Facebook/WylieTexas

Fortune advises readers to not let Wylie’s “picturesque, historic downtown fool you.” And for good reason. The magazine hails the North Texas city as “a fast-growing, modern community that doesn’t skimp on the amenities.”

Thanks in large part to those amenities, Fortune puts Wylie at No. 2 on its list of the 25 best places in the U.S. for families to live. Ann Arbor, Michigan, takes the top spot.

In recognizing Wylie, the magazine cites the city’s well-above-average public schools, numerous facilities for older residents, and events such as the Bluegrass on Ballard festival and Wylie 500 Pedal Car Race.

"With its start as a stop on the Santa Fe Railway in the 1880s, Wylie has always been a gathering place," the magazine writes. "In fact, because shops stayed open late to accommodate the railway visitors and business, one of the town’s nicknames became 'Wide-Awake Wylie.' The historic downtown continues that tradition of community today..."

Fortune lists the median home price in Wylie as $399,838 and the median household income as $96,845. The booming suburb is home to nearly 60,000 residents. It now stretches across Dallas, Collin, and Rockwall counties.

To come up with its ranking, Fortune combed through mounds of data for almost 2,000 communities in the U.S.

The only other Texas city in the top 25 is the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, ranked 17th.

“Residents have a sweet spot for this Houston suburb that brings the community together through its lively downtown hub, local events, and even a ball game or two,” Fortune says.

Among other highlights, Fortune notes Sugar Land’s “outstanding schools,” the Sugar Land Space Cowboys minor-league baseball team, Sugar Land Town Square, and high-quality health care at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital.

In Sugar Land, the median home price is $399,250 and the median household income is $121,665, according to Fortune. The suburb is home to around 110,000 people.

Our Redeemer Lutheran School of Dallas presents BlastFest

Our Redeemer Lutheran School of Dallas will present its fourth annual BlastFest. The event features model rocket launches, a bounce house, inflatable obstacle course, and gaga ball pit, a planetarium show, stomp rockets, balloon artists and face painters, arts & crafts, Kona Ice truck, Eloisa's Kitchen Food truck, and more.

Cookies & Castles

At the third annual Cookies & Castles, guests will be able to make endless trips to the candy bar to decorate their gingerbread houses. In addition, there will be a silent auction, photos with Santa Claus and his friends, and snacks such as corn dogs from CornDog With No Name.

Proceeds from the event benefits Scottish Rite for Children and the Tri Delta Foundation.

Photo courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge breaks ground on massive indoor water park resort in new Texas city

bring the pack

Fans of Grapevine's Great Wolf Lodge will now be able to hit their favorite water park in another Texas city. The popular nationwide family resort and indoor park will break ground in Webster, near Houston, on Thursday, September 22.

It will be Great Wolf Lodge's second Texas location.

Great Wolf Lodge Gulf Coast Texas will boast 532 rooms and — importantly for kids and families — a 95,000-square-foot indoor water park and a 58,000-square-foot family entertainment center known as the Great Wolf Adventure Park. The 27-acre destination, located east of the Gulf Freeway near the Flyway at Clear Creek development, is slated to open in mid-to-late 2024, according to Great Wolf Resorts announcement.

“With millions of families visiting our resort in Grapevine, we know Texas families love the Great Wolf Lodge experience and we’re excited to introduce our second resort to the Lone Star State,” said Murray Hennessy, CEO of Great Wolf Resorts. “A hallmark of Great Wolf Lodge is that we help families strengthen their pack by offering a fun-filled getaway that is close, convenient and carefree, and with this new resort, we will be able to better serve families in the Houston area and southeastern portions of the state.”

Accommodating year-round visitors, Great Wolf Lodge Gulf Coast Texas will feature myriad attractions and amenities for all ages, including:

Great Wolf Lodge The resort features a massive indoor entertainment hub.Photo courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge

● An expansive, 95,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, heated to a comfortable 84 degrees, featuring a variety of body slides, tube slides, raft rides, activity pools and splash areas for every member of the family – from toddlers and teens to parents and grandparents.

● A 58,000-square-foot family entertainment center known as the Great Wolf Adventure Park. This center will offer a variety of family-friendly attractions, including MagiQuest – Great Wolf Lodge’s exclusive live action-adventure game where players use interactive magic wands to battle goblins and dragons.

● A collection of complimentary family events and activities including Yoga Tails, a morning exercise program that combines tales from the creatures found in the Spirit Water Forest with yoga poses, and evening events such as Great Wolf Lodge’s signature Hustle & Howl dance party and Story Time event.

