Dallas. The very word seems almost mythical. With a skyline that’s more beautiful than any cluster of buildings in the world (save New York), Dallas is perched in the middle of a sprawling countryside. Grassy plains, rolling hills, and sunsets that can make you weep surround an ever-growing cityscape, famous for it’s business tycoons, consumerism, and excess lifestyle.
But my hometown is much more than cowboys and money. Its cosmopolitan flair and location on the edge of the American West makes “Big D” a must-see for travelers.
While the stereotypical views do hold some truth, I have to say that I’ve never owned a horse, nor do I have an oil field in my backyard. As a homegrown Texan, I’m often asked what Dallas has to offer. The answer: a lot more than you think. In fact, your very presence in the city is often a thrill of its own. In a town where everything is, well, big, Dallas has its fair share of secrets. With its proximity to the rest of the country (Dallas lies at an almost equal distance from both coasts), the city is a great starting point for an exploration of the entire state.
The ideal time to visit Dallas (or any part of Texas, which is known for its sweltering, humid summers) is fall or spring. Not only is the weather perfect during these months, but fall and spring are also the festival and cultural seasons, offering visitors a glimpse at Texan heritage and Dallas’ artistic side.
A must-have for all travelers visiting Dallas is their own set of wheels. Although it may seem like an inconvenience, renting a car is an ideal way to explore Dallas’ sprawling metropolis. While the city’s public transportation system (known as DART, Dallas Area Rapid Transit) is undergoing major renovations, much to the delight of both residents and visitors, a visit to the city without a car can be daunting. To alleviate the tension, Dallas has assured that car-travel is efficient, easy, and fun. With over a dozen major highways encircling the area, every major and minor attraction is within easy reach. Most of these “freeways” collide around downtown, forming the “mix-master,” a jumble of tangled, winding ramps and overpasses. A ride through the mix-master is a great way to get a close-up view of Dallas’ fascinating skyline, which provides an amazing panorama from any angle.
Dallas is indeed growing fast, and people are moving to the city at a steady rate (a fact clearly evident from my evening commutes). While most of the big attractions lie near the downtown area, Dallas spans for miles in all directions, making it possible to explore the great city’s many personalities, both large and small. The suburbs are miniature, cultural havens of their own, which brings me to an important aspect of travel throughout the city: its people. I’m convinced that Dallas lends some of its charm to southern hospitality. It’s hard to find someone more accommodating, warm, and spirited than a Texan, and many Dallasites will go out of their way to show off their hometown.
If you’re content to admire the outskirts of the city from afar, never fear; Dallas’ city life is both a cultural Mecca and a night owl’s dream. Known for its restaurants, shopping, and nightlife, “Dallas” is really the area contained inside the 635 (LBJ Freeway) loop and east of the Trinity River. Most of the important attractions and accommodations are at the center of this urban circle, though inconveniently spread out (hence the need for an automobile).
Dallas’ tourist attractions and important sights are located (more or less) in six entertainment/cultural districts: Downtown, the Arts District, Fair Park, the Park Cities, Lower Greenville/Lakewood, and Deep Ellum. These districts have their own distinct characteristics, and each appeals to a different kind of traveler, from history buffs to families, food lovers, shoppers, and night owl’s.
Want to experience the great outdoors? While Texas is mostly void of mountaintops, we love our water sports, and Dallas has no shortage of lakes to choose from. Man-made White Rock Lake, just east of downtown in the Lakewood District, is often known as our “urban oasis.” While it’s an ideal spot for walking, cycling, fishing, and paddling, the lake is also a great place for people watching, not to mention dog watching! Surrounded by forested trails and wildlife, White Rock is only ten minutes from downtown. Dallas’ popular Arboretum and Botanical Garden, which overlooks the lake, boasts 66 acres of seasonal flower displays, historic mansions, fountains, trails, and sculptures to explore. Set atop a graceful hillside, the Arboretum has amazing views of both White Rock and the city skyline.
Looking for history, culture, and the arts? Dallas is teeming with all three. Most of the museums in town are concentrated in Fair Park, including the Science Place and IMAX Theatre, the Museum of Natural History, the African American Museum, the Women’s Museum, Fair Park Music Hall, and many others. The Arts District, as you would expect, is also known for its theatres and cultural centers. The Dallas Museum of Art and the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center are located here.
For a bit of American history (however tragic), a visit to Dallas is just not the same without the required homage to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. Whether or not they believe JFK’s assassination was by a lone gunman or group conspiracy, guests can visit the sixth floor of the School Book Depository and view the “Grassy Knoll” and motorcade route below. If you’re a sports fan, one of Dallas’ many famous pro-sports teams are always in action – the Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers, the Mavericks, or the Stars.
For shopaholics, Dallas is a sin come true. Both opulent and thrifty, the city’s shopping areas have a wide variety of goods, from antiques to jewelry. Inside the 635 loop, the best locations of concentrated shopping can be divided into the following areas: Northpark Center, Mockingbird Station, and Knox/Henderson. In these shopping “centers,” it’s possible to park the car and shop in a variety of stores on foot. Care to be pampered? Dallas’ many spas and health centers will cater to your every relaxation-related dream. But be prepared to pay a hefty price.
For bar hoppers and night crawlers, I’m happy to say that Dallas has you covered. The two best nightspots in the city are Lower Greenville and Deep Ellum. Known for its superb musical acts, Dallas (along with music rival Austin, TX) has something for everyone: Rock, Pop, Indie, Rockabilly, Blues, and Jazz. The Lower Greenville area (which refers to Greenville Avenue south of Mockingbird Lane) has numerous good restaurants, pubs, bars, and clubs to choose from. Closer to downtown, Deep Ellum is a renovated warehouse district busting at the seams with music, booze, and rowdiness. Surrounded by the city’s hippest urban loft apartments, Deep Ellum has become a popular artists colony. Recently, it has morphed into the place to see and be seen, where rock stars rub elbows and the latest bizarre fashions hit the city streets.
But as I mentioned before, Dallas is much more than a rambling metropolis of lights and concrete. Just outside the city’s urban area, a short drive will take the traveler to all that is characteristically Texan – from the famous Mesquite Rodeo to the east, our “Cow Town” neighbor Fort Worth to the west, and rolling prairie land to the south. You’ll find expanses of wide-open plain, grazing longhorn cattle, and simplistic Texan kindness. Everything you’ll ever need to ride off, happily, into the sunset.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.