A Visitor's Guide to Exploring Downtown Dallas, TX

Written by Brad Lane
Jun 23, 2020

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Dallas is one of the top 10 largest cities in the United States, and the skyscrapers that define its downtown district speak to this size. The enormity of Dallas isn't overwhelming, though, at least not in the downtown district.

Several hot spots of entertainment and attractions are within walking distance in downtown Dallas. From world-class museums to bronzed cattle sculptures, the many things to do in Dallas come together for a memorable visit.

The appeal of downtown Dallas comes from modern touches mixing with landmark history on the streets. Historic buildings commingle with public parks, and eye-catching art lines the century-old sidewalks. An encompassing view of this downtown development is visible from the top of the Reunion Tower near the heart of the city. This 561-foot observation deck also serves as a significant beacon for downtown at night.

Whether you're a first-time visitor or frequent traveler who'd like to know more, this visitor's guide to "Big D" lays out the best attractions, entertainment, and hotels in Dallas.

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Where is Dallas, Texas?

Downtown Dallas skyline from the Reunion Tower
Downtown Dallas skyline from the Reunion Tower | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Dallas is located in the north-central part of the state, approximately 250 miles north of Houston, and 190 miles west of Shreveport, Louisiana.

The Central Business District of Dallas is at the heart of the city and is bounded by interstate on all sides. A loose definition of downtown culture also extends into nearby districts like Deep Ellum, Uptown, and the Design District.

Dallas combines with two other principal cities to the west to form the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area. The Dallas-Fort Worth area includes the city of Arlington and represents the largest concentration of people in the state. In total, Dallas-Fort Worth is home to over seven million residents. Planes, trains, and interstates lend easy access to the entire Dallas-Fort Worth region.

Things to Do in Downtown Dallas

Pioneer Plaza
Pioneer Plaza | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

A well-established city with over one million residents, Dallas provides several fun things to do. The enormity of the city and skyscrapers acknowledge this population as you stand on any bustling downtown street corner. The top places to visit in "Big D" include vibrant public parks, professional sports centers, and a bountiful collection of museums.

One prominent spot to experience Dallas is Pioneer Plaza. Bronzed longhorn steer statues inhabit this famed public space in Dallas. The park also features three cowboy cattle drivers directing the herd. This plaza represents the legacy of Dallas and sets a tone for culture throughout the rest of the city.

From the bronzed cattle in Pioneer Plaza to the free-admission Dallas Art Museum, the city undeniably has a cultural flavor of its own. The giant Eyeball sculpture downtown stands as further evidence of this. The Dallas Arts District offers even more creative flair to the city, as do other nearby neighborhoods like Deep Ellum and the Bishop Arts District.

Food in downtown Dallas provides the true taste of the city. From five-star dining to casual bites on a patio, local restaurants add to the excitement of visiting the city center. Slow-cooked meats from places like the Pecan Lodge are often a staple of repeat visits. The Dallas Farmers Market is open seven days of the week and offers more tastes to explore.

History runs deep in Dallas. The city has seen rapid growth, turbulent moments, and triumphant times since establishing in the mid-1800s. It's well worth the time in Dallas to touch upon this history at places like the Old Red Museum and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. If anything, the city's history speaks for itself from the many historic buildings and landmarks of downtown.

Other fun things to do downtown include catching live music, taking a trolley ride, and spending time at a beautiful downtown park. On the outskirts of the central part of the city, other cultural attractions like the Dallas Zoo and the George W. Bush Presidential Library offer excellent day trips from downtown.

To engage in the full Texas experience, stores like Wild Bill's Western Store in downtown feature a superb selection of Stetsons and cowboy boots.

Museums in Downtown Dallas

Perot Museum of Nature and Science
Perot Museum of Nature and Science | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

For museum lovers, downtown Dallas is the place to be. Beautiful museums across Dallas highlight the natural world and historical moments. One of the best museums in Dallas is also the most intertwined with the city. This must-visit attraction is on the sixth floor of a historic Texas School Book Depository.

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is dedicated to the life and assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th U.S. President of the United States. The assassination took place in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963. The museum is in the exact space where reportedly, the gunman took his shot. The museum illustrates the life and political career of JFK, as well as the investigation and conspiracies surrounding his assassination.

The Sixth Floor Museum is on the west end of downtown. The area is abundant with other museums, including the Old Red Museum, which showcases the history of the city. The Old Red Museum is within the beautifully restored 1892 Old Red Courthouse. The Dallas Holocaust and Humans Right Museum is also on the same block and transports visitors to a darker time in world history.

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science is another popular museum downtown. Dinosaur fossil skeletons, sparkling minerals, and a human brain are on display at this natural history museum. The building includes five stories of structured and interactive exhibits, as well as a 3D movie theater and quick-bite café.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum also attracts national attention in Dallas. The library and museum are north of the downtown district and accessible with a short bus ride. The museum showcases the eight years of George W. Bush's presidential career and includes a replica Oval Office. Near the presidential library and museum, the Frontiers of Flight Museum is also worth the day trip.

Entertainment in Downtown Dallas

Lemur at the Dallas Zoo
Lemur at the Dallas Zoo

The Reunion Tower is a fun place to visit for a 360-degree view of the city. After taking a luxury elevator ride 470 feet up to the GeO-Deck, this central attraction overlooks the entire downtown. With 360-degree indoor and outdoor views, the entire metropolitan area is also in focus at the Reunion Tower. The GeO-Deck features interactive displays, memorabilia, and a rotating café.

The Reunion Tower is also appreciated from below. The tower has over 250 LED lights that illuminate the city at night. The different light shows of the Reunion Tower are visible from several vantage points in downtown. The Reunion Tower has grown into a symbol of the city and adds some significant color to Dallas after dark.

Less than a mile from the Reunion Tower, the Dallas World Aquarium (DWA) is another family fun downtown destination. In a renovated warehouse in the Historic West End District, DWA features birds, mammals, reptiles, and a wide variety of marine life. The aquarium is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and participates in conservation efforts across the world.

For other animal experiences, the Dallas Zoo is three miles south of downtown. Operating as the oldest and largest zoo in Texas, the 106 acres encompassed by the zoo are home to approximately 400 species of animals. Driven by a mission to connect people to wildlife, and accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Dallas Zoo offers several ways to interact with animals.

Offering buzzer-beaters and last-minute goals, the American Airlines Center is near the downtown core. Home to two professional sports teams, the NBA's Dallas Mavericks and the NHL's Dallas Stars, this massive sports venue is rocking most weeks of the year. American Airlines Center also hosts major concerts, conventions, and special performances.

Arts and Culture in Downtown Dallas

Klyde Warren Park in the Dallas Arts District
Klyde Warren Park in the Dallas Arts District

Art is readily appreciated at the Dallas Museum of Art. The museum offers free admission to most of its global art collections. In operation for over 100 years, the Dallas Museum of Art is one of the largest art museums in the country. Hours are well spent roaming throughout the facility's collection of over 24,000 works.

West of the museum, the 20-square-block Dallas Arts District features other acclaimed cultural institutions. The Nasher Sculpture Center and Klyde Warren Park are nearby, with beautiful and well-designed outdoor spaces. Klyde Warren is a popular park on warm days in Dallas, especially around lunchtime when food trucks line the curbside.

Other institutions like Meyerson Symphony Center and Winspear Opera House in the Arts District put on classical performances. Further artworks are on display with installations like the Crow Collection of Asian Art at the Trammell Crow Center. On the southeast end of the Dallas Arts District is One Arts Plaza. This acclaimed public space features decorative outdoor space and a mix of retail, restaurants, and live music.

To the east of the downtown core, the Deep Ellum district also contains a dense concentration of arts and culture. A lively neighborhood to catch some live music on the weekends, Deep Ellum is also known for its creative nature. Some of this artistic vibe is visible in the many murals around the area. For the most in-depth look into the culture of Deep Ellum, the Deep Ellum Art & Music Festival takes place every April.

Food and Dining in Downtown Dallas

Dinner at a Dallas Steakhouse
Dinner at a Dallas Steakhouse

Downtown Dallas caters to every taste. Local fare throughout the downtown district ranges from curbside food trucks to gourmet underground steakhouses. Downtown also caters to every meal, with places like City Hall Bistro in the Historic District featuring full brunch menus. While Dallas offers a little taste of everything, no one should visit downtown without having some Texas barbecue.

In Deep Ellum, Pecan Lodge is a barbecue institution of the city. Doors of the Pecan Lodge open at 11am six days a week, and users should expect to wait in line to sample the restaurant's smoked meats. Other tastes to pursue in Dallas includes Tex-Mex at places like El Fenix next to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

The sushi and soba at Tei-An, near the Arts District, is among the best in the city. Other restaurants like Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse and Dakota's Steakhouse cater to special occasions. For some of the best pizza in the city, look no further than the specialty pizzas and Italian entrees of Campisi's near the giant eyeball sculpture.

Shopping in Downtown Dallas

Wild Bill's Western Store
Wild Bill's Western Store | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The most iconic shopping spot in downtown Dallas is the Neiman Marcus flagship store. Home to the corporate headquarters of this fashionable brand, this historic storefront sells runway-ready outfits for men, women, and children. Neiman Marcus is prominently on Main Street in downtown, and other fashion boutiques, like Forty Five Ten, are nearby.

The neighboring Uptown District is home to other trendy and stylish shopping neighborhoods. Uptown Plaza Dallas features a wide range of restaurants and modern storefronts, as well as spas and yoga studios. Farther north in Uptown, the West Village is a very walkable shopping plaza with retail, restaurants, and a movie theater.

Two blocks from the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in downtown, Wild Bill's Western Store offers an authentic Texas shopping experience. Featuring high-quality cowboy boots and western hats, the leather aroma alone at Wild Bill's makes you want to pick up a lasso. Also featured in this iconic western store are shirts, jackets, belt buckles, and bolo ties.

Exploring Outdoors and Being Active in Downtown Dallas

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

One of the best natural spots near downtown is the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. This manicured space is a 30-minute bus ride from downtown. Upon admission to The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, visitors have nearly 20 unique gardens to explore. A consistent family favorite is the Rory Meyers Children's Adventure Garden.

The arboretum abuts the shores of White Rock Lake, and the surrounding White Rock Lake Park offers several other ways to get outdoors. A 10-mile hike and bike trail circles the entire 1,000-acre lake, and boat launches are available to access the water. White Rock Lake and the Dallas Arboretum are both top spots for picnics outside of downtown.

Within downtown, several public parks also encourage time spent outside. The recently installed Pacific Plaza Park offers nearly four acres of open space with a modern design.

Main Street Garden is another manicured green space in the heart of downtown. Visitors to Main Street Garden will find contemporary art installations and warm-weather events like Movies in the Park. Belo Garden is another popular park nearby with interactive water fountains.

A great reason to explore outside in downtown is the Dallas Farmers Market. In southeast downtown, the Dallas Farmers Market features a large open-air pavilion with vendors selling local produce on Saturdays and Sundays. Arts, crafts, and live music are also prevalent at these Farmers Markets at "The Shed." A 26,000-square-foot food hall is also connected to the pavilion and offers shops and atmosphere seven days a week.

Getting Around Downtown Dallas

Dallas Streetcar
Dallas Streetcar | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Getting around downtown is easy to do without a car. From public transit options to enjoyable walks on warm days, the city is almost more accessible without having to worry about parking.

The M-Line Trolley, also known as the Downtown Dallas Trolley, offers fare-free rides between the Dallas Art District and Uptown. The trolley operates every day of the year and generally makes stops every fifteen minutes.

The easiest way to get around Dallas is by using the services offered by Dallas Area Regional Transit (DART). This public transportation system includes rail lines, bus routes, and a streetcar. Half-day passes are $3, and full-day passes go for $6. The DART system map covers every area in downtown and well beyond. DART also operates special lines that connect to spots like the American Airlines Center, the Dallas Zoo, and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Where to Stay in Downtown Dallas

Many of the best hotels in downtown Dallas are near prominent attractions like The Sixth Floor Museum and Reunion Tower. Downtown hotel options range from family-friendly lodging to downright decadent hotels with elegant lobbies.

  • Luxury Hotels: Near John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza and the Reunion Tower, Omni Dallas Hotel is a LEED Gold-certified luxury hotel that offers rooms with a view. Alongside tasteful interiors and well-decorated rooms, Omni Dallas Hotel also provides a rooftop pool with stunning views of the Dallas skyline.

    Over on Main Street, The Joule offers similar luxury accommodations within a revitalized 1920s neo-Gothic landmark building.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: Dallas has a plethora of excellent hotels that accommodate families and business travel. In the heart of downtown on Commerce Street, the Hampton Inn & Suites offers affordable rooms within walking distance of the core of the city. The stylish space and free breakfast at the Hampton Inn & Suites make for an excellent start to the day.

    Next door, the A.C. Hotel by Marriott features equally stylish interiors at a competitive price.
  • Budget Hotels: Budget hotels are hard to come by in the immediate downtown area. More affordable hotels are northwest of downtown, especially closer to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. One of the closest hotels to downtown, the Best Western Plus Dallas Love Field North Hotel, features well-kept rooms and comfortable beds at an affordable rate.

    The Deep Ellum Hostel also provides budget dorm beds or private rooms near downtown. The hostel features a 24-hour front desk staff and free light breakfast.

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