Bird-watch, dine on tapas and shop boutiques stocked with treasures from around the world in a small city that has a rare combination of carefully preserved nature and history matched by an edgy food and shopping scene.
Historic downtown: The square, as in many Texas towns, is the heart of the city. Buildings have been carefully preserved, and you’ll find an afternoon’s worth of browsing and dining, all within walking distance with plenty of parking.
The first shop to draw me inside was Alternative Furnishings, 105 W. Louisiana St. (972-562-0716, alternative-furnishings.com). Owner Charm Cameron keeps European and Asian pieces, often in the British Colonial style. Doors, columns, cabinets, mantels and windows came from buildings in Germany, France, Holland and India; ironwork and retablos were crafted in Mexico; pillows and textiles came from all over.
At Laura Moore Fine Art Studios, (107 S. Tennessee St., 214-914-3630, LauraMooreArt.com), Moore works in a variety of media and styles amid her own pieces and the work of others. Her paintings range from bright abstracts to soft, scenic watercolors.
Historic sights: Kids have fun at Chestnut Historic Square, a few blocks from downtown. Check its website for scheduled historic re-enactments at the village of six clapboard homes with period interiors, a blacksmith shop, a store, a one-room schoolhouse and a chapel, plus a collection of some 300 ice-cream freezers.
McKinney Farmers Market also sets up here, selling produce, jewelry, home-baked breads and more starting in the spring, and concerts take place in the summertime.
Public tours (suggested donations, $5 adult, $3 children) are 11 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday. Find it at 315 S. Chestnut St.; 972-562- 8790, ChestnutSquare.org.
Good eats: Cafe Malaga, run by an Englishwoman with a Spanish grandmother, serves a rich variety of tapas, with outside seating and live music in the summer. Try the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and the hanger steak tapas. Find it at 107 S. Church St.; 972-542- 9996, CafeMalaga.com.
For classic American fare, try Spoons Café, housed in the former Texas Power and Light Co. Building. The menu covers all the basics, from big plates of migas to cream pies and an applewood-smoked bacon BLT. It’s at 100 E. Louisiana St.; 972-548-6900, SpoonsCafe.com.
Stay a night: The Grand Hotel in the 1880s Heard Opera House and Heard Mercantile Building downtown turns up the luxe factor with Frette linens and robes amid Old World furnishings. The 45-room boutique hotel is connected to Rick’s Chophouse for easy access to fine dining. Interior rooms, $159; exterior rooms (some overlooking the square) $169; suites, $289.
The hotel is at 114 W. Louisiana St.; 214-726-9250, GrandHotelMcKinney.com.
Get outside: The Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary on more than 280 acres offers a respite from city stress and is a prime bird-watching spot. Seven trails of varying difficulty (some easy enough for strollers) cut through the Blackland Prairie, woodlands and wetlands. Big trees provide shade, making this a popular picnic destination when it’s not too hot or too cold.
The museum offers lots for kids to do inside, from a faux fossil dig to exhibits that explain how this part of Texas was covered in water during the Cretaceous period. It’s at 1 Nature Place; 972-562.5566, HeardMuseum.org.
Info: McKinney Convention and Visitors Bureau (888-649-8499, 1575 Heritage Drive, Suite 100, VisitMcKinney.com).