Downtown Dallas tells many unique stories about Texan history and culture. From its sculpture lined streets to the world-class array of museums, there are few cities in the US that can offer such a window to the past and future of the country at the same time.
Downtown Dallas has undergone a transformation over the past decade, with many of its once empty buildings and desolate sidewalks revamped into a major hub of culture and entertainment. Today the district continues to grow, and every week there seem to be new green spaces, arts institutions, fine dining venues and upscale shops added to the burgeoning landscape. As a consequence the area is now almost as busy at night as it is during the day.
Yet the gentrification that has taken place here is only one part of the story. In short, Downtown Dallas is so much more than the sum of its contemporary parts and it is also blessed with a wide array of perennially popular landmarks and attractions. Its museums explore the region’s past and present, combining with a fantastic public arts programme to make Downtown Dallas a genuinely fascinating place to visit. Here are ten unique things to do in Downtown Dallas.
Discover what happened to JFK on that fateful day in US history
President John F. Kennedy will be remembered for the great achievements he made during his lifetime, but it’s difficult to come to Dallas and disassociate the man from his death. While some might consider it dark tourism, visiting John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza and Dealey Plaza nearby – with its infamous grassy knoll and site of the 35th US President’s assassination – are much more than jaunts to satisfy morbid curiosity. They offer an informative exploration of a political career that was ushering in real, positive change before it was cut tragically short. The Sixth Floor Museum presents excellent exhibits detailing JFK’s presidency while outlining the events before and after his assassination. For a more comprehensive guide to this region and particular slice of history, consider hiring a local expert guide.
To have a look at some of the JFK tours available in Dallas, please click here.
Plaza: 646 Main St
Museum: 411 Elm St
Explore the history of art at the DMA
Few art museums are able to showcase quite such a breadth of human creativity as the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). So much so, that it can almost feel like an anthropological museum as well. Delving back into the mists of creative time, there are works of art from pre-Columbian American civilizations as well as holdings from around the world, such as art from the Mughal Empire, and the Nok terracotta, a 2,000-year-old artwork from Nigeria. There are also more recent classics, including works from the Impressionists like Monet and Renoir, El Greco, Hopper and John Singer Sargent. It’s a unique cross section of art history and a must-see while you’re in Dallas.
1717 N Harwood St
Take a cultural and culinary dive into Deep Ellum
Entertainment hotspot Deep Ellum merges with Downtown Dallas, east of the I-345. Deep Ellum is the place to go for those who are looking for the best place for a good meal and a night out in the city. The mural-bedecked entertainment district is rocking during weekends, with old school music venues like The Bomb Factory (which actually served as a WWII bomb factory), and Trees bringing in major music acts. There’s also an amazing eatery on every corner, with Tex-Mex being the staple here. There are some excellent food tours of this section of Downtown, such as this private tasting tour (prices are for up to two people). That will allow you to get the lowdown on where’s best to eat and go out during your stay.
The Bomb Factory: 2814 Commerce St
Trees: 2709 Elm St
Buy your very own Wild West attire
You may not see that many Stetsons and stirrups in Downtown Dallas these days, but farming was once the backbone of the economy here, in addition to commerce brought in by the railways. And you can still buy quality, authentic Western clothing from Wild Bill’s Western Store. This unique old store is a delight even to browse around, with its racks of cowboy boots – ranging from classic leather to more bohemian designs – and various hats. There’s also jewellery and other accessories on sale, making for some great souvenirs that are easy enough to transport back home with you.
311 N Market St #101
Mosey on down to Pioneer Plaza for some of Dallas’s great public art
There’s an old Texan saying: “All hat a no cattle.” If you did deck yourself out in Western finery at Wild Bill’s, you’ll likely feel right at home down at Pioneer Plaza. Here an expansive public art installation consists of 40 longhorn cattle and three cowboys on horseback all in bronze and fording a river. Better yet, they’re full-sized, which makes this one of the more popular free sights in Downtown Dallas. The down side, they are rooted in place, so there’ll be no herding, and if the signs are to be obeyed, riding, of this herd. In all there are 300 pieces of public art on display in Dallas, much of which is located Downtown.
Pioneer Plaza: 1428 Young St
See who blinks first at the Giant Eyeball
Another unique piece of public art in Dallas can be found plonked outside a sleek, modern, upscale hotel. Passers-by are perpetually performing double takes as they catch sight of this gleaming orb resting in a lush garden. The giant, ultra-realistic, fibreglass eyeball sculpture was created in 2007. Artist Tony Tasset originally designed it for a temporary Chicago public arts display, after which the eye was mothballed for several years. When it re-emerged, it spent some time in St. Louis before pitching up here in Dallas in or around 2013. Get close enough and you’ll notice the impressive attention to detail that went into its design, including the lightning-like complexity of the blue iris and its bleary red veins.
1601 Main Street
Look out over the city from Reunion Tower’s GeO-Deck
Viewing platforms are ten-a-penny in cities across the world, but the GeO-Deck at Chicago’s Reunion Tower is a little different. From 470 feet (143 metres) up, visitors can take in the breath-taking 360-degree panoramic views either the traditional, ocular, way. Alternatively, state-of-the-art technology, including high-definition zoom cameras, touch screen monitors, and augmented reality telescopes offer a more interactive viewing experience. This is a perfect way to spend an afternoon with the family. There are also special date packages for couples available. A series of after-hours events at this unique spot brings common pastimes like bingo and yoga up into the sky.
For general tickets, click here to get your viewing locked in, in advance.
300 Reunion Blvd East
See Asian art through the ages at Crow Museum
The Crow Museum of Asian Art is one of the most unique cultural venues in the Downtown Dallas district. Whether it is pioneering forms of painting from contemporary artists, to centuries-old carved jade sculptures or suits of Samurai armour, there are many marvels from Asia on exhibition. Both permanent and rotating exhibitions of arts from China, Japan, India and Southeast Asia are showcased, as well as a busy programme of wellness classes, yoga and meditation, lectures and gallery talks. Be sure to check out the pristine sculpture garden too, home to 15 contemporary and historical pieces.
2010 Flora St
Take a tour of a city neighbourhood with a local
If you’d like to get to know the Downtown area of Dallas better through the insight of a local guide, then there are plenty of walking, minivan and food tours available in the city. Tours are an ideal way for larger groups and families, who prefer to let somebody in the know take care of the smaller details and planning, get to know the city. There’s also the invaluable chance to get a unique local perspective on Dallas that might not be garnered from the guidebooks.
For a look at some of the best locally-guided tours of Downtown Dallas, including some trips out to Dallas sights that lie further afield, such as the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, take a look at the list on Getyourguide here.
Catch a show at Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center
For a slice of Dallas’s high society, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, hosts orchestras and big names in the classical music world. The acoustics of this magnificent hall have often been compared to the great concert halls of Europe, and with good reason; anyone who has attended a concert here will likely have been mesmerised by the rich sounds that reverberate all around, for which we can give thanks to acoustician Russell Johnson. Every detail was designed, in unison between Johnson and Pei, to achieve the highest acoustical quality, and the result is extraordinary. Concerts are held at least weekly throughout the year, with tickets available for public purchase.
2301 Flora St