The profusion of skyscrapers marks the heart of the city and makes a useful orienting point for exploring, but Downtown’s lower-rise, historic West End is the real starting point for the city. Head east and you’ll find yourself in atmospheric Deep Ellum. It’s worth exploring a little to the southwest of Downtown, where you’ll find Oak Cliff and the Bishop Arts District. From Downtown, venture north across the 366 and you’re in Uptown—itself divided into more than half a dozen distinct pockets of interest. Farther north, the affluent neighborhoods of Highland Park and University Park make up the Park Cities. Greenville and Lakewood—home of White Rock Lake—sit to the east of these wealthy ‘hoods. Other than a day trip to South Dallas’ Fair Park, there aren’t too many reasons to venture outside of these main areas, as they dissolve into vast tracts of strip malls and suburbia. (Your first view of Dallas will likely be the city’s interminable suburbs.) By road, rail or air, you have to wade through lots of strip-mall-strewn suburbia before you reach Dallas’ personable center.
A beguiling mixture of high-rises and historical sites, Downtown has a somewhat harried pace by day, but things slow down to a refreshing tempo by night, when Dallasites flock to the cultural venues of the ever-expanding Arts District. It’s an area of renovated, landmark art deco buildings from the early days of Dallas’ oil boom—sleek towers jutting up to 72 stories and 921 feet in the air, and big-name architectural opuses. An incredible array of cultural options beckons—from world-class institutions to splashy galleries—and trust us, the dining is excellent, too. The historic West End—directly south of the Arts District—is overflowing with pricey, one-of-a-kind fashion boutiques, sites from Dallas’ beginnings, and plenty of hot restaurants and nightclubs.
Oak Cliff’s top attraction is the burgeoning Bishop Arts District—a compact area of galleries, boutiques and bistros amid charming turn-of-the-century and mid-century homes. Centered on West Davis Street and North Bishop Avenue, it’s an easy amble between cafés, bars and eclectic ateliers. Bishop Arts District is popular with the lesbian and gay population. Sometimes called “The OC” or “The Cliff,” the area has an entirely different pace to the more-hectic neighborhoods north of the Trinity River—and the lack of street traffic is a bonus.
Made up of Highland Park and University Park, the place where Dallas’ wealthy elite flock to roost, the Park Cities neighborhood is known for its panoply of upscale shopping malls. It's also home to some of the country’s priciest real estate and the 11,000-student Southern Methodist University. Situated north of Downtown and east of Love Field, the area is George W. Bush’s former ‘hood, and SMU will open a presidential library and policy institute in the local good-ole-boy’s name by 2013.
Once home to a vibrant blues scene, youthful Deep Ellum is now where boho stores, eateries, clubs and edgy art galleries converge. Think of it as a wee bit of Austin hip in Dallas. The alternative music scene ousted the blues bars in the early '80s and is still vibrant today: Squat red-brick clubs throb with the sounds of the city’s bands on weekends. Deep Ellum is not as safe as it once was so don’t saunter ‘round solo late at night. By day, you’ll find offbeat boutiques and bargains at a posse of vintage stores. Another long-established haunt for hip bars, interesting restaurants and retro stores, Greenville stretches from a little north of Deep Ellum and runs alongside the Park Cities. West of Greenville, residential Lakewood’s White Rock Lake is a welcome sight on a hot Dallas day—but you can’t swim in the 1,015-acre lake, so its cool breezes are a lifesaver when the mercury rises.
Uptown is an umbrella term for a mishmash of distinct, smaller neighborhoods. Up-and-coming Victory Park sees exciting bar and restaurant options sprout by the week. Vibrant McKinney Avenue galleries showcase the country’s hottest artists. Revitalized Knox-Henderson has a sizzling restaurant scene in the Travis Walk complex and no shortage of pricey home décor and furnishings stores. Other areas include genteel Turtle Creek, home to pricey condos and to the upscale restaurant and hotel, Mansion on Turtle Creek; upscale West Village—with its myriad shopping and clubbing options; and the lively gayborhood of Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs—with some of the best arts and theater scenes in the city. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dallas Theater Center is in Oak Lawn, along with some of the city's best hotels.