Dallas residents are rightfully proud of the city they call the “Big D.” The third largest city in the Lone Star State is a lively mix of cowboy culture, shopping centers galore, extraordinary museums and one of the largest arts districts in the country. Famous for its Tex-Mex cuisine and boot-stomping music scene, Dallas doesn’t disappoint when it comes to old west flavor, but this bustling metropolis is a forward-looking city that never dwells too long on the past. With its vibrant night life, upscale amenities and family-friendly attractions, Dallas has something special to offer every visitor.
1. Irving Arts Center
An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Irving Arts Center in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex boasts more than 91,500 square feet of visual and performing arts space. The huge complex features two theaters, four art galleries and an artfully landscaped sculpture garden. Explore the latest exhibits in the 3,800-square-foot Main Gallery or catch a Broadway show at the intimate Dupree Theater where each of the 253 seats offers a great view of the stage. For a pictorial look at the Big D’s past, don’t miss artist Francisco Mendoza’s monumental Irving Centennial Mural in the Sculpture Garden. The museum is open seven days a week.
2. Dallas World Aquarium
Located in the West End Historic District, the Dallas World Aquarium has all the tanks and sea life exhibits that you’d expect from a world-class aquarium but features a surprising array of birds and animals too. Tours begin at the upper level at the rainforest “Orinoco” exhibit where birds like toucans and ibis soar through a tropical canopy. The descent takes visitors past squirrel monkeys, sloths and crocodiles to the aquarium tanks below, which include a 400,000-gallon shark tank. The aquarium’s 10 main tanks feature sea life from around the world. Each adult visitor is given an educational Field Guide at the entrance, and more than 50 touch screens offer additional information along the way. The facility is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
3. Explore the West Village
With more retail centers per capita than any other city in the nation, it’s no wonder that Dallas is an international shopping destination. Designed by the renowned architectural firm of David M. Schwarz & Associates, the West Village in the Uptown District is one of the city’s most popular shopping centers. Completed in 2001, the center was built to blend in with the surrounding neighborhood with around 42 trendy shops, bars and restaurants on the ground floor and 170 apartments and lofts above. The West Village is also home to the newly renovated Magnolia Theater, known for its artsy films and adjoining cocktail bar. It’s easy to spend a day here shopping, eating and exploring.
4. Dallas Farmers Market
Located at the corner of Pearl and Cadiz streets, the Dallas Farmer’s Market has been in continuous operation since the early 1900s when farmers came to town to sell their goods, produce and animals from the back of their wagons. In 1941, the Big D claimed it as its own, and several mammoth sheds were built to showcase the region’s produce, baked goods, meats and cheeses. Open seven days a week from 7 a.m. too 6 p.m., the 12-acre space also features a nighttime market that’s open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. from May to November. If you’re sticking to a budget or just tried of eating at restaurants while on your vacation, stop by the market and pick up some local produce, bread and some cheese and make yourself a fresh lunch or snack on the go.
5. Fair Park
Built for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition, Fair Park holds the distinction of being the only intact world’s fair site in the United States. The 277-acre complex features an extraordinary array of Art Deco buildings and monuments, including the magnificent bas-relief columns depicting Texas pioneers that stand at the main gate. Today, the Art Deco structures house seven museums and the grounds are home to sporting and performance venues like the Cotton Bowl, Starplex Amphitheater and State Fair Coliseum. Operated by the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department, Fair Park is open daily. Its busiest time is during the fall when the park plays host to the annual State Fair of Texas.
6. Perot Museum of Nature and Science
Located in Victory Park, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science is the latest and biggest addition to the expansive 68-acre Arts District in Dallas. Designed by architect Thomas Mayne, the striking cube-shaped structure encompasses 180,000 square feet of exhibition space on six floors. Aimed at students, the displays are highly interactive, inviting onlookers to issue commands to robots, touch dinosaur teeth replicas or design their own bird. Adults will find the 11 permanent exhibit halls just as engaging. The museum also boasts a state-of-the-art 3D theater, a café and a museum shop. The popular museum is least crowded in the morning.
7. Six Flags Over Texas
Located just 20 minutes away from Downtown Dallas, Six Flags Over Texas offers a full day of family fun under the sun. From the newly expanded Bugs Bunny Boomtown with 10 attractions designed for young children to the park’s adrenaline-charged 13 roller coasters, the amusement park is sure to please every member of the family. The park has recently added more seating and shaded areas too, so adults can relax and watch while the kids play. There are lots of good food options in the park as well, from BBQ and stir-frys to lean wraps and salads. If you’re looking to save a few dollars, buy your tickets online before visiting the park. On average you’ll save between $15-20 off the regular gate admissions.
8. Reunion Tower GeO-Deck
An iconic Dallas landmark, the 50-story-high Reunion Tower is topped with a spherical dome that slowly rotates to give visitors a panoramic view of the city below. Visitors looking for a challenge can climb the 837 steps or for an easier route, take an elevator to the indoor/outdoor GeO-Deck. Once at the top, you can view the city through high-definition zoom cameras and high-power telescopes and enjoy lunch at the Cloud Nine café. The sphere is also home to the acclaimed restaurant and lounge Five-Sixty by Wolfgang Puck, which is best known for its Asian fusion cuisine. The dome takes a full hour to make a complete rotation, offering visitors plenty of time to enjoy the spectacular views.
9. Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
With more than 66 acres of themed gardens, the Dallas Arboretum offers visitors a welcome respite from the hot Texas sun. Stretched along the southern back of White Rock Lake only 15 minutes away from the Downtown District, the grounds are visited by more than 900,000 people each year. Of the 19 named gardens, standouts include the Jonsson Color garden, which boasts more than 2,400 varieties of azaleas, and the tiered fountains and reflecting pools in A Woman’s Garden. The Arboretum has an outdoor concert stage, a café and picnic areas as well. Bring along those snacks you picked up from the Farmers Market to have a picnic and make it an enjoyable afternoon.
10. Night Out on the Town
No visit to Dallas is complete without spending an evening out on the town enjoying the city’s vibrant night life. A stop at the House of Blues Dallas is a must. The 60,000-square-foot complex includes a southern-style restaurant, an outdoor patio and live music performances ranging from blues to rock. For some down-home country music, the Round-Up Salon is a fun destination. With its dance floor and friendly atmosphere, the gay-friendly club is the perfect spot to practice your Texas Two-step. Jazz enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Balcony Club atop the Landmark Theater. For its intimate setting, sterling jazz performances and premium cocktails, the club was ranked one of the top 100 bars in America by Esquire Magazine.