Why go now?
Fifty years ago this month, US President John F Kennedy arrived in Texas for a tour of the state, with planned stops in San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas and Austin. He never made it to Austin. On 22 November 1963, as his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza (1) in Dallas, he was shot and killed. In the half-century since, the Plaza has become a time capsule devoted to that moment, which will be specially commemorated on this month's watershed anniversary.
Dallas itself has shaken off the stigma of the assassination: it boasts thriving arts institutions, four major league sports teams and, for soap opera fans, the real Southfork Ranch.
The quickest, cheapest way into town is via the Trinity Railway Express commuter train (trinityrailwayexpress.org), which runs to Union Station (2) daily except Sunday. A two-hour pass costs $2.50 (£1.70). Bus 500 runs daily from the airport to Belt Line station on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (dart.org) light railway's Orange Line, connecting for Downtown stops such as West End (3). The Dart connects most of Dallas. Two-hour passes cost $2.50 (£1.70), but the full-day pass is better value at $5 (£3.30). A taxi Downtown will cost about $40 (£27).
Get your bearings
Downtown is a cluster of skyscrapers that tells the city's story, from the high-rise oil-firm HQs that defined its early years, to the bank buildings that dominate the skyline today. Commerce, Main and Elm Streets run alongside each other from east to west, converging at Dealey Plaza (1). Keep heading west across Trinity River and you'll find flourishing pockets of restaurants and bars in the low-rise suburb of Oak Cliff.
Dallas Tourist Information Center (4) is in the Old Red Courthouse at 100 South Houston Street (001 214 571 1316; visitdallas.com; open 8am-5pm daily).
The Adolphus (5) (001 214 742 8200; hoteladolphus.com) at 1321 Commerce Street has hosted such dignitaries as the Queen, the Vanderbilts and Bono. When it opened in 1912, it was the tallest structure in Texas. The hotel marked its centenary last year and the décor seems barely altered since Kennedy's day. Doubles start at $225 (£150), room only.
For the younger at heart, Aloft Dallas Downtown (6) (001 214 761 0000; aloftdallasdowntown.com) at 1033 Young Street has warehouse-style suites overlooking Pioneer Plaza, home to a striking life-size sculpture of a Texas cattle drive. Doubles from $160 (£107), room only.
For a little luxury, Rosewood Mansion (7) (001 214 559 2100; rosewoodhotels.com) at 2821 Turtle Creek Boulevard is a sumptuous hotel owned by Caroline Hunt, of the Hunt oil dynasty, one of the USA's richest women. Doubles start from $427 (£285), room only.
Take a view
The Reunion Tower (8) (001 214 978 8010; reuniontower.com) at 300 Reunion Boulevard East is set apart from the skyscrapers of Downtown. But at 561ft, its 360-degree observation deck offers the best bird's-eye view of the city. The deck reopened last month after a renovation and now features interactive touchscreen displays explaining the details of the skyline. If you visit in the evening, come with an appetite: Wolfgang Puck just opened a new fine-dining Asian restaurant, Five Sixty (001 214 741 5560; wolfgangpuck.com) at the top.
Take a hike
Start at Klyde Warren Park (9) to the north of Downtown, where Kennedy's motorcade entered the city. Follow his route along North Harwood Street, through the Arts District (thedallasartsdistrict.org), which has an opera house (10) designed by Norman Foster, a theatre (11) by Rem Koolhaas, a sculpture gallery (12) by Renzo Piano and a Symphony Centre (13) by I M Pei. As you get to Main Street, you'll see the Dallas Municipal Building (14), which in 1963 housed the police HQ where Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.
Turn right down Main and you'll come to the cenotaph of the Kennedy Memorial Plaza (15). It stands close to a replica cabin on the site of the first house in Dallas, erected by the city's founder John Neely Bryan, in 1841.
Carry on past the Old Red Courthouse (4) (001 214 745 1100; oldred.org), now a historical museum as well as location for the tourist office and you'll arrive in Dealey Plaza (1), where Kennedy's journey came to an end.
