With its bustling shopping districts, world-class restaurants, and active nightlife, Dallas has plenty to offer travelers. You could easily spend weeks exploring the Big D, and it’s a fantastic launching point for day trips. However, sometimes you don’t have that much time to spare.
If you’re only spending a weekend in Dallas, you’ll need to plan your trip carefully to make every minute count. Here are a few essential stops to consider adding to your itinerary.
The Dallas World Aquarium
You might hear “aquarium” and immediately picture a lackluster line of ho-hum fish tanks, but if that’s the case, think again. The Dallas World Aquarium features an outstanding assortment of animals, including an upper-floor reproduction of the Orinoco Rainforest. Here, you’ll see toucans and ibises flying freely, along with exhibits featuring poison dart frogs, vampire bats, and three-toed sloths (thankfully, the vampire bats aren’t flying freely).
On the lower level, you’ll find aquatic creatures from around the world in 10 main tanks, separated by region. The highlight is the 40-foot tunnel through one of the larger tanks, which visitors can walk through while marveling at the vivid sea life.
Needless to say, if you’re traveling with family, the Dallas World Aquarium is a fantastic stop. The aquarium is located in the West End Historic District, and discounted admission is available for seniors and children. Visit the aquarium’s website for hours and additional information (and to check out live video feeds of some of the animals).
History buffs will certainly want to visit Dealey Plaza, the “Front Door of Dallas” and the site where the city was founded. In 1963, it gained infamy when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in the heart of the plaza, and unfortunately, that tragic event remains the most well-known piece of the park’s legacy.
Today, Dealey Plaza is a federally designated National Historic Landmark District, and it hasn’t changed too much over the past half-century. Visitors can stand on the grassy knoll or walk through the heart of the plaza, noting the numerous statues and markers dedicated to Dallas heroes. The park is also home to The Sixth Floor Museum, which features exhibits related to the Kennedy assassination.
If you grew up in the Kennedy era, it’s hard not to feel the historical gravity of these exhibits -- and if you don’t get to Dallas very often, you’ll undoubtedly want to make some time for the experience.
White Rock Lake
The crown jewel of the Dallas park system, White Rock Lake, is located about 5 miles northeast of downtown, and it’s a pleasant place to spend some time. Visit the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, hike a trail, or take a kayak onto the lake -- or, if you’re feeling less active, simply set up a picnic and enjoy the view.
While White Rock Lake is a wonderful stop for nature lovers, note that it’s quite popular with locals. In other words, if you’re looking for solitude, you might not find it here on the weekend, since the park receives plenty of traffic from runners, bikers, and hikers. However, if you’re simply looking to experience Texas nature without leaving the Dallas metro area, White Rock Lake has plenty to offer.
The Dallas Museum Of Art
One of the largest art museums in the United States, the Dallas Museum of Art features an ever-changing selection of world-class exhibits. There are more than 24,000 works in its collection, including pieces by Picasso, Pollock, Rodin, and Monet, along with artifacts dating to the third millennium B.C.
There’s a lot to take in, and you probably won’t see everything here -- the museum is a 370,000-square-foot facility, after all -- but an afternoon spent perusing fine art is an afternoon well spent. On some weekends, the museum hosts late-night events, including live music performances, so check out the DMA website before visiting. General admission is free, but some special exhibits carry admission fees.
Want to take in the Dallas skyline from the best possible vantage point? Reunion Tower is an iconic part of said skyline, and if you find yourself in downtown Dallas (and you’re not afraid of heights), the observation deck makes for a nice detour.
Take the elevator to the GeO-Deck for 360-degree views from 470 feet up. High-definition zoom cameras and telescopes add to the experience; visitors can literally see for miles. Plan on waiting in line if you visit in the afternoon, since the Reunion Tower is a popular tourist destination.
While Dallas has no shortage of great restaurants -- more on that in a moment -- Reunion Tower is home to a few of the most remarkable, including revolving restaurant Cloud Nine and Wolfgang Puck’s Five Sixty Restaurant. If you’re looking for a romantic dining experience, you can’t do much better.
Eating In Dallas
Dallas is one of Texas’s major cultural centers, so it’s no surprise that world-class restaurants can be found in every part of the city. Regardless of your culinary preferences, you’ll inevitably leave town with a few new favorite dishes. Here are a few places to consider (and if you’re looking for more, be sure to check out our guide to the city’s best hidden gem restaurants).
For authentic Texas barbecue, it’s hard to beat Cattleack. The restaurant offers a full selection of smoked meats and sides, including delicious brisket, ribs, and crack cake (a slightly less sweet take on gooey butter cake).
The downside: It’s only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and the first Saturday of each month, and you’ll need to get there fairly early to avoid the lines. Check the website for details.
Nick & Sam’s
There’s no shortage of steakhouses in Dallas, and Nick & Sam’s is a fine example. The menu features an expansive selection of chops, seafood, sushi, and steaks, including Japanese wagyu beef -- an exceptionally tender cut that’s difficult to find in the Western Hemisphere.
Nick & Sam’s is truly fine dining, and it tends to fill up on weekends. If you’re adding this stop to your itinerary, make a reservation as early as possible.
Tacos La Banqueta
Located in East Dallas, Tacos La Banqueta is legendary for its Mexican-style tacos. Note that these aren’t Tex-Mex -- they’re the real deal: corn tortillas, meat, onions, and perfect salsas crafted in-house.
Tacos La Banqueta can get extremely crowded during lunchtime, and while the service is fairly quick, there are other excellent options for Mexican food within walking distance, including Mexico Lindo and El Come.
Note that these restaurants are near White Rock Lake -- you might want to stop by the park while you’re in the area.
Shopping In Dallas
Sure, you could spend a weekend in Dallas without buying anything, but really, who would want to do that?
The Big D is famous for its shopping districts, and even if you’re traveling on a budget, you’ll at least want to spend some time window-shopping. Here are a few places to get you started.
A walkable high-end shopping district, West Village features national upscale chains along with the occasional local boutique. The stores vary enough to keep shoppers interested, and while the neighborhood is fairly refined, you won’t feel out of place in jeans and a T-shirt.
Nicknamed “Uptown’s Downtown,” West Village is accessible via the McKinney Avenue Trolley, which provides a comfortable ride with historic ambiance. The trolley cars are air-conditioned and heated (which is critical information if you’re visiting Dallas during the summer).
Bishop Arts District
With more than 60 independent boutiques, the Bishop Arts District has something of a small-town feel. You’ll find art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, and an outstanding variety of clothing stores and antique shops.
The neighborhood is easy to navigate, though you should plan on quite a bit of walking. Head here at night to enjoy a casual take on Dallas nightlife; bars like Revelers Hall feature live music along with delicious cocktails.
Wild Bill’s Western Store
If you’re not a Texas native, you might reasonably want some Western gear, and Wild Bill’s is the perfect place to get your yee-haws out of your system.
You’ll find boots, hats, and accessories for cowboys and cowgirls of all ages, and even if you don’t buy anything, you’ll have plenty of fun browsing the aisles. This place has earned its stellar reputation, and it’s well worth a visit.
We’re just scratching the surface of what Dallas has to offer, but that’s sort of the point of a weekend getaway; by picking a few destinations and giving yourself time to explore, you’ll end up with some wonderful memories. Remember, Dallas is a big city, and everything’s bigger in Texas -- plan for crowds, make reservations where possible, and always have a backup plan. Provided that you’ve done your planning, you’ll have a great weekend (and you might just decide to make your next trip a bit longer).