Text and photos by Sue Burns
I am constantly inspired by the fact that we can travel through America to different states and cities and feel like we’re almost in completely different countries. From Boston, where I’m immersed in our nation’s historic beginnings, to the bustling, honking streets of New York City to San Francisco, with its famous fog, steep streets and gingerbread houses, across the U.S., adventure awaits!
I guess I’d better clarify — when I say adventure, I don’t mean bungee jumping or white water rafting, although I admire those who dare. For me, the adventure is in exploring a new city: people watching, learning about the culture, tasting the foods and seeing the things that make it unique — in other words, being surrounded and taking in the environment around me.
When my son moved to Dallas after college, I couldn’t wait to visit, and have spent a few weekends there over the last couple of years. From Fresno, it’s just over a three-hour flight, a relatively quick jaunt. Of course, I haven’t seen nearly all there is to see there, but I have truly enjoyed everything I’ve experienced. To me, Dallas embodies juxtaposition: chaotic streets and free-ways and the charming Uptown Trolley; modern and historic buildings sitting side-by-side; quirky places like a park with a giant eyeball sculpture, and places of sober reflection — the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza — in the midst of downtown skyscrapers.
There are several neighborhoods within Dallas County, and all have their distinct personalities. In Highland Park, you’ll find elegant homes, upscale shopping and restaurants. In close proximity is University Park and Southern Methodist University. Uptown Dallas is a hip place to live and hang out, a prime area for young professionals and grad students. Cool designs, trendy shops, restaurants and bars, and entertainment are in walking distance for residents.
They say everything’s bigger in Texas. That goes for the food as well. You can find any cuisine that your heart and stomach desire (although BBQ does rule!). The Rustic, a restaurant and bar in the West Village, offers a large selection of Texas beers on draft and creates tasty fare using locally sourced products. Gloria’s offers a combination of authentic and updated Tex-Mex and Salvadoran dishes; Village Burger Bar will recharge you after a day of sightseeing, and Velvet Taco will make choosing a challenge with innovative flavors like falafel, shrimp and grits, and chicken and waffles.
Diverse and artsy Deep Ellum is characterized by brick buildings dressed up in graffiti murals, funky galleries and collectible shops and, of course, restaurants. Voted among the best BBQ in the country, Pecan Lodge is as popular as it is delicious. The line forms before the doors open and remains until they are sold out of beef and pork ribs, pulled pork, hand-made sausages and brisket. You can walk off your meal browsing in the shops that line Main Street, where the restaurant is located.
Getting around Dallas is easy. Walking is the ideal choice, as it allows you to take everything in at your own pace. Lyft is a popular option, a great way to get to locations of choice without having to worry about finding your way through the traffic and parking, which is at a premium. You can also wind your way to your destination on scooters that are available for rent on almost any street. During my first weekend trip, we took a Lyft from Uptown to John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza in the West End Historic District, and then strolled through downtown to the Dallas Farmers Market.
At JFK Memorial Plaza, there is a simple but imposing structure where you can walk inside and reflect. Architect Philip Johnson designed the memorial, an open tomb with no roof, as “a place of quiet refuge, an enclosed place of thought and contemplation separated from the city around, but near the sky and earth.” As we approached, we could hear the somber strains of a lone violin and found the musician inside, quietly playing in a corner. Despite the hum of traffic and tall buildings visible above, the air is hushed inside, inviting all to pause for at least a moment to remember the former president.
A couple of blocks away is the actual site of the assassination, where Xs in the street mark the shots that were fired into the president’s motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963. There are always people at the site who will discuss the conspiracy theories and where the shots came from. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza, within the former Texas School Book Depository Building, is one of those sites; the grassy knoll is the other. It is a bit eerie to see cars driving along the street, but although time and traffic march on, this space is another one of reflection and remembrance.
As we walked to the site of the assassination, we found the Old Red Courthouse, originally the Dallas County Courthouse. It was built in 1892 of red sandstone with marble accents. There is a spectacular iron and wood staircase inside, along with a museum that houses many Dallas artifacts (fittingly among them J.R. Ewing’s hat from the television show Dallas).
