Growing up, I was a big fan of the mega-hit ‘80s serial soap Dallas, so I recognized the city’s iconic skyline – featured heavily in the show’s opener – immediately on my first visit to the city. But, much to my surprise, the Dallas I visited offered a lot more than oil barons and scandalous romance – gliding downtown on its clean, modern public transit system, I arrived at an urban core that rivals any in the United States, in terms of its cultural, culinary and artistic offerings. And walking from Dealey Plaza to the Arts District, there was no sign of J.R.
Although the stereotypical Texas scene involves barns, windmills, longhorn steers and pickup trucks – and there’s certainly plenty of that in the Lone Star State – it’s also one of the most populous states in the union, with a number of major metropolitan centres where urban pleasures beckon. And that happy reality is most evident in the state’s two largest cities – the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, and Houston. Here are some of their best attractions.
Arts & Culture: If you’re a lover of the performing arts, check out the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center – from the classics like Beethoven and Mahler to fun offerings like movie screenings scored live, renowned conductor Jaap Van Zweden both entertains and edifies.
One of the finest galleries in the country, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) anchors the Dallas Arts District, which is home to 13 different cultural institutions. With more than 25,000 items, the DMA has a vast collection that ranges over 5,000 years of human history, and includes everything from an esteemed goup of Congo sculpture to a huge amount of American and European decorative arts.
Another highlight of the Arts District, the 2.4 hectare Nasher Sculpture Centre is a roofless museum that displays masterpieces from Gaugin, Rodin, Matisse and many others.
For something different, visit the Meadows Museum, which displays the largest collection of Spanish works outside of Spain.
Over in Fort Worth, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art boasts an impressive array of western art, sculpture and photography, while the Kimbell Art Museum in that city is home to the only Michelangelo painting in North America, as well as major works by Rembrandt, Goya, Monet and Picasso.
Nightlife: While Dallas is best known for cowboys – and the Cowboys – the city has long been home to a rich African American culture, and its hub, Deep Ellum (centered on Elm St.), is home to great little clubs frequented by a twenty-something crowd (Ellum, by the way, is Elm spelled out phonetically, as it would be said with a Southern drawl).
“Best of” picks are always a good bet. Head to The Dram, part of the city’s Knox-Henderson neighbourhood – and a favourite of those looking to go out at night. Selected by D magazine as the city’s best lounge, you can choose from an extensive list of whiskies and Champagnes, then relax on the sexy velvet furniture. Or if you’re a cocktail lover, check out The Cedars Social, which boasts one of the nation’s leading mixologists, and was selected by the same publication for the honour of “best cocktails.”
Sometimes known as the place “where the west begins,” the Fort Worth Stockyards are the real deal, a National Historic District and former livestock market that dates back to 1866. In addition to attractions like the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and the only twice-daily cattle drive on earth, the Stockyards are also a great place to spend an evening. Load up on some barbecue, smoked low and slow the way that pulled pork shoulder and brisket should be, then dance it off at the World’s Largest Honkey Tonk. Whether you love or loathe country music, Billy Bob’s is worth a visit, if just to see the spectacle of two-steppin’ cowboys and indoor bull riders.
Arts & Culture: With 18 separate cultural institutions, Houston’s Museum District draws almost nine million visitors every year to its pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined streets. Of particular note is the Museum of Fine Art, the largest art museum in the Southwest, which boasts an extremely diverse collection that includes more than 60,000 works from six continents, from Japanese ceramics to American 19th-century landscape painting to one of the foremost offerings of post-World War II Brazilian constructive art; and even encompasses some lovely outdoor gardens at Bayou Bend, a 5.6-hectare site that belongs to the museum and sits about eight kilometres from the main campus.
Founded more than 60 years ago, the Alley Theatre is a Houston institution, presenting a wide variety of productions, from classics to musical theatre to the recently rediscovered and the rarely performed, with an emphasis on new American works.
Greater Houston CVB
Young minds thrive at the Children’s Museum of Houston, which was recently expanded to twice its former size and has been named the top children’s museum in the United States.
Nightlife: Houston’s downtown and midtown feature an eclectic mix of cool spots, from rollicking music at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar and the nonstop party at Howl at the Moon, or slow it down for some romance at La Carafe.
Washington Avenue is one of the city’s prime nightlife districts – bust a move at Ei8ght, or sit back for cocktails and a snack at Soma Sushi.
If you’re feeling like a chill night and a glass of wine, head to River Oaks and West University. Here, you’ll find patios, like the second-floor space at the Cha Champagne and Wine Bar, as well as cool little pubs like Little Woodrow’s and The Volcano, and sweet indie spots like Marfreless – but on the last one, you’ll have to look carefully, as it doesn’t have a sign (the message: you’re in, if you can find it).
The alternative crowd loves Montrose, where the streets teem with both hipsters and drag queens – check out the unique cocktails created with homemade liquors at the Anvil Bar and Refuge, or head to Poison Girl for slam poetry and a little old-school pinball.