● Several dining options that will appeal to a variety of culinary styles ranging from pizza and burgers to upscale dining and premium ice cream treats at Wood’s End Creamery.

● Family-friendly suites in a variety of categories and styles including Great Wolf-themed suites with separate sleeping quarters for kids designed as either a log cabin or wolf den and outfitted with bunk beds and Great Wolf character theming. The resort will also feature suites with multiple bedrooms for large families or multi-generational groups.

Area businesses can make use of the destination’s more than 11,000 square feet of flexible conference space with breakout rooms, built-in A/V technology, customizable catering options, and a team of dedicated industry professionals to serve visiting conferences and events.

Great Wolf Lodge slide Families can slide into the fun in 2024.Photo courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge

Aside from a major tourist attraction, Great Wolf Lodge’s new outpost will be a boon for area employment. An estimated 600 construction and trade workers will be on-site each day during the peak of construction. And the resort will fill approximately 500 full and part-time jobs to prepare for the grand opening, with positions including senior management, engineering, IT professionals, lifeguards, guest service agents, housekeepers, and more.

In an effort to seamlessly integrate with the community, the new resort will operate with environmentally friendly practices, including energy usage and water consumption.

The resort’s location in Webster makes the perfect addition to a weekend jaunt to nearby NASA/Johnson Space Center/Space Center Houston — as well as Galveston.

“Tourism is one of Webster’s top economic drivers,” said Donna Rogers, mayor of the City of Webster, in a statement, “and Great Wolf Lodge is a force multiplier that will attract visitors from a super regional and global market.”

Great Wolf Resorts currently operate across the U.S. and in Canada. The company plans more growth: a Great Wolf Lodge in Perryville, Maryland is scheduled to open summer of 2023 and a location in Naples, Florida just broke ground.

Fans of the howlingly fun resort can stay up to date on developments on the company’s social media channels and on www.greatwolf.com.

Photo courtesy of Huffhines Harvest Fest

Huffhines Harvest Fest

Huffhines Harvest Fest featuring Pawtoberfest, formerly known as Huffhines Art Trails, is a two-day festival that has become one of the best arts and crafts shows in North Texas. On Saturday the festival will feature Pawtoberfest, a unique opportunity for attendees and furry friends to enjoy the festival together with pet-friendly activities.

In addition to shopping, the festival includes live performances from local talent, as well as concessionaires offering favorite treats. New this year, Huffhines will feature a variety of family activities, including pumpkin decorating, corn maze, scarecrow village, petting zoo, and more.

Photo courtesy of Visit Marble Falls

6 perfect weekend getaways to plan in Texas this fall

Post-Summer Plans

With the end of this brutal summer finally (hopefully?!) in sight, it is time to start planning for fall. Call it second summer, as in still plenty warm for enjoying the outdoors but no longer hot enough to melt pavement. Here are six places perfect for a much-needed autumn getaway. Take a few extra days off for a long weekend, then head to one (or more) as your just reward for surviving another scorching Texas summer.

Lake Bastrop North Shore Park
This LCRA park in Bastrop hugs the shore of a constant temperature lake for swimming, paddling (canoe, kayak, SUP, and Corcl rentals available), or fishing (with a boat ramp and pier). The park features almost 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, including one connecting to Lake Bastrop South Shore Park, and a sand volleyball court, too. Stay in one of five Airstream campers, two cabins, or six safari-style tents. All have grills for cooking and decks for enjoying views of the lake and the stars while sipping a cold one. Other dining and entertainment options in nearby Bastrop include a distillery and several breweries and taprooms. Neighbor's Kitchen & Yard and Iron Bridge Icehouse, both on the banks of the Colorado River, serve food, craft beer and cocktails, and live music.

Lake Georgetown
At this Corps of Engineers reservoir, choose from four campgrounds with RV and tent camping options. Enjoy swimming, fishing, kayaking (rentals available at Russell Park), and hiking. The crown jewel is the Good Water Trail, a 26-mile loop around the entire lake through a variety of terrain, with multiple trailheads offering the opportunity for shorter hikes. Dining options, wine bars, breweries, and other lodging options are nearby in Georgetown. Check out Barking Armadillo Brewing and, on the courthouse square, three wine tasting rooms, and multiple dining options.

Matagorda Bay Nature Park
Located where the Colorado River meets the Gulf of Mexico, Matagorda Bay offers miles of uncrowded beaches for combing and wetlands for paddling. Rent beach chairs, wagons, and kayaks (guided tours available), play miniature golf, fish on the beach or pier, or birdwatch. In addition to Airstream rentals and camping and RV sites, visitors now can rent one of 10 new bungalows that sleep from six to eight people, with fully equipped kitchens, outdoor decks, gas grills, and fantastic views.

