When I tell people I live in Dallas, I receive two responses. The most common is, “I’ve never really thought about visiting Dallas.” The other? “I’ve visited but I didn’t really know what to do or where to go.”
Here’s the thing: as someone who has lived in Dallas since 2015, I can totally understand why the city has flown under the radar as a travel destination. Beyond the Dallas Cowboys and the Texas State Fair, Dallas’ attractions are more low-key and focused on neighborhood exploration. It also doesn’t help that the city is a confusing mass of highways, and often misconstrued as a Western honky-tonk, thanks to the 1980s TV show Dallas (it’s anything but that – trust me).
The Dallas I know is a metropolitan city with a stunning skyline, a rocking arts scene and creative restaurants that led to it being named the 2019 Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appetit. But unless you have a local guide to lead the way, you might miss out on what makes D-town so special, so check out this Dallasite’s 4-day itinerary to experience the best of the city’s culture, history, art and outdoor adventures.
Day 1 is for art and history in downtown Dallas
You don’t need to rent a car if you stay in downtown Dallas. From here, you can take advantage of a number of public-transit options: a free D-Link bus that serves the downtown and Deep Ellum areas, two free streetcars with routes to Uptown and Bishop Arts, multiple DART rail stations, and an underground-tunnel walking system. Plus, rideshares to the destinations on this itinerary won’t be too expensive.
Our top-choice hotel is the Thompson Dallas, for its mid-century modern luxury style and three of the best restaurants in town, Kessaku, Catbird, and Monarch. You might also consider the HALL Arts Hotel Dallas, which combines art, elegance and a phenomenal location in the Arts District.
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Spend the morning revisiting the past
Hop on the free D-Link bus that runs every 15 minutes through downtown Dallas and get off near Ellen’s Restaurant in the West End. Have a mimosa with shrimp and grits or a latte with southern breakfast favorites like biscuits and gravy. After breakfast, hit the pavement to experience Dallas’ notable history.
It’s just a few blocks to the John Neely Bryan Cabin, the first house ever built in Dallas (or at least a replica built in the 1930s). From there you can knock out the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture (currently being renovated but just the building itself is beautiful), as well as Dealey Plaza and the Kennedy Memorial. The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum is well worth visiting, as is the Sixth Floor Museum, where you can learn more about the assassination of John F Kennedy and see the room where gunman Lee Harvey Oswald watched the Presidential limo approach.
Spring for a sit-down lunch or grab a bite to go
Walk to Klyde Warren Park, which is located on top of a highway, and grab something to eat from the food trucks that line the park. Take a moment to relax in the 5.2 acres of green space under the shadow of the skyline.
If food trucks aren’t for you, hop on the free McKinney streetcar (there’s a stop on the side of the park) and ride into Uptown, where there are plenty of sit-down restaurants like San Martín Bakery and Haywire. When you’re done, you can take the streetcar back to Klyde Warren Park.
Museum-hop through the afternoon
Did you know that Dallas is home to the largest contiguous arts district in the United States? It’s located across the street from Klyde Warren Park and features a mix of art museums and concert halls.
Start at the Dallas Museum of Art before heading into the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Crow Collection of Asian Art. The first is free, with super engaging exhibits and 24,000 works of art in its permanent collection. Find calmness and larger-than-life sculptures in the Nasher’s exhibits and gardens, and a compact and compelling collection of Asian works at the Crow Collection of Asian Art.
Have a night out in Deep Ellum
After a refreshing afternoon rest, turn east into Deep Ellum, a hip district with all sorts of entertainment for the evening. This is the heart of Dallas’ live music scene and has been since singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson were busking on Elm Street.
Fuel up with Texas-style barbecue from the Pecan Lodge, Mexican bites from Yellow Rosa Cocktaileria, pizza from Cane Rosso, or Cajun cuisine from the Free Man Cajun Cafe & Lounge.
Iconic venues like the Bomb Factory, Three Links and Trees book the latest bands and musicians, but if you want to hear local acts, try your hand at Twilite Lounge or Double Wide. There’s endless street art and murals upon which to feast your eyes as you barhop through Deep Ellum: head to Ruins for a night of dancing, or merely enjoy the laid-back courtyard setting at Dot’s Hop House & Cocktail Courtyard. And if you get hungry again, Serious Pizza is a favorite for when the late-night drunchies hit.
