Picture of AT&T; performing arts center in Dallas

Locals lounge under the canopy at the Winspear Opera House, with views of the high-rises of downtown Dallas.

Photograph by Nigel Young, Foster + Partners

By Kristie Ramirez

In the landscape of the Lone Star State, big and rich Houston boasts oil and other energy money, easygoing Austin has live music, and Dallas does over-the-top personalities. Dallas’s reputation has long been shaped by saucy television shows such as the recently resurrected TNT series Dallas. But dig a little deeper, and, beneath the ten-gallon-hat/big-hair stereotypes, a smart, fresh city reveals itself.

Over the past few years, arts-focused initiatives have brought in five Pritzker Prize–winning architects and the first Santiago Calatrava–designed vehicular bridge in the U.S. “Although Dallas has always been considered a sports town, the visual and performing arts are generating a lot of new buzz,” says local philanthropist Cindy Rachofsky. November’s mild temperatures (and decrease in mosquitoes) make autumn the perfect time to explore the city.

And those big personalities? They’re still here. If there’s one thing Dallas can always count on, it’s the ability to laugh at itself with a knowing wink.

What to do When the AT&T Performing Arts Center opened in 2009, the ten-acre complex changed the face of the Dallas Arts District. The candy-apple red Winspear Opera House designed by Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas’s 12-story-tall Wyly Theatre joined I. M. Pei’s Meyerson Symphony Center and Renzo Piano’s Nasher Sculpture Center to create a cultural nexus worthy of Dallas’s bravado. At the Dallas Museum of Art, take a smartphone tour of the permanent collections, which include African headwear, paintings by Texas artists, and ancient Mediterranean jewelry, or make your way around special exhibitions such as the installations by Glasgow-based Karla Black (on view through March). The DMA stays open until midnight on the third Friday of every month (except December) for date-night lectures, tours, and film screenings.

A half-block stroll from the museum leads to the wide-open spaces of Klyde Warren Park. This grassy five-acre deck built over Woodall Rodgers Freeway connects downtown to nightlife-focused uptown and is a much needed bucolic spread in a city that tends to eat up green space with urban development. When completed later this year, the park will feature a Great Lawn for picnicking, a botanical garden, a dog park, and an interactive fountain. On the north side of the freeway the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, a dramatic concrete and glass cube by Thom Mayne slated to open in January 2013, planted its outdoor areas entirely with vegetation native to Texas, such as weeping willows and buffalo grass.

Despite the city’s breakneck forward motion, one thing Dallas can probably never leave behind is the legacy of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. History buffs head to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, formerly the Texas School Book Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald is presumed to have fired the fatal shots. The area where Oswald allegedly stood is now encased in glass, but one can still pore over documents, photographs, and video or take a less scientific approach by soaking up the wild opinions from the conspiracy theorists who hang around outside museum doors. This year’s 49th anniversary of President Kennedy’s death lands on Thanksgiving, and the museum will keep its doors open in observation.

Where to shop “Dallas women dress like no other. It’s in their blood,” says Brian Bolke, owner of chic lifestyle emporium Forty Five Ten. “Neiman Marcus trained generations of local women to always look their best and to be proud of it.” The original Neiman Marcus flagship still stands downtown. Forty Five Ten stocks its racks with big-ticket labels for men and women such as Dries Van Noten and Alexander McQueen, but it also carries artisan goods from Texas designers including handsome iron fireplace screens by Jan Barboglio, gold jewelry by Elizabeth Showers, and table linens made from vintage and repurposed material by Gaia, a Dallas company that employs local women in need. Around the corner, Urban Flower Grange Hall, a combination floral design and curiosities shop, brims with unusual finds such as taxidermic animals, hand-painted bird skulls, and necklaces with porcupine quill pendants.

At V.O.D., former Dallas Morning News fashion writer Jackie Bolin and seasoned buyer Liz Thompson teamed up to sell contemporary fashion lines like pajama-inspired silk separates by Piamita, co-designed by El Paso native Karla Martinez, and chunky shoes and boots by a local cobbler, the Office of Angela Scott.

In an unmarked bungalow in leafy Bluffview (look for the lavender-colored door), Cabana opens only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and dedicates a section of the store to Dallas designer Nicole Musselman’s entire Koch line of gossamer dresses and shirts and lightweight sweaters with animal prints.

Find traditional cowboy boots as well as styles picturing skulls and guitars at Cowboy Cool in the West Village.

Where to eat In the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff, a neighborhood southwest of downtown recently gentrified by artists, designers, boutique owners, and restaurateurs, Oddfellows riffs on Mexican, Italian, and American classics. Dishes range from gingerbread pancakes to lamb and mint sausage Bolognese. But the main draw here just might be the fresh coffee made with roasted-to-order Cuvée Coffee beans out of Spicewood, Texas. Also in the neighborhood, confectionery Dude, Sweet Chocolate traffics in bonbons, sauces, and spreads incorporating unconventional ingredients such as porcini mushrooms, tequila, and dehydrated blue cheese.

Take the scenic route over the dramatic Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge spanning the Trinity River to the Design District, home to furniture showrooms, galleries, photographer studios—and Oak. The menu includes seasonally changing items such as Moroccan octopus and pork jowls, roasted duck breast and baby leeks, and beef filet with fava beans which make reservations a must.

Rosemont, a modern diner located in the Deep Ellum nightlife district just east of downtown, has a breakfast and lunch menu as straightforward as its clean and simple interior. Chef Tracy Miller’s American fare features waffles, chicken salad sandwiches, and powdered doughnuts.

Just north of downtown, Sissy’s Southern Kitchen and Bar serves the best southern food in the city. Lisa Garza, of Food Network Star fame, has mastered the art of fried chicken. Here she presents her buttermilk-soaked classic in paper-lined metal buckets with a side of whipped potatoes. Thoughtful details include Spode china and iced tea cocktails in mason jars.

Take a Nat Geo Trip

Select a destination or trip type to find a trip:

See All Trips »

Join Nat Geo Travel's Communities




Travel Photos From Your Shot

See More Your Shot Galleries »