Port Aransas
Miles of beach, without summer crowds: What else do you need? Well, perhaps a place to stay, and you’ll find every option from fancy condos to kitschy cottages in this seaside town. Plenty of dining and entertainment options, too. Try the local seafood at places like La Playa Mexican Grill, Fins Grill & Icehouse, and Seafood and Spaghetti Works. Have a cold one at Bernie’s Beach House, the Port A Beer Hut, or Moby Dick’s. Rent bicycles, golf carts, surfboards, and kayaks at Island Surf Rentals (check out the Lighthouse Lakes Paddling Trail). Or just sit on the beach.

Painted Sky Inn
Located on a tranquil inlet of Lake Buchanan, this waterfront property offers rooms for two to ten people with kitchens and lake views, as well as a tiny home and a vintage Airstream. Amenities include fire pits, barbecue grills, a fishing pier, and canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards. Find miles of hiking trails at Canyon of the Eagles and Inks Lake State Park (day pass reservations recommended), or tour several nearby wineries (Torr Na Lochs and Fall Creek, to name two) and breweries (Save the World Brewing and Double Horn Brewing), plus dining options in Burnet and Marble Falls.

Frio River
The aptly named Frio River is famous for swimming and tubing in the summer. The most popular way to enjoy the river is Garner State Park, but getting weekend reservations can be tough. Another option is Neal’s Lodges, a sprawling family-owned complex that includes 81 cabins, 10 lodges, 17 condos, 45 RV hook-ups, and 16 tent sites, plus a country store and dining room. See a bat emergence at nearby Frio Cave or a bit farther away in Kickapoo Cavern State Park. Saturdays are for fine dining at The Laurel Tree and diner fare at Lost Maples Café, both in Utopia, and Concan has several eateries, as well (some close after the summer season, so check websites).

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Top-ranked high schools make the grade in this week's 5 hottest Dallas headlines

This week's hot headlines

Editor's note: A lot happened this week, so here's your chance to get caught up. Read on for the week's most popular headlines. Looking for the best things to do this weekend? Find that list here.

1. 2 distinguished Dallas high schools sit at head of the class as Texas' best in 2022. Two campuses in Dallas have earned extra credit as the best high schools in Texas. In the latest rankings from education review website Niche, Dallas ISD’s School for the Talented & Gifted tops the list of the state’s best public high schools, and St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas leads the list of the state’s best private high schools.

2. NFL legend Terry Bradshaw's ranch north of Dallas listed for $22.5 million. An Oklahoma ranch around 70 miles north of Dallas-Fort Worth that’s owned by NFL Hall of Famer and Fox Sports analyst Terry Bradshaw is back on the market for $22.5 million. The 744-acre ranch was relisted after a deal with a would-be buyer fell through.

3. Dallas grilled cheese restaurant abruptly closes location in Oak Cliff. A Bishop Arts restaurant dedicated to making grilled cheese sandwiches has closed: The aptly named Dallas Grilled Cheese Co. closed its original location at 310 W. 7th St., after nearly eight years. According to co-owner Diana Ezzell, the closure was prompted by problems with the location.

4. Best vegan grocer in Denton relocates to market-deli space. An acclaimed market in Denton specializing in all things vegan is making a move: Mashup Market, the plant-based specialty grocer that debuted at 316 Oak St. in 2020, is closing that original location and making its new headquarters at 1302 W. Hickory St., its second location that opened in 2021.

5. Dallas man allegedly scammed $26M from Chinese real estate investors. A Dallas-area man has been charged for allegedly scamming Chinese investors out of more than $26 million in a real estate scheme. Timothy Lynch Barton, the 59-year-old president of real estate development firm JMJ and CEO of real estate investment firm Carnegie Development, has been indicted on seven counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of securities fraud.

Beto to visit Dallas college campuses following debate on TV with Abbott

Campaign News

On November 8, Texas will vote for its next governor — choosing from either incumbent Republican Greg Abbott or Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke.

In anticipation, the two will participate in a debate on September 30, which takes place at 7 pm at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg. It's hosted by KXAN news anchor Britt Moreno and will feature questions from a panel of journalists.

The debate will air on Nexstar television stations which in Dallas is KDAF Channel 33; the Texas Tribune will also livestream.

It's their only scheduled debate and according to the Associated Press, Abbott conditioned his participation on the debate taking place without an audience.

