Ride into the sunset away from the glitz and glass of downtown Dallas and you find yourself amid the brick and stone of Fort Worth. The city has long been known as Big D’s rowdy, hard-working next door neighbor. It’s the place where you do your hair up big and go two-steppin’ in places like Billy Bob’s or Filthy McNasty’s Saloon. But what exactly should do with yourself in Cowtown while you wait for the honky tonks to wake up? Just west of downtown in the Cultural District, you’ll find barbeque, quiet parks, steaks, world-class art museums, gourmet tacos, and an award-winning zoo. And did I mention the food? If you came to see longhorn steers and leather-chapped cowboys, there’s a place for that here too.
The official Cultural District only includes a small portion of Trinity Park, but locals generally include the entire area north and south of Interstate 30, roughly between Montgomery and Forrest Park. This pulls in the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens and the sprawling Fort Worth Zoo, with its 556 species. The highlight of the Botanic Garden is the serene seven-acre Japanese garden with its meandering water features. You can enjoy the gardens in half a day, but allow an entire day for the zoo. The Clear Fork of the Trinity River flows through the parks, adding character and a focal point for events and festivals like the annual Mayfest.
Permanent exhibits at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History bring you up to speed on the energy industry, the cattle industry, and the archeological history of Texas, as well as an emotional 9/11 tribute. The complex includes an IMAX theater, a planetarium, and a children’s museum. Next door is the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame honoring the tough-as-horseshoe-nails women who shaped the American West.
Love art? Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth at the northern edge of the district round out the museum experience with permanent collections and rotating exhibits. The grounds wrap the art museums in lush greenery and eclectic sculpture. Bicycles are available for rent near The Modern to fully enjoy the district.
And of Course, the Wild, Wild West
The Will Rogers Memorial Center, with its jigsaw puzzle of arenas, meeting rooms, exhibit halls, and barns, anchored by the 6,000 seat coliseum. The center plays host to the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show and Rodeo in January every year. On almost any weekend of the year, you can attend a show featuring horses of every imaginable size and color, dogs, and alpacas. Wait, alpacas? Yup, the second weekend of February.
Shop Like a Local Tip: Most of the animal shows at the center will include shopping in the exhibit halls adjacent to the arenas. You never know what you might find. Bling is a guaranteed thing at horse shows, as are boots and leather goods.
Eat Like a Local Tip: The food throughout the complex is good during almost any event that is open to the public, but just outside the John Justin Arena look for the bread bowls filled with hearty stew. Exhibitors and attendees line up to get these things each day before they run out. Fall in line and you’ll fit right in.
And that brings us to the food in the rest of the district. You can’t possibly work your way through all of that culture and history without food to sustain you. In Texas, we say that if you go hungry here it’s your own damn fault. That certainly holds true in and around the Cultural District. Let’s start with breakfast at the Ol’ South Pancake House just south of the highway and railroad bridges on University. This is a local favorite, not just a tourist joint. How can you tell? The waitresses hug half the patrons. That doesn’t happen to tourists, not even in friendly Fort Worth.
And behind the pancake house on the river is the Clear Fork Food Park. There is a rotating schedule of gourmet food trucks all trying to outdo each other with crazy names and even crazier paint jobs. This is the perfect spot for a sampler plate. Interesting names are a theme on restaurants throughout the district. There’s Velvet Taco for creativity in a tortilla, Rodeo Goat for drippy burgers, and Tillman’s Roadhouse for an eclectic mix of fried comfort food and grilled meat.
Where to Stay
There a few chain hotels in the district, most with prices that fluctuate with the show schedule at Will Rogers. Another option is the collection of AirBnb houses and apartments scattered throughout the district. A quick search turns up a handful that look promising.