If you think Dallas is all about football and TV oil families, think again. You’ll find a lot to see and do in the Big D, from beautiful botanical gardens to world-class art museums and historic towns. You can visit the place that changed the course of 20th century history, see the city from the clouds, and see real cowboys in action at the rodeo. This hot list covers a lot of ground and these attractions will help you make the most of your visit to Dallas and make it memorable. After all, traveling is all about having new experiences and creating memories.
The Old Red Museum tells the story of Dallas from prehistoric times and the first settlement to this day. The Early Years Gallery includes artifacts used by the first settlers. The Trading Center Gallery shows the transformation of a sleepy town into a thriving regional trade center. The artifacts in the Big “D” Gallery show how Dallas became a nationally relevant city. Here, visitors can see Clyde Barrow’s gun or the county’s first traffic light. The World Crossroads Gallery displays Dallas’ contribution to pop culture (J.R. Ewing’s Stetson hat!) and national history like the handcuffs used on Lee Harvey Oswald.
Every school kid knows what happened in Dallas on 22 November 1963—and the majority of Americans (60 percent) still believe that Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of President Kennedy was part of a bigger conspiracy. If you’re one of them, you’re in the right place. The infamous Texas School Book Depository is now The Sixth Floor Museum, a world-class center dedicated to telling the story from every angle. Poke through 40,000 artifacts and stand at the exact window Oswald fired from, then head to the grassy knoll below to make up your own mind over the “second shooter.” Afterwards, board the JFK & Dealey Plaza bus tour to explore your theories first-hand, taking in key sites including the Texas Theatre (231 W Jefferson Blvd, 214-948-1546) the art-deco cinema where Oswald was finally apprehended.
Even though Dallas is miles away from the sea, you can still see interesting marine life from all over the world at the Dallas Aquarium. The exhibits are divided by region and include birds and reptiles. For example, the Mundo Maya exhibit includes a rare axolotl, or the Orinoco exhibit focuses on the bio-diversity of this South American ecosystem. The aquarium is involved in several conservation projects to protect endangered species like the Orinoco crocodile. Don’t miss the feedings and talks throughout the day. The aquarium occupies two warehouses built in the 1920s in a similar style to other Historic West End buildings.
The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is the cultural epicenter of the city. The permanent collections encompass the art of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe, as well as contemporary art and design. The museum offers tours, gallery talks, workshops and lectures with renowned artists. Take a break at the recently renovated museum café. Don’t miss out on the Late Nights events, which take place every third Friday until midnight and feature concerts, performances, and screenings. The DMA was awarded the LEED® Silver certification for its commitment to sustainability and green policies. Admission is free except for special exhibitions. The museum is closed on Mondays, so plan accordingly.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the city? Head to the Arboretum. This urban oasis provides plenty of breathing space in a natural setting. Take a stroll around the different gardens, each with a different style. Take a moment for reflection in the beautiful Women’s Garden and enjoy the fantastic views of White Rock Lake below. The best times to visit the Arboretum are in the fall, when the leaves turn all kinds of shades of russets, reds, yellows, and ochres; and the spring, when the Dallas Blooms Festival is in full swing with its vibrant colors.
The best feature of the Nasher is the gorgeous garden, which provides a perfect setting for the sculptures by renowned international artists. Even though it’s in the heart of the city, the garden offers much needed peace and quiet. The lovely café opens up to the garden. The permanent collection includes the biggest names in modern and contemporary art from Alberto Giacometti to Barbara Hepworth. The luminous and expansive building was designed by architect Renzo Piano and opened in 2003. The museum evolved from the personal collection of Raymond and Patsy Nasher, avid collectors and a prominent business family of Dallas.
Let your inner child marvel at the interactive games and activities; look a T-Rex or the megafauna of the Ice Age in the eye; climb on an earthquake simulator or use brainwaves to move an object (a light one, though, like a ping pong ball.) The Perot Museum of Nature and Science opened in 2012 and it captures the spirit of scientific knowledge. The fantastic building is an ode to science; it’s sustainable, energy efficient and the landscaping reflects a cross-section of the different landscapes of Texas. Take a minute to enjoy the views of Dallas from the windows on level four.
Would you like to see Dallas and beyond from above? The best place to enjoy panoramic views of the city is from the GeO-Deck, an observation platform located in the Reunion Tower of the Regency Hyatt Dallas. The GeO-Deck is 470 feet high. You can go even higher if you book a table at the swanky Five Sixty restaurant, which rotates as you enjoy fine dining. Alternatively, the Cloud Nine Café is a casual place to enjoy the views. If you can't decide whether you want to visit during the day or night, don't fret. The Day & Night ticket lets you come back after dark.
At less than one mile, the Dallas Farmers Market is a bracing walk away from Downtown, the ideal distance to work up an appetite. The Market, as the food hall is called, is a big shed that houses restaurants, along with artisanal and specialty food vendors. Expect communal seating areas for all except Mudhen, the stand-alone, farm-to-table restaurant. You’ll find it hard to choose one place to eat, with options spanning the tasty and fresh Mexico City-style tacos of Taquería La Ventana to the phenomenal macarons of Chelles Macarons or Bellatrino’s Neapolitan-style pizza. From Rubal’s nursery, you can see the downtown skyline framing the potted plants and flowers.
If you want to witness the true grit and skill of the Texan cowboy, head to Mesquite Championship Rodeo at Mesquite Arena. This facility, a 15-minute drive east of downtown, holds different events throughout the year, but July, August and September are the busiest rodeo seasons. It is exhilarating to watch each event, from team roping to steer wrestling and calf roping. Experience the speed and grace of the horses and the cowboys' skills with ropes and lassos; feel the sheer power of bucking broncs and bulls. (And, yes, you will feel for those poor clowns!)