Dallas is a name that's characterized by cowboys and cheerleaders, oil barons, black gold and silicon chips. As a name, it is renowned throughout the country. As a city, it's relatively youthful and modern, innovative and entrepreneurial, yet its deep reaching roots exude an eventful history and Old West heritage like few others.
The ninth largest city in the United States began life in 1841 as a trading post and small town of 20 streets sketched out among 640 acres of land. In the years that followed, Dallas would establish itself as a frontier post of the "Wild West." In the 1870s it became the central meeting point for Midwestern and Pacific railroad lines furthering the city's progression as a base for travel and trade.
In the early 20th century a succession of key developments that included opening the first Neiman Marcus department store in 1907, the establishment of a Federal Reserve Bank in 1914, the development of the East Texas Oilfield in 1930, and hosting the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936 all fueled the city's rapid advancement. Three decades later, it became the birthplace to the integrated-circuit computer chip, and the advent of what would become the Texas version of California's Silicon Valley. Today, the Dallas CVB cites the city as the number one visitor destination in Texas and the Southwest's leading business and financial center.
Dallas is warm throughout the year with temperatures ranging from 67 to 33 degrees F during fall and winter and from 55 to 97 during the spring and summer months. Summer and winter is also typically dry, but there are always chances of afternoon thunderstorms, with the heaviest rainfall occurring during springtime and topping out in May with an annual average of nearly five inches. Due to its location set between the Midwest and Gulf Coast, Dallas is also susceptible to heavy wind gusts, occasional hail, floods, and tornados.
Dallas is a young and still developing city that was once known more for its business center attributes than for tourist attractions. But today the city, with its revitalized state fairgrounds, a growing arts scene and beautiful parks, offers plenty of visual stimuli and activities from within its numerous and distinct neighborhoods to attract visitors of all ages and interests.
Established in 1880 and located two miles east of downtown, Fair Park Dallas (1300 Robert B. Cullum Blvd.; 214-670-8400; www.fairpark.org) is a 277-acre historical landmark that houses museums, meeting venues, theaters and amphitheaters, exhibit facilities, and is also home to the largest state fair in the U.S., the State Fair of Texas. Visitors to Fair Park can save 40 percent off admission to a number of on-site attractions by purchasing a Fair Park Passport. The passport allows for one-time admission and is valid for 90 days from date of purchase.
Located among its vast acreage is the Texas Discovery Gardens at Fair Park (3601 Martin Luther King Blvd.; 214-428-7476; www.texasdiscoverygardens.org). The first certified organic public garden in the state, Texas Discovery Gardens features ten different themed areas that include fountains, a butterfly habitat, an heirloom garden, and a scent garden.
The name "Dallas" is synonymous for many with the nighttime television drama that popularized the exploits of the Ewing clan and their famous home at the Southfork Ranch. Fans and tourists still flock to Southfork (3700 Hogge Rd., Parker; 972-442-7800; www.southforkranch.com), now an event and conference center, for a tour through the ranch grounds and mansion. Start from the visitors center and relive some memorable moments in the "Dallas Legends" exhibit, which includes the gun that shot J.R. and video clips from the series. Take a tram from the visitors center to the mansion for a guided tour and go behind the scenes. On-site shopping and chuckwagon-style dining are also available.
Trek through a tropical rainforest, spy on stingrays and sharks, walk through a water tunnel, and wander the underwater world from ocean to ocean at the Dallas World Aquarium (1801 N. Griffin St.; 214-720-2224; www.dwazoo.com). Ten 2,000-gallon displays present marine life from around the world including Southern Australia, Fiji, Bahamas, British Columbia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Japan. Numerous educational exhibits dot the surface of the aquarium including "The Orinoco: Secrets of the River" rainforest exhibit spotlighting the South American Orinoco River basin and the Mundo Maya, an interactive, immersion exhibit that takes visitors from the waters of the Yucatan's gulf coast to the highland rainforests.
The original Six Flags theme park company began life in the mid-1960s, named after the six nations that have governed Texas at various periods. Six Flags Over Texas (2201 Road To Six Flags; Arlington; 817-640-8900; www.sixflags.com/parks/overtexas) is a family fun park proportionate in size and scope to the state itself. Experience the excitement and chills of the Titan roller coaster, a hulking figure featuring camel back hills and spiral curves. The appropriately named Texas Giant is an old wooden-framed favorite that climbs into the Texas sky then cruises at better than 60 miles an hour. The Southwestern-themed park produces a number of shows, shops and eateries, as well as special seasonal events such as Fun Filled Fall, featuring "Fright Fest" and "Holiday in the Park" through the end of the year.
