It's not difficult to see why Dallas is often referred to as Big D: It's a big sprawling metropolis filled with big attractions that you won't find anywhere else.
For starters, Dallas has a burgeoning art scene and a prime example of this lies within the Dallas Arts District, the largest entertainment district of its kind in the nation. Here you'll find a world-class collection of museums and performance spaces as well as one of the nation's coolest urban parks. Not to mention, the district is home to one of the world's largest collections of Pritzker Prize-winning buildings in one contiguous location.
Speaking of architectural treasures, Dallas also has Fair Park, where you can find one of the country's largest collections of Art Deco exhibition buildings built for the 1936 Texas Centennial and World's Fair. As well as spectacular architecture, Fair Park offers terrific museums and performance venues too, plus it's the site of one of the country's largest state fairs.
Of course, not many cities can boast having a library fitting enough for a president. Here in Dallas, you'll find the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, honoring the 43rd president of the United States. Nor will you find an iconic landmark like Reunion Tower– or for that matter, another Southfork Ranch.
And though Dallas is much more cosmopolitan than cowboy, you'll still be able to encounter some of the area's western roots in places like the Mesquite Championship Rodeo, where 10-gallon Stetsons and cowboy boots will always be in style.
Read on to find more places to check off your bucket list. And while you're moseying around town, consider purchasing a Dallas CityPASS to score incredible savings on admission to many of the attractions featured here.
For fans of the TV show Dallas, no visit to the area is complete without making a pilgrimage to this iconic ranch located 25 miles north in the Dallas suburb of Parker. Sure, J.R. is gone and the series is no longer being filmed, but Southfork Ranch, home to Big D's fictional first family, the Ewings, is nonetheless still a major tourist attraction. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe come here just for the chance to check out J.R.'s old stomping grounds. Daily tours depart from a welcome center that also contains a museum filled with everything from the gun that shot J.R. to Lucy's wedding dress. From there, you can explore the interior of the Ewing home, take a photo opt on the balcony where Kristin fell to her death and see the swimming pool where she ultimately ended up floating face down. In addition to the house, visitors can grab a bite in Miss Ellie's deli, pick up souvenirs from several gift shops and walk around the grounds where horses and longhorns roam on the range. (972-442-7800)
When you think of Dallas, the first image that comes to mind is Reunion Tower-- which has graced the city's skyline with its flickering orb since 1978. The tower is not only the city's most iconic landmark, it's also one of the most visited, especially since the new observation deck opened in late 2013. Unless you're coming to eat or drink in Wolfgang Puck's famed Five Sixty restaurant, located at the top (560 feet up), the only way up is by purchasing a ticket for the GeO-Deck, a viewing platform situated at 470 feet, offering 360-degree views across the city and beyond. The attraction is comprised of an outside deck equipped with high-powered telescopes and an indoor area filled with informative touch screens and high-definition zoom cameras allowing guests to get up close and personal with the city. (214-712-7040)
Dallas Heritage Village at Old City Park
This living history village, located in one of the city's oldest parks on the southeastern edge of downtown-- allows visitors to experience what life was like in North Texas during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The village is comprised of thirty-eight restored and fully furnished buildings, some of which include-- a log cabin, a Greek Revival style mansion, a school house, a shotgun house and a farmstead. Kids will especially like the general store where they can weigh products, wrap up merchandise and sit around an old stove playing a game of checkers. Adding to the atmosphere are costumed docents, live farm animals and a host of recurring events, ranging from mock gunfights to historical reenactments. (214-421-5141)
Mesquite Championship Rodeo
Looking for the quintessential Texas experience? Then head to the official Rodeo Capital of Texas in Mesquite (14 miles east of Dallas) – where you can witness the thrills and spills of the Mesquite Championship Rodeo every Friday and Saturday night throughout the summer. Since 1958, the rodeo has been drawing in fans from all over the world-- and for good reason: From steer wrestling and barrel racing to bull riding and mutton busting, there's no shortage of non-stop, family-friendly action. And it's not only the activity on the dirt that keeps crowds entertained, there's also a posse of other attractions to enjoy, including everything from headliner concerts and laser shows to face painting, pony rides, petting zoos and even taking a spin on a mechanical bull. As well, be sure to keep an eye out for the hip hop rodeo (usually in the spring), which delivers all the traditional rodeo excitement mixed in with the sounds of hip hop, R&B, blues and more. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, but you can avoid service charges by purchasing them directly at the box office. (972-285-8777)
They say everything is bigger and better in Texas, and the State Fair of Texas-- going strong since 1886-- is no exception. Held for three weeks every fall, the fair (drawing in more than three million attendees each year) not only is one of the largest and longest-running fairs in the nation, it also touts the largest Ferris wheel in North America. But there's more to Fair Park then country's biggest fair. The 277-acre complex was also the site of the 1936 World's Fair, and as such, it's a treasure trove of early twentieth-century architecture, boasting one of the largest collections of Art Deco structures in the United States. In addition to architectural eye-candy, the park houses a variety of year-round venues, including the Children's Aquarium, the African American Museum and the Texas Discovery Gardens, a 7.5 acre botanic garden complete with a two-story butterfly house and insectarium. Be sure to keep an eye out for festivals, events and concerts taking place here too. (214-670-8400)
Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
Whether you're a history buff or a conspiracy theorist, you'll find the Sixth Floor Museum an interesting source of information about the assassination and legacy of President John F. Kennedy. The museum's exhibits contain over 45,000 items documenting Kennedy's presidency through to his final days. One of the highlights of the tour is the Plexiglas enclosed area where Lee Harvey Oswald is believed to have fired the fateful shot. But there's much more to see here, including a host of powerful images, documents, artifacts, video footage and home movies. After visiting the museum, be sure to go down to the grassy knoll to gain more perspective about what transpired that tragic day. (214-747-6660)
Perot Museum of Nature and Science
Whether you're a science buff or just have a curious mind, the world-class Perot Museum offers a treasure trove of goodies that are certain to fascinate visitors of any age. Opened in 2012, this stunning 180,000-square-foot architectural gem, designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate Thom Mayne and his firm, Morphosis-- features five floors of mind-blowing exhibit halls filled with hands-on activities, interactive kiosks and a state-of-the-art multimedia cinema. Highlights include a children's museum with a dinosaur dig, a hall of gems and minerals with a 5-foot geode and an earth hall where you can experience an earthquake. Not to be missed is the Texas Instruments Engineering and Innovation Hall where explorers can build robots and create their own digital music. A good way to start is to take the external glass escalator up to the top and work your way down while enjoying the panoramic views of downtown Dallas. (214-428-5555)
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Nestled along the shores of White Rock Lake, this oasis of horticultural magnificence is arguably one of the most enchanting as well as most visited botanical gardens in the country, welcoming nearly a million visitors to its grounds each year. And with 66-acre acres of endless seasonal flowers, ornamental shrubs, trees and exotic pants, there's plenty to marvel at. Families with younger children will want to also explore the Rory Meyers Children Adventure Garden, an 8-acre garden of delights boasting everything from cascading waterfalls and a treetop canopy walk to a two-story tree house and more than 150 interactive science exhibits. In addition to a slew of educational programs for children and adults, the Arboretum hosts a variety of public events, ranging from art shows to concerts and seasonal festivals. Try to plan your visit during the spring when the Arboretum puts on the largest floral festival in the Southwest, Dallas Blooms-- showcasing more than 500,000 blooming bulbs and annuals. And be sure to reserve a spot for high tea or lunch at the historic DeGolyer House restaurant, the views are as spectacular as the food. (214-515-6500)
George W. Bush Presidential Center
There are only thirteen (soon to be fourteen) presidential libraries scattered across the United States and Texas is fortunate enough to be home to three of them, one of which is the 226,000-square-foot George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, situated on the Southern Methodist University campus. Second in size behind Ronald Reagan's Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, the stunning complex encompasses not only a library and museum, but also the George W. Bush Policy Institute and the George W. Bush Foundation. However, most visitors will only see the museum, which features everything from numerous state-of-the-art interactive displays to a full-scale walk-through replica of the Bush Oval Office and a 22-foot tall ravaged steel beam from the World Trade Center. Also on view are items like the Glock pistol Saddam Hussein had when he was captured, the bullhorn Bush used when he visited ground zero after 9-11 and some of the 43,000 gifts given to the President and First Lady from foreign Heads of State. Regardless of what your political persuasion may be, this museum is truly a must-see. (214-200-4300)
Dallas Arts District
Downtown Big D has been enjoying a renaissance recently and much of the success can be largely contributed to its ever-burgeoning arts district. Spanning 68-acres and 19 contiguous blocks, the District is considered to be the largest urban entertainment district in the nation. Along with superb performance venues such as the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center and three world-class museums (the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Crow Collection of Asian Art) the easily walkable Arts District houses one of the world's largest collections of Pritzker Prize-winning buildings in one contiguous location. And as if that's not enough, the district also touts one of the nation's premier urban playgrounds, the Kylde Warren Park--a 5-acre deck park resting atop a sunken freeway. In addition to areas for kids, dogs and lawn games, the park offers a myriad of year round programming, ranging from fitness sessions and dance lessons to children's entertainment, musical performances and film screenings. (214-744-1270)
About Ilene Jacobs
As a perpetual wanderer, foodie freak and wannabe chef, Ilene is always on the lookout for the best places to see, eat, drink and sleep. Ilene got hooked on this wanderlust lifestyle after spending 10 years as a university student in Paris where she spent most of her time eating her way around France.
When she's not writing about the latest happenings in her hometown of Dallas, she's hanging out in Paris and road tripping around Europe with her spunky teenage son.
You can find Ilene's articles about her favorite hot spots and foodie finds at 10Best.com, CBSDFW.com and Examiner.com.
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