Downtown Dallas once had a reputation for closing down at the end of the 9 to 5 workday, but that’s gradually changing. As home of the city’s best museums and performing arts venues (not to mention its best arena), downtown is bustling with activity more often than not. The hardest part about spending 12 hours in downtown Dallas? Getting to everything you want to do.
Getting There | Prologue
Dallas is not known for its public transportation, but downtown is one of the few places in the city where you won’t need a car to get by. Save yourself from parking nightmares and traffic-related headaches and hop on the DART light rail, which has several stops downtown. The McKinney Avenue Trolley will also give you a free lift if you’re coming from Uptown.
Farm-to-Market | 10 am
Residents may bemoan the lack of a grocery store downtown, but the Dallas Farmers Market is a boon for locals and visitors alike. The massive market (one of the largest of its kind) provides enough fresh produce, meat, and other foodstuffs to stock anybody’s pantry, but shopping opportunities aren’t limited to the edible. Arts and crafts vendors regularly display their wares — everything from pottery to furniture — and the market has proven itself a wonderful venue for a variety of events. Swing by early to grab the freshest offerings. Stay into the afternoon, and sometimes the evening, for yoga classes, cooking demonstrations, and live performances.
Park-ing Spot | Noon
Take a stroll through Klyde Warren Park, which straddles Woodall Rodgers Freeway and connects Uptown to downtown. Stay a while: The urban deck park is home to Dallas’ busiest 5.2 acres of green space. The dog park and play area are worth the visit, and regularly scheduled programming features fitness classes, storytelling sessions, and more. Special events at the park are even more wide-ranging, including everything from movie screenings to small festivals. Local arts groups have made good use of the top-notch performance pavilion. You’ll find an armada of food trucks parked at Klyde Warren around lunchtime. The most prominent stationary eatery, Savor, is a splashy gastropub with hit-or-miss service and food, but a patio that is second to none.
If the crowds at Klyde Warren Park are too much, you can mosey over to Main Street Garden, the block-sized park in the heart of downtown. If you’d rather stay out of the sun, explore downtown Dallas’ labyrinthine tunnel system.
Afternoon at the Museum(s) | 2 pm
You could spend an entire week visiting downtown Dallas’ many museums and galleries. Start in the Arts District, where you’ll find three of the most renowned museums within a block. The Dallas Museum of Art, which offers free admission, is home to a massive collection of more than 20,000 works spanning 7,000 years. The museum hosts a number of high-profile visiting exhibitions throughout the year, along with a staggering lineup of classes, lectures, and other special events. The Nasher Sculpture Center features breathtaking three-dimensional pieces large and small, including rotating exhibits and an impressive permanent collection of works by artists like Rodin and Picasso. The Nasher’s beautiful sculpture garden is a work of art in itself, and the museum’s Soundings live performance series is one of the best ways to hear innovative new music in North Texas. The Crow Collection features a wide selection of Asian art and a variety of special exhibitions.
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science cultivates a family-friendly atmosphere, but adults are just as likely to learn something new at the institution, with its 11 exhibit halls and modern features like a 3D theater room. The more classic attractions, including a 35-foot dinosaur fossil, should be just as impressive. The Sixth Floor Museum is dedicated to the most infamous day in Dallas history and located in one of the most infamous sites in Dallas–the seven-story building in Dealey Plaza formerly known as the Texas School Book Depository. Home to one of the most significant collections of artifacts connected to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the museum attracts conspiracy theorists and well-meaning tourists in equal measure. The Dallas Holocaust Museum offers a powerful, personal look at one of history’s greatest tragedies. The Old Red Museum is a crash course in Dallas history, covering everything from the prehistoric days of the wooly mammoth to the reign of Tom Landry.
Sights for Sore Eye(s) | 5 pm
Consider some early evening sightseeing after your afternoon of museum-hopping. Snap a selfie with the bronze statue cattle drive at Pioneer Plaza. Have a staring contest with the disconcerting giant eye ball sculpture across the street from The Joule hotel. Marvel at one of two Pegasus icons: The original flying horse was recently restored and installed in front of the Omni hotel, while the other soars above the Magnolia. Take in Dallas’ skyline by scaling some of the better heights in Dallas, including the observation deck at Reunion Tower and the Sky Lobby in Chase Tower.
The Sporting Life | 6 pm
Dallas may be known as a four-sport city, but you’ll have to go to Arlington to see the Rangers or Cowboys in action. The Mavericks and Stars, however, can be found from October to June at the American Airlines Center, which hosts concerts and other events (everything from the circus to Disney on Ice has packed the venue) when the floor isn’t covered by an ice rink or basketball court. Check the calendar ahead of time. Most puck drops and tip-offs won’t take place till after sunset, but an early game or matinee show will get Victory Park hopping early, leaving you with time to enjoy the rest of downtown Dallas’ nightlife. Regardless, you may be forced to make some tough nighttime schedule decisions as your 12 hours in Dallas unfold.
Showtime | 8 pm
Back to the Arts District, a hub for the city’s performing arts. The AT&T Performing Arts Center includes the Winspear Opera House and the Wyly Theatre, which houses the Dallas Theater Center and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. You’ll also find the Meyerson Symphony Hall and the Dallas Symphony, along with the multi-purpose Dallas City Performance Hall. These venues collectively host hundreds of performances — touring Broadway shows, plays, musicals, concerts, operas, and more — throughout the year. Get your tickets for some of the best shows in town.
The Majestic Theatre on Elm Street features a diverse range of performances, with touring comedians, celebrity chefs, dance troupes, and musicians all taking the stage at the historic building.