On our perfect day, we're lounging on the beach, sand between our toes, frosty umbrella drink in one hand, beach read in the other. When an errant volleyball bounces toward us, we swat it back to its grinning, sun-kissed owner. Ah, to live in a Corona ad.
Yes, eventually, like a volleyball to the noggin, reality kicks in, and we remember that we're living in landlocked North Texas. All the more reason to find ourselves dreaming this summer of that sandy, fun-filled beach-topia. We've scouted around and found a few places that take us closer to the beach -- and in some cases to an actual beach. And there's another bonus: in DFW, where we often have to dress up to party down, these places allow you -- practically urge you -- to dress down as the norm. In the dead of these triple-digit days, that is sweet relief. Board shorts, bikinis, bare feet and flip-flops. This, friends, is what life should be like.
Sandbar Cantina and Grill
Where: 317 S. Second Ave., Dallas
Lay of the sand: Deep Ellum has been known for many things over its long, sordid history but being a beachfront playground isn't one of them. That changed a bit in May when the surf-and-shore-themed Sandbar opened within a beach-ball bounce of the decidedly nontropical hangout the Double Wide. With its six, palm-tree-lined sand volleyball courts catering to the toned and athletically talented and a surf shack/tiki-bar interior tailor-made for those as interested in spiked drinks as spiking the ball, Sandbar -- nicknamed "Beach Ellum" -- is like a little bit of San Diego on the prairie. A couple of more courts and a rooftop patio with an area for live bands are in the works.
Beach story: A group of five Dallas guys, including former pro beach volleyball player Skyler Davis, thought it would be cool to open a place to play and coach beach volleyball in the heart of Dallas. That you could get a drink, a meal and maybe even hear some live music there would make the whole thing even sweeter. So they found a building on a large lot in gritty Deep Ellum, imported some white sand (they won't say from where), and now it's a reality. Partner Mike Morgan says Sandbar is attracting customers from Uptown and the Park Cities to the west and Lakewood to the north and east. Even some visiting Californians were impressed, he says, because -- unlike California, where drinking on beaches is illegal -- they can drink and play volleyball here. Says Morgan, "One of them said it was his favorite beach in America."
Sip it: Beer is the drink of choice here -- $3 Dos Equis specials! -- though that may change this weekend when Sandbar plans to debut a full bar.
Nosh it: Until now, you had to either eat before arriving or go hungry, but Sandbar is set to begin serving Baja-style food (think fish tacos and salads) next weekend.
Splash quotient: Showers are available. A swimming pool should be finished by the end of summer.
Beachcombing surprises: There are flat-screens at the bar and an energetic rock and hip-hop soundtrack pumped to the courts outside so you can get your groove and your serve on.
Peak times: The various leagues -- men, women and coed -- play Sunday through Thursday evenings if you want to see some Dallasites channeling their inner Gabrielle Reece and Karch Kiraly.
Tips: If you're not on a team but want to play, try Friday or Saturday when the courts aren't reserved for league play. You can also sign up for private lessons.
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily
Contact info: 214- 647-1424; sandbarcantina.com
Bahama Beach Club
Where: 1849 E. Belt Line Road, Coppell
Lay of the sand: It's hard not to get behind the BBC's tagline: "It's like recess with alcohol!" The main draw is the 14 outdoor sand volleyball courts, with misters to cut the heat. There are an interior bar and an exterior one, with a restaurant set to open very soon. There's also a stage that's used for everything from yoga and live music to sumo wrestling. Says owner David Taylor: "Whenever people get intoxicated enough, they go: 'Let's go sumo!!'"
Beach story: The place has been around since the early '90s, when it was a dive called Lone Star Country Club, where volleyball was the draw. "It was rough. But they always had fun with it," Taylor recalled, looking through old photos. In a few years, there was a schism in the ownership, so one faction opened what's now the Yucatan Beach Club, right across the street. Meanwhile, Lone Star, which eventually became Bahama Beach Club, went through a series of owners; in November 2011, Taylor bought it and "gutted this place," opening it for business March 1.
Splash quotient: For now, the only water features are the misting system and a set of outdoor showers near the sand courts.
Sip it: Aside from buckets of beers, the signature drink here is the Bahama Breeze, made with Zodiac vodka, a Texas potato vodka.
Nosh it: For the moment, you can bring food in, but Taylor says that soon, the BBC's restaurant -- ECO -- will be fired up and ready to serve. Judging from the menu online, the food will lean slightly healthier and organic than your average sports bar. Smoothies, protein shakes, salads and panini. The dish that intrigues us most: ZiegenBock Beer slow-boiled farm-raised sausages, served with all the fixings.
Beachcombing surprises: Taylor shows off a patch of land that he says will be home to a 3,000-square-foot organic garden, so they can grow produce for the restaurant. There are also plans for kick ball and dodgeball.
