Dallas may summon the image of glitz, glamor and big bucks, but that doesn't mean you need to be an oil tycoon to enjoy a vacation there.
From museums to green spaces, popular trails to hidden art parks, there's a little something for everyone in The Big D. Here are 16 of our favorite free things to do in Dallas.
1. Crow Collection of Asian Art
Housed in a modern building in Dallas’ downtown Arts District, this small but exquisite museum allows visitors to follow a winding course through a choice collection of sculptures and artworks from China, Japan, India and Southeast Asia, dating from 3500BCE to the early 20th century. Don't miss the gorgeous sandstone facade from North India.
2. African American Museum
This museum has exhibits of more than 1000 objects that richly detail the art and history of African American people from precolonial Africa through to the present. Its folk-art collection is one of the best nationwide.
3. Dallas Museum of Art
This major museum offers a high-caliber world tour of ancient and contemporary art. Archaeological treasures range from Greek, Roman and Etruscan masterpieces to wonderful bowls from the Mimbres pueblos of New Mexico and a pre-Columbian Peruvian gold mask.
Alongside paintings by Picasso, Monet and Van Gogh, American works include Edward Hopper's enigmatic Lighthouse Hill and Frederic Church's sublime The Icebergs. A re-created villa modeled on Coco Chanel's Mediterranean mansion holds canvases by statesman Winston Churchill.
4. Pioneer Cemetery
This is the resting place of many early Dallas settlers, with gravestones from the 1850s through the 1920s. It's a shady, evocative place amidst the city's roar.
5. Hall of State
Fair Park is full of superb 1930s art-deco architecture, none of it quite as inspired as this tribute to all things Texan. The Hall of Heroes pays homage to such luminaries as Stephen F Austin and Samuel Houston; the Great Hall of Texas features huge murals depicting episodes in Texas history from the 16th century on.
As you leave the Hall of State, stop by the reflecting pool outside of the entrance: the golden Greek-inspired statues will thrill art-deco buffs.
6. Pioneer Plaza
For a Texas-sized photo op, or simply a sight of what claims to be the largest bronze monument on earth, head to Pioneer Plaza. Its showpiece – 40 larger-than-life bronze longhorns, amassed as though on a cattle drive – has an unmistakable and compelling power.
7. Dealey Plaza and the Grassy Knoll
Infamous for its location alongside the road where John F Kennedy’s motorcade was ambushed in November 1963, the tiny park known as Dealey Plaza is now a haunting, eerily familiar National Historic Landmark. It was created in 1935, however, to mark the center of the original settlement of Dallas.
Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shots from the former Book Depository, immediately north. However, some witnesses also heard shots coming from the so-called 'grassy knoll' alongside, a hillock that rises from Elm St to the railroad yards. The conclusion of the 1970s’ House Select Committee on Assassinations, that a sniper did indeed fire (and miss) from behind the picket fence here, bolstered the belief that Kennedy’s assassination was part of a conspiracy.
8. John F. Kennedy Memorial
You can pay your respects here to the fallen ex-president. Designed by architect Philip Johnson, the unusual monument is a roofless space with a view of the sky and the carved words 'John Fitzgerald Kennedy' is a cenotaph, or open tomb, meant to evoke a sense of the freedom that JFK epitomized.
9. Katy Trail
To enjoy some see-and-be-seen walking, running or cycling, hit the tree-lined Katy Trail. Following a former railroad line for 3.5 miles from the American Airlines Center downtown almost all the way to Southern Methodist University (SMU), it passes through interesting neighborhoods. At times it has a true rural feel. A program of extensions is progressively linking it to other walking routes.
10. Ride the Trolly
Dallas may have a rep as a car town, and you'd be right – it's easiest to get around if you have your own wheels. But public transit is available from buses to light rail, and the DART M-line is a fun and nostalgic free trolly that boasts air conditioning and runs between the Dallas Arts District and the Uptown neighborhood. If you're staying at one of Dallas' many downtown hotels or having shopping on the agenda, this can be a great way to get to and fro – plus kids always love quirky transit.
11. Deep Ellum Street Art
Funky music and arts hotspot Deep Ellum is chock full of public sculptures, murals, and other visual treats on the sides of buildings, in plazas, and even filling up the space under Dallas' Seussical overpasses. It's free to stroll the neighborhood and take in all the street art, particularly in the art park under the I-30 highway. Just don't blame us if the scents wafting from Serious Pizza inspire you to part with a few bucks before you depart.
12. The Trinity Skyline Trail
For epic views of downtown, including the Jolly Green Giant (aka the Bank of America Plaza) and the discoball-esque Reunion Tower, head to the Trinity Skyline Trail. It stretches 4 miles and will take you to the Trinity Overlook where you can take in the skyline, plus a close-up of the Trinity River and Dallas' flood plain.
13. Klyde Warren Park
This innovative 5.2-acre park is an urban green space built over the recessed Woodall Rodgers Freeway. It has its own programming and, besides outdoor areas for chess, yoga, croquet and other activities, it offers performances and many more special events. It gets very crowded with families on weekends.
14. The Sweet Pass Sculpture Site
This former dumping ground at 402 Fabrication Street in west Dallas has been transformed into a sculpture park for emerging and mid-career artists. Past installations have included Navild Acosta and Fannie Sosa's "Black Power Naps Park / Parque Siestas Negras," which created a space for BIPOC to rest comfortably in opposition to mass incarceration and systemic racism. Other works featured at Sweet Pass have been a soundscape created by Azikiwe Mohammed called "Away Message III" and the San Antonio collective, BUXTOOF's exploration of baseball, a performance piece called "Bush League."
15. The Ronald Kirk Bridge
Formerly known as the Continental Avenue Bridge, this pedestrian span was renamed in 2016 for Ronald Kirk, the first African-American mayor of Dallas. More than just a way to get from west Dallas to downtown on foot, however, the Ronald Kirk Bridge has been reimagined as a High Line-esque green space that compliments nearby Klyde Warren Park, complete with a playground, splash pad, shaded lounge chairs, a humans-size chessboard, and more. You can also snag excellent views from here of the cats cradle span of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, which has become an integral part of the Dallas skyline since it was designed by Santiago Calatrava, 2012.
16. Thanks-giving Square
For all its din, drive and shopping malls, Dallas has a surprisingly quiet side – a triangular piece of prime downtown real estate set aside for spiritual renewal and reflection. Thanks-Giving Square was established by the Thanks-Giving Foundation as a 'place where people can use gratitude as a basis for dialogue, mutual understanding and healing.' Also designed by Philip Johnson, the tranquil center includes a meditation garden, a Wall of Praise, an interdenominational Chapel of Thanksgiving and a museum of gratitude.
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