Downtown Plano, Texas: A Charming, Dynamic and LGBTQ-Friendly City Center Beckons

by Kelsy Chauvin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday February 22, 2022

Downtown Plano Arts District
Downtown Plano Arts District  (Source:Visit Plano)

"Downtown — everything's waiting for you."

It's more than that famous Petula Clark song lyric; it's a cue that in Downtown Plano, you'll find one of Texas's most charming city centers. Home to some of the city's top restaurants, flourishing arts districts, and the North Texas Pride Festival, Downtown Plano is calling travelers for an unexpected taste of Texas.

Plano's history took root in today's five-acre downtown area in the 1800s, when the first railroad rolled in. The legacy lives on, with 39 historic buildings erected around Downtown Plano's original rail hub, which together earned the neighborhood a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

To showcase that rich civic history, including the story of the Texas Electric Railway that ran from 1908 to 1948, stands the Interurban Railway Museum in Haggard Park. Visitors can tour the free museum's electricity and science exhibits and climb aboard the original train Car 360 that once carried mail and passengers between Denison and Waco.

You, too, can channel the ride of early Texas settlers with a rail trip, albeit a more modern version. Just hop on a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) train from the Downtown Plano stop in Haggard Park, and in about 30 minutes you can reach central Dallas, either of the city's airports, and other surrounding towns and stations.

History, Arts, Culture & Pride

Interurban Railway Museum
Interurban Railway Museum  (Source: Visit Plano)

Building on nearly two centuries of commerce, the historic rail site has transformed into today's burgeoning Downtown Plano Arts District. The district is wonderfully walkable, and recently added ten new public artworks as part of the Downtown Mural Project. In partnership with the Plano Art Association, the project gathered residents' historical photos to inspire artists to create visual art celebrating Plano's history.

The art tells the city's story in imaginative two- and three-dimensional works all over the neighborhood. Some murals commemorate the local history of railways and cotton farming, others spotlight natural North-Texas landscapes, while others embrace modern art with multimedia installations.

One of the most eye-catching is along 15th Street, where the Downtown Plano Portal Project welcomes visitors with Josh Weiner's seven painted-aluminum "Rhythmic Illuminations" sculptures celebrating music, painting, and performing arts. It's a creative reflection of the district's live-entertainment venues, including McCall Plaza, the Courtyard Theater, and the Cox Building Playhouse.

READ MORE: 'Saddle Up for a Good Time in Plano, Texas'

While you could spend hours snapping the streets of Downtown Plano for Instagram, take a deeper dive into local arts culture with visits to Rail Station Studios or Holman Pottery Gallery. Feeling inspired? Head just a short drive west of downtown for a hands-on, art-making session at Board & Brush day or evening workshops, or join a variety of artsy endeavors at Pipe & Palette, including time in the wildly colorful "splatter room."

Explore changing exhibits or take an art class at the nonprofit community ArtCentre of Plano, housed in the historic 1906 Saigling House. Located along Haggard Park, the ArtCentre doubles as the site of many community gatherings, including the annual North Texas Pride celebration, which marked its tenth year in September, 2021. Also called the "Come As You Are Festival," the Pride event welcomes all to celebrate local and regional diversity.

"We have been very fortunate that the City of Plano mayor and city council honored us with special recognition for bringing the community together, all in a safe environment for people to be themselves and celebrate diversity," says Morris Garcia, co-founder and president of North Texas Pride Foundation.

For more than 20 years, Garcia has been involved with the local LGBTQ+ community, launching North Texas Pride in 2011 as a way for local folks to embrace the diversity of Plano and surrounding towns. Local LGBTQ+-owned and -friendly businesses sponsor the event, and a portion of event proceeds are donated to a nonprofit that provides inclusive health and family services, housing, education, and more. One event sponsor is woman-owned Furr Babies Bakery, which makes healthy, tasty treats for dogs — and led a "Doggie Drag" show at the 2021 festival.

Garcia says that Downtown Plano has "a very welcoming feeling" that works wonderfully for Pride festivities. Haggard Park is a neighborhood epicenter that's safe and family-friendly, plus many supportive local boutiques, home shops and other businesses are glad to welcome Pride-goers for the event and all year round.

Dining Around Downtown Plano

Urban Seafood Company
Urban Seafood Company  (Source: Visit Plano)

Along the iconic brick streets of Downtown Plano are some of the city's most enticing restaurants. New to the dining scene is Urban Seafood Company, the latest venture from the owners of Urban Crust pizzeria and Urban Rio Mexican eatery. Inspired by seafood menus of New England and Sardinia, Urban invites diners to savor their top-rate fish, cocktails, and wood-grilled dishes in a sleek indoor-outdoor setting.

Twisted Root Burger added a new Downtown Plano location on 14th Street, where deliciously indulgent burgers can be topped with truffle aioli, lemon brie, herbed goat cheese, sriracha, or other bold flavors. In addition, Café Gecko, a beloved local Caribbean-Cajun bar and restaurant, is relocating from nearby Addison to Avenue K in Plano and is scheduled to reopen in 2022.

For fresh ingredients to bring home for cooking, or as edible souvenirs, follow the mural of Plano's cactus, windmill, and water tower to arrive at Georgia's Farmers Market. Georgia's is a family-owned grocery specializing in seasonal, small-farm produce, freshly prepared foods, and locally made jams, salsa, candles, and more.

Whether you're hungry for classic Texas barbecue, Japanese cuisine, authentic Austrian fare, or perfectly addictive desserts, Downtown Plano dining is best met with a hearty appetite. Better yet, check out Visit Plano's Event listings and Downtown Plano's Calendar for upcoming festivals and foodie events, like the annual Art in the Park wine and art walk or North Texas Pride, typically held in June. Because the best of Plano is always nearby.

Explore Downtown with a stay at one of Plano's best hotels. Use the Visit Plano amenities filter to find your preferred rate and perfect experience.

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.