- Distance from Dallas: 33 miles
- Best time: Year Round
- Best for: FamilyArts and CultureFood and Wine
Sure, Dallas and Fort Worth are technically part of the same Metroplex area, bookending several booming suburbs and the fourth busiest airport in the U.S., but two cities have very different vibes—and as locals will attest, residents of one may rarely visit the other. Dallasites who haven't ventured west of DFW in a while will find plenty to occupy them for a weekend in Fort Worth, including world-class museums, rich cultural heritage, and nationally-recognized cuisine. Born of a cowboy past (one of its nicknames is "Cowtown"), Fort Worth also still showcases that authentic Texas flair—think ten-gallon hats and custom-made boots—that many tourists (especially international ones) come here to experience. You may not use a full tank to get there from Dallas, but it will feel like another world. –by Sandra Ramani
1 Start the weekend downtown, in the area around Sundance Square. First stop on the culture circuit: the Sid Richardson Museum, founded in 1982 by the late oilman and philanthropist, Sid Richardson, to celebrate artwork related to the American West. The free collection features dozens of artists, including premier early 20th-century painters Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, who each, in his own style, depicted the lives of cowboys and Native Americans, and captured the landscapes of a fast-disappearing frontier. The Museum is open until 8pm on Fridays.
2 Stroll around vibrant Sundance Square, a 35-block district around Main and Fourth Streets that's home to dozens of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Along with chain outposts, you'll find plenty of shops sporting local flavor, including Leddy's Ranch for contemporary ranch-chic fashions; Schakolad Chocolate, where you can watch chocolate being made and choose from over 60 types of sweets; and Retro Cowboy (406 Houston St.), filled with all types of Fort Worth and Texas souvenirs, from kid's-sized boots to Texas-made wine, beer, and Dr. Pepper.
3 Stay in the area for dinner at cowboy-themed Reata, a favorite for dishes like stacked chicken enchiladas, rib-eye steak, and tenderloin tacos. Order judiciously, as portions are definitely Texas-sized.
"The Paris of the Plains" and "Queen of the Prairies" to the still-used "Cowtown." One of the most unique is "Panther City", which stems from 1875, when the city was in decline after the end of the Chisholm Trail and Civil War, and due to a failed railroad extension. When a former Fort Worth lawyer wrote in a Dallas newspaper that the town had become so desolate, he "saw a panther asleep by the courthouse," the insult stung—but later, once Fort Worth was prospering again, "Panther City" became a proud rallying cry and a testament to the city's resilience.
1 After breakfast at your hotel, head to the Fort Worth Cultural District for a morning of art. The five museums in this area are all within walking distance, and you can park at one and visit the others, making it easy to hit a couple at your own pace. We suggest starting at the Amon Carter Museum, a free collection featuring American artwork from the 1830s up to today. Browse pieces from such names like Georgia O'Keeffe, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent, along with photos by Alfred Stieglitz.
2 Next up: the Kimbell Art Museum, designed by noted architect Louis Kahn and considered one of the best small museums in the country. The collection showcases masters such as Cézanne, Matisse, Rembrandt, and El Greco, and also boasts a piece by Michelangelo that's believed to be his earliest painting—and is the only work by the artist to be on display in the United States.
3 End the artsy morning at the stunning, award-winning Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, located across the street from the Kimbell in a Tadao Ando-designed building complete with a 1.5-acre pond. The focus here is on American and European works from 1945 through today; the lineup includes names like Ellsworth Kelly, Anselm Kiefer, Roy Lichtenstein, Henry Moore, and Cindy Sherman. Enjoy lunch at the on-site Cafe Modern, which has been praised by national foodie mags.
4 Post-lunch, head to the 125-acre Stockyards National Historic District to travel back to a Fort Worth of years past. Founded in 1893 and once home to the city's livestock market and meatpacking plants, the area now features attractions, shops, and restaurants along Exchange Avenue, between Packer and Main Streets. Visit the Stockyards Museum to view photos and memorabilia that tell the area's story, and try to navigate the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze, a 5,400-square-foot labyrinth designed to resemble the cattle pens of the Old West. Then, at 4pm, join the crowds along the main street to watch a group of 12 "drovers" in authentic costume lead a mini-cattle drive of majestic longhorns down the brick avenue.
