Dallas officials concede that most travelers think of the city as a business destination rather than a place where one would willingly spend leisure time. While that may once have when it was the financial center for oil, Dallas now has plenty to keep tourists busy.

For many baby boomers the first time anyone ever heard of Dallas was on November 22, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That act inexorably changed history and scarred a nation.

It obviously sullied Dallas’s image and for the 25 years following his death. Local politicians wrestled with whether the city should create a museum to deal with one of the saddest events of American history.   After a quarter century of indecision, the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza opened in 1989, at the site of the infamous Texas Schoolbook Depository.

While the museum does contain photos and television clips on the assassination, the lives of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, as well as the findings of the Warren Report, the museum’s chief goal is to celebrate the life of President Kennedy by showing highlights of his presidency and why his brief tenure was referred to as Camelot.

The museum does not show the famous footage taken by Abraham Zapruder, because museum officials were concerned that it was too graphic for children and others.

More than museums

About a mile north of Dealey Plaza is the pride of “Big D” its’ arts district. The Dallas Museum of Art has earned worldwide respect for its exhibitions by European masters Van Gogh, Degas, Toulouse-Latrec and Cezanne. It also hosts a superb collection of modern art works by Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso.

Perpendicular to the Dallas Museum of Art is the Nasher Sculpture Center which houses creations from art legends such as Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, and of course, Auguste Rodin. A block away from both art institutions is the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the city’s answer to Lincoln Center. A few blocks east of the Sixth Floor Museum is the Dallas World Aquarium. While you won’t find whales or dolphins, this aquarium is reminiscent of the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Like the Baltimore facility it has a huge South American rain forest motif, which features fish, reptiles, birds and small primates from the Amazon region.

The Dallas Zoo is three miles south of the aquarium and it is going through an overdue modernization. Outmoded cages are slowly being replaced by more natural exhibits for its animal inhabitants. A new home for its gorillas is scheduled to open this Fall. The most popular exhibit at the zoo is its tiger habitat.

If you are television fan it is impossible to think of this city without thinking of the fictional Ewing clan and the extremely popular CBS Friday night soap opera from the late 1970s and early 1980s, “Dallas.” The question “Who shot JR?” dominated pop culture throughout the summer of 1980. While most of the actual footage of Dallas was shot on a soundstage in Culver City, California, the exterior scenes of the South Fork Ranch were shot in Parker, Texas, a 30 minute drive north on I-75 from Dallas. The South Fork Ranch is open for tours and there are plenty of props, photos, newspaper and magazine articles to interest even a casual viewer of the show.

A film version of “Dallas” starring John Travolta and Jennifer Lopez is scheduled to hit theaters sometime in late 2007.

Access and more

It is easy to get around Dallas without a car because of its clean and inexpensive light rail system known as the DART or the Dallas Area Rapid Transit. In case you are wondering, for all of its oil heritage, the price of a gallon of gasoline is as expensive there as it is in Queens, New York. There is no shortage of hotels in Dallas, but I was very impressed with the Anatole Hilton, located just north of downtown in the design district.

The Anatole is owned by Trammell Crow who has long been a confidante of Republican presidents dating back to Gerald Ford. President Ronald Reagan stayed there for his renomination during the 1984 GOP Convention. Crow is also an avid art collector and the Anatole lobby holds Picasso lithographs and East Asian art. There are also pieces of the Berlin Wall in the courtyard. Although its clientele consists of those attending corporate sales meetings, the Anatole has a number of inexpensive packages to entice the leisure traveler.

While in Dallas pay a visit to the town of Grapevine fifteen miles to the west, where Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is located. Grapevine has worked hard at retaining the charm of a small turn-of-the-century Texas railroad town. Its vintage Grapevine Railroad shuttles tourists 15 miles west in a locomotive to Fort Worth every weekend. Grapevine’s Main Street features a number of well-maintained two-story buildings and shops that were built at in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The Palace Theater, with its protruding marquee, is classic Art Deco. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, better known as the bank-robbing tandem Bonnie & Clyde, frequently hid out around Lake Grapevine. Their downfall began when they shot a police officer after robbing a bank on Main Street. As the name of the city indicates, Grapevine has long been home to Texas wineries, an industry that is quickly rivaling beef in terms of importance to the Lone Star state agricultural economy. The ten-acre Delaney Winery is the largest vintner there, but a number of other wine-tasting shops are in town, including two in American Airlines’ new Terminal D at DFW Airport. While Grapevine treasures the past, it has plenty of modern structures too. Grapevine Mills is an upscale outlet mall that has tenants as Brookstone, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Dallas’s own Neiman Marcus.

The Gaylord Texan is one of the nation’s largest hotels. Another Dallas cultural icon, the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, have a golf course, which is open to the public. American Airlines has a stronghold on non-stop flights between LaGuardia and DFW, but because it runs so many daily flights bargains easily be had.

For more information:

Dallas Visitors Bureau

Grapevine Visitors Bureau
Telephone: 1-800-457-6338