Peak times: For hard-core volleyball types, go on league nights -- Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The best times for open play are Wednesday nights (when some courts are reserved for nonleague play) and Sunday afternoons, with plans to open Friday nights up more.
That's what she said: Stephanie Johnson of Irving says she likes the competitive vibe at BBC. And she loves the makeover. "The building looks completely different. The bar out here is a nice touch, especially with the flat-screens. It's a more chic look now."
That's what he said: Dennis Dotson of Shady Shores has been playing here since the '90s. "Back then, it was essentially a run-down biker bar. You walk in the bathroom and your foot would fall through the floor. No line on the fences, balls in the creek." Now? "It's gettin' there. There's been a 100 percent improvement. We're starting to see changes out here every week."
Tips: If you haven't already been here, you're likely to miss it, since there's not great signage. Best way to find it: Look for the impossible-to-miss Yucatan Beach Club at 1850 E. Belt Line, and Bahama Beach Club is right across the road (and the railroad tracks).
Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Friday; 12-10 p.m. Sunday; Saturday is reserved for private parties and corporate events.
Contact info: 972-745-8333; www.bahamabeachvolleyball.com
Yucatan Beach Club
Where: 1850 E. Belt Line Road, Coppell
Lay of the sand: It doesn't look like much on the outside, with its corrugated building and its logo spray-painted on. But once inside, you are hit with not only elaborate biker-style murals, but pool tables, dartboards and a full-size bar. It has 10 sand volleyball courts, a tiki bar and a small pool outdoors.
Beach story: It opened in the mid-1990s as the Long Branch Saloon (reportedly after a disagreement among the owners of what's now the Bahama Beach Club, above). At one point, it was called the Yucatan Liquid Stand; In 1999, Laurie Pendleton purchased the club, which opened for play in 2000 as the Yucatan Beach Club.
Sip it: Large sports bar inside, featuring frozen drinks and beers of all sorts.
Nosh it: The indoor restaurant has an extensive menu, featuring burgers, fish and chips, loaded tater tots, enchiladas and a grilled chicken bowl.
Splash quotient: Just outside, there is -- mercifully -- a small pool to splash around in and cool off.
Beachcombing surprises: Fun little rock waterfall outdoors; indoors, a curious jungle-inspired tableau, featuring two life-size pirate dummies climbing vines.
Peak time: Open play all day and night Saturday and Sunday; league play Monday-Friday, but some courts are for open play noon-6 p.m. weekdays.
Hours: 3 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Friday; noon-2 a.m. Saturday; noon-midnight Sunday
Contact info: 972-462-7715; www.yucatanbeachclub.com.
Primo's Tex-Mex Grille
Where: 4861 Bass Pro Drive, Garland
Lay of the sand: This popular Tex-Mex restaurant provides great views looking out across Lake Ray Hubbard, with a dock for people out on the lake to park their boats and come in to eat, drink and watch the game on one of the flat-screens.
Beach story: Opened in spring 2008, this Primo's is the younger sibling of the Uptown Dallas hot spot that has been a fixture for 25 years and is legendary for its people-watching patio.
Sip it: All varieties of margaritas, including the Swirl, which mixes frozen margarita with frozen sangria. Or try the Bloody Maria, especially during the weekend brunch.
Nosh it: The casual Tex-Mex menu is vast. Try stuffed jalapeños, deep-fried tacos and fajitas.
Splash quotient: The huge patio provides great lake views.
Peak time: Weekends to watch sunsets on the lake and Tuesdays for $2 margaritas all day.
That's what she said: A patron named Ashley called Primo's the "best patio on Lake Ray Hubbard."
Tips: Waits to sit on the patio can approach two and sometimes three hours, so get there early.
Contact info: 972-226-8100; www.primosdallas.com/indexGarland.html.
Where: 4821 Bass Pro Drive, Garland
Lay of the sand: Next door to Primo's, the Saucer on the Lake's covered patio features great views of Lake Ray Hubbard; the patio also has its own bar.
Beach story: The Flying Saucer family has expanded to 15 locations in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Missouri, offering more than 240 beers from 100 brewing styles. The "beerknurd" nation just keeps growing.
Sip it: Cosmopolitans. No, we kid! Of course, here, more than anywhere else, it's all about the brewskis, from the pilsners and pale lagers to the stouts and weizens.
Nosh it: Wings, sandwiches, burgers and, of course, the Flying Saucer's spread of German grub, like the German Plate ($10), with one Usinger's bratwurst and one beer brat served with German potato salad and sauerkraut. A tip: Try the turkey burger ($8), which is served with jalapeño-pesto mayo, red onion, lettuce and tomato.
Splash quotient: So maybe you won't get immersed in water, but you will catch the breezes and delicious lake panorama.
Peak time: Happy hour and weekends
That's what she said: "I like it [Flying Saucer] better than Primo's," said a patron named Danielle, "because it has a much more chill atmosphere but still has the great view."
