Dallas can sometimes be overshadowed in the publicity stakes by hipster flavor of the month, Austin, what with that city’s festivals (hello Austin City Limits!), hip bars and coffee shops. But there’s plenty of fun and deliciousness to be found in the Big D—and not just watching the Cowboys at Jerry World. From world-class art museums to amazing fine dining and, of course, big doses of the wild west (ride a horse by day, learn to boot-scoot by night), you’ll never be lost for things to do in Dallas.
Best things to do in Dallas
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 (411 Elm Stt, 214-747-6660), 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.
Treat yourself to some fine dining with the “Father of Southwestern Cuisine,” Dean Fearing. The larger-than-life celebrity chef specializes in hearty traditional food with a twist—and his self-titled restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel (2121 McKinney Ave, 212-922-4848) is one of the must-visit establishments in Dallas. Loosen your belt and prepare for a serious treat, with highlights including Dr Pepper-braised ribs, Comanche Buffalo cheesesteak and chicken-fried quail. If you can keep your eyes off your plate for a few seconds, you’ll also enjoy some of the best celebrity-spotting in Texas (including Fearing himself occasionally playing electric guitar).
Whoa! Get to know Dallas the traditional way—from horseback—at the newly opened Texas Horse Park (811 Pemberton Hill Rd, 469-804-2660). Just eight minute’s drive south of downtown, the 600-acre park sits within the Great Trinity Forest, part of Davy Crockett’s legacy to the Big D. Get your cowboy vibe on amid ancient trees, freshwater springs and a large Native American archeological site, while you ride along the Trinity River as the sparkling modern skyline of downtown Dallas glimmers on the horizon.
Get trolleyed on McKinney
It’s not all about big cars, big hats and big wallets here. Dallas is also home to an historic trolley, which trundles up and down lively McKinney Avenue in uptown. Hop on and off this free service for a quirky bar and food crawl featuring some of the best pubs in town. Highlights include The Standard Pour (2900 McKinney Ave, 214-935-1370) and its delicious barrel-aged cocktails, So and So’s (3309 McKinney Ave, 214-393-6473), famed for its Zagat-approved “decadent” blueberry pancakes with lemon curdand The Trophy Room (2714 McKinney Ave, 214-774-9395), with its famous mechanical bull sitting malevolently in the middle of the bar. Probably best taken on before the decadent pancakes.Photograph: Courtesy DCVB/Clay Coleman
Long, narrow Klyde Warren Park (2012 Woodall Rodgers Fwy) opened in late 2012, but is now one of the most popular spots in Dallas. Built over a reclaimed railway line, the $110 million greenway staples the city’s uptown and arts districts together. Throw in dozens of free daily activities including table tennis, badminton, chess, ice-skating, concerts and yoga and it’s easy to see why Klyde is now everyone’s best friend. If you fancy simply kicking back and people-watching, grab a book from the free outdoor stacks and meander over to Lark on the Park (2015 Woodall Rodgers Fwy, 214-855-5275) a relaxed eatery sporting a fine line in homemade sandwiches and microbrews.
Shop till you drop
Shopping is pretty much a local sport in Dallas, so if you want to play ball with your credit card, you’ve come to the right place. Start off at Highland Park Village (47 Highland Park Village, 214-443-9898), the first outdoor shopping center built in America, which is as renowned for its Spanish-influenced architecture as its haute couture (think Chanel, Dior, Alexander McQueen). If you’re on the hunt for further style points, Dallas is also home to Neiman Marcus’ glittering flagship store (1618 Main St, 214-741-6911) and the epic NorthPark Center (8687 North Central Expressway, 214-363-7441), an award-winning citadel of style blending 235 stores with a 1.4 acre garden and water features. But if unconventional boutiques are more of your bag, make a beeline for the Bishop Arts District, a creative hub southwest of downtown where you’ll be spoilt for choice.
