A different world lies just north of Dallas.  Fine dining and better sightseeing for the slightly curious.

Photo Credit: Kendall Howen. This is what we were escaping from.
Photo Credit: Kendall Howen. This is what we were escaping from.

Dallasites  seeking  escape to the North feel they have two options.  Depending on their side of town, they can slog their way up Central Expressway (Hwy. 75) through McKinney, Allen and eventually Sherman or they can slog their way up I-35 through Lewisville, Denton and eventually Gainesville.  Either way they can play “Chain Restaurant Bingo” but by the time they hit a TGI Fridays in Allen or a Chili’s in Lewisville it is usually a blackout. After that excitement, there is not much to do but control the road rage. This Sunday we opted for an  expeditionary excursion to discover alternatives.  We made it to the Oklahoma border (Lake Texoma is currently red) and returned, feeling more Texan than when we left.  Always a good thing.

Let me start by suggesting you make the trip on a day other than Sunday.  The blue laws are gone but the folks living and working off the interstate still take the day of rest thing seriously.  To  enjoy the shops and restaurants, Monday -Saturday would be a better bet.  Our route was roughly a loop of 135 miles using State Road 289 (Preston Road) for most of the northbound trip; then crossing over to State Highway 377 via Highway 82 to get to Oklahoma and return.

The grain silo in Prosper. Photo credit: M'Lissa Howen.
The grain silo in Prosper. Photo credit: M’Lissa Howen.

Prosper is not far out of Dallas on SH 289 and it was in Prosper we encountered the first grain silo.  From that point forward, if we wanted to get to a town center we found the grain silo and pointed the Honda Pilot in that direction.   Works like a charm.  There is just something reassuring and nostalgic about a silo.  I guess food is overly important to me but it is nice to know that someone is storing it in much the same way it has been stored for generations.

Frankly, the Prosper town center was disappointing.  The setting for the traditional small town, main street experience is there and it should be a natural given the proximity to Frisco, Plano and a ton of disposable income.  There is a start–the Cotton Gin Café looks promising–but not much else.

Six miles to the North, however, is one of my favorite Texas towns. Celina, home of perennial football power the Bobcats, has made the most of its historic downtown. Murals, an antiques store, an information center but most of all-Lucy’s on the Square.  Lucy’s is closed on Sunday, but having ventured there before I can testify it is worth the trip. Deservedly named one of Texas Monthly’s Best Small Town Cafes, the comfort food at Lucy’s cannot be beat. Fast before you go and save room for desert.

One of Celina's murals (upper left); the storefronts (upper right) and, of course, the venerable Lucy's (center and all photo credits: M'Lissa Howen)
One of Celina’s murals (upper left); the storefronts (upper right) and, of course, the venerable Lucy’s (center and all photo credits: M’Lissa Howen)

Travelling North on SH 289 from Celina to SH 82 is uneventful (Gunter was a disappointment other than a promising body shop in the midst of restoring a Corvette) but restorative.  No traffic and tranquil scenery from a moving car is tonic for the soul as far as I am concerned. By the time we arrived at the intersection of SH 377 and SH 82, decompression was complete.

Whitesboro sits at that intersection; if you do not care about seeing Lake Texoma, you can make a left hand turn on 377 and start south again.  We wanted to see the lake, however, and were glad we did. Not because of the lake so much; the recent flooding rains kept the boats in the dock and the color a little off-putting.  But getting to the lake, we drove through the ghost town of Dixie, which reliable internet legend indicates was settled as sort of a confederate holdout after the “War of Northern Aggression.” Dixie is essentially Dixie Cemetery and a barbecue joint down the road.  The cemetery oozes history and rebel flags mark the graves of those who served the South.  I am not a fan of flying the Confederate flag to express political views but there was something solemn and touching seeing it next to the graves.

A Confederate veteran and his wife. Photo credit: Steve Howen
A Confederate veteran and his wife. Photo credit: Steve Howen

The spectacular Old Church in downtown Whitesboro. Photo credit: Steve Howen
The spectacular Old Church in downtown Whitesboro. Photo credit: Steve Howen

Backtracking south on SH 377 we arrived in Whitesboro, which is an almost perfect representation of small-town America.  An obviously vibrant downtown with businesses welcoming back an all-class, high-school reunion.  Well-kept lawns fronted houses of varied architecture. The beautifully restored “Old Church” anchors the town. At this point we were really regretting not being there on an open-for- business day; the shops called to M’Lissa and the restaurants called to me. Whitesboro will see us again.

We wrapped up with a succession of towns that all suggested similar return trips. Collinsville, Tioga, Pilot Point and Aubrey were each as charming as the last. This stretch of land is horse country, so as you travel between the towns the scenery can be spectacular, particularly this year given the rain.  If you like to shop, eat or sight see, this stretch of SH 377 will do your heart good.  Our final bonus was to find out that Tioga was the boyhood home of Gene Autry, the original singing cowboy.  You cannot get any more Texan than that.

The summary: Lucy’s on the Square in Celina should be in your immediate future. For a day’s relaxation, explore the stretch of SH 377 between Aubrey and Dixie, but maybe not on Sunday. The Red River got its name for a reason. Get on the road, nesters.

If it was not true they would not put it on a sign. Photo credit: Steve Howen
If it was not true they would not put it on a sign. Photo credit: Steve Howen

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