Beyond the cowboy hats and JFK assassination sites, big city Texas has a few surprises in store…
Dallas, alas, is best known as where John F Kennedy was assassinated. To form your own theory, you first need to head to Dealey Plaza to familiarise yourself with the layout, then head up to the Sixth Floor Museum (411 Elm Street, 00 1 214 747 6660) at the infamous Texas School Book Depository Building. The displays are extensive and cover most perspectives. For the fictional shooting of J.R. Ewing in the Dallas TV series, Southfork Ranch (3700 Hogge Drive, 00 1 972 442 7800) can be found in satellite town Parker. A new Dallas icon – the 122m-tall Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge designed by Spanish starchitect Santiago Calatrava – hasn’t yet opened, but is already a skyline fixture.
Cultural attractions in Dallas
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Dallas likes big things, and proudly boasts that its arts district is the biggest in the country, spanning 19 blocks. The centrepiece is the Dallas Museum of Art (1717 North Harwood, 00 1 214 922 1803). It’s a good all-rounder, covering art from across the world and containing token pieces by most of the big names, but lacking knock-out highlights. The hugely engaging Nasher Sculpture Center (2001 Flora Street, 00 1 214 242 5100) opposite has a smaller collection, but you’re more likely to leave it with a big grin on your face. If acoustic is more your thing that aesthetic, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (00 1 214 692 0203) has a reputation for adventure and willingness to take risks.
In a city that’s about as pedestrian-friendly as minefield, the Katy Trail is a saving grace. The 5.6km route links the Knox-Henderson and West End areas of the city along an old railroad – which means you’re not having to battle across traffic every two minutes. It’s divided into a cycle path plus a soft-surface running and walking track. The lining of trees gives it a cut-off, peaceful feel. White Rock Lake to the northeast of the city also provides a nice respite – 15km of hiking trails stretch around the waterfront. You may have to dodge a few anglers, however.
Generic city bus tours that tick off most of the highlights – whilst throwing in the opportunity to gawp at some seriously expensive houses – are available with Hello Dallas Tours (00 1 214 261 5651) for $30. However, you can also get around by Segway. Dallas Segway Tours (00 1 972 821 9054, from $83.36) offers trips on the odd contraptions along the Katy Trail and around Dealey Plaza. Meanwhile, the Dallas Center For Architecture (00 1 214 742 3242) offers walking tours for those entranced by the city’s skyline. Separate $10 tours explore the Arts District and the Main Street area of Downtown.
Budget accommodation in Dallas
Budget accommodation in central Dallas usually equals a park bench, but some local residents do rent out spare rooms via Airbnb. Otherwise, you’re looking at staying in an anonymous part of the giant urban sprawl and making sure you’ve got a car. The Best Western CityPlace Inn (4150 North Central Expressway, 00 1 214 827 6080, from $95) is decently close to the action, and falls into the surprisingly acceptable motel bracket. More of the same chainy adequacy can be found near Love Field airport, while the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center (8051 Lyndon B Johnson Freeway, 00 1 972 680 3000, from $68) further north is a step up in quality if down in price.
Mid-range hotels in Dallas
The Indigo (1933 Main Street, 00 1 214 741 7700, from $183) is just lovely. Friendly staff and a tropical, beachy feel give it oodles of character. The bright yellow bedrooms are very much love-or-hate, though – be warned. The nearby Magnolia (1401 Commerce Street, 00 1 214 915 6500, from $149) is a Downtown steal as well – big mirrors make the rooms feel more spacious than they are, but a recent makeover has embellished a genuinely stylish swagger. The Belmont (901 Fort Worth Avenue, 00 1 214 393 2300, from $121) is a relative bargain – the retro-chic feel, city views and judicious tarting up of a classic building make up for the slightly isolated location.
Luxury stays in Dallas
The Adolphus (1321 Commerce Street, 00 1 214 742 8200, from $186) is the one with the wow factor, with wall-to-wall wood panelling, billowing plants and tapestries making the lobby scream “opulence”. The bedrooms are more subdued, but still have touches of classic glamour. The Palomar (5300 East Mockingbird Lane, 00 1 214 520 7969, from $218) puts a fun twist on the upmarket business hotel, with free wine-tasting every evening, leopard-skin robes, plants in the corner of the perky-feeling rooms. The Stoneleigh Hotel and Spa (2927 Maple Avenue, 00 1 214 871 7111, from $248) has a detached refinement about it, with lots of natural light, smart-without-being-cold colour schemes and spacious standard rooms.
The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek (2821 Turtle Creek Boulevard, 00 1 214 559 2100, from $360) has a relaxed but stately feel that’s popular with visiting dignitaries. A coral colour scheme runs throughout and it’s in a leafy location. Slightly closer to downtown, the Ritz-Carlton (2121 McKinney Avenue, 00 1 214 922 0200, from $373) is your classic big corporate luxury hotel, but there’s plenty of cat-swinging space and all the facilities you can care to mention. Joule (1530 Main Street, 00 1 214 748 1300, from $413) is the star though; bold and in the heart of Downtown, all surfaces are varnished to superhuman levels and startling art installations make it stick in the memory.
Snacking in Dallas
It’s essentially a truck stop/ petrol station, but you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who’ll say that the tacos at Fuel City (801 South Riverfront Blvd) aren’t the best in Dallas. For good burgers, Hunky’s (3940 Cedar Springs Road, 00 1 214 522 1212) has a classic 1950s diner look that is completely at odds with its mostly young and hip, often gay clientele. On-the-go heaven, however, must look very much like Eatzi’s (3403 Oak Lawn Avenue - 00 1 214 526 1515). It’s a huge grocery store/ deli with freshly made salad boxes, crab cakes, rotisserie chickens, artisan bread, pastas and cakes. Walk in hungry and you’ll walk out having bought enough to feed a coachload.
