The Perfect Day in Dallas

Some history at the Sixth Floor Museum, a little culture at the Dallas Art Museum, and plenty of big flavor (including, of course, some Tex Mex)--that’s the way to spend one perfect day in Dallas, Texas.

1717 N Harwood St, Dallas, TX 75201, USA
Since its founding in 1903, the DMA (as locals call it) has grown to become one of the top 10 largest museums in the country, with a permanent collection of over 24,000 works culled from around the globe and spanning over 5,000 years of history. Works by boldface Western names like Renoir, van Gogh, Warhol, Rothko, O’Keeffe, and Wyeth lead to extensive collections dedicated to art and antiquities from Africa, Asia, and South America; in between, limited-run exhibits might focus on Native American works, Asian textiles, or emerging contemporary artists. In addition to hosting popular events that engage the whole family, the museum is also committed to supporting Texas artists via foundations and special programs, and offers a searchable Texas artists database to help spotlight these native sons and daughters. Dine on casual, gluten-free Mediterranean fare at the plaza-side Socca, or head to the ever-popular DMA Cafe—set in a striking atrium—for globally flavored dishes inspired by works in the permanent collection.
411 Elm Street, Dallas, TX 75202
When President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas in November 1963, the world was introduced to the Texas School Book Depository building, which became the primary crime scene for the assassination. It was from a sixth-floor window in this brick warehouse that the shots are said to have rung out toward the Grassy Knoll and the motorcade along Dealey Plaza—and it’s that same floor that now houses this excellent museum dedicated to the event and its aftermath. The engaging permanent exhibits focus on everything from the political climate of the era and the actual assassination to the immediate chaos, the investigations, and even the conspiracy theories; you’ll also have the chance to watch and analyze the Zapruder film, and stand at the famous window itself. Rotating temporary installations may showcase topics like artwork inspired by the event, while a library and reading room offer opportunities for a deeper dive.
1300 Robert B Cullum Boulevard
If you’ve ventured to this complex only for the annual Texas State Fair, you’re missing out—there’s much more to this National Historic Landmark. Spread out over 277 acres east of downtown, Fair Park does have fairground roots (it was built in 1886 for the Dallas State Fair), but by the early 1900s, it had become the city’s second public park. Its time in the spotlight came in 1936 when, in preparation for the arrival of the Texas Centennial Exposition, the city built a number of art deco buildings throughout the grounds. Set around the peaceful Leonhardt Lagoon, several of these structures have been restored in recent years, and continue to serve as prime examples of the deco style. Both these original buildings and a few newer additions now house notable cultural institutions, including the African American Museum, dedicated to works by African American artists; the Hall of State, operated by the Dallas Historical Society; and the Texas Discovery Gardens, focusing on native horticulture. There are also several performance venues—from the 5,000-seat Fair Park Band Shell amphitheater to the Music Hall at Fair Park, home to the annual Dallas Summer Musicals series—as well as the Cotton Bowl stadium, which hosts the annual rivalry game between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma. The Texas Skyway is an art deco–styled gondola ride that whisks you 65 feet aboveground, while the Texas Star is one of the largest Ferris wheels in the country. But of course, the arrival of Big Tex and his gang is still the park’s biggest draw: Each fall, the grounds are transformed into the lively, 24-day State Fair, with rides, games, livestock competitions, countless spots to eat and drink, live music, and more—all watched over by the iconic 55-foot grinning cowboy.
400 West Davis Street
Eating here might get a little messy, but it’s worth it. One of Dallas’s favorite BBQ spots smokes its meats over Texas post oak, serves them wrapped in butcher paper, and pairs them with cold draft brews—and the crowds go wild. Savor classics like brisket, sausage, pork chops, and ribs, plus the specialty Kreuz Market sausage (this is the only place in town that stocks it), all sliced to order, fresh off the smoker, and served by the half- and full-pound, so it’s easy to mix and match. The so-called TX Vegetarian section cheekily lists chicken and turkey, but there are several sides for noncarnivores, including mac-and-cheese, potato salad, and two kinds of slaw. The atmosphere is casual—think counter service and shared tables—but the clientele always leaves happy (and slightly perfumed by the smoker).
1601 McKinney Ave, Dallas, TX 75202, USA
While it’s tough to verify El Fenix’s claim that this was one of the forefathers of Tex-Mex, there’s no denying that the homegrown chain is as much a part of culinary history as it is of Dallas’s. Started in 1916 by Mexican-immigrant Mike Martinez (and renamed El Fenix in 1918, as a nod to the phoenix, a symbol of rebirth), the original café first served standard American fare, then slowly began introducing more “exotic” Mexican flavors, then combination platters that featured both cuisines—thus was born Tex-Mex, El Fenix style. Generations of Dallasites have grown up with signature dishes like the homemade chile con queso dip, cheese or sour cream chicken enchiladas, and legendary tortilla soup, which is loaded up with crispy tortilla strips and chunks of cheese and avocado. As at the beginning, you’ll find American dishes with a Mexican twist, too, like cheeseburgers topped with Monterey Jack cheese, pico de gallo, and guacamole. The combination platters are particularly popular, as are the lunch specials. Though there are now over 20 locations all over the Metroplex, the downtown and North Dallas spots are notable for their long histories and old-school vibe—and for the real feeling you get that many of your fellow diners have been El Fenix regulars their whole lives. You might even spot a famous face among them, as the casual restaurants are a popular stop for visiting celebs, musicians, and pro athletes; Mick Jagger was even known to pop in when he was dating Dallas girl Jerry Hall.
5624 Sears St, Dallas, TX 75206, USA
In 2013, Jason Boso, the founder of the popular Twisted Root burger joints, felt the city was lacking a bar where he could feel equally comfortable taking his dad for a beer, hanging out with his buddies at night, and treating his wife to brunch—so he created one. Granted, this is no ordinary bar: Truck Yard draws inspiration from traditional beer gardens, old-school honky-tonks, and a treehouse Boso had as a child, all ringed by colorfully painted and graffiti-adorned trailers. Enjoy cocktails in the treehouse bar and craft beers in the outdoor seating areas as you wait for eats from the rotating collection of food trucks; depending on the schedule, you might find BBQ, Greek favorites, gourmet sliders, authentic tacos, and more, as well as the house signature Philly cheesesteak. The casual vibe and national praise mean there’s always a lively crowd.
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