Day 2 is all about Oak Cliff and the Bishop Arts District
Go for a restorative morning hike
Sleep in a bit before hiking off last night’s debauchery at Cedar Ridge Preserve. This 600-acre nature preserve has 9 miles of hiking trails, some of which reach an elevation of 755ft.
Then drive into Oak Cliff, the city’s historically Hispanic area, for a hearty, traditional Mexican breakfast at Gonzalez Restaurant on Jefferson Blvd. Order some chilaquiles or a bowl of menudo (tripe stew, a cure for hangovers) and a side of the best tortillas in town.
While away the afternoon wandering the city streets
After breakfast, stroll along Jefferson Blvd, the historic heart of Dallas’ Hispanic community. There are some classic buildings here that reveal the district’s nearly century-old history, like the Texas Theatre, where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested.
But the real charms are the long strips of brick storefronts full of vintage Tejano albums, botanica cures and quinceañera dresses. Look for mural art that celebrates Latino heritage and icons such as Tejana singer Selena. Next, pay a visit to the Oak Cliff Cultural Center to learn more about the neighborhood that gave the world T-Bone Walker, Dennis Rodman and Stevie Ray Vaughn. They offer gallery space to local artists and put on events and exhibitions.
A stroll through Kessler Park or Winnetka Heights Historic District with a coffee from Xamán Café is a pleasant way to check out Dallas’ historic homes and get a feel for Oak Cliff, a neighborhood with a long and varied history that’s run the gamut from upscale Victorian to mid-century den of the Ku Klux Klan to today’s blue-collar and Hispanic community with an artsy side.
As you walk, pop in your headphones and listen to De Colores Radio, an award-winning podcast that arose from the Oak Cliff neighborhood. Host Eva Arreguin and her sister and producer, Pat Arreguin, discuss historical, cultural and political life in Dallas and the South, and also recommend Oak Cliff events, businesses, restaurants and artists.
Grab snacks in the Bishop Arts District
Proceed to the Bishop Arts District, which is home to tons of cute little shops and galleries, including spots for antiques, homewares, apparel, Mercado369 (a must-shop destination for Latino art) and the lovely Wild Detectives indie bookstore and coffee shop. If you’ve got kiddos, Dallas Zoo is in this part of town and is definitely worth visiting.
After all that walking, grab a snack. For something sweet, go to Cretia’s Eatery and Bake Shoppe or Emporium Pies. Tribal All Day Cafe is a great stop for healthy bites, while Dallas Grilled Cheese Co is the perfect place for cheesy delights.
Have an easy evening in the Design District
Head west to the Design District for dinner and a low-key evening. Before going to eat, stop at the Sweet Pass Sculpture Park and Dallas’ graffiti and mural art park, called the Fabrication Yard, for Insta-worthy photos of sculptures, graffiti and mural art.
Enjoy dinner at Trinity Groves, a 15-acre foodie hotspot with 14 dining options, sitting at the base of the glowing spirals of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. As you eat, you can enjoy incredible views of the Dallas skyline, including the famous Bank of America Plaza outlined in green lights (locals call it the Jolly Green Giant) and the glittery lollipop that is Reunion Tower.
For more views of downtown, plus a close-up of the Trinity River and Dallas’ flood plain, the Trinity Skyline Trail stretches 4 miles and leads to the Trinity Overlook, a short walk from Trinity Groves.
If you’re still up for some fun, see how good your aim is at Lone Star Axe Throwing. For a little nostalgia, have a bowling night at Bowlounge or play 170 vintage arcade games and pinball machines at Cidercade, which serves cider and wine.
Day 3 is for food tours, culture and entertainment
Spend the morning taking a bite out of Black history
Rise and shine for a cultural adventure in Dallas. Bypass a big breakfast for a cup of coffee and a pastry from a Deep Ellum coffee shop like Fiction Coffee, Merit Coffee Co. or Noble Coyote Coffee Roasters, then drive to Fair Park, a 277-acre campus that opened in 1886 with the first Texas State Fair.
Today this art deco haven is a center of entertainment and cultural and historic institutions, such as the African American Museum of Dallas, which houses a comprehensive collection that traces the history of Black Americans from Africa through enslavement and Jim Crow and on to the present. The museum also boasts one of the largest collections of African-American folk art in the country, and regularly partners with organizations like Remembering Black Dallas for lectures and other educational events.
