The ‘Big D’ just keeps getting bigger and better.
By Edward Thomas
One of the first things one must keep in mind when visiting Dallas is that it is spread out – much like the state of Texas. This feeling of size is immediate when you land at Dallas/
Fort Worth International Airport, which is a good half hour drive to most of the city’s upscale hotels.
Dallas has the nickname “Big D” for good reason. Not only is the city immense, but the array of neighborhoods, things to do, sites to see and terrific places to eat are also prodigious.
Dallas has been growing rapidly over the past decade. The city now extends across five counties and the U.S. Census figures show that since 2010 the population is growing at the second-fastest rate of any metro area in the United States. More than 850,000 new residents have relocated there over the past seven years.
The good news, however, is that if you are planning to visit Dallas for just a long weekend, there is little need to rent a car if you intend to stay somewhat near downtown (called Central Dallas) where many of the top attractions are located, along with a wide assortment of accommodations choices.
Concierges at most of the premier upscale hotels in this area — like The Omni, Hotel ZaZa, the Magnolia, The Fairmont and The Adolphus Autograph Collection — will confirm that rental cars are not a necessity. In fact, they can be a problem because public parking is limited. But Uber service is plentiful. The high-end hotels also offer free car services to guests for trips to nearby sites, restaurants and night spots within a 2- to 4-mile radius (drivers work on tips only).
Another nice aspect of Central Dallas is you don’t need to be a big spender to enjoy yourself. But if you do have the budget to splurge, there are also plenty of opportunities to unload some cash and feel it was well spent.
There is an excellent aquarium and zoo plus the gorgeous Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, splendid for a long morning walk along with the Bishop’s Art District, where people watching and window shopping can consume your afternoon. Make sure to stop by Emporium Pies to try a slice of “Lord of Pies” with cinnamon streusel.
The Dallas Arts District, just north of downtown, features eight venues, including an opera house, a performing arts center and the magnificent 2,062-seat Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. The I. M. Pei-designed center is ranked as one of the world’s greatest orchestra halls. The current season for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (mydso.com) ends in May and returns in September for the Pops season.
Less than a mile from the Arts District are two of my favorite venues in Dallas – the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the American Airlines Center, home of the NBA Dallas Mavericks and the NHL Dallas Stars. The Perot Museum is a haven for my pre-teen grandchildren with amazing exhibits of dinosaurs and space technology, as well as hands-on robotics and nature experiments. As the concierge at our hotel told me, “It’s a great place for kids with big imaginations!”
Where JFK Was Assassinated
My first trip to Dallas was in January 1995 to watch my favorite Green Bay Packers meet the then powerhouse Dallas Cowboys in a first-round NFL playoff game. The game was forgettable for me as the Packers were trounced, 35-9, but the trip was unforgettable because of the mesmerizing JFK Assassination and Museum tour that I took. I believe it should still be the highlight of any first visit to this city.
It has been almost 55 years since that fateful moment on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot dead from a sniper’s perch as he rode in a motorcade sitting beside his wife, Jackie, exposed and unprotected in the back seat of a black Lincoln Continental limousine convertible. For those of us who watched the aftermath on TV, it’s an episode which remains indelible in our memory, just as we will never forget the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Tours of the assassination site continue daily and millions of people from around the world have made a pilgrimage to the Texas School Book Depository building where alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald stood in hiding. Some tours are self-guided, but others are quite extravagant, where the tour operator will pick you up from your hotel and take you on a three-hour excursion to the various sites relating to Oswald’s police capture and ultimate death two days later at the hands of Jack Ruby.
In all cases, you can peer out the same sixth floor window of the Depository building where Oswald waited for his victim. You also can walk along the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza where Abraham Zapruder filmed his infamous home video and then touch the exact spot on Elm Street – marked by a big white “X,” where the bullet hit its mark. The conspiracy mystery of that fateful moment continues to this day.
Other Central Dallas Places To Visit
Pioneer Square – Pioneer Plaza is ideally located downtown. There, you will find a tree-lined public park and a lifelike bronze sculpture of a cattle drive with dozens of steers and three trail riding cowboys. The steers are said to be the largest bronze memorial of its kind in the world. Real estate icon Trammell Crow came up with the idea for the park in the early 1990s, with a 4-acre tract donated by the city. Nearly $5 million was raised by private donors to complete the project. Natural landscaping, a flowing stream and waterfall help create a dramatic effect for cattle herd. Families flock here year-round and children love to walk among the steers.
