It’s summertime in Dallas. Once again, I have tried to explain to my friends and family that June, July and August are not generally the best times to visit the DFW metroplex. Some of them, however, aren’t able to come visit at any other time. Others simply cannot believe that it can be “that hot,” even after I explain that North Texas is still Texas. Either way, I am once again bracing for an influx of house guests. And once again, I am sure that my visitors and I will have a great time on their visit to Dallas, no matter what the thermometer says.
Just because the mercury is climbing doesn’t mean that you can’t have a great time with your guests. As tempting as it might be to laze around the house, sipping ice tea in the air conditioning, make sure to set aside a day to see the sights in Dallas. Even when the temperature hits triple digits, you can still have a fantastic time playing tourist in Downtown Dallas without melting. The key is to alternate activities between seeing the outdoor sights and cooling off indoors.
First Things First: See where Dallas Began.
Park in one of the numerous lots in the West End Historic District, where they offer reasonable, all-day rates.
Start the day in the nearby Dallas County Historical Plaza, where you can peer into the cabin of John Neely Bryan, the founder of Dallas. Next, stroll around the John F. Kennedy memorial and admire the architecture of the Old Red Courthouse. Don’t miss the gargoyle-like wyverns.
Learn about Dallas History.
The Old Red Courthouse has a visitor’s center on the first floor, where you can pick up tourist information and brochures, and talk to the incredibly helpful staff. Be sure to score a map or two of Downtown Dallas.
The Old Red Courthouse also houses the fascinating Museum of Dallas County History and Culture. The museum is home to dozens of interactive exhibits. Four small theaters show films about life in Dallas County from its inception to the present day, which gives you a chance to sit down and rest your feet.
Take a Stroll on the Grassy Knoll.
Dealey Plaza is right across the street. Join the other tourists and check out the stretch of Elm Street where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Lines on the street show you the path of the motorcade, and Xs mark the spot where each shot found its target.
Keep your ears open. I have never been to Dealey Plaza when there wasn’t somebody expounding on the latest and greatest in conspiracy theories. John Zapruder took his famous footage of the Kennedy assassination here on November 22, 1963. Head up the hill to see it for yourself.
Visit the Sixth Floor Museum.
The old Texas School Book Depository is at the top of the hill. Buy your ticket on the ground floor and take the elevator up to the Sixth Floor Museum. The price of admission includes an excellent audio tour. You are issued with headphones and an audio player, so it’s easy to tour the museum at your own pace.
The area around the sixth floor window has been reconstructed to look the way it did the day Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fateful shots at John F. Kennedy’s motorcade as it traveled down Elm Street. It’s a sobering experience, but it’s only a small part of the fascinating story told by the Sixth Floor Museum through pictures, artifacts and video, including the famous Zapruder film mentioned above.
Take a walk in the West End Historic District.
To be perfectly honest, the West End isn’t the bustling tourist district it used to be when I moved to Dallas twenty years ago. I hope that the presence of the West End Dart Light Rail Station will bring the area back to the bustling glory of its heyday. Even so, it is still fun to walk around the pedestrian district an have a look at the restored buildings. There are still plenty of window shopping opportunities, and a selection of establishments in every price range for lunch.
Be Amazed by the Dallas World Aquarium.
It’s a summer afternoon in Texas, and in Downtown Dallas the temperatures are soaring. Doesn’t a walk in the rain forest sound nice? No? It will.
The Dallas World Aquarium is a relatively recent addition to the Downtown Dallas scene. Located on N. Lamar Street in the midst of the West End Historic District, it houses a replica of the Orinco Basin rain forest, as well as the Mundo Maya exhibit, which is an eight story replication of the Yucatan Peninsula’s coast on the Gulf of Mexico. They currently feed the otters at 3:00 pm. Don’t miss the sloth — he’s my favorite — and stop for a margarita on your way down to see the manatees.
They haven’t left out the fish, either; The Dallas World Aquarium has 85,000 gallons of saltwater tanks, including a massive aquarium with a tunnel you can walk through.
Once you see the colorful fish swimming overhead, you and your visitors will forget all about the sweltering Dallas afternoon outside.