No trip to Dallas would be complete without a visit to the most famous white house west of Washington, D.C.: Southfork Ranch (3700 Hogge Dr, Parker, 972-442-7800). Home to the dysfunctional Ewing clan of the city’s eponymous TV show, Southfork is an easy 30-minute drive from downtown. For $15 per adult, join a guided tour to explore the house and nearby museum, taking in everything from J.R.’s bedroom to the gun that shot him—as well as plenty of costumes, clips and props from one of the longest-running shows in TV history. Before leaving, you can wander around the (still working) ranch yourself, and grab a bite to eat at the wonderfully monikered Miss Ellie’s Deli, before filling your (cowboy) boots afterwards in the themed gift shop.
Texas is locked in an eternal, fiery struggle for BBQ supremacy with Kansas City, Memphis and the Carolinas. But if each contender was forced to put forward a champion for a national grill-off, Pecan Lodge (2702 Main St, 214-748-8900) could (and in our opinion should) fly the Lone Star flag. The pit-smoked food at this restaurant in hip Deep Ellum is absolutely out of this world—as evidenced by the lines out the door, round the corner and into the parking lot. The handmade jalapeño sausages and beef brisket with southwestern seasoning are particularly excellent, while the “hot mess” (sea salt-crusted sweet potato topped with barbacoa and chipotle cream) is deliriously good. If you’re a meat eater, don’t miss this place or you’ll never forgive yourself. (If you order more than five pounds of meat you can skip that long line too. Well, it would be rude not to.)
Follow in the footsteps of Bonnie and Clyde
The police were on the trail of Bonnie and Clyde for two years, but you can follow it—taking in plenty of the key sites—in a pleasant three hours. Both of the infamous Depression-era outlaws grew up in the Dallas area, where their crime and murder spree began before eventually ending in a hail of bullets just across the Louisiana border on May 23, 1934. DFW Historical Tours’ excellent exploration of the story takes you from Clyde’s family home and the cafe where Bonnie worked as a waitress, through many of their hole-ups and hideouts, and finally to their separate graves.
Throughout spring, summer and fall, the fairytale-esque Dallas Arboretum (8525 Garland Rd, 214-515-6500) stages “Cool Thursdays Concerts” atop its perfectly manicured lawn on the shores of White Rock Lake. The lively music events encompass a wide range of musical genres, including an awesome assemblage of gnarly tribute bands from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Tickets for the evening gigs cost $27 for adults and include free access to the stunning—and criminally underrated—botanical gardens themselves.
Bear with us on this one: The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum (2943 SMU Blvd, 214-346-1650) might not sound like a barrel of laughs, but it’s a thoroughly engaging and—dare we say it—enjoyable day out. A fascinating treasure trove of early 21st-century history (including a significant exhibit on the 9-11 attacks), it also includes an exact replica of the Oval Office, plus some fascinating insight into the Bush dynasty as a whole. The standout attraction, however, is the strangely addictive “Decision Points Theater,” where you sit in front of a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire-style screen and make decisions based on genuine evidence the President had at his disposal. After facing real-life scenarios ranging from the Iraq war to Hurricane Katrina, you’ll be surprised at just how ‘Bush’ you are.
Fuel up on the best breakfast tacos in town
Texans love eating tacos for breakfast—a fact that pretty much everyone here agrees on. There’s considerably less concurrence, however, when it comes to choosing the best vendor in town. Locals will swear by their favorite and return religiously for years, but that choice frequently divides friends and family. Make up your own mind by sampling the fare from some of the frontrunners: Fuel City (801 S Riverfront Blvd, 214-426-0011) a gas station whose “picadillo” tacos were voted Best in Texas; Tacos Y Mas, which started under a makeshift tent outside a grocery store and now has five restaurants across the city; and the charismatic Rusty Taco (4802 Greenville Ave, 214-613-0508), where spicy potato, egg and cheese tacos on the sun-drenched patio are the ideal way to start a day.
Explore the arts district
Dallas boasts one of the biggest urban arts areas in America: a 19-block expanse crammed with museums, restaurants and theaters. Highlights include the new AT&T Performing Arts Center (2100 Ross Ave), a four-venue music and theater complex centered on the striking drum-shaped Winspear Opera House designed by Sir Norman Foster. Get your bearings first with an official Walking Tour before deciding where to invest your time, refueling en route via the Art District’s packed Food Truck Court (Cajun Tailgators and Jack’s ChowHound both have long lines for good reason).
