The contrast of ingredients that make up the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex include everything from nationally renowned museums, dazzling architecture and world-class restaurants to honky-tonks, colossal sports stadiums and lots of cowboy spirit. Visiting this region offers the chance to take in not only some glamour and glitz, but a slice of authentic Western culture.
No matter where you are here, whether it’s the grocery store or a popular tourist attraction, you might just run into a real cowboy — boots, spurs, belt buckle and all. The cowboy culture still prevails throughout Texas, although in the city of Dallas it’s definitely a bit more subtle. Fort Worth, on the other hand, particularly embraces its Western heritage as the home to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Billy Bob’s Texas and the Stockyards National Historic District, just to name a few.
Start out at the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture, housed inside the 1892 Romanesque-style courthouse building, a venue considered to be a treasure trove of things you probably didn’t know about the city. A small section of the museum is devoted to the Kennedy assassination, including Jack Ruby’s prison doodle from 1965.
You can also take a trip back in time to Dallas’ Wild West days by visiting the Dallas Heritage Village, home to the most extensive collection of 19th-century pioneer and Victorian structures in the Lone Star state. Visitors are transported back in history to learn what life was like 100 years ago by interacting with period characters and exploring a period doctor’s office, general store, bank and other businesses of the time.
For the most authentic taste of the Texas Old West, head to Fort Worth’s Stockyards National Historic District. This is a living museum where a real-life cattle drive can be witnessed twice a day as a herd of 18 longhorn steers is driven down Exchange Avenue. Blend in by picking up a cowboy hat at one of the many Western boutiques and hop into the turn of the 20th century by boarding the Grapevine Vintage Railroad excursion train.
Don’t miss the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, located in Barn A in the stockyards, which pays homage to the cowboys and cowgirls who’ve excelled in rodeo sports, as well as those who have dedicated their lives to promoting and preserving Texas’ Western heritage. The Sterquell Wagon Collection includes more than 60 Old West wagons, carts and sleighs, and at the Exploratorium, kids can even dig for treasures in sawdust or learn to pack for a trail drive.
Tucked into the Cultural District, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame focuses on the ladies of the Wild West. It commemorates such renowned females as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Sacagawea. This is a perfect museum to visit if you’re looking for a real “Texas twist” in a top-notch cultural attraction. At Sundance Square in Fort Worth you’ll find 35 blocks of entertainment and fantastic food in what’s been called one of the safest and cleanest downtowns in the entire nation. It’s also extremely pedestrian friendly, but if your legs need a break, you can take the free trolley system known as “Molly the Trolley.”
For the best chance to see plenty of real-life cowboys and cowgirls, go to the historic Cowtown Coliseum, home of the very first indoor rodeo in the world. Every Friday and Saturday night, the Stockyards Championship Rodeo is held here. It features events like bull riding, barrel racing, bareback riding and much more.
Of course, you won’t want to miss out on a visit to the world’s largest honky-tonk, Billy Bob’s Texas. Some of the best musicians in history have performed here, including country music legends like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. You can even get in on the act yourself by line dancing — if you don’t know how, free dance lessons are available here on Thursday nights. For those traveling with children, Billy Bob’s is a family-friendly establishment, but keep in mind that things can get pretty rowdy, especially after dark.
Looking for authentic Cowboy fare? It all began with the chuck wagon that accompanied long cattle drives, which is what inspires the cuisine at Reata’s rooftop restaurant. All-you-can-eat beef ribs, as well as Black Angus steaks and calf fries, can be found at Riscky’s Barbeque, a Fort Worth staple for over 75 years.
If you’ve got a sitter, or are visiting sans kids, Gilley’s in Dallas is a must for bringing out your inner cowboy or cowgirl. At this bar built on Urban Cowboy fame, you can listen or dance to live, local country music for free on Friday and Saturday night or even give the mechanical bull a try.
Fans of the long-running show Dallas may even want to make the 20-minute drive north of the city to Parker and visit Southfork Ranch, the iconic home seen in the popular television series. Visitors can take a tour to see how the Ewings really lived as well as view an exhibit featuring memorabilia from the show, including the gun that shot J.R. For those who want to tell their friends back home that they saw a real Texas longhorn – cattle with horns extending as long as 7 feet tip-to-tip — you can see them up close out on the ranch.
In general, the Dallas-Fort Worth area offers all the trappings of big metropolitan cities — outstanding museums, incredible restaurants, live music venues, theatre and other city adventures. But the unique blend of old west and new cosmopolitan is distinctly DFW. The two mingle together, giving history and modernity an interesting swirl. No matter what you do during your visit to Dallas-Fort Worth, embrace your inner cowboy or cowgirl, and you’re sure to have a wonderful time!