Dallas museum of art

The Dallas Museum of Art offers special free-admission days.

Photograph by Mark Graham, The New York Times/Redux

By Marley Gibbons

This city is known for its big hair, big cars, big houses, and big charm. It is in fact, the 8th largest city in the United States. But it doesn't mean you have to spend big money when you go there. With an average of 232 days of sunshine a year, the "metroplex" offers loads of activities for visitors passing through. Enjoy the outdoors in any of the 17,196 acres of park, or on the 61.6 miles of bike and jogging trails. Art lovers can relish the "largest urban art district" in the country, along with the city's vast collection of public art scattered throughout the downtown area. After spending a few days in a city where one in 11 employed people work in the hospitality industry, you won't wonder why Dallas sees 29 million visitors each year.

Attractions

The McKinney Avenue Transit Authority, known as the "M-Line," offers a free ride into the uptown Dallas area on an old-fashioned trolley. The 27 stops on the trolley route will get visitors within walking distance of restaurants, theaters and the Arts District. The temperature-controlled, antique trolleys with names like Rosie and Winnie, date back to as early as 1909. If you are traveling with a big group, call +1 214 855 0006 to ask if the trolleys with larger cars are running.

For a great view of the Dallas skyline, go to the top of the 33-story W Hotel in Victory Park and check the trendy Ghostbar vibe while you snap pictures of the view. You can also head over to the more laid-back Belmont Hotel across the river and catch a great skyline vista at BarBelmont. On Sundays, the Bryan Street Tavern offers pool table use for free, with skyline views from their outdoor patio.

Dallas's City Hall is worth a visit, especially for those with an eye for architecture and sculpture. The asymmetrical building is located in downtown Dallas and was constructed by architect I.M. Pei, who also designed the glass-pyramid extension of the Louvre museum in Paris and Washington, D.C.'s National Gallery of Art. Take a stroll around the one-by-two block plaza, which includes a fountain and a 180-foot diameter reflecting pool containing floating sculptures by Marta Pan. Also don't miss the Henry Moore sculpture near the plaza that was once controversial among city officials who did not approve of modern art.

Owners of upscale indoor shopping mall NorthPark Center, Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger, also happen to be high-end art collectors. Stroll around this sizable mall for some window-shopping and take in the giant sculptures. Don't miss CenterPark, the mall's 1.4-acre park in the middle of the facility. Notable is the 12-ton orange sculpture, "Ad Astra," by Mark di Suvero and the 21-foot-tall "Corridor Pin, Blue" by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.

Visit the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center another impressive work by architect I.M. Pei, who built the Dallas City Hall. Get an hour-long tour of the facility for free (call for information: +1 214 670 3600). Take note of the famous works of art scattered throughout, including an Andy Warhol print and "Proverb," a huge sculpture by Mark di Suvero. During the non-summer months there are complimentary organ recitals, featuring the resident organist on the Herman W. and Amelia H. Lay Family Concert Organ. Call ahead about the organ recitals, they are subject to change depending on the symphony performance schedule.

Find one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence among other historical treasures in the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library. The library also has free Wi-Fi and public access to their computers. Tours of the library's permanent and temporary exhibits are available; book a minimum of four weeks ahead (+1 214 243 1141 or 671 8366). See the Children's Center for more activities.

A memorial dedicated to President John F. Kennedy is located a few hundred feet from where he was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. The memorial was designed by Philip Johnson and is situated behind the old courthouse (now the Old Red Museum) on Main Street. A few blocks away is The Sixth Floor Museum, which is not free, but great for anyone interested in the details and documentation of that unforgettable day in 1963.

Culture/Art/Music

Before entering any museums, walk around the Dallas Art District, the country's "largest urban arts district," according to the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. Be sure to look up because there are four Pritzker prize-winning buildings on one city block, a claim that no other city can make.

A map of all of the public art installations in the downtown area is available here.

Entry to the Dallas Museum of Art, with a collection of over 23,000 pieces from a variety of time periods and countries, is free the first Tuesday of every month. Children under 12 are always free.

Located across Harwood Street from the Dallas Museum of Art, the Crow Collection of Asian Art displays 569 of the most significant pieces from the Crow family's private collection of paintings, jewelry, sculpture, and artifacts they collected throughout their years of traveling in Asia. Be sure to stop by for Tranquil Tuesdays when free meditation and breathing awareness classes are offered to the public. Tai chi classes are offered in the galleries every Saturday and docent-led tours can be scheduled in advance, free of charge. The Crow Collection invites thousands of people to its annual Chinese New Year celebration around the time of the Chinese lunar New Year, with free food and drinks, activities for children and live performances. Closed on Mondays.

The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University offers free entry on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. On those evenings, visitors can take a tour of the special exhibitions at 6:30 p.m.; browse the permanent collection, which is one of the most extensive collections of important Spanish artists outside of Spain; or drop in on an evening lecture by scholars, historians, curators, and other museum professionals free of charge. The Meadows Museum also offers family days about once a quarter with free activities and admission.