"Sources tell me Abbott would only agree to face Beto with no audience in the room," said journalist Scott Braddock, in a tweet which is right here:

This will be first time Abbott and O'Rourke meet since the May 25 press conference where O’Rourke confronted Abbott after the shooting in Uvalde.

O'Rourke, who previously undertook a summer tour across Texas, holding 70 public events in more than 65 counties, is now launching a College Tour focused on young voters. It includes visits to two Dallas-area campuses, with only one open to the public, as follows:

  • Monday October 3, 10 am: Town Hall at University of North Texas, at the University of North Texas - Gateway Center Ballroom, 801 N. Texas Blvd., Denton. Open to UNT students only.
  • Monday October 3, 12:30 pm: College Tour Town Hall at Dallas College El Centro Campus, 801 Main St., Dallas. Open to the public.

During the College Tour, he'll hold more than a dozen public events at colleges and universities around the state, affording an opportunity not only for him to share his platform — reproductive freedom, reducing gun violence, raising minimum wage, legalizing marijuana — but also an opportunity to get students and young people registered before the October 11 deadline.

Zac Efron finds out war is hell in The Greatest Beer Run Ever

Movie review

Longtime comedy writer/director Peter Farrelly duped a lot of people – though not this critic – with his first attempt at drama, 2018’s Green Book, for which he won Oscars for both Best Original Screenplay and, astoundingly, Best Picture. His follow-up film, The Greatest Beer Run Ever, is another film based on little-known history, with much stronger results.

Chickie Donohue (Zac Efron) is kind of a ne’er-do-well in a 1967 Manhattan neighborhood, living at home and going down to his local bar on a daily basis to drink with his friends. There, he, his friends, and bar owner Doc Fiddler (Bill Murray) commiserate over the fate of the local men who are getting injured or dying in the Vietnam War. Though they hate what the men face, they mostly agree that the soldiers are doing their patriotic duty.

On a drunken whim, Chickie – who has job as a merchant mariner – says he’s going to pay tribute to their friends by bringing them beer from back home. By hook or by crook, he actually manages to get over to Vietnam on a supply ship. But what starts out as a fun lark for the genial Chickie turns into an education about what war is actually like, how his friends are handling their deployments, and that governments may not be always telling the truth.

Co-written with Farrelly by Brian Hayes Currie and Pete Jones, the film is a tale of two halves. The first 45 minutes or so is pretty goofy, as it sets up the story by showing the growing divide about the war, a serious topic that’s undercut by almost every character utilizing an over-the-top New York accent. Chickie’s apparent lack of concern about heading into a war zone also rubs the wrong way.

But the film’s shift in tone once he gets to Vietnam is a welcome one, and helps to make sense of what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish in the beginning of the movie. As Chickie tries to track down the various guys from his neighborhood, his eyes are opened about the experience on the ground in a war. Chickie traveling in plain clothes gets him mistaken for a CIA agent, a falsehood he willingly goes along with until an encounter with a real CIA agent pulls the wool off his eyes once and for all.

Farrelly appears to have matured as a filmmaker in the past four years. While he went for overly simplistic conflict and just as facile resolution in Green Book, he gets down and dirty in this film. He and his co-writers don’t pay lip service to the bad parts of war; they put Chickie right there in the middle of it all, witnessing atrocities firsthand. He’s not a soldier, so they don’t try to overplay their hand, but they give the film just enough intensity that the changes he experiences don’t feel tossed off.

Of course, the film is “based on a true story,” so you know liberties were taken – would the number of beers he brought really last? – but they do an effective job of making eye-rolling moments relatively believable. Chickie’s interactions with his soldier friends have a good arc to them, as do his run-ins with in-country reporters like Coates (Russell Crowe). A late film sequence that finds the two of them running around Saigon while the city is under siege is one of the best the film has to offer.

Efron, save perhaps for his turn as Ted Bundy in a Netflix film, has never been known for his dramatic chops. This role gives him the best of both worlds, allowing him to let loose and dig deep in equal measures, and he makes the most of it. Relative unknowns play his various friends, with the ones playing soldiers coming off the best. Murray and Crowe provide contrasting color to the film, and each is effective in their small amount of screentime.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever is a nice step up for Farrelly and proof that there are still interesting ways to demonstrate that war is hell. The funny premise behind the film belies the seriousness with which it treats the larger issue at hand, a bait-and-switch that gives the story a gravitas you might not expect.

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The Greatest Beer Run Ever is now playing in theaters and streaming on Apple TV+.

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Zac Efron in The Greatest Beer Run Ever