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Guide to downtown Dallas

Updated on May 4, 2007

Say you are in Dallas and are looking for something to do. Go ahead, say it.

Most people do not go on vacation at home, and therefore never (or rarely) check out the attractions near where they live. I've been as guilty of this as most. So, I set out to explore Dallas, TX, my home-for-the-moment.


Though downtown Dallas is not all the city would like it to be, it is still the heart of the city.

Downtown is universally defined as the area inside the innermost freeway loop-the chunk of land enclosed by I-35E, I-30, I-45/75, and the Woodall Rogers Freeway.

Downtown is a hub for DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) buses and trains, which makes it easy enough to get to if you do not want to mess with parking. Parking is not real expensive, though; expect to pay about $5.00 to park in a lot.

Dallas has no subway system, but it does have tunnels: a series of underground walkways link much of downtown. They are useful mostly for avoiding traffic and the Texas summer heat, though there are also some restaurants and retail stores under the streets. It is best to have a map, though, if you are going to try to find point A from point B underground.

West End

Downtown Dallas is most famous for being the location of the JFK assassination. Kennedy was shot on Elm Street, just west of Houston Ave. Today, the brick warehouse from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired his gun is home to the Sixth Floor Museum. Named after the floor which gave Oswald his bird's-eye perch, the museum is mostly full of educational exhibits about the assassination and the events surrounding it. You can peer out the window Oswald used and look down on the spot (marked with an "X") where Kennedy was killed. Outside, many people venture out onto Elm Street to get a closer look.

The assassination spot is in the West End, a collection of old brick buildings that house restaurants and shops popular with tourists. Just south of West End is Reunion Tower, the big ball-on-a-stick that is familiar to nighttime drivers because of the decorative lights that produce a twinkling globe in the night skyline. The tower is home to a revolving restaurant, which gives great 360-degree views of the downtown area.

Dallas World Aquarium

The aquarium just east of the West End consistently gets good reviews from first-time visitors.

One of the aquarium's surprises is that less than half of the creatures inside live under the water. The place includes a number of monkeys, snakes, a Jaguar, various birds, and even a sloth.

That last one is worth mentioning, because the sloth does not reside in a cage or some other protected area. He hangs out in a small tree in the middle of the walking path, where you could literally reach out and touch him (though please don't--it is against the rules, and an aquarium employee known as the "sloth whisperer" keeps an eye on the sloth at all times). The sloth sleeps 19 hours a day and eats 5 hours a day, which doesn't sound very exciting. If you happen to catch it awake, though, there is something strangely fascinating in the slow, deliberate way the creature moves. He seems unconcerned with the crowds holding camera phones 6 inches from his face (the sloth whisperer said the animal has extremely bad eyesight).

Other points of interest include the river otters, the manatee, and the glass tunnel that runs underneath the shark tank (which provides a nice people exhibit when you later look down from above the tank and see the humans walking underwater). And keep an eye out for the spider exhibit: the spiders are also not kept in a cage, but luckily seem to stay up near the ceiling.

The Arts District

The Dallas Arts District lies in the northeast corner of downtown. Though other buildings are in the planning stages, the area already includes several attractions.

The Dallas Museum of Art has a fairly large and varied collection of primarily modern art. Some of the exhibits can be quite odd, in my opinion. At one time, they had a bunch of raw carrots on a shelf, with orange paint dripping down the wall and onto the floor. It is still worth visiting, though, especially during their monthly "Late Night" Friday evenings. For these special events, they bring in live performers of some kind (breakdancing, anyone?) and give out free Starbucks beverages. Be sure to hunt down the hidden room that projects video of spinning tops onto 3 walls-it is interesting, I promise.

Next door to the DMA is the Nasher Sculpture Center, with both indoor and outdoor sculptures. The most famous is "Walking to the Sky", a 100-foot-tall pole with realistic-looking statues of people walking up it.

Also nearby is the Meyerson Symphony Center, if you feel like dressing up and taking in an orchestra performance.

Other Attractions

If you are a big fan of "Whose Line is it, Anyway?", you might want to take in a performance at Ad-Libs, an impromptu comedy troupe that puts on a performance quite similar to the TV show. You can even volunteer to take part in one of the skits. There is a 2-drink minimum at the show.

Thanks-Giving Square is a beautiful courtyard area that is simply a space dedicated to the idea of giving thanks. A spiral chapel in the square has a spiral stained-glass window in the roof known as the Glory Window. It is definitely worth a look.


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    • KCC Big Country profile image

      Karen Curtis 9 years ago from Central Texas

      Nice informative hub. Being a Texas native, I wasn't sure you'd showcase anything I hadn't already seen, but you did, I'm impressed. I had not heard about the Thanks-giving Square. I had seen Ad-Libs, but have not been there. I have gone to The Improv in Addison (North Dallas) several times and loved it!

    • johnb0127 profile image

      johnb0127 9 years ago from TX

      The Sixth Floor museum is a great place to go. It is a great historical museum and is very interesting being right at the spot Lee Harvey Oswald 'shot' JFK. It really wasn't him, though. But anyway, that museum is great and is very fun. Good, clean hub.