Big, bold and brassy, Dallas conjures up images of cowboys, cattle, oil barons and obscene wealth. Y’all gonna love the quirky southern charm, strong Texan drawl, spicy Texan BBQ and wide open spaces.
As the third largest city in Texas (after Houston and San Antonio) and the ninth biggest in the US, Dallas is a major transport hub. And that’s why we passed through for a fleeting visit. Qantas has direct flights from Australia to Dallas and it’s a handy launching pad to the eastern United States and to Central America.
Dallas hasn’t always been part of the US. It was originally Spanish, then Mexican territory, before declaring independence and forming the republic of Texas in 1836. It became part of the US in 1845 and its proximity to Mexico means there’s a strong Hispanic influence and presence in the city.
So if you find yourself in Dallas for a brief stopover, here are a few ways to make the most of your time in this iconic southern US city.
Must do in Dallas
Dallas is most famous as the city where American President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 as his motorcade made its way through the city centre. The site of his assassination is by far the most popular tourist attraction in Dallas. It’s not something the locals are proud to be remembered for.
No visit to Dallas would be complete without visiting Dealy Plaza on Elm Street where President Kennedy was shot. X literally marks the spot on the road where JFK was fatally hit.
There are several plaques with explainer notes on the side of the road and you can wander around the grassy knoll where bystanders gathered to watch the motorcade pass.
The Sixth Floor Museum, dedicated to the life, assassination and legacy of JFK, is housed in the Texas School Book Depository Building, from where Lee Harvey Oswald gunned down the President.
What to Visit in Dallas
Dallas is well known for its expansive Arts District in the city centre and there are numerous museums and galleries to explore. About 10 minutes’ drive from downtown is the smaller, boho-style Bishop Arts District. You can catch the local tram there or it’s a quick Lyft ride.
This neighbourhood has been gentrified in recent years and is now humming with hipster cafes and bars, funky shops and food stores. Sample the exotic chocolates at the Dude, Sweet Chocolate store (we bought some chocolate salami – yum!), or the scrumptious pies at Emporium Pies (Key Lime Pie was our fave) and grab a coffee at Tribal All Day Café.
What to see in Dallas
Sprinkled throughout downtown Dallas are numerous small parks, offering welcome greenspace in what’s otherwise an uninspiring landscape. For the most part Dallas is a massive maze of concrete freeways.
Top of the parks list is Pioneer Plaza which pays homage to the early settlers and cattle drives with a stunning bronze sculpture of 40 larger-than-life longhorn steers and three cowboys. With the cattle positioned descending a small hill and crossing a river, it’s a powerful work of art and recognition of the region’s rural heritage.
Klyde Warren Park is a relatively new addition to downtown Dallas. Built in 2012 over a freeway, it’s a well-designed space in the heart of the Arts district that connects uptown and downtown. One one side there’s a long line of colourful food trucks and I imagine it would be a lovely local hangout in warmer weather.
Wild Bill’s Western Store in the historic West End is like a museum for cowboys and girls. If you’re in the market for some serious cowboy boots, then this is where you could drop a few thousand dollars for the real deal. There are hundreds of different styles to choose from – basic brown, sparkly and spangled, snakeskin, studded and crocodile skin.
I’m not a crazy sports fan but as a legacy of living in the States for several years, I do love the excitement and thrill of an ice hockey game. It’s fast-paced and fun. Going to a game of any kind in the US – football, baseball, basketball, hockey – is entertainment on steroids and one of the best ways to mix it with the locals.
On our first night the local hockey team, the Dallas Stars, were playing the St Louis Blues so we bought cheap seats in the bleachers and joined the fun. Somehow, whatever game we go to, we always end up finding an excuse to buy some team merch (it’s totally JJ’s fault as he’s an American sports junkie) and this time we invested in beanies and gloves. That’s because Dallas was freezing in mid-January, an icy 3 degrees Celsius for most of the day. Brrrr! ❄️ ⛄️ ❄️
Where to Eat in Dallas
I couldn’t come to Dallas and not eat meat. Texan barbecue and beef are legendary. The big challenge was finding a steak small enough! We ate at Yo Ranch Steakhouse in the Historic Westend and greedily washed down our filet with a delicious pinot noir from Oregon.
The food trucks around Klyde Warren Park looked inviting though it was way too cold to eat outside on our visit. Plus, there are good food options in the Bishop Arts District, it was a shame our schedule didn’t allow us to stay longer.
Another authentic local option is Frankie’s Sports Bar in downtown. It just happened to be Superbowl night when we rocked up. The place was packed, everyone munching on typical pub grub and drinking beers, eyes glued to the tele for what proved to be a bit of a snoozefest of a grand finale.
Where to Sleep in Dallas
The Crowne Plaza on Elm Street in downtown Dallas may look tired and a bit second rate but it’s in a great position, within walking distance of the major attractions. The bus hub and railway station are right behind the hotel so there’s a fair bit of activity and people do congregate there. It’s not overly expensive (approx. $USD136), it’s clean, the bed is comfortable, it includes coffee facilities and some rooms have a fridge. It’s about $USD30 in a Lyft to the airport, much cheaper than the shuttle bus ($USD$24pp).
It was freezing on our way through Dallas at the beginning of our trip in mid-January – at lunchtime it was still 3 degrees Celsius! Coming from the height of a Sydney summer it was a shock to the system.
In contrast, three weeks later on our way back home, it was still winter but a balmy 27 degrees. To our great surprise we were wandering around in short sleeves.
Arriving in the US via Dallas
We will seriously consider arriving in the US via Dallas in the future. Compared to the chaos of immigration and customs at Los Angeles airport, Dallas was orderly and relatively straightforward. It’s a reasonable arrival airport.