The Heart of America - 48 hours in... Dallas

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Indy Lifestyle Online
See Lee Harvey Oswald's alleged vantage point for yourself, or simply sit down to a juicy steak in a city ambient with southwestern charm

Why go?

For millions of travellers each year, the de facto capital of North Texas is merely somewhere to change planes. But simply to pause in transit is to miss out on a city that has much more culture and complexity than you might think - and provides a fascinating introduction to the uniquely Texan way of life.

Get your bearings

Dallas-Fort Worth airport lies roughly midway between the two cities. The easy way to Dallas is by cab, but the 20-mile, half-hour ride will cost a fixed-rate $42 (pounds 22); the shared shuttle buses that deliver passengers to their hotels charge $16 (pounds 8.50). The budget option is to take the courtesy bus to Centerport/DFW Airport rail station, from where the Trinity Railway Express costs just $2.25 (pounds 1.20) for the 30-minute journey to Union Station [1]. The drawback is that bus and train schedules do not always connect, so you could face a long wait on the platform. Southwest Airlines uses the much handier Love Field, from which local buses run to downtown for the standard flat fare of $1.25 (65p). Downtown Dallas comprises a cluster of sharp, shiny office blocks, spreading east from Union Station [1]; Commerce and Main Streets are the major thoroughfares. The Convention and Visitor Bureau [2] is at 100 South Houston Street (001 214 571 1000; www.visitdallas.com). It opens 8am-5pm Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm at weekends and holidays.

Check in

There are thousands of rooms in chain hotels and motels in Dallas, and they are hard to avoid. But offering more individuality is the Adolphus [3] at 1321 Commerce Street (001 214 742 8200; www.hoteladolphus.com) - a grand but comfortable establishment whose restaurant, the French Room, is one of the better eating places in downtown. Double rooms start at $183 (pounds 96) without breakfast, although rates are higher on weekdays. The closest to a boutique hotel is the Hotel Lawrence [4] (001 214 761 9090; www.hotellawrencedallas.com). Double rooms start at $137 (pounds 72), including breakfast and a free shuttle bus within a three-mile radius of the hotel, which covers most of the main sights. For cheaper accommodation it's hard to avoid the chains: try the Hampton Inn [5] (001 214 742 5678; www.hamptoninn.com), which may have rooms from as low as $79 (pounds 42) including breakfast.

Take a view

The view that everyone feels compelled to see is the one that Lee Harvey Oswald (allegedly) had in his sights at 11.50am on 23 November 1963. The Sixth Floor Museum [6] of the former Texas School Depository at 411 Elm Street (001 214 747 6660; www.jfk.org) explores the various theories about the assassination of President John F Kennedy, who was shot as his motorcade drove across Dealey Plaza [7]. It opens 9am-6pm daily, admission $10 (pounds 5.30). For alternatives ideas about JFK's death, visit the Conspiracy Museum [8] (001 214 741 3040); open 10am-6pm daily, entry $9 (pounds 4.75).

Lunch on the run

The Dallas Farmers' Market [9] at 1010 South Pearl Expressway (001 214 939 2808; www.dallasfarmersmarket.org) opens daily at 6am, selling in-season fruit and vegetables brought in pick-up trucks by "old boy" Texans. There are plenty of places to eat cheaply and well, such as the Seafood Shack or, for downhome Tex-Mex, try El Mundo.

Window shopping

The Texan tendency towards conspicuous consumption began at the corner of Main and Ervay Streets in downtown Dallas - the location for the imposing Neiman-Marcus department store [10]. Even with the present favourable exchange rate, you may not regard some of the luxury goods designed to help rich Texans dispose of some excess income as terrific bargains. The store opens 10am-6pm Monday to Saturday (to 8pm on Thursday), closed Sunday.

A walk in the park

Fair Park is a brave 20th-century creation that includes the Cotton Bowl (a venue in the 1992 football World Cup), a lagoon and the fascinating Women's Museum [11]. Whatever your gender, the accounts by women of all creeds and colours will, at turns, amuse and appal you - though you can take comfort in the fact that such an establishment can thrive in conservative Texas. The museum (001 214 915 0860; www.thewomensmuseum.org) opens noon- 5pm daily except Monday, admission $8 (pounds 4.20).

An aperitif

If you go straight from the Women's Museum to the average Dallas bar, your new-found faith in Texan tolerance will be immediately shattered. So head somewhere that deviates from the redneck norm: the Greenville district. Aim for the strip of Greenville Avenue just north of Ross Avenue, where Suede [12] at number 2008 (001 214 828 1144) is currently viewed as the best bar on the block. Dining with the locals

Move on to Deep Ellum to eat the superb Mexican food at Monica's Aca y Alla [13], 2914 Main Street (001 214 748 7140; www.monicas.com). The $8.50 (pounds 4.50) price tag for the enchiladas is good value. For the other Texan staple, steak, try the YO Ranch Steakhouse [14], 702 Ross Avenue (001 214 744 3287; www.yoranchsteakhouse.com).

Sunday morning: go to church

The red brick of the cathedral of Guadalupe [15] at 2215 Ross Avenue (001 214 871 1362; www.cathedralguadalupe.org) looks out of place among the neighbouring glass and concrete structures of the Arts District. But it has a real community feel, and its masses, in both English and Spanish, are often packed. You may find the final resting place of some of the early settlers in Pioneer Cemetery [16] a poignant spot to visit.

Take a ride

The McKinney Avenue Transit Authority is probably the smallest public transport undertaking in North America, but it has the finest vehicles - early 20th-century streetcars (trams) that shuttle back and forth along a three-mile route, starting at Howell Street, by City Place Station [17] and running through Uptown. The journey is free.

Out to brunch

Eating in the downtown area at weekends is something of a challenge unless you go to the buffet brunch at the revolving Antares restaurant in the Hyatt Regency Hotel [18] on Reunion Drive (001 214 712 7145; www.hyattregencydallas.com). Better to feast on the Sunday brunch (served 11am-1.30pm) at the Melrose Hotel [19], 3015 Oak Lawn Avenue (001 214 224 3152; www.melrosehoteldallas.com), where there is a set price of $32 (pounds 16.80) for three courses.

Cultural afternoon

Dallas the TV series did Dallas the city few favours. In fact, the breadth and depth of art and culture is amazing, largely thanks to the philanthropy of billionnaires. The dazzling Collection of Asian Art [20] on Flora Street (001 214 979 6430; www.crowcollection.org) opens 10am- 5pm from Tuesday to Sunday (until 9pm on Thursdays), entry is free. The adjacent Nasher Sculpture Center [21] (001 214 891 8570; www.nashersculpturecenter.org) is arguably the finest private collection in the world, with works by Rodin, Miro and Calder. It opens 10am-5pm daily except Monday (until 9pm on Thursdays), admission $10 (pounds 5.25). Complete the trilogy at the stunning Dallas Museum of Art [22] (001 214 922 1200; www.dallasmuseumofart.org) with its billion-dollar collection. Entry is $10 (pounds 5.25).

Write a postcard

... in Thanks-Giving Square [23], a triangular, multi-denomination oasis in the commercial hub of Dallas, whose sloping entrance represents life's uphill struggle.

The icing on the cake

Whichever Dallas airport you leave from, you can celebrate aviation on your way out. Love Field has a fascinating museum on the upper level, open during operating hours. If you are leaving from DFW, visit the American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum to the south of the airport. It opens 10am- 6pm from Wednesday to Saturday (Sunday noon-5pm); entry is free.

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