To travelers unfamiliar with the city, Fort Worth, Texas, may seem like a secondary travel destination—a place to visit only after taking in all the sights of its bigger, glitzier neighbor, Dallas. (It does have to live with second billing in the "Dallas-Fort Worth" phrase used to describe everything from the shared airport to the general urban area).
But Fort Worth has an identity all its own as a travel destination. Fort Worth boasts rich western heritage (lending it the nickname "Cowtown"), a world-class arts scene, beautiful parks, casual sophistication, great sightseeing and small-town charm despite its big-city population.
A significant downtown renovation has filled the Fort Worth city center, known as Sundance Square, with such attractions as shops, cafes and inviting pedestrian areas that appeal to travelers. Residents and travelers alike enjoy Fort Worth's top-ranked museums, which have earned the city the title "Museum Capital of the Southwest." Add to this the prestigious Van Cliburn Piano Competition and the stunning Bass Performance Hall, and it's clear why Fort Worth's devotion to the arts has earned even Dallas' grudging respect.
Even though it has its share of high-tech businesses and contemporary culture, Fort Worth keeps one boot in its frontier past. The restored historic stockyards—once the world's largest—remind visitors of the city's authentic cowboy heritage.
Fort Worth sits at the western edge of a sprawling urban area known as either the Metroplex or the D-FW area. On the eastern edge is Dallas. The 33-mi/53-km stretch in between is filled with densely populated cities and towns that blend together along two east-west interstate highways, Interstate 20 and I-30. Among other suburbs, Grapevine skirts the northwest side of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and Irving (where the NFL's Dallas Cowboys play football) occupies the land between the airport and Dallas. In the middle of the Metroplex lies Arlington, a sizable city in its own right and the home of the NFL Cowboys.
Most sites of interest to visitors are close to Fort Worth's downtown, scattered across a number of districts. Although this is car, truck and SUV country, where a pickup is considered a "cowboy Cadillac," you can park your vehicle and walk in the districts. A second choice is to park your vehicle in a garage and take city transit between districts.
Across the Trinity River and 2 mi/3 km north of downtown is the Stockyards National Historic District, a major tourist attraction and reminder of Fort Worth's cowtown past. The city's celebrated cultural district (with fabulous museums) and Trinity Park (with its lovely botanic garden) lie about the same distance to the west, sandwiched between I-30 and Camp Bowie Boulevard. Loop I-820 circles the city, passing through such suburbs as Benbrook to the southwest, Lake Worth and Saginaw to the northwest, and Richland Hills and North Richland Hills to the northeast.
The natural geography around Fort Worth consists of generally flat or gently rolling plains and former prairies dotted with live oaks.
Fort Worth was settled in 1849 as a small Army outpost off the Trinity River. Named after Maj. Gen. William Jenkins Worth, it was one of eight forts built in Texas to protect settlers from attacks by Native Americans. When the frontier moved west, the fort was abandoned in 1853. But more settlers arrived and helped create a town, largely because it was the last stop on the legendary Chisholm Trail cattle drive.
The arrival of the railroad in the 1870s helped Fort Worth become a major shipping center for cattle, and the meatpacking industry that developed stoked the local economy. The boom continued as oil drilling supplies were manufactured and sold in Fort Worth. By the 1930s, cattle was no longer king.
Entrepreneurs such as Amon Carter, John Peter Smith and the Bass family helped make Fort Worth the last large business center on the edge of the prairie. Today it retains the spirit of the Old West while embracing high-tech industry, medical centers and international business operations. The city is home to American Airlines, Radio Shack and Pier 1 Imports. Thanks to the downtown renovation efforts begun in the mid-1980s by the Bass family, the city's unofficial first family, Sundance Square along Main Street is now a vibrant area.
Fort Worth blends the Old West with contemporary sophistication. Visits to the Stockyards National Historic District, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and Cattle Raisers' Museum will give you a comprehensive view of western and cowboy culture. If you prefer to seek culture within the walls of museums or galleries, Fort Worth has plenty to choose from. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Kimbell and Amon Carter museums are highly respected.
For travelers yearning for serenity amid the urban sprawl, we suggest a trip to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden (don't miss the Japanese meditation garden), as well as a visit to the expansive Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge. If you've got children in tow, the Fort Worth Zoo is a great place to spend the day, or you may want to head to one of the area's amusement parks.
Fort Worth's nightspots offer more variety than the honky-tonks you might expect. For traditional country-western flavor, head to Billy Bob's Texas. But if you're looking for something more mainstream, City Streets has lots to offer. The major nightlife areas are in and around downtown and the Stockyards National Historic District.
Most bars and nightclubs close between midnight and 2 am. Some have slightly later closing times on the weekend.
Visitors wanting a true taste of the region won't leave without sampling Fort Worth's specialties—Tex-Mex, barbecue and steak. To get a fix, try legendary barbecue joint Angelo's (in cattle country, barbecue is beef brisket or pork ribs), Tex-Mex stalwart Joe T. Garcia's and the venerable Cattleman's Steak House.
Once you've checked those off your list, Fort Worth offers a variety of restaurants, from casual bistro fare to elegant fine dining. Downtown Sundance Square is packed with restaurants, as is the area near the Fort Worth Zoo. A growing number of casual dining establishments (often chain and franchise) have sprung up on South Hulen Street, west of downtown near the Hulen Shopping Mall. If you love bagels, huge sandwiches and great egg dishes, try Yogi's Bagel Cafe. For standard American cuisine, there's Lucile's. Fort Worth's weather allows alfresco dining nearly year-round, and many restaurants offer courtyard or patio dining.
Dining times are generally 6-10 am for breakfast, 11 am-2 pm for lunch and 6-10 pm for dinner. Some restaurants close for a few hours between lunch and dinner.
Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$50; $$$$ = more than US$50.
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