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Plano's now part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex--one of the biggest metropolitan zones in the country--and a major corporate hub, but back in the 1850s it was little more than a general store and a few hardy homesteaders out on the blackland prairies of east-central Texas.

The enterprising nature of its settlers and a propitious location near the Shawnee Trail cattle-drive routes saw Plano (named after the Spanish word for "flat," in reference to the local topographic situation) grow at a healthy clip. By the late 1800s it was a regional agricultural center and railroad depot and host to several mills.

These days the midsized city--serviced by Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and within easy reach of both DFW International and Dallas Love Field--serves as headquarters for a wealth of large corporations, from Frito-Lay to Toyota Motor North America. It's also proudly labeled the "Balloon Capital of Texas," host as it is to the Lone Star State's biggest hot-air balloon shindig: the Plano Balloon Festival, held each September.

Speaking of festivals and such, you'll find a healthy live-music and performance scene at Plano venues such as the Cox Playhouse, Courtyard Theater, and the Oak Point Park Amphitheater. The Downtown Plano Arts District, meanwhile, falls on the National Register of Historic Places (though don't get the impression that means it isn't plenty lively). Conferences, trade shows, and the like go down at the 86,400-square-foot Plano Event Center.

When you want an outdoorsy fix in the city, head for Arbor Hills Nature Preserve or Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve: nice blends of developed recreational greenspace and natural habitats. (A hidden gem of the city? The Bicentennial Bur Oak in Bob Woodruff Park, reckoned at more than 500 years old.)

The landscape may indeed be plano, but the city's spirit is far from "flat." Ranked among the most livable cities in the country, Plano is mighty friendly to visitors.


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