Lunch on the run
Close to the Plaza, at 302 North Market Street, is Sonny Bryan's smokehouse (16) (001 214 744 1610; sonnybryans.com), which does a decent lunch plate combo. But for some truly spectacular Texas barbecue, head to the Lockhart Smokehouse (17) at 400 West Davis Street (001 214 944 5521; lockhartsmokehouse.com). Named after the small town known as the barbecue capital of Texas, the smokehouse serves meats supplied by Lockhart's Kreuz Market. Don't wait for dinner: the day's meat sells out quickly.
When it opened in 1931, at the corner of Preston Road and Mockingbird Lane, Highland Park Village (18) (hpvillage.com) was the only self-contained shopping centre in the US. In 2000, it was named a National Historical Landmark. Today, the 10-acre outdoor mall has a string of designer boutiques. If you're after something more recognisably Texan to wear, specialist Western outfitter Wild Bill's (19) at 311 North Market Street (wildbillswestern.com) has a Stetson or custom-made cowboy boots for any occasion: owner Bill Dewbre provided costumes for the cast of Dallas.
Dallas has become a destination for craft cocktail lovers. The Deep Ellum neighbourhood, once the haunt of such famous blues legends as Lead Belly and Robert Johnson, is now home to the Black Swan Saloon (20) at 2708 Elm Street (001 214 749 4848; blackswansaloon.com), where mixologist Gabe Sanchez serves some of the town's most delicious cocktails.
Dining with the locals
Chef Stephan Pyles's upmarket take on Texan comfort food at Stampede 66 (21) at 1717 Mckinney Avenue (001 214 550 6966; stampede66.com) is not to be missed. Pyles serves a more delicate dinner at his a second restaurant, Stephan Pyles (22) at 1807 Ross Avenue (001 214 580 7000; stephanpyles.com), mixing Texas flavours with Mexican and Mediterranean.
For pure Mexican, try Javier's (23) at 4912 Cole Avenue (001 214 521 4211; javiers.net), which goes for authentic Mexico City fare.
Sunday morning: go to church
The Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadeloupe (24) at 225 Ross Avenue (001 214 871 1362; cathedralguadalupe.org) is a Gothic cathedral, built in the 1890s and now swallowed up by the Arts District. It holds six Catholic masses each Sunday, four in Spanish. It's dwarfed by First Baptist Dallas (25) at 1707 San Jacinto (001 214 969 0111; firstdallas.org): a "megachurch" with a congregation of 10,000 and an Imax screen.
Out to brunch
Lark on the Park (26) at 2015 Woodall Rodgers Freeway (001 214 855 5275; larkonthepark.com) overlooks the newly planted Klyde Warren Park. It offers a brunch menu ranging from traditional American blueberry pancakes ($12/£8), to contemporary Mexican queso fundido ($10/£6.70).
A walk in the park
The 3.5-mile leafy Katy Trail (katytraildallas.org) snakes through the heart of Dallas along the path of the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. It starts at the American Airlines Center (27) and ends at Mockingbird station (28).
Take a ride
The M-Line (mata.org) offers free rides along McKinney Avenue between Downtown and Uptown, in a charming selection of restored trolley cars that once served as far away as Portugal and Australia. Jump on at West Village (29).
No trip to Dallas is complete without a visit to the excellent Sixth Floor Museum (30) at 411 Elm Street on Dealey Plaza (001 214 747 6660; jfk.org; 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday, noon-6pm Monday; $16/£10.70). It is in the old School Book Depository Building from which Oswald fired the fatal shot and is now devoted to the Kennedy assassination.
For a reminder of a rather different President, the George W Bush Presidential Library and Museum (31) at Southern Methodist University (001 214 346 1650; georgewbushlibrary.smu.edu; noon-5pm Sunday, 9am-5pm other days; $16/£10.70) has such intriguing exhibits as the Decision Points Theatre: an interactive recreation of key decisions made by Bush during his White House stint.
Icing on the cake
Texas's favourite pastime is football and the Dallas Cowboys (dallascowboys.com) are one of the biggest franchises in American sport. They play their home games on Sundays in autumn at Cowboys Stadium (32) at 1 Legends Way, Arlington. Even if you've no interest in sport, it is a great experience; tickets from $75 (£50).