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What a Local Artist Loves Most About Dallas

From eating tacos at a gas station to visiting an under-the-radar museum, art photographer Daniel J. Hale shares his favorite things to do and see in the city.

The Santiago Calatrava-designed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge spans Dallas’ Trinity River.

The Santiago Calatrava-designed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge spans Dallas’ Trinity River.

Courtesy of Visit Dallas

With vibrant arts, entertainment, and dining scenes, there’s always something interesting to do—and see—in Dallas. For an insider’s take on it all, we turned to a local. A Dallas resident for 35 years, art photographer Daniel J. Hale has photographed and even written about the city.

He trucks around in his GMC half-ton pickup (usually with his Border Collie, Fox Mulder, in tow) looking for the best views and angles to tell his visual stories. An artist who also does commercial work, Hale primarily shoots abstract landscapes and cityscapes with a drone and gives them cheeky, poetic titles. A shot of forest treetops is called Area Rug; a dormant Cyprus tree in a rippling lake, Leather and Lace; and surfboards in the ocean, Board Meeting. Because the photographer travels frequently for his work, each time he returns home, he sees the city with fresh eyes. Here are some of his touchstones, places he loves to go and share with visitors, all distinctly local experiences that capture Dallas’ easygoing spirit.

See the Dallas skyline in all its glory

I’ve shot downtown Dallas from many angles, but my favorite is from Oak Cliff, west of downtown. With the double arches of the Margaret McDermott bridge in the foreground to show scale, you get a real sense of the magnitude of downtown Dallas, with all of its shiny, ultra-modern skyscrapers. Because so many of them are covered in glass, like the pointy-topped Fountain Place, designed by I.M. Pei and Henry Cobb, the sunlight brings them to life and makes them glow.

Drive across the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge downtown

The massive Margaret Hunt Hill bridge looks like it’s flying, and also reminds me of a spirograph (which I loved when I was a kid). Designed by Santiago Calatrava, it’s the city’s largest piece of functional art and connects downtown to West Dallas. Even though “Large Marge” as locals call it (to distinguish it from the other bridge named Margaret) opened just 12 years ago, it’s already become a Dallas landmark.

Get to know the super-friendly Knox Park neighborhood

I’ve lived in Knox Park, also known simply as Knox, for more than 20 years because it has the same small-town atmosphere that I grew up in. People are always out walking their dogs, waving hello to one another, or eating outdoors on a restaurant patio—it feels like a village. The neighborhood is experiencing a boom right now, but it’s kept its charm. You can still walk to the Apple store or Trader Joe’s, and it’s just a five-minute drive from downtown.

Walk along the Katy Trail in Dallas for nature in the city

Dallas’ dog-friendly Katy Trail is a taste of nature in the heart of the city.

Dallas’ dog-friendly Katy Trail is a taste of nature in the heart of the city.

Courtesy of Visit Dallas

Hop onto the Katy Trail and it feels like you’re miles away from the city. Once part of the old K-T railroad line, the Katy Trail is wide and shady—and luckily runs right through my neighborhood. I’ll grab a coffee and a chocolate croissant at Georgie Butcher Shop, then walk south towards downtown, passing Turtle Creek Park. It’s the second-oldest park in the city and the trail’s midpoint. On the way back, Fox and I sometimes stop at Katy Trail Ice House. It has a huge, dog-friendly patio. Don’t miss the jalapeño “bottle caps,” sliced, batter-dipped, and fried jalapeños.

Eat Dallas’ Best Tex-Mex, Barbeque, and Burgers

After I’ve been out traveling and photographing with my Airstream, I need a Tex-Mex fix right away, which means E-Bar Tex-Mex for grilled shrimp tacos or Ojeda’s for their mole chicken enchiladas. For old-school burgers, go to Keller’s Drive-In, where the carhops still take your order from your car, or Snuffer’s, where the gooey cheese fries are legendary.

Get grab-and-go tacos and a skyline view at a Dallas gas station

For a late weekend breakfast, pull into Fuel City, and get a sack of picadillo tacos—ground beef, potato, cilantro, onions, and pico—they’re small, cheap, and really delicious. Then go sit at one of their picnic tables out back, take in the Dallas skyline, and watch the Texas longhorns (real ones) graze in a pasture that backs up to the Trinity River levee.

Buy books by Dallas authors at local indie bookstores

You can hear readings by local authors Charlaine Harris, Harry Hunsicker, Ben Fountain, and more at Interabang Books or The Wild Detectives. Both bookstores are locally owned, but they’re very different and reflect the neighborhoods they’re in. Whereas Interabang in Highland Park is neat and orderly, The Wild Detectives in Oak Cliff is actually a bar and coffee shop—but with books—and it’s in an old house. They even hold book signings in the backyard.

Go to an under-the-radar Dallas museum with a Spanish accent

Courtesy of Visit Dallas

The Meadows Museum in Dallas focuses exclusively on Spanish art.

Courtesy of Visit Dallas

One of the city’s best museums is the Meadows Museum, on the campus of Southern Methodist University, my alma mater. Its focus is Spanish art and the permanent collection includes works by El Greco, Velásquez, Goya, Miró, and Picasso. Its founder Algur H. Meadows wanted to create “a small Prado on the Prairie.” Because the Meadows is so small, it’s doable in an afternoon or less. Afterward, stop into Bubba’s around the corner, for fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

Visit Dallas and explore the city’s top things to do, places to eat, shopping and much more.
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