They do things big in Texas—and that includes their cowboy heritage. If y’all have ever fancied a bona fide Stetson, bola tie or cowhide boots, hitch a ride to Wild Bill’s Western Store (311 N Market St, 214-954-1050). In fact, they’ll even custom-make a pair of cowboy boots just for you. Situated in Dallas’ historic West End, the iconic store has leathered up everyone from Bon Jovi to Mick Jagger, as well as created the costumes for a number of major movies and TV shows. Just going into the store—life-size longhorn cow and all—is a Texan experience in itself, and they’ll even serve you a cold Texas Shiner Bock beer while you shop.
The Nasher Sculpture Center (2001 Flora St, 214-242-5100) is home to one of the finest collections of modern and contemporary art in the world. Many of these are placed in its lush two-acre sculpture garden, featuring works from the likes of Rodin, Henry Moore and George Segal. The serene space—right in the middle of the Arts District but seemingly a world away from the city—forms an incredible backdrop to the unique “’Til Midnight at the Nasher” series. Here, during warmer months, live music and outdoor movie screenings regularly take place under the stars, with the Nasher’s garden bar serving throughout.
Learn to Texas two-step
Folks tend to like both kinds of music in Dallas: Country and Western. And the best way to enjoy it is by two-stepping. There are a number of lively nightspots where you can have fun trying the classic dance, including the glitzy Round Up Saloon (3912 Cedar Springs Rd, 214-522-9611), which also has popular line-dancing lessons and Cowboys Dancehall (10310 Technology Blvd W, 214-352-1796), which has two-step lessons for beginners at 7pm every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. If you’d prefer to just kick back with a beer and listen to live country music, head for The Rustic (3656 Howell St, 214-730-0596), owned by Texan music legend Pat Green, and take up position around the fire pits in the oak-fringed backyard.
Need a breath of fresh air? Head to the Katy Trail (entrance at Knox St and Abbott Ave), a 3.5-mile route that winds through the city’s parks and unites a number of Dallas’ central districts, including Mockingbird, Highland Park, Uptown and West End. Popular with cyclists, dog walkers, inline skaters and joggers alike, it follows the path of the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, which was known as the MKT, or the Katy. The trail has become such a popular jogging location that the Dallas Observer recently quipped: “The trains don’t run here any more… Dallas does.”Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Richard Wezensky
For romantic dinner dates, look no further than Gemma (2323 N Henderson Ave, #109, 214-370-9426). A little restaurant tucked away on North Henderson, it’s quickly become a favorite of those in the know, thanks to its exceptional chef and unconventional opening hours (this joint is open until 1am!). After a night out at the theater or the movies, you can comfortably cab it over to Gemma and enjoy a midnight feast of fine dining—with a menu including grass fed beef tartare, fried olives and veal cheeks. The restaurant, which has an airy, coastal style, also boasts one of the best wine lists in Dallas.
There are sports stadiums, and then there are sports spaceships. The new AT&T Stadium (1 AT&T Way, Arlington), where the Dallas Cowboys play their home games, is undeniably the latter. Nicknamed ‘Jerry World’ after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, this incredible $1.15 billion gridiron cathedral seats upwards of 85,000 fans and has won multiple awards for its innovative design. Visit the home of “America’s Team” on an official VIP Guided Tour ($27.50 per adult) and you’ll get behind-the-scenes access too, taking in everything from the 58 pieces of contemporary art dotted about the stadium to the post-game interview room—and the Cowboys locker room.
Make a night of it on Lower Greenville
Lower Greenville used to be an area to avoid, but in the last couple of years it’s become the hottest ticket in town for a good night out. For dinner, The Blind Butcher (1919 Greenville Ave, 214-887-0000) is a funky pub-style eatery where they prepare their own meats out front, then serve them to you out back (the pigs’ ears with orange fennel aioli are surprisingly awesome). Head a few steps down the street for dessert at Steel City Pops (2012 Greenville Ave, 972-807-9062), which serves a mind-boggling selection of gourmet popsicles in creative flavors, then finish the evening with cocktails at HG Sply Co. (2008 Greenville Ave, 469-334-0896), listening to the DJ on its lively roof terrace overlooking the Dallas skyline.