"The Mort," or more accurately, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center (2301 Flora St.; 214-670-3600; www.dallasculture.org/meyersonsymphonycenter) was designed by acclaimed architect, I.M. Pei, and houses the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall. Artists from all walks of life have called it one of the acoustically finest halls in America. The Mort is the permanent home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, but plays hosts to a full season of events, including recitals on the 4,535-pipe Herman W. Lay Family Organ. Even if you can't make an evening concert, stop by for a free hour-long tour (call for schedule).
The Nasher Sculpture Center (2001 Flora St.; 214-242-5100; www.nashersculpturecenter.org) is dedicated to the exhibition, study and preservation of modern sculpture. Visitors will find a "roofless" museum in the garden comprised of more than 300 pieces that features works by the likes of Calder, Kelly, Matisse, Miro, and Picasso. The Center occupies a full city block in the Dallas Arts District and sits adjacent to the Dallas Museum of Art. Stop by for a light lunch at the nearby Nasher Cafe overlooking the garden.
Located in Dallas' burgeoning Arts District, Crow Collection of Asian Art (2010 Flora St.; 214-979-6430; www.crowcollection.org) features works dating from 3500 B.C. to the early 20th century and include more than 600 paintings, metal and stone objects, and large architectural pieces from throughout Asia. Visitors will marvel at a variety of precious jade ornaments, paintings, sculptures, decorative and ritualistic items from China's Qing Dynasty, while scrolls, screens, kimonos, and prints may be on display in the Japanese collection. Religious items form the cornerstone of the Indian and Southeast Asian collection, which also includes a 28-by-12-foot sandstone facade of an 18th-century Indian residence. Look for revolving special exhibitions and free Sunday tours of the garden.
Located nearby Downtown and to the east, Whiterock Lake and Greenbelt Park (830 E. Lawther Dr.; 214-670-8281) features a nearly ten-mile waterfront trail that's perfect for walking, running and biking, while the adjoining park includes playgrounds and a ten-station workout spot. Whiterock Lake offers excellent boating and fishing opportunities.
Every Friday and Saturday evening from April through December, guests can witness the Mesquite Championship Rodeo (1818 Rodeo Dr., Mesquite; 972-285-8777; www.mesquiterodeo.com) and experience a unique brand of Western adventure that grew up in Texas. Among America's oldest sports, the rodeo is a throwback to the time when such tests of skill were essential to the livelihood of the cowboy, and today, having grown into an event that's increasing in popularity. From bull riding and barrel racing to bronco busting and bareback, to a home-cooked barbecue buffet at one of the country's best, Sonny Bryan's, it's a family-friendly, fun time in a fully enclosed, climate-controlled arena where better than 5,000 can gather for an evening's entertainment.
Visitors looking to get in a few rounds on the greens will also have the added privilege of getting better acquainted with some of the greats of the gridiron on the world's first NFL-themed resort-style golf course. In 2001, the City of Dallas and its Cowboys football team linked up to create The Cowboys Golf Club (1600 Fairway Dr., Grapevine; 817-481-7277; www.cowboysgolf.com), an upscale course wrought with scenic landscape, dramatic elevational changes, waterways and wildlife preserves, and a walkthrough experience that captures the historical achievements of "America's Team."
From historic charm to modern glamour, Dallas offers the finest in Southern hospitality and a wealth of more than 65,000 hotel rooms ranging from first-class luxury to family pricing and in a variety of locations spanning the Downtown/Convention Center area through Las Colinas.
Hotel ZaZa (2332 Leonard St.; 214-468-8399; www.hotelzaza.com) fashions every bit of "uptown" in its luxurious mystique. The chateau-inspired boutique hotel caters to business travelers and vacationers looking for luxury, comfort and convenience, from its candlelit lobby and floor-to-floor butler pantries, to the Magic Carpet transport service from within its active location. The hotel offers luxuriously appointed rooms and suites with amenities that include Whirlpool spas, Italian linens, gourmet kitchens, complimentary wireless Internet access, and plasma televisions. The hotel is well located for local shopping and fine dining, or from within, offering guests the elegant Dragonfly restaurant and the hotel's Poolside retreat.