Look east of downtown and you can't miss the Latino Cultural Center, with its purple tower and bright orange building. Check out the sculpture collection or the constantly changing art gallery. Admission to the center is always free. Second Saturdays, sponsored by Target, offer an assortment of performances, theater lessons, crafts, and films for families; the programs differ each time, so call ahead (+1 214 670 3320) or check out the website to see what's coming up.

The Arthello Beck Gallery and the Emerging Artists Gallery at the South Dallas Cultural Center feature local and national artists in temporary shows. The SDCC offers free entry and welcomes the public once a month for poetry open mic night. The events calendar is always full of programs for families and youth, so check it out online first. Call ahead (+1 214 939 2787) if you want to take a free tour of the current exhibitions and to learn about the history of the SDCC. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Food/Drink

About 35 minutes outside of Dallas, La Buena Vida Vineyards in Grapevine offers free self-guided tours. The half-acre vineyard is known for its beautiful landscaping, patio areas, and water fountains, and the climate-controlled Mediterranean pavilion on site is great for a post-stroll cool off. Saturday afternoons from 2 to 5 p.m. the vineyard invites local bands for live music free to the public. Call ahead (+1 817 481 9463).

Kids

The impressive "trainscape" at the Children's Medical Center spans two floors of the building and has eight trains. It includes an eight-foot replica of the Dallas skyline and 16-foot mountains. The Children's Medical Center is about three miles from the downtown area, so it's best to get there by DART or car.

Target-sponsored First Saturdays at the Nasher Sculpture Center are mostly geared towards kids, but everyone is welcome. Admission is free between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month. In addition to viewing live sculpture demos from artists, listening to story time, or watching a puppet show, families can take free tours of the impressive Nasher collection displayed both indoors and outdoors. The collection boasts a large number of sculptures and big names like Pablo Picasso, Joan MirĂ³, and Alexander Calder.

When it's time to let the kids run around outside, head over to Reverchon Park in Uptown Dallas. Known as "the Central Park of Dallas," Reverchon Park is accessible from the Katy Trail and has a "state-of-the-art playground," not to mention hiking trails, baseball fields, and tennis courts.

A 20-minute car ride will take you to Kiest Park in Oak Cliff, one of the more suburban neighborhoods of sprawling Dallas. Check out the houses of the 1950s while the kids play at nearby Fantasy Landing playground. Fantasy Landing was built in 2008 by a non-profit organization, Boundless Playgrounds, dedicated to developing "truly inclusive" playgrounds for children "of all abilities."

The Children's Center at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library has story time every Friday 10:30 a.m. and Saturdays at 1 p.m. Every third Friday of the month is bilingual story time. There are always games and computers available for young children to use.

A fun way to say "goodbye" to Dallas is the Observation Area in Founders' Plaza in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. Watch the planes land and take off through binoculars and hear audio from the control tower. How many planes can you count?

Outdoors

The historic White Rock Lake Park, known as the "Urban Oasis," is the site of a reservoir and a World War II training camp. The 9.33-mile hike and bike trail and the Audubon Society qualified bird-watching and wetlands site are open daily from 5 a.m. to midnight. Stop by the Bath House Cultural Center, a free museum featuring historical exhibits and information about wildlife in the park, open from 12 to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

If you want to avoid the hassle of traffic while navigating the city, check out the 3.5-mile Katy Trail, which starts in the northern part of Dallas (near Southern Methodist University) and ends in Victory Park. An on-street connection at the southern end of the trail will take you to the West End DART stop. The trail has a concrete bike path and a softer running path, but the great part is the various entrances and "plazas" along the trail that connect you to new neighborhoods for detours, or other parks to explore along the way. (Be aware: There are no public restrooms along the trail).

The Trinity River Audubon Center is located in the largest urban hardwood forest in the country, the Great Trinity Forest (6,000 acres) and just eight minutes away from downtown by car. Take a trail through wetland, prairie, and forest habitat to explore the Trinity River and its surrounding areas. Then stop by the Audubon Center to learn more about what you saw. Admission to the center is free the third Thursday of each month between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. The Audubon Center building offers interactive nature exhibits and the Children's Discovery Garden.

Seasonal Art/Music

Shakespeare in the Park offers performances from mid-June to late July every summer and late September to mid-October in the fall. Admission for performances on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights are donation only, but get there early to claim seats. Performances are in the amphitheater at the Samuell Grand Park, which is about two miles southeast of the downtown area, a few minutes by car or bus. Check the website to find out which plays they've selected for the summer session.

When the weather warms up, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra comes to parks and community spaces around the city. Check their website for the schedule.

More Information

Office of Cultural Affairs

Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau

The City of Dallas

DART Transportation Service

Dallas City Guide

Dallas County

Event Guide

GuideLive from the Dallas Morning News

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