Dallas Farmers Market – The market is six blocks east of Pioneer Plaza and has been recently upgraded and is now a more popular, kid-friendly attraction for its live music, cafes and artisanal booths and shops. The outdoor pavilion called The Shed is open on weekends and an enclosed building that has a butcher shop. A lovely flower market is across the street.
Pecan Lodge – The popular Pecan Lodge, considered by most Dallasites to be the best place for barbecue in Texas, is on the bucket list of many barbecue aficionados in America. The Lodge (pecanlodge.com) has moved to larger facilities farther east of the The Farmers Market, in a vibrant, entertainment district called Deep Ellum.
The expansive plain olive green building has a barnyard feel with rough cement floors. The mesquite wood-burning barbecue deep-pit cooker burns 24 hours a day. If you are a meat lover, this is for you. Brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, beef ribs, burnt ends and homemade sausage are on the menu. A chalkboard lists what is available at the moment and are removed when the daily allotment is sold out. Plan to wait in line, but it moves steadily.
Beyond this celebrity barbecue destination, there are dozens of barbecue places in and around Dallas ranging in price. Three other of my favorites are Lockhart Smokehouse, Texas de Brazil (pricey) and Slow Bone BBQ (inexpensive).
When To Visit
Dallas enjoys a fairly mild climate, which makes it ideal for travel. July and August it can be extremely hot and dry, with average temperatures in the mid 90s. Like here in the Hilton Head/Bluffton area, mid-March to mid-May is the best weather. May and October are the rainiest months.
VisitDallas.com is an excellent source of information about getaways to Dallas. dmagazine.com is a good place to research restaurants, night spots, bars and clubs. Trip Advisor also has a lot of information about specific attractions, as well where to eat and be entertained.
Suggestions from a Local…
Sea Pines residents Maddie and Michael Tucker moved to Hilton Head from the Dallas area six years ago, following frequent visits. In Dallas, Michael spent a large portion of his career in key management positions, including the multi-billion dollar Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company. Maddie was an entrepreneur in the video store business and a clothing buyer for both Macy’s and Marshall Field’s. On Hilton Head, the Tuckers never hesitated to becoming energetically involved in their new community and Sea Pines Country Club. The Tuckers still visit Dallas regularly and recommend these local spots as local favorites for dining and things to do:
What to Do:
Meyerson Symphony Center and Majestic Theatre in Central Dallas are simply outstanding. In addition to its great calendar of events at the Meyerson, Michael recommends going to its pre-performances buffet and sampling the delicious bread pudding. The vintage Majestic dates back to the 1920s and there is not a bad seat in the house. It has hosted such celebrated performances as Houdini and Bob Hope and today presents Broadway tour shows plus contemporary musicians and comedians. Check the calendar of events for both venues when in town.
The Shops at Highland Village is a charming outdoor shopping plaza that some call “The Rodeo Drive of Dallas,” with beautiful shops, boutiques and restaurants. Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Balenciaga, Caroline Herrera, Ralph Lauren, Gucci and Harry Winston are all represented.
Six Flags Over Texas The theme park is a drive or Uber ride west of the city. It’s the kind of theme park that kids will keep tugging at you to visit until you succumb. This is the original Six Flags, originally built in 1961 and features Titan, the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Texas. The historic Silver Star Carousel is wonderful for smaller children.
Where to Eat:
The Grape Restaurant “This is a long time favorite bistro of Dallasites in the Lower Greenville historic district. It boasts a romantic European atmosphere and is especially known for its Sunday brunch.
Blue Goose Cantina Popular Tex-Mex with seven locations across the Dallas area. Their hot, freshly-made-on premises tortillas are the best. The queso, fajitas and margaritas also get rave reviews.
Bitter Sisters Brewery Located in Addison, this new attraction in its third year is already drawing five-star reviews. It’s a family run, on-site craft brewery. Minimalist in style but with great service. Tours and tastings are offered on Fridays and Saturdays.