I love living in Dallas, the city to which my grandfather immigrated more than a century ago, following brothers who looked to the nascent city’s skyline and saw nothing but promise. I’ve lived elsewhere — Austin and Los Angeles, both high on any tourist’s to-do list — and I’ve always returned to Dallas a little homesick.
My roots are deep here. So, too, is my love for Dallas’ residents, history, culture and food. (I pity the person who lives in a city without so many glorious barbecue and taco offerings.)
We don’t have the natural allure of, say, Colorado — no mountains. There’s no river running through the city center; it was moved a century ago. There’s little downtown shopping, for the moment, save for the high-priced clothiers. Our ballpark is 20 miles away, in Arlington. Just being honest.
There is, of course, one big draw: the shopping. NorthPark Center, half art gallery and half mall, and Highland Park Village, Beverly Hills’ Southwestern sidekick. There is, too, the everlasting allure of Southfork Ranch, which out-of-towners are always surprised isn’t even in Dallas or very big. And, of course, there’s The Place Where Kennedy Was Killed.
Or, take a day at the Joule hotel; a night in the Arts District. A concert in Deep Ellum, land of a thousand bands. A stroll through the Arboretum. An afternoon in Bishop Arts. You could spend a week visiting the city’s breweries. The more I think about it, the longer the list of to-do’s becomes.
With that in mind, here are six of my favorite spots — the places I take out-of-towners when they want to see My City.
Trinity River Audubon Center
Most Dallas natives have never even visited this southern Dallas jewel — not yet, anyway. Perhaps, the opening of the private (and expensive) Trinity Forest Golf Club, soon to be home of the AT&T’s Byron Nelson tournament, will change that. Till then, the Trinity River Audubon Center is a bit of country 10 minutes from the city center, a native-grassland built atop a former illegal dump full of walking trails in the heart of the nation’s largest urban forest. Befitting its name, it provides some of the finest overlooks of the Trinity River in the city limits. It’s a quiet place for contemplation, a chance to see bald eagles in the shadow of the skyline.
Klyde Warren Park, the greenspace literally crafted out of thin air over a freeway, is lovely. It’s the city’s gathering space. But I prefer my nature a bit more natural.
The Trinity River Audubon Center is located at 6500 Great Trinity Forest Way, Dallas.
Jimmy’s Food Store
This deli-slash-grocery looks like a corner of Brooklyn perched on an East Dallas intersection. It sells the best Italian sub in town. It’s cozy and quaint and run by friendly brothers Mike and Paul DiCarlo whose pop and grandfather ran a Second Avenue grocery in the 1940s, proving there is indeed history in a town that likes to pretend it was born tomorrow. There’s a secret wine room in the back for people who need to lounge during lunch, and the best meatballs anywhere, at least outside of the 718 area code.
Pro tip: Call in your order even if you plan on eating here. And ask for Jeff. Tell him I sent you.
Jimmy’s Food Store is located at 4901 Bryan St., Dallas.
To most out-of-towners, Fair Park is home of the Cotton Bowl, where the universities of Texas and Oklahoma play a heated annual football game and where, long ago, the Dallas Cowboys set up shop. To the locals, it’s home of the State Fair of Texas held over three weeks in the fall.
This national landmark, many of its buildings constructed during the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition, is home to the Texas Discovery Gardens, which has a gloriously whimsical butterfly garden; an aquarium with where you can feed the stingrays; and a lagoon in which you can paddleboat. The magnificence of the Hall of State — inside and out — is something to behold. It might be the best photo op in the city limits.
Fair Park is located in and around 3939 Grand Ave., Dallas.
Those who grow up here, as I did, think nothing of driving over the “X” on Elm Street that marks the spot where President John Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. Only the constant parade of visitors collecting pamphlets from conspiracy spouters and tourist trappers reminds you of its grim history.
You should absolutely go — not just to see “the window,” of course — but to visit the Sixth Floor Museum itself, filled with oral histories from people who were there on Nov. 22 (Hi, Mom!), artifacts from that tragic day and the rotating exhibits that attempt to put it in context. Come and contemplate. If you feel the need to buy something from a conspiracy theorist, that’s fine, too.
The Sixth Floor Museum is located at 411 Elm St., Dallas; Dealey Plaza is the greenspace nearby.
Josey Records and Half-Price Books Mothership
Maybe I should list a bar here, or maybe one of the 149 fancy new chef-driven eateries that have opened since you started reading this. But when I visit a new town I look for two things: a good used book store and a joint that sells music. Dallas has two sprawling epicenters: the Half-Price Books mothership on Northwest Highway and Josey Records on I-635.
I probably spend one Saturday a month in Half-Price — buying what I do not need, fueling up on a lunch and coffee in the cafe. And I probably spent one Saturday a month in Josey Records, buying what I do not need; thank God there’s no eatery in here. Let me offer this tip: Check out Josey’s dollar-record racks first. Then, if you must, buy a record player. No wonder this joint’s already opened two other out-of-town locations.
The original Half-Price Books: 5803 E. Northwest Highway, Dallas. Josey Records: 2821 I-635, Farmers Branch.
When you come to town, hit me up. I’ll tell you where to go. Maybe I’m already there. Dallas is beautiful, fun city — especially if you’re willing to go off the map.