekend.
There’s also a great café and eatery inside, serving up bubbling champagne and cocktails, grilled cheese sarnies, fantastic coffees and – of course – the ubiquitous buckets of popcorn!
6. Wander the beautiful Arbor Hills Nature Preserve
Sprawled out in a patchwork of wildflower meadows and swaying grass plains, buckthorn trees and poison ivy thickets just a short 25 minutes’ drive from the heart of Plano, this beautiful nature reserve is the perfect place to sample the wild and less-trodden corners of North Texas.
The area has its very own maintained trail system, with walkable paths weaving for more than 3.8 miles through the backcountry here.
There are also playgrounds for any travelers with kids in tow, a dedicated mountain biking track, plenty of picnic spots and a pavilion.
Arbor Hills is also a favorite dog walking spot for locals, so be ready to meet some four-legged friends!
7. Retail therapy at the Shops at Legacy
Plano’s premier shopping district can be found nestled between the roadways just on the edge of the North Dallas Tollway.
A colossal conglomeration of high-street names and boutiques, family-friendly eateries, coffee shops and cinemas, the Shops at Legacy mall is the undisputed go to place for a spot of retail therapy in Plano.
Visitors can expect the likes of Brooklyn + West for high fashion straight out of LA, Elaine Turner for cosmopolitan and stylish jewellery and clothes, Culinary Connection for bespoke cutlery and tableware, Oil & Vinegar for top-quality olive products – the list goes on.
And once the shopping’s done, retire to one of the chain restaurants for a plate of Tex-Mex or all-American food!
8. Trawl for bargain frocks at the Dallas Vintage Shop
Unlike any other vintage store you’ve ever seen, the Dallas Vintage Shop is a vast emporium of everyhting from multi-coloured umbrella dresses to kaleidoscopic tie dye, elegant 1920s suits and bombastic corsets, retro petticoats, top hats and smoking jackets.
You name it, this sprawling boutique close to the Plano downtown has it. Travelers should set aside at least a couple of hours to really explore the vast mounds and rail upon rail of second-hand and bespoke goodies on offer.
There are oodles of accessories and extras to get through too, from classic pocket watches to ties and purses. Bring on the fancy dress!
9. Trek the City of Plano trails at the Bob Woodruff Park
The Bob Woodruff Park forms just one section of the City of Plano trails system, which weaves through the urban districts here offering up glimpses of greenery and forestry, along with connections to the larger Santa Fe Trail and the Oak Point Reserve.
At Bob Woodruff Park, the walking route passes pretty lakes and encompasses piers for fly fishing, running tracks, open lawns and picnic spots, along with two individual pavilions that are popular with local events organisers.
And for the kids, there’s a great playground, complete with climbing frames, swings, slides and plenty more!
10. Enjoy the pale ales at Nine Band Brewing
Set to the north of the city center, just along the courses of Highway 75, Nine Band Brewing is the place to go in Plano for homemade hops creations.
The regularly changing menu is imbued with the likes of in-house honey blonde and a trademark kolsch that goes down as smooth as its German namesake.
Tuesdays mean $2 deals on beers, while the owners organise brewery tours each Saturday morning (check ahead for times).
What’s more, the tasting room has a stripped-down simplicity and open-air feel that makes it a great place to come and sip a craft ale or two courtesy of the welcoming North Texan people.
11. Sample the flavours of Texan BBQ at the Lockhart Smokehouse
Now with two locations – one in downtown Dallas and one in central Plano – the Lockhart Smokehouse is the go to place for real, authentic, flavour-packed Texan barbeque meats in the city.
With a casual, laid-back feel, the joint uses counter service and sells their prime meats by the half pound, allowing customers to sample a little of the cuts before they go ahead and purchase.
The meats range from the legendary lean Shoulder Clod to the classic Texan brisket, oozing with the slow-cooked saltiness and smokiness that’s made the Dallas kitchen so famous across the globe.
There’s also an on-site bar, complete with all-American beer labels and happy hours throughout the week.
12. Have a round at the Los Rios Golf Club
The premier 18-hole golf course in the Plano area makes its home on the eastern edge of the city.
Designed way back in the middle of the 1970s by Texas’s own Don January, the course has all the makings of a truly challenging and beautiful golfing destination.
At a whopping 6,507 yards in all, the club comes dressed in the occasional old oak grove, cut through by water features and compete with well-manicured fairways and rough sections.
The course is open to the public at standard green fee rates that vary throughout the week and weekend.
13. Make a beeline for the Lewisville Lake
Spreading out to the north-west of Plano, Lewisville Lake is a great place for boating, camping, walking or just simply kicking back in the heat of the Texan summer.
Crowds flock to its banks from both Plano and the metropolis of Dallas throughout the warmer months, all eager to rent yachts, catch a tan on the grassy banks, eat Texan fare right on the water’s edge, glide across the surface on jet skis, sail dinghies, or enjoy a spot of fly fishing.
There are oodles of lodges and campgrounds peppering the area, along with a series of lively marinas that go from sleepy Eagle Point to the bars of Pier 121.
14. Try your hand at disc golf at Shawnee Park
A charming little swathe of greenery that fringes the northern end of the Santa Fe Estates just to the north of the Plano city centre, Shawnee Park is home to one of the city’s only disc golf courses, where locals come to try their hand at the Frisbee version of the popular game.
There’s also a series of welcoming lawns to relax on, maintained picnic spots, a playground for the younger ones and a babbling fountain in the middle of the park’s own water feature.
Strolling the Shawnee Park Trail is a great way to tie in all these attractions in just one day!
15. See the graves of some of Plano’s first settlers at the Mutual Cemetery
One of the city’s lesser-known and more off-the-beaten-track sites, the Plano Mutual Cemetery is a spot steeped in history.
Currently still in use (and the site of more than 50 burials per year), it’s actually where the graves of the first settlers that made their home here on the prairies of North Texas can be found.
Take some time to wander the area respectfully and seek out the names that are considered to have been some of the first to come to Plano way back in the middle of the 19th century, when the Forman family controlled the land and laid one Dr Lillie to rest in 1852.