It’s at the museum where Soul of DFW Bus Tours launches its four-hour Food and Black History bus tour. Starting at 10am, you’ll visit local African-American landmarks and stop in Black-owned restaurants for soul food and dessert tastings.
In the afternoon, see historic documents and immersive art
Before you leave Fair Park, stop by the Hall of State to see where the Dallas Historical Society holds the original Juneteenth document that freed the last remaining enslaved peoples in Texas and the South on June 19, 1866. Return to downtown Dallas to experience the stunning Immersive Frida Kahlo exhibit, which brings the works and personal history of the famed artist to life.
If you have time, stop downtown at the J Erik Jonsson Central Library. On the 7th floor, you’ll discover a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, one of 250 in the world, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence, one of 25 in the world.
Hit the town for dinner and a show
Dinner options are endless in downtown Dallas, especially on Main and Elm Streets. You could have an upscale meal at the subterranean restaurant Dakota’s Steakhouse, or at the French Room in the Adolphus hotel. For something more relaxed, Campisi’s, Jaxon Beer Garden and CBD Provisions are always good choices.
End the evening with a concert, play, opera, musical or show at one of Dallas’ premiere venues, like the Moody Performance Hall, Morton H Meyerson Symphony Center, the Winspear Opera House and the Wyly Theatre (both at the AT&T Performing Arts Center).
For something more upbeat, consider Latin dancing to a live salsa band at Gloria’s in Addison, or a night out on the strip in Oak Lawn, Dallas’ LGBTIQ+ neighborhood. Lovingly referred to as “the Gayborhood,” Oak Lawn was home to the first gay bar and the first Gay Pride Parade in Texas, and continues to be an important destination for queer culture. At night, the neighborhood’s bars and clubs come to life on Cedar Springs Road. Favorites include two-stepping at the Round-Up Saloon, late-night drag shows at Station 4 and Texas’ oldest lesbian bar, Sue Ellen’s.
Day 4 is all about the outdoors
Spend the morning at the Dallas Farmer’s Market
Dallas isn’t just barbecue and Mexican food – the healthy heart of the city can be found at the Dallas Farmers Market. The market began as a place for local farmers to sell their produce, but like with everything in Texas, it’s gotten bigger and better.
Start at the Shed, an outdoor pavilion with produce for sale and food stalls serving up breakfast and lunch. Cool off inside the Market Shops, a 26,000-sq-ft food hall and market with artisans selling local wares and specialty foods.
Fuel up with brunch in Lower Greenville
Lower Greenville is a beloved Dallas neighborhood for good reason – it’s full of shops, restaurants with patios, and the Granada Theater, which has been alive and kicking since 1946 and is now one of the city’s best live music venues, hosting touring acts like the Avett Brothers, ZZ Top, Graham Nash, Adele and TV On The Radio. On Sundays, the neighborhood is also home to the Underground Market, which has stalls selling home décor, art, and trinkets.
Start the day off right with brunch at Company Café and Bar, Halcyon, the Libertine or HG Sply Co. Libertine has hefty burgers and hollandaise, and HG Sply Co offers healthier bites and one of the best rooftops in Dallas. Then again, Company Café serves up Southern breakfast favorites, and Halcyon, bottomless mimosas and fried chicken and waffles.
Get active at the arboretum and White Rock Lake
Next up, head to the nearby Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, where millions of plants and several Chihuly sculptures add up to one of the best botanical gardens in the south, according to Southern Living magazine.
Then soak up some sun at White Rock Lake. You can hit the 9.4-mile loop trail on foot or bike, get out on the lake in a kayak or canoe (rentals available on-site) or set sail on an adventure with the Spirit of Dallas.
Wrap up the trip with an alfresco evening
After spending time at White Rock Lake, head back to Lower Greenville for dinner on a patio – enjoy ramen at Wabi House, Tex-Mex bites at Desert Racer, or sliders and shakes at Son of a Butcher.
Don’t leave without grabbing a glass of wine at Leela’s Wine Bar, a tiki cocktail at Swizzle or a drink at the Truck Yard, a magnet for locals who gather in a large, open beer garden that sometimes hosts live music. Try local brews like Oak Cliff Black Lightning or By the Horns’ Helles Lager. The Truck Yard also serves draft cocktails and frozen drinks, such as bourbon lemonade and salted watermelon margaritas.
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