Dallas on a budget: Designer purses and $10 enchilada plates

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In a city that hangs its hat on big money, a flashy skyline and well-heeled locals, a visit on the cheap might seem unlikely. But residents know that it doesn't take a trust fund to have a good time here. For starters, sit down to a plate of cheap tacos and start people-watching.

Dallasites take their shopping seriously, so spending some time wandering the city's malls and shopping areas is a must. But if tempting yourself with shiny new things doesn't appeal, there are plenty of other options like visiting museums, the John F. Kennedy Memorial or the Katy Trail.

GETTING AROUND: Visitors should rent a car while in Dallas, a city more known for eight-lane interstates than for being pedestrian-friendly. A public transportation system with buses and light rail, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, http://www.dart.org, offers $3 all-day passes, but check first to see how close it goes to your destination.

McKinney Avenue Transit Authority, http://www.mata.org, runs a free trolley through Dallas' trendy Uptown area, lined with restaurants and bars. The trolley takes riders from near the Dallas Museum of Art to West Village, a development filled with restaurants, shops and a movie theater.

FAMOUS PLACES: With its catchy opening tune, the television series "Dallas," about a wealthy Texas oil family, brought the city international attention in the late '70s and 1980s. Drive about 40 minutes north of downtown and tour the Ewings' fictional home, Southfork Ranch, for $9.50, http://www.southfork.com.

TheSixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza chronicles the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who was shot while riding through Dallas in a motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963. Evidence showed that shots came from the sixth floor of the museum building, a former warehouse known as the Texas School Book Depository. Depository worker Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in the assassination the day Kennedy was killed, but was shot to death two days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

Admission to the museum is $13.50 for adults, but the Dealey Plaza district is a National Historic Landmark and you can join other tourists checking out the area around the museum for free. Sites include a nearby memorial to Kennedy as well as the infamous "grassy knoll," a spot from which some witnesses thought gunfire emanated.

For an old-school shopping experience, go to downtown to Neiman Marcus' flagship store.

Want to check out the new$1.15 billion stadium where the Dallas Cowboys will be playing this fall, but don't want to buy a game ticket? Take a tour of the retractable-roof stadium in nearby Arlington, for $15 for adults.

ENTERTAINMENT: Laid-back bars line Greenville Avenue starting just south of Mockingbird Lane. For a little boot-scootin', Gilley's Dallas, offers a chance to try out your two-step and hear some live music. Cover is $8 on Fridays and ranges from $10-$15 on Saturdays. Free dance lessons are offered Saturdays, 6 p.m.-8 p.m.

Trinity Hall, an Irish bar, serves everything from beer to wine to whiskey and also has live music. It's located in Mockingbird Station, an outdoor shopping development filled with restaurants, shops and a movie theater not far from Southern Methodist University.

Aside from lots of shopping, Galleria Dallas has an indoor ice skating rink for those looking to cool off a bit. Admission is $8, skate rental is $3.

A stroll east of Dallas' museum district offers a glimpse of the city's new performing arts district, which will open in October. The $354 millionDallas Center for the Performing Arts, a venue for music, opera, theater and dance, has added striking new buildings and outdoor areas to downtown.

To get a little exercise and a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, go hiking or biking just northeast of downtown atWhite Rock Lake, http://www.dallasparks.org/Parks/whiterock.aspx. Or bike, jog or Rollerblade down the Katy Trail, which runs from just south of Southern Methodist University to downtown.

SHOPPING AND EATING: For those thinking that shopping and sticking to a budget don't mesh, window-shopping is always free and in this economy, you never know when you'll run into a really good sale. Besides, NorthPark Center, a sleek mall featuring stores ranging from the Gap to Barneys New York, also provides a little culture as works from artists including Andy Warhol are displayed throughout. And on Saturday mornings, the mall offers a free yoga session in its landscaped garden.

In a city that enjoys sunny skies and warm weather for much of the year, Dallasites love outdoor dining. Even if temperatures soar to 100, patios are packed.

In theWest Village development, http://www.westvil.com, several restaurants feature a fun patio atmosphere and cheap eats. Taco Diner has plates with four tacos just under $10 while its sister restaurant across the street, Mi Cocina, has Tex-Mex plates with everything from enchiladas to tamales for about the same price. Village Burger Bar around the corner offers $6 burgers. There's plenty of good people-watching to be had throughout West Village, not to mention good dog-watching with adorable pooches trailing behind their owners.

Highland Park Village -- http://www.hpvillage.com -- nestled among multi-million-dollar homes in the swanky enclave of Highland Park, is an outdoor shopping area known for high-end merchandise -- think Chanel and Hermes. But it is also a lovely place to stroll on tree-lined sidewalks, grab a coffee at Starbucks or a meal at Mi Cocina, where patrons carrying purses that easily cost $1,000 can be spotted tearing into a plate of $10 enchiladas. The Italian Patrizio Restaurant offers a shady patio with many dishes under $10. Opened in 1931, the Mediterranean Spanish-style shopping area, which also has a small movie theater, has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

For a funkier shopping experience, head to theBishop Arts District, http://www.bishopartsdistrict.com, which includes Make, featuring items made by local artists and designers.

MUSEUMS: The Dallas Museum of Art, http://www.dm-art.org, is free the first Tuesday of each month and Thursdays 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; otherwise $10 for adults. The museum is also free the weekend of Aug. 29-30.

The Nasher Sculpture Center, http://www.nashersculpturecenter.org, is free 10 a.m.-2 p.m. the first Saturday of each month, when the museum also puts on various activities; other times $10 for adults. The Nasher will also have free admission on Sept. 26. On the first Thursday of each month, the center is free 5 p.m.-9 p.m. with free American movie classics at 7 p.m.

The two museums offer a combination ticket for $16. Local metered parking can be hard to find; parking is $10 in the Dallas Museum of Art's lot.

Across the street, the Crow Collection of Asian Art, http://www.crowcollection.org, is free.

Southern Methodist University's Meadows Museum, which has a collection of Spanish art, is free on Thursdays after 5 p.m.; otherwise $8 for adults.

ACCOMMODATIONS: Compared to other big U.S. cities, even some of Dallas' fancier hotels are a bargain. The downtown Adolphus Hotel, for instance, founded in 1912 by beer baron Adolphus Busch, http://www.hoteladolphus.com, features an elegant wood-paneled lobby and has room rates starting at $149.

There are also several chains with reasonable rates. La Quinta Inn and Suites Dallas North Central, for instance, located near NorthPark and about seven miles from downtown, has rooms from $79 to $99 and as low as $59 for early booking for the fall.

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