The 1970s oil boom brought rapid development to Dallas and Dallas to American television screens. Suddenly, men who could have inspired J.R. Ewing’s character were a dime a dozen—despite the fact that there was never a working oil well in Dallas County. In the end, that didn’t matter much, as the oil speculation drove people, and with them money, to the area.
Dallas is now experiencing a boom of a different kind. With $15 billion in development, it isn’t the same city it was 20 years ago, and it won’t be the same in another 20. In the past two decades, it’s welcomed the state’s first light rail system and a professional hockey team, and the downtown population has exploded, growing from 300 residents in 1996 to 30,000 today. A few years ago, the neighborhood was all work and no play, largely shutting down after the 9-to-5 grind—but that’s all changing.
There’s no better evidence of the revitalization effort than Klyde Warren Park, one result of city initiatives to add green space and lure people downtown. The five-acre park, which joins uptown and downtown, sits above a freeway, though you’d never suspect cars are roaring by below at 60-plus mph. Chairs and tables dot the lawn, where you’re free to play croquet and pingpong, practice your stroke at a putting green or browse through an outdoor library. Grab a bite to eat at the food trucks that surround the area, or, to escape the heat, admire the park from Savor’s floor-to-ceiling windows. The gastropub’s shareable desserts are priced at $3 each, so go ahead and order the whole menu. As for liquid dessert, Savor serves the highest volume of wine on tap in the country.
The park borders the arts district, 19 contiguous blocks that include four Pritzker Prize-winning architects’ buildings and make for a very convenient and condensed arts experience. Nasher Sculpture Center houses works from Matisse, Picasso, Alexander Calder and many other modern sculptors, and its backyard space is equally breathtaking. Across the street, the Dallas Museum of Art offers free admission and leaves its doors open until midnight every third Friday of the month. If you’re with young kids, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science is a must, though it certainly has enough activities to occupy an adult mind. And if your boots aren’t made for all this walking, know that the downtown D-Link bus runs every 15 minutes and is free of charge from 11 am to 11:30 pm.
Life, of course, exists outside of downtown. Dallas is nearly 400 square miles—what’s the saying about everything being bigger in Texas?—and you should try to make a dent in all it has to offer. In West Dallas, Trinity Groves is a choice destination for those who struggle with decision-making. The incubator program hosts multiple restaurant concepts, so your evening’s menu could look like this: ahi tuna nachos at Chino Chinatown, Texan drafts at Luck and perhaps post-dinner hookah at Souk. And down the road you’ll find local favorite brunch spot Smoke, whose hearty pancakes are nearly an inch thick.
Next, take a drive north through Highland Park, known as the Beverly Hills of Texas, for a serious case of real estate envy. Or, to the northeast, stroll amongst 300,000 tulips (the most outside of Holland) in the Dallas Arboretum. Pack a picnic, including a bottle of wine, and sit beside White Rock Lake with a view of downtown in the distance. If you prefer to have someone else do the cooking, head to Komali, where the chef—a native of Mexico City—cooks up authentic south-of-the-border cuisine. (Go for the queso fundido and house prickly pear margarita.)
Wherever you choose to explore, when you retreat downtown for a good night’s rest, you must lay your head at the Joule. The walls are filled with the owner’s collection of contemporary art, from Andy Warhol to Richard Phillips, and on the 10th floor you’ll find a glass pool that juts out eight feet over the street below. You’ll end up buying a few Taschen coffee table books showcased in the lobby and be tempted to slip the sumptuous sheets into your carry-on. A block away you’ll find the flagship Neiman Marcus, but the hotel is also home to shopping destination TENOVERSIX, which stocks designers like Pamela Love and Opening Ceremony. Enjoy at least one meal at the hotel’s restaurant, CBD Provisions, which has deservedly been getting national attention and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their family-style main courses are meant to be shared, so as you pack your suitcase, remember to come with a big appetite—and bigger pants.
-Get a view of the city from the recently reopened Reunion Tower, designed by Milton-born architect Buckminster Fuller.
-Visit the Grassy Knoll with Discover Dallas guide John Estes. He’s spoken with many people who visited Dealey Plaza the day of President Kennedy’s assassination.
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden 8525 Garland Road, Dallas (214-515-6615) dallasarboretum.org
The Dallas Arts District (214-744-6642) thedallasartsdistrict.org
Discover Dallas discoverdallastours.com
The Joule 1530 Main St. (214-748-1300) thejouledallas.com
Klyde Warren Park 2012 Woodall Rodgers Freeway (214-716-4500) klydewarrenpark.org
Komali 4152 Cole Ave. (214-252-0200) komalirestaurant.com
Reunion Tower 300 Reunion Blvd. East (214-712-7040) reuniontower.com
Smoke 901 Fort Worth Ave. (214-393-4141) smokerestaurant.com
Trinity Groves 425 Bedford St. (214-744-0100) trinitygroves.com