5 On Friday and Saturday nights, you can enjoy a lively rodeo show—complete with riders, kids performances, clowns, and music—at the Stockyards district's Cowtown Coliseum, the world's first indoor rodeo arena. (Note the box office is only open on show days; check the website for a schedule.) Depending on the lineup you may not want to stay for the whole program, but it's worth stopping in for the first half for some truly local pre-dinner entertainment.
6 For dinner, book a table at Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, also in the Stockyards area. Helmed by Iron Chef winner Tim Love, the acclaimed restaurant puts a gourmet spin on western favorites, so you may find dishes like grilled quail quesadillas, lobster and blue corn hush puppies, and elk sliders—all topped off with desserts like homemade ice cream sandwiches.
7 Work off dinner with a little two-stepping at Billy Bob's Texas, the world's largest honky-tonk and an area institution since 1981. The lively, three-acre spot features dance floors, bars, video game arcades, and even its own indoor arena for professional bull riding shows (on Saturday nights there's live bull riding at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.)
1 Savor Sunday brunch at another long-standing Fort Worth institution. Founded in 1935 as a 16-seat cafe, Joe T. Garcia's is now an almost city-block-long temple to Tex-Mex, complete with indoor and outdoor restaurant areas and a separate bakery (the latter is worth a visit before you leave to pick-up to-go items like baked goods and tamales.) Enjoy family-style sampler platters, or à la carte dishes like huevos rancheros, chicken flautas, and enchiladas.
2 After brunch, explore the respected Fort Worth Zoo, one of the region's top tourist attractions. Technically the oldest zoo in Texas (it was founded in 1909 with just six animals), the facility now features dozens of exhibit areas, from Australian Outback to the Asian Rhino Ridge, plus a Texas native section and re-created Old West town.
3 For one last taste of Fort Worth, grab a burger at Kinkaid's Grocery & Market, open since 1947 and, more recently, voted by a national panel of food critics as having one of the best patties in the nation. Ground fresh daily and hormone-free, the patties come topped with goodies like bacon or chili. Note that the shop is open until 3pm on Sundays.
Where to Stay
Just blocks from Sundance Square in downtown, two historic buildings were joined to create The Ashton (rooms starting at $259), a lovely hotel with 39 rooms and suites, each well appointed with plush linens, flat screen TVs, iPod docks, and free wireless Internet—plus chocolate chip cookies at turndown.
In the historic Stockyards district, the Stockyards Hotel (rooms starting at $224) sits on a spot where there has been some type of inn since 1907 (hosting guests from Bonnie and Clyde to Garth Brooks over the last century.) Nowadays, you can relax in one of the 52 Wi-Fi-enabled rooms done up in styles paying tribute to Native American, Western, and Victorian design.
When to Go
Fort Worth is an ideal spot any time of year, particularly for an arts and culture weekend; if the weather is bad, you can just pop into a museum or two and wait it out. The city is popular with conventions and group travel year-round, so it is recommended to book hotel rooms (and tables at noted restaurants) in advance. Particularly busy times include the Southwestern Exposition (usually late-January to early-February), when over one million visitors come in for three weeks of livestock markets, rodeo shows, and competitions.
Ranked among the top five arts festivals in the country, the free Main St. Fort Worth Arts Festival offers four days of performances, craft shows, concerts, shopping, and food stalls. The National Day of the Cowboy, typically held in July, honors cowboys and cowgirls past with a day of riding demos, gun fighting shows and lively contests such as Best Mustache and Best Seed-Spitting.
How to Get There
By train: The Trinity Railway Express (TRE) commuter train runs from downtown Dallas to downtown Fort Worth; see www.trinityrailwayexpress.org for schedules and fares. TRE tickets are also good for 24 hours of free transport on the Fort Worth bus system, so hold on to your stub. Note that because this is a commuter train, it can be quite crowded during peak hours
By car: Fort Worth is about 35 minutes from central Dallas—just drive west on I-30.