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Best Things To Do in Dallas

AOL PICK from our Editors
Dealey Plaza—the site of JFK’s demise—remains one of the most popular places to visit in Dallas, but there are plenty of other, more lighthearted, sights to take in. Dallas travel received a huge boost with the creation of the Downtown Dallas Arts District in 1984. The cultural revitalization of the 19-block, 68-acre area—home to a number of top Dallas attractions, including Dallas Museum of Art, the Crow Collection of Asian Art, the AT&T Performing Arts Center, the Nasher Sculpture Center and too many more to name—catapulted Dallas to the ranks of world-class cultural destinations like New York, Paris, Berlin and Chicago in just a few years. Distinct neighborhoods worth exploring abound—from the soulful Deep Ellum to lively Greenville to the affluent Park Cities. The city also has a few gorgeous natural attractions, such as parks and lakes, which give visitors to Dallas a totally different take on the Big D.

Wilson Block Historic District

Neighborhood: Deep Ellum/East Dallas
You can get a feel for what Dallas was like in its early days by wandering around the gigantic mansions of the historic Wilson Block. Walking tours start at the Wilson Family’s own former Queen Anne home on Swiss Avenue—one of seven homes they built on their land back in 1899. The Wilson House sits on the corner of Swiss Avenue and Oak Street and is open to the public and has films and a library. This whole East Dallas neighborhood offers insights into Dallas’ genteel past, from its Victorian and Neoclassical architecture to its early bathroom plumbing arrangements. Central Square—a shady spot for a picnic or a sit down—is immediately across the street from the house.

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Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art

Neighborhood: Downtown
With such a cluster of attractions, a visit to the Arts District has swiftly become one of the top Dallas things to do, and the 569-artifact permanent collection of items from China, Japan, India and Southeast Asia at the Crow is a major part of this. While the pieces are beautiful, the fact that this vast collection is merely a fragment of Mr. and Mrs. Crow’s trips to Asia is a wonder in itself. Opened in 1998, the galleries are cool and calm and a lovely escape from the sun and hectic city outside—and admission is free.

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Dallas Arboretum

Neighborhood: East Dallas
Sixty-six acres of carefully manicured gardens serve as backdrop to year-round events, concerts and afternoon tea dates. This serene greenery sits 20 minutes east of the city, on the eastern hem of White Rock Lake. It’s a colorful stop—and one of our favorite spots to take a picnic lunch on a sunny day. Park staff is quite happy for you to bring in food and drink. Weekends can get overrun with kids, weddings and family celebrations, so try and go on a weekday if you can.

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American Airlines Center

Neighborhood: Victory Park/Uptown
Anchoring the increasingly interesting Victory Park neighborhood, American Airlines Center is all-action. Home to the Dallas Stars hockey team, Dallas Mavericks basketball team, Dallas Vigilantes Arena Football Leagues and hundreds of big-name concerts since it opened in 2001, “the Hangar” is the fanatical heart of Dallas. There’s pretty much always something on—from the circus to WWE wrestling to a Vigilantes game to a Lady Gaga show. Catching one of the home teams play is a great way to feel like a local. If you’re looking for Dallas Mavericks tickets, get them as soon as your plans are confirmed—Mark Cuban’s team are hot tickets, and home games regularly sell out.

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Fair Park

Neighborhood: South Dallas
You might think there was no point checking out Fair Park outside of September’s State Fair, but the 277-acre site offers a mind-boggling array of activities year-round. Festivals from the Taste of Dallas to North Texas Irish Festival fill the grounds in March and July, and there’s a smorgasbord of permanent attractions. Fair Park is home to the Women’s Museum, Museum of Nature & Science, African-American Museum, Texas Discovery Gardens, Museum of the American Railroad, the Music Hall and, in the fall of 2010, the 6,000 animals of the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park. The Fair Park Passport ($24 for adults and $14 for children) makes a lot of sense if you’ve got your sights on more than one site.

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Nasher Sculpture Center

Neighborhood: Downtown
Yet another feather was added to Dallas’ Arts District in 2003, when the cutting-edge Nasher Sculpture Center burst onto the scene. With a slew of vibrant and sometimes perplexing works, the galleries of this collection of 20th-century 3D masterpieces are great places for a cool saunter, but we recommend grabbing a table at the indoor/outdoor café and tucking into a Cobb salad while admiring works such as Jonathan Borofsky’s 75-degree, 100-foot-high “Walking to the Sky.” The Nasher is free on the first Saturday of every month.

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Dallas Museum of Art

Neighborhood: Downtown
There’s a real sense of excitement about Dallas Museum of Art. The cool anchor of the Arts District is one of the most enjoyable and invigorating stops in town. Maybe it’s the Cezannes and Monets in the Reves Collection of Impressionist Paintings. Maybe it’s the galleries that teem with art from the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. Maybe it was the injection of 800 new works of art in 2005. Maybe it’s the buzz about visiting exhibitions, such as Tutankhamun’s mummies or cutting-edge video art. Maybe it’s the airy, hip Seventeen Seventeen restaurant where you get glimpses of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed windows above every time you take a sip of champagne. Whatever it is, it works.

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White Rock Lake

Neighborhood: East Dallas
A visit to this lush, popular recreation area is one of the best Dallas things to do. Far from the bustling hordes in the Arts District, it really gives a taste of what it would be like to live in Dallas. It’s the city’s largest park, and there are opportunities to hike, bike, fish, walk dogs and picnic. The 1,015-acre White Rock Lake is a few miles northeast of downtown. Swimming is not allowed, alas, but kayaking and sailing are popular, and the shoreline is perfect for a jog or saunter. Several local companies, such as Kayak Power (214-669-1663), rent kayaks and some even deliver them to the lakeshore.

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Dallas Zoo

Neighborhood: Oak Cliff
Pick a cool day—or start out at 9AM—when you tackle the 95-acre Dallas Zoo. One of the zoo’s two main areas, ZooNorth, is home of the usual ark of animal attractions, from giraffes to elephants, and is particularly popular with kids. The other portion of the zoo—the 25-acre Wilds of Africa area--isn’t quite so young at heart. Crocodiles, cranes, chimpanzees and the elusive, delicate okapi inhabit this habitat. To see all inhabitants of the African areas, you have to take the 20-minute, narrated Monorail Safari. Very few of the creatures on view from the monorail can be spied from the trails below, so we recommend clambering on board. Even staying at ground level, the zoo is still well worth a visit.

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Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (The)

Neighborhood: Downtown
It’s a strange experience to be confronted with the infamous Grassy Knoll on the corner of Houston and Elm streets and the notorious Texas School Book Depository. The scene is so familiar. Dallas struggled for a long time with this somber site and only opened the Sixth Floor Museum in 1989. The museum traces JFK’s presidency through speeches and footage, culminating in the actual sniper’s nest with the scene just as it was on the fateful day. Detailed journal pages from witnesses and doctors bring the day and its events to life for those who remember it and those too young to do so.

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