We have lived in the Dallas metro area for nearly 10 years total (as of the edit I did in 2017). Here are a few things we were able to enjoy fairly easily, and that I recommend. The day trips require no overnight stay, but some will have you leaving your home in the early morning hours.
Visit the beautiful Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge – It’s only about a three-hour drive away, and it’s like nothing else you’ll see driving twice that distance. A day trip is a bit of a stretch, but my son and I made a whirlwind visit up there on a Saturday — out at 6:30 a.m., home by about 10:30 p.m. We saw lots of buffalo within arm’s reach of our vehicle, longhorn steer, and of course the prairie dog town. The mountains look like huge piles of rocks, and several small lakes and clear streams add to the scenery. While on the trails we rarely saw other people. Later we returned with my wife and camped overnight, which made it a much more complete experience. We saw a bull elk grazing streamside and toured the visitor’s center. While in the area, stop at Mt. Scott, especially if you cannot hike. You will get nice views from just driving to the top.
Explore the JFK assassination site and memorial – We dropped by spontaneously after seeing a show at Medieval Times. We posed on the grassy knoll alongside visiting friends, while a local snapped our picture, and then strolled up to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza. The museum was closed, but I can only imagine it would add to the experience.
Experience a meal and a show at Medieval Times – Twice we have stepped back in time to enjoy the staged jousts, sword fights, and royal intrigue. Only a Renaissance festival can come close. You’ll need to be prepared to eat without utensils, but you can go anachronistic and have a Pepsi.
Laugh at an improv comedy show at Four-Day Weekend — A talented comedy troupe that performs in a creaky, vintage Fort Worth theater, this group provides improvisational comedy that had the crowd in stitches both times we went. There’s a full bar for refreshments, if that’s your thing.
Stop to smell the flowers at the Dallas Arboretum – This is an oasis in the city, on the shore of White Rock Lake. Much more than just flower gardens, it also features funky artistic displays, and cottages with thatch roofs.
Hike the Arbuckle Mountains in south-central Oklahoma – A waterfall on a clear-running stream is the standout feature here, but the trails run through caves and beside cliffs. Camping here would be great.
Attend a sci-fi convention or fan days event – I had never attended a sci-fi convention before we moved here in 2005. It all started when I became a huge “Firefly” fan by watching Alvis’ DVD’s. The spin-off movie Serenity was in theaters, and Adam Baldwin (no relation to Alec) was scheduled for a Q&A session. More than once, I stepped into a world I had known previously only through late-night talk shows’ comic jabs. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog comes to mind. It was surreal to see towering Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew sitting outside on a concrete bench, taking a smoke break. I had a short conversation with one of my favorite TV actresses, Gates McFadden, while she waited for her ride. The Q&A sessions always were the highlights for me. Nichelle Nichols shared the story of the time Martin Luther King, Jr. told her she could not quit “Star Trek.”
Ride the DART Train – For those who didn’t grow up in an urban area, it’s a treat to ride an automated train that provides good distant and upfront views of buildings that comprise the Dallas skyline. It’s cheap, too.
Enjoy the indoors and outdoors at The Heard Natural Science Museum – Located in southeeastern McKinney, The Heard displays live and stuffed specimens, and a simulated archeaological dig site for children. Outside is a network of wooded trails that wind past huge old trees. Occasionally they feature Dinos Alive, an exhibit of life-size animatronic dinosaurs interspersed throughout the woods. Bring bug spray if you go when mosquitoes are active.
See and interact with Dallas Aurura – Completely free, this unique art and culture display includes light-based art and performances in the Dallas Arts District. – Powerful projectors transform buildings into moving works of art. Live musicians and dancers entertain on street corners and on green spaces. Interactive laserlight displays wow children of all ages.
Spend time in downtown Forth Worth – Shannon and I spent our 15th wedding anniversary in Cowtown, where she surprised me with tickets to a traveling, interactive Star Wars exhibit. Walking around downtown and seeing the shops and the shows also were highlights.
Walk or ride bicycles at Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in western Plano – I’m still surprised at how few people mention this hidden treasure, and that it’s a city park. It features wooded hills, meadows, streams, ponds, and, if you can ignore the apartment complexes looming over the edges, an escape from city life. Depending on preference, visitors can enjoy it from the network of eight-foot wide asphalt paths, or venture onto the dirt trails for exploration and more seclusion.
Visit and hike over real fossilized dinosaur tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park – A beautiful landscape without the prehistoric beasties, the park is a great place to hike, wade in clear water to see riverbed dinosaur tracks, and camp.
Be amazed at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science – Anybody with time to spend in Dallas should make time to see this. It easily stands alongside the Smithsonian and other top-notch museums in the USA. The cafe isn’t shabby, either.
Take your children to Legoland in Grapevine – Featuring an amusement park ride and a 4D movie, this children’s wonderland also offers interactive Lego projects and free-play areas with more building bricks than you might have thought possible. Bring lots of hand sanitizer in case none is nearby when you need it. And you will need it.
Drive and/or hike Palo Duro Canyon – A wondrous painted desert canyon not far south of Amarillo, this was an unexpected surprise we visited on our way back from Red River, New Mexico. We didn’t have much time to spend hiking, and were there when it was very hot, but the driving tour alone was worth it.
Spend time in Austin, Texas, and the surrounding hills – In a surprise anniversary trip planned by my wife, we introduced ourselves to the “weird” city. We explored the capitol building, spent time hiking and exploring Krause Springs and accompanying grotto, and had a lovely sunset supper at The Oasis. We didn’t get to the reknowned 6th Street until Sunday afternoon, and found it deserted. The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library was fascinating.*
See historic San Antonio – We were fortunate to have friends who put us up and guided us to the best places. The Riverwalk and very nearby Alamo are deservedly tourist staples, and the missions are architectural treats, although not particularly pleasant reminders of forcing religion on the native peoples. If you can have lunch or dinner at a restaurant with riverside seating, do so.
Zoos and Aquariums
While I am reluctant to recommend zoos and aquariums because of my mixed feelings on captive animals, it is worth noting that, for those who enjoy zoos, the Fort Worth Zoo is not to be missed. The Dallas World Aquarium — part aquarium, part rainforest, also is a nice destination. In addition to a three-toed sloth and other rainforest creatures, it features manatees and a tunnel through the fish tank.
* Austin entry corrected from Harry S. Truman to Lyndon B. Johnson. Oops.