Historic Concho Avenue, downtown between Oakes and Chadbourne streets, is a melting pot of boutiques, jewelers, and antiques shops. Among its highlights are J. Wilde's, 20 E. Concho Ave. (tel. 325/655-0878), a boutique with fashions and furnishings best described as Western chic (which doesn't quite do them justice); and Legend Jewelers, 18 E. Concho Ave. (tel. 888/655-4367 or 325/653-0112; www.legendjewelers.com), purveyors of the luminous concho pearl. The top shopping center is Sunset Mall, 4001 Sunset Dr., at Loop 306 (tel. 325/949-1947).

San Angelo is home to a vibrant arts community, typified by the Texas hippie vibe at the Old Chicken Farm Art Center, 2505 N. Martin Luther King Blvd. (tel. 325/653-4936; www.chickenfarmartcenter.com), a local landmark since 1971. Formerly an abandoned chicken farm, this funky artist's compound is home to 12 studios that are open at various times, displaying a wide range of pottery, metalwork, and paintings. The main StarKeeper Gallery houses the contemporary handmade ceramics of Roger Allen, the center's founder and proprietor; it's open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm. The Art Center hosts resident artist's openings on the first Saturday of each month. There's also an on-site B&B, the Inn at the Art Center.

The Concho Pearl -- The word concho pops out from every other corner in San Angelo, from Concho Avenue to Fort Concho to the Concho River. If you're not from the area, it probably doesn't mean much, but if you're a San Angelo jeweler, it means a great deal. The Concho River Valley is home to a dozen species of freshwater mussels in the Unionacea family that produce the rare concho pearl, tinted luminous pink, deep purple, or rich lavender by Mother Nature. Some of the earliest known examples of the pearls were Spanish crown jewels in the 16th century. If you want to try to harvest one yourself, you'll need a permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (tel. 800/792-1112; www.tpwd.state.tx.us). You can avoid wading in the river, however, if you're willing to plunk down some cash at a local jeweler.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.