Dallas cafés and affordable restaurants
The Lily Pad (1920 Main Street, 00 1 214 529 6706) is a good spot for a Downtown bite on a sunny day. The wooden deck overlooks the Main Street Garden, and there’s a healthy-ish menu that includes pressed wraps and organic frozen yoghurt. For something more substantial, Café Madrid (4501 Travis Street, 00 1 214 528 1731) in Knox-Henderson is a perennially popular tapas joint that acts as a community hub as much as a restaurant. Meanwhile, the Cosmic Café (2912 Oak Lawn Avenue, 00 1 214 521 6157) is an utterly bonkers hive of colour, elephant paintings, murals and Eastern spirituality. It’s a fun vegetarian oasis in a city of steaks, though.
Top end restaurants in Dallas
In a city where cattle is big business, there’s fierce competition for the title of Best Steakhouse. But Nick and Sam’s (3008 Maple Avenue, 00 1 214 871 7444) always comes top or very close on those lists – in no small part due to the complimentary caviar handed out with each cut. For a proper dress-up dinner in elegant, formal surroundings, go for the French Room at the Adolphus Hotel. Seasonal ingredients are the key here – and the list of the restaurant’s awards is Tolstoy-esque. Dallas’ flashiest celeb chef, however, is Tom Colicchio at Craft (2440 Victory Park Lane, 00 1 214 397 4111). His $110 tasting menu changes regularly, and he’s famed for simple ingredients done very well.
DALLAS ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE
The Old Monk (2847 North Henderson Avenue, 00 1 214 821 1880) is a fab pub with arguably the best beer selection in Dallas. The wooden benches outside are a winner on a hot day too. The outdoor area at Barcadia (1917 North Henderson Avenue, 00 1 214 821 7300) is also very popular, but many come here to play on the vintage arcade games as they sip. For wine-lovers, Vino 100 (2909 McKinney Avenue, 00 1 214 969 9463) on Uptown’s buzzing McKinney Avenue is a fabulous idea – a shop selling 100 great wines for under $25 a bottle, that morphs into a terraced bar with live music at night.
Live music in Dallas
The Granada Theater (3524 Greenville Avenue, 00 1 214 824 9933) is a historic building that sees plenty of guitar-wielding bands trundling through. They’re at varying levels of obscurity – you’ll rarely get an internationally recognisable name in here – but the website always lists other bands that ‘go well with’ that night’s act as a reference point. The Palladium (1135 South Lamar Street, 00 1 972 343 2444) has less charm but attracts bigger acts. The true Texan experience – with mechanical bull rides, line dancing and country bands – comes next door at Gilley’s (1135 South Lamar Street, 00 1 214 421 2021, www.gilleysdallas.com), Dallas’ most famous honky tonk.
Escapade 2001 (10701 Finnell Street, 00 1 214 654 9950) offers something a little unusual. It’s a huge space with multiple rooms, but each is devoted to a different style of Latino music – perfect for those who want to shake their thing and get all steamy. Zubar (2012 Greenville Ave, 00 1 214 887 0071) is a good place to see local electronic music acts as well as DJs – there’s a friendly, unpretentious vibe too. Almost the exact opposite is Suite (4515 Travis Street, 00 1 214 520 9135) – a sleekly-designed hang out for the rich, beautiful kids who like to show their spending power with bottle service.
SHOPPING IN DALLAS
Markets in Dallas
This city does malls far better than it does stalls, but the Dallas Farmers’ Market (1010 South Pearl Expressway, 00 1 214 939 2808) is worth a look. It’s open from 8am to 6pm daily, and it’s a good opportunity to stock up on local produce if you’re planning to cook for yourself rather than powerdine. Alternatively, you can time your trip to coincide with the Dallas Flea Market on South Lamar Street, which is rather grander than it sounds. Luring in creative types from all over Texas, this four times a year event is like a farmer’s market for artists.
JFK buffs can stock up on questionable DVDs, pamphlets and books from the conspiracy theorists hanging around Dealey Plaza, but a better souvenir is a reprinted copy of the Dallas Morning News from the day of the Kennedy assassination. They’re available at the Sixth Floor Museum’s shop. Other fitting purchases in this cowboy city are boots, hats and belts – and Wild Bill’s Western Store (311 North Market Street, 00 1 214 954 1050) has a glorious array of them. For big label shopping, Nieman Marcus (1618 Main Street, 00 1 214 741 6911) is the major department store whilst the superswank Highland Park Village has the honour of being America’s first ever shopping centre.
DALLAS TRAVEL ADVICE
It’s important to know what you’re getting into when you get off the plane at Dallas/ Fort Worth airport. Dallas is a largely unchecked sprawl, slavishly devoted to cars and multi-lane freeways. There are some genuinely enjoyable areas, but they’re spread out. There are two options – try and conquer it all but feel somewhat detached using a rental car, or rely on boot leather, iffy public transport and cabs to concentrate on a couple of the more appealing parts of town. The car option will involve getting angry at toll roads and valet parking charges, the green option will limit your exploratory powers and necessitate the odd hair-raising dash across a six lane road.
Visas and currency
No visas are required, but the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation registration is obligatory. Fill in the forms here and shell out the US$14 fee at least 72 hours before travel or risk being turned away at passport control.
The details in this article are correct as of May 2011, when the guide was researched. It was originally published by the Sun-Herald in .
Disclosure: David Whitley was a guest of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau.