The de facto capital of North Texas is a city worth stopping in rather than just using as a landing base. Kaye Holland discovers the real deal Dallas: designer shopping, top notch dining and chic bars
It’s detractors may say that a pot of yoghurt has more culture than Dallas but its legion of fans beg to differ claiming that the city has world class hotels, museums and art galleries galore.
Regardless of what your stance is, there’s no denying that Dallas is good at showing off (no one is ever going to accuse the big D of being subtle). It’s big, brash and bold and there’s no point trying to resist this.
As fans of the famous TV show will tell you, Dallas has never been one to let down visitors on the eye candy front either. Whether it’s modern day oil tycoons in tuxedos and cowboy boots or Dallas Cowboys’ wags and wannabes with legs resembling resemble pipe cleaners, you’re guaranteed something to gawp at. During my Dallas sojourn I was reminded, on a daily basis ,of the power of plastic surgery: there's more spent on silicone implants in Dallas than anywhere else in the States save for LA.
Aside from silicone, Dallas is all about shopping being the birthplace of retail therapy. As you would expect from a big city, Dallas is home to a cornucopia of shopping centres (Dallas has more malls per capita than anywhere else in the US - not to mention the second highest debt per resident) that are sure to satisfy serious shopaholics. The most noteworthy are arguably the nation’s first outdoor planned shopping center and a national historic landmark at Highland Park Village and the first indoor mall at NorthPark Center. In downtown Dallas, don’t miss the imposing six story Neiman Marcus - the first Neiman Marcus (an American luxury department store) in the country. But happily for those of you who, like me, shy away from identikit (yawn) air conditioned stores, you can also find quirky gift and clothing shops in charming neighbourhoods such as Bishop Arts District - a two-block, former warehouse area in South Dallas - or Oak Cliff. The latter in particular is full of funky boutiques and fuelled by independent retailers and restaurateurs whose goal is to shop and eat local.
Talking of food, chances are you’ll eat yourself into a food coma while in town. Dallas is reeling with restaurants (indulgence is one of the city’s USPs) and it’s simply a matter of choosing your pleasure. Barbecue is a Texas obsession but if you’re not mad about meat, throw yourself into a feast of local cuisine at Bread Winners - an Uptown restaurant on McKinney Avenue serving seriously good southern staples in a lush courtyard setting. Or in downtown Dallas, try Tei-An where you can chow down on handmade Japanese soba noodle dishes.
But while Dallas is today winning plaudits for its retail therapy and restaurant scene, it was in 1963 that Lee Harvey Oswald made sure no-one would ever forget this Texas town. Fans of the late President Kennedy should seek out the Sixth Floor Museum - an excellent tribute to America’s most beloved president. You’ll find nearly 400 historic photos, six documentary films, artifacts and interpretative displays examining the life, death and legacy of JFK but nothing will prepare you for how you’ll feel upon reaching the window from which Oswald (allegedly) fired upon the motorcade. Standing in the old School Book Depository Building where Oswald fired that fatal shot, sent shivers down my spine.
Then linger a while and let the historical poignancy seep into your bones on neighbouring Dealey Plaza and the Grassy Knoll (the white X marks the spot where the president was shot) before paying your respects to JFK at the JFK Memorial. Designed by renowned US architect, Philip Johnson, the memorial is shaped like a cenotaph or open tomb to symbolise the freedom of JFK’s spirit.
It wasn’t only JFK who was the subject of assassination theories. In 1980, the world asked who shot JR - a fictional character in the hit US series Dallas (1978–91). If you care about the answer, seek out Southfork Ranch. It’s within easy day tripping distance of Dallas (approximately 20 miles north) providing you have a car, but be warned: it’s a must-see for die hard fans of the the iconic TV drama only. The ranch was used for exterior filming in both the original series and the recent remake so - despite popular perception - you won’t get to see JR’s bedroom or Miss Ellie’s kitchen.
In my mind if you choose just one excursion, I’d recommend checking out the snazzy AT&T Stadium - home to the NFL Dallas Cowboys team. The Dallas cowboys are known as America’s team because they won three championships back in the 90s and both the cowboys and their cheerleaders have made a mark on American culture. Even if you have no interest in NFL, it’s worth going to a game for the atmosphere alone.
All told, Dallas can’t be described as an effortless destination. It’s a chaotic and complex city but the energy is infectious making it the perfect playground in which to start or end a trip to Texas.
For more information on Dallas and Texas, visit www.traveltex.com