Renowned for the soaring red neon sign which has been a city landmark since 1922 when the Magnolia Petroleum Company built its 29-story Beaux Arts headquarters tower in the heart of downtown, today the Pegasus flies above The Magnolia Hotel (1401 Commerce St., 214-915-6500; www.themagnoliahotel.com), one of Dallas' finest luxury hotels. Combining plenty of historical significance with modern day sophistication, The Magnolia features 314 rooms and 141 luxury suites. Its prime downtown location offers visitors close proximity to the famous Neiman Marcus flagship store and the Dallas Convention Center, as well as a variety of business corporations, and is just a few blocks from the DART light rail.
For those in search of a break from the big city, a quiet country style Bed-and-Breakfast in nearby Fort Worth offers an escape to a bygone era. Azalea Plantation (1400 Robinwood Dr., Fort Worth; 817-838-5882; www.azaleaplantation.com) was first constructed in 1948 by one of the city's leading builders, W.I. Browning. Set among nearly two acres of oaks and magnolias, it's reminiscent of the plantation homes of the 1800s. The historic location provides a welcome respite from the crowds, but provides plenty in the way of cultural enrichment from nearby attractions such as the Kimbell Art Museum, the National Cowgirl Museum and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame. The plantation offers five bedrooms, which include the Bluebonnet Bungalow and Magnolia Cottage/Suite for a more private retreat.
The big city offers big variety for shoppers of all tastes and budgets. From great malls to quaint boutiques, Old World charm to European elegance, from three miles of underground tunnels and skybridges full of shops and restaurants, Dallas's shopping can accommodate every kind of mission.
Known by many as the "city under glass," the imposing Galleria Dallas (13350 Dallas Pkwy.; 972-702-7100; www.galleriadallas.com) is a vast mall with a light-filled atrium. It's home to nearly 200 stores and sports an international collection of the world's most famous shops. The Galleria's department stores are all flagships: Macy's, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue. An ice-skating rink, a Westin Hotel and some 30 restaurants add to the popularity of this family favorite shopping complex.
Live jazz and a romantic, intimate ambience set the stage for an evening at Balcony Club (1825 Abrams Rd.; 214-826-8104) located in the lobby of the historic Lakewood Theatre. Sip on specialty drinks such as chocolate martinis and listen as throaty jazz singers croon their favorite melodies. A small outdoor patio, comfortable booths and an assortment of stools and tables provide seating, and there's room enough for standing and mingling. The full bar also provides a nice selection of single malt scotches.
Built in 1911, Sons of Hermann Hall (3414 Elm St.; 214-747-4422) is a dance hall that's been traditionally supportive of local country acts though it has branched out more, receptive to "all pickers, singers, grinners and listeners." While the broad hardwood dance floor finds plenty of action, the long downstairs bar, jukebox, pool tables, and shuffle board keep the rest of the place busy—but the tiny upstairs stage, with its foldout chairs and velvet curtains, is where the real magic happens. Past performers have included the Dixie Chicks, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Austin Lounge Lizards. Wednesday nights feature swing dancing and lessons, and on Tuesday nights, songwriters share and croon at the open microphone.
The Dallas Tourist Information Center (100 S. Houston St.; 214-571-1300) is located at the corner of Main in the Old Red Courthouse and provides brochures, directions and information to the visitors of Dallas and the surrounding areas. The center features touch-screen kiosks with printing capabilities, an Internet cafe and a video room.
The DART Rail System (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) provides fast, convenient transportation service around Dallas and some surrounding areas. Via Trinity Railway Express (TRE) and bus services, transportation between the Dallas area and the DFW Airport and downtown Fort Worth is also available. DART day passes and TRE fares are available in ticket vending machines located at each rail station. For more information call (214) 979-1111 or go to www.dart.org.
A free transportation service within Dallas is offered by the McKinney Avenue Trolley (214-855-0006; www.mata.org/map.shtml), restored, historic streetcars routed between Dallas' Arts District and the McKinney Avenue Uptown neighborhood. If you're staying downtown, you can catch the trolley at the Dallas Museum of Art and jump on and off along the system's 2.8-mile circuit. Nearby Cityplace Station connects to the DART service.
50 Free Things to Do in Dallas
Welcome to Dallas
Dallas Convention Center
Cafe on the Green
Cafe on the Green at the Four Seasons Resort and Club is an absolutely delightful lunch spot. Decorated in soft celadon green and pink with a cabbage-patterned carpet, diners look out over the pool and resort lawn through floor-to-ceiling arched windows. The hot/cold luncheon buffet is a marvelous extravaganza of American cuisine that emphasizes lighter, healthier fare--Asian vegetables, ratatouille, various stir frys and a dessert selection that easily can wipe out any calorie deficit you created earlier.