Tip: Monday kicks off Belgian Beer Week, featuring Poperings Hommel, Omer Traditional Blond, Ommegang Gnomegang (say that 10 times fast) and more. Tuesdays are trivia nights.
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to midnight Sunday
Contact info: 972-226-0725; www.beerknurd.com/stores/thelake.
Where: 2 Eagle Point Road, Lewisville
Lay of the sand: Drive up to this stone facade, and you might think you've landed at a country club instead of a lakeside sports bar. Sneaky Pete's has four sand volleyball courts, a pool, a full-service restaurant, and, of course, Lake Lewisville. There is also a place to rent boats, Sea-Doos and even a party barge.
Beach story: Sneaky Pete's originally opened in 1989; it has changed hands a few times; the owner is on his eighth season.
Sip it: Beer and frozen drinks are the order of the day, including a signature margarita drink called the Gator Bite ($9), made with rum, pineapple, apricot, sweet-and-sour, and agave nectar.
Nosh it: A sampling from the menu: fajita salad ($10), peel-and-eat shrimp ($11), chicken-fried steak ($12) and catfish platter ($15). We sampled the boneless buffalo wings ($11), which were lip-smacking good without blowing your head off. Next time, though, we'd pass on the unmemorable chips and salsa ($6).
Splash quotient: Sitting on Lake Lewisville, Sneaky Pete's is a mammoth splash. There's also a pool divided into a play area and a water volleyball court.
Beachcombing surprises: Sunday brunch from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., with live jazz. Adults, $17.95; seniors, $15.95; children 6-12, $9.95; children 5 and under, $5.95.
Peak time: It's packed on weekends; league volleyball play is Tuesdays and Sundays; the rest is pickup volleyball.
That's what she said: Wileen Higgins and Joemekia Cooley were just finishing up a big red frozen drink on the deck of the outside bar overlooking the water. Looking chic in their maxi-dresses, the mother and daughter said they had come for a lake cruise, but it had been canceled. No matter, they were enjoying the water. Higgins, a North Dallas transplant from Southern California, says she comes here to get a taste of home. Turns out she is also hoping a place like Sneaky Pete's would help persuade her daughter to move out here with her. It could work. Says Cooley: "It's kinda like a big pool party here."
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Sunday
Contact info: 972-434-2500; www.sneakypetesonline.com.
Islamorada Fish Company
Where: 5001 Bass Pro Drive, Garland
Lay of the sand: A little slice of the Florida Keys in DFW, Islamorada Fish Company features its own sandy beach-style area just out the back door, and it's perfect for grabbing a drink and watching the sun set on Lake Ray Hubbard.
Beach story: Started in the late '40s as a marina snack bar in Islamorada, a fishing village in the Keys, the restaurant named for the "Purple Isle" has become a national chain, with 17 locations. It is inside the Bass Pro Shops, so you can load up on fishing gear, too.
Sip it: No signature drinks, just a full bar
Nosh it: The seafood menu includes everything from clam strips and fried crawfish tails to maple-glazed salmon and Key West shrimp pasta. There's also an "on-land" section of the menu that includes as steak, ribs, chicken and venison-stuffed mushrooms.
Splash quotient: A stairway outside leads to the dock.
Beachcombing surprises: A 13,000-gallon saltwater aquarium wraps around the "Marlin Bar."
Peak time: Sunset, when the tiki torches are lit and you can put you toes in the sand.
Tips: Entry is through the Bass Pro Shops, and this is one of the slower lakeside spots, so you probably won't have to wait to sit down and eat.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday
Contact info: 469-221-2501; restaurants.basspro.com/FishCompany.
The Spot on Eagle Mountain Lake
Where: 9307 Boat Club Road, Fort Worth
Lay of the sand: A sports restaurant with a seaside tavern feel, the Spot overlooks Eagle Mountain Lake with a large outdoor patio. It also features a $100 romantic dinner for two known as the "Sunset Dinner Cruise."
Beach story: In the spot that was previously Harbor One, the Spot is where lake locals go for a good time. There's plenty of pool tables, dartboards and other games.
Sip it: With 24 beers on tap, it boasts the "coldest schooners on the lake." If you like domestic beer, those schooners will only cost you $2.
Nosh it: The menu features typical sports-bar food -- chicken fingers, wings, burgers, chicken-fried steak and fried shrimp.
Splash quotient: Located on the lake at the EML Harbor One Marina, it features boat rentals for those wanting to go out on the water.
Beachcombing surprises: Live music Thursday through Sunday out on the patio. Karaoke cranks up Wednesday-Sunday.
Peak time: Weekend nights, the patio gets packed, especially when there is live music, so plan accordingly.
Tips: The kitchen is open until 3 a.m., so it's a good place for late-night eats. Breakfast is served from midnight until 3 a.m.
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 a.m. every day
Contact info: 817-236-4600; www.thespotoneaglemountainlake.com.