The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum is just up from the JFK site and opened its three-story, 55,000-square-foot building this year. Its mission is to “advance human rights to combat prejudice, hatred and indifference.” Exhibits start with the Holocaust and progress to other genocides that have happened throughout history. The museum displays an actual Nazi boxcar used for freight that is similar to what brought Jews to the labor and death camps.
About a mile away, we encountered the Statler Hotel, originally the Statler Hilton Dallas, built in 1956. The curved building was an architectural marvel at the time, and the hotel featured a number of firsts, including Westinghouse televisions in every room, elevator music and a helicopter-landing pad on the roof. A recent remodel has created a hip and distinctive space, with 159 guestrooms and 219 private apartments on the upper floors.
After leaving the Statler, we passed a building with six flags flying, and my son explained that each flag — Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America and the United States of America — represents a nation that has at some point had control over Texas.
“In the middle of everything but away from it all,” as its website says, the Dallas Farmers Market has been offering the best in local produce, meats and crafts since 1941. You’ll find a 26,000-square-foot food hall that includes restaurants, artisan shops and a butcher. There’s also an open-air pavilion where fresh local produce, honey, nuts, baked goods, hot sauces and more abound. We enjoyed a delicious lunch, and I tried (sort of) not to overfill my souvenir tote bag. Luckily, it was a short walk to a park where we caught the Uptown Trolley back home. Free to ride and an intrinsic part of Dallas scenery, it’s a great way to give your feet a break while you enjoy the city.
On another weekend, we visited the Dallas World Aquarium (also in the West End Historic District). This is one of the more unique aquariums that I’ve seen — situated in the city, there isn’t room for sprawling buildings and tanks. Visitors start at the top floor and wind their way down a path through a tropical jungle as they get up close and personal with several bird species — including the most neon-pink flamingos I’ve ever seen — and view alligators, sharks and stingrays from a safer distance. Protecting wildlife and conservation are key messages every step of the way.
We also ventured to Fort Worth to visit the Historic Stockyards and Water Gardens. The stockyards began in the mid-1800s as a “civilized” stop for cowboys driving cattle to market and evolved over the next century into the largest trading center for cattle in the country. Today, you can walk down Exchange Street (home of the Stock — as in cattle — Exchange) and take in historic saloons, bars and offices, and visit a museum chock full of fascinating artifacts.
The Water Gardens — another Philip Johnson creation — were built as an oasis in the middle of the city, providing a cool respite from the summer heat and humidity. Meandering through the fountains, which at points completely surround you, is indeed a peaceful and relaxing walk.
This October, more fun awaited as we ventured to Dallas again. I love a good fair, and you’d better believe there’s one in Texas! Every autumn, the State Fair of Texas, one of the largest in the country, is held in the heart of the city. Big Tex, the 55-foot-tall cowboy who has become the icon of the fair and Texas, greets more than 2 million visitors in Fair Park each year. Opened in 1886 for the Dallas State Fair, Fair Park is the only complete and unchanged pre-1950s world’s fair site in the U.S., and a national historic landmark. The gorgeous art deco buildings added in the 1930s provide a beautiful backdrop for the event’s competitions, themed exhibits, crafts and artisan foods for sale. The fair also hosts a huge auto show and the annual Red River Showdown between Oklahoma and the University of Texas at the Cotton Bowl, right in the middle of the festivities. There’s something for everyone, and this year’s theme of “Celebrating Texas Creativity” put the focus on all things Texas, from wines to locally grown produce and livestock to all of the entries in the 1,100 creative arts competitions.
There are all the usual games on the Midway, carnival rides, concerts and shows that you find at every fair. And let’s not forget about the food — far and away the widest variety of fair foods I’ve seen. Think beyond fried Oreos and Nutter Butters to Fried Thanksgiving Dinner, Cajun Crab Cake Bombs, deep-fried Chicken Cordon Bleu Stuffed Waffles and Loaded Baked Potato Funnel Cake. Up for the annual Big Tex Choice Awards were Fried Burnt End Burritos, Texas Cream Corn Casserole Fritters and Big Red Chicken Bread (a fried chicken wing sitting inside a glazed red velvet donut). I wasn’t sure whether to drool or groan, and opted for a brisket sandwich.
Arts, culture, sightseeing, history … food, fun and adventure … whether you have a weekend or a week, you will find your fill in Dallas, Texas!