Cafe on the Green
4150 North MacArthur Blvd.
Cool River Café
Cool River Café, a steakhouse and Southwestern grille, is one of the most extravagant and popular Dallas dining spots. Massive dining rooms, saved from a cavernous character by being broken into smaller areas, are done in a ranch-meets-lodge motif. A center cigar and cognac room is furnished with comfy chairs around a fireplace and strategically placed chess boards. The menu, with dishes such as chipotle chicken and grilled portobello mushroom, with a fajita apple skillet for dessert, is well-suited to the ambiance of this high energy place.
Cool River Café
1045 Hidden Ridge Rd.
Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House
Dedicated carnivores seek out Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House for fine USDA prime steaks, while their companions can order the best Australian cold water lobster tails. Del Frisco's is everything a steak house should be: grade A filets and grade A service. Located in a buff-colored brick building with brass front doors and a copper roof, the dark-wood interior, hunter green carpet, brass light fixtures, and marble fireplaces create a sincere atmosphere devoid of conceits in which to enjoy a superb meal. Dining is also available in the underground wine cellar for up to ten guests.
Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House
5251 Spring Valley Rd.
The French Room in the historic Adolphus Hotel is a perennial recipient of ratings accolades from the likes of AAA and Conde Nast Traveler. This beautiful Baroque dining room has been restored to its 1912 splendor, and features a superb menu that meets the challenge of such elegant surroundings. The carefully prepared courses are classically French, adapted to American tastes, with continental service to match. The seared filet of Chilean Sea Bass wrapped in potato and feta cheese, as well as the Eastern shoals halibut, white miso and sweet potato bring fish to its highest culinary level. The creative chef's fixed price menu is worth a try.
1321 Commerce St.
The Mansion Restaurant
Although The Mansion Restaurant is as elegant as The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek itself, it is delightfully devoid of arrogance, without a snippet of the snobbish or supercilious. The Southwestern characteristics of the cuisine have created a taste and style that's comforting and unpretentious. Their signature tortilla soup or lobster taco, satisfy in an elegant, yet low-key manner. Seafood dishes are lightly seasoned and accompanied with appropriate vegetables. It's impossible to leave without at least a taste of the satiny creme brulee with raspberry sauce. It's modern Southwest cuisine served with five-star quality in a formal but friendly atmosphere.
The Mansion Restaurant
2821 Turtle Creek Blvd.
Nick and Sam's
Nick and Sam's is reportedly tops on the list of hotel concierges for its accommodating attitude and fork-tender steaks. Casual opulence is evident in a menu highlighted by prime steaks, chops and seafood, as well as the grand piano seated in front of the open kitchen and a chilled wine room, where a computer keeps track of all the wines--some 450 selections. The live oyster bar and caviar cart also attest to the upscale attitude of a place that is attracting diners who come to linger and enjoy.
Nick and Sam's
3008 Maple Ave.
Remington's Seafood Grill
Remington's Seafood Grill, family-owned and operated for more than 25 years, offers excellent seafood in an atmosphere that is low-key and serene. Conversation is the entertainment, along with straightforward eight-ounce portions of fresh fish, flown in daily, and situated in an eye-catching eight-foot saltwater tank. A perennial favorite is Gulf red snapper, lightly oven-broiled, served with delicate beurre blanc and fresh steamed vegetables. Locals swear by the made-from-scratch gumbo, flavorful without being overwhelming. Go all out for a steak and lobster combo topped off with a fabulous flourless chocolate cake.
Remington's Seafood Grill
4580 Belt Line Rd.
Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse
No Dallas dining list would be complete without Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse, an institution since 1910 for its barbecue and secret sauce, a closely guarded secret. Although there are other Sonny Bryan's locations in Dallas, all serving the same wonderful BBQ, to get the essence of Sonny's you must go to the hole-in-the-wall on Inwood Road that was Elias Bryan's original location. This roadside shrine to spicy, slow-cooked (ten-hour minimum for everything) meat is what visitors have come to expect of Dallas. You don't go for the ambiance, but do go for lunch and check out a reasonably priced family meal deal. It's the beef brisket and pork ribs that tantalize and have kept locals coming back for almost a century.
Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse
2202 Inwood Rd.