Cowboys, honky tonks, and rodeos. In many places in Texas, those cultural icons are just relics of the past––but not in Fort Worth. The American West is alive and well in Cowtown, where locals have taken great pains to preserve the heritage of this one-time frontier settlement, even as it swelled to become the 16th largest city in the U.S. But while saloons, cattle drives, and barbecue live on in Fort Worth, the city’s not all country; fine art, museums, and cuisine also have their place amid the open plains, and those looking for things to do will discover first hand why Fort Worth is the top tourist destination in the state.
Once a market for buying and selling cattle, sheep, and hogs, the Fort Worth Stockyards is the best place in the city to go for an authentic Texas experience. Visitors can still watch drovers on horseback parade herds of cattle down the main drag en route to a live auction. As the animals clop their way down the brick streets, country music tickles the air thanks to rowdy honky tonks such as Billy Bob’s Texas, which, at three acres, is the world’s largest and houses its own indoor rodeo. A few blocks away, Pearl’s Dance Hall, a favorite amongst country singers like Dale Watson, still flaunts the original pressed tin ceiling chosen by the saloon’s founder, Buffalo Bill Cody.
Even the city’s Cultural District has a bit of western flair. The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame reveres female ranchers in rotating exhibits, while the Bronc Ride—a life-sized training bull that visitors ride while a staff member films souvenir footage—bucks year-round. The Cultural District’s tree-lined streets also give way to more traditional museums. Acclaimed as one of the most striking architectural designs of the modern era, the Kimbell Art Museum houses ancient artifacts, a painting thought to be Michelangelo's first, and modern pieces by van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso. At the free-to-the-public Amon Carter Museum of American Art, you can survey a collection of American works, including several paintings from the Hudson River School.
The Fort Worth Zoo has also amassed an impressive collection of more than 7,000 native and exotic animals. The sprawling, flat terrain of the Africa-themed exhibit mimics the savannah for a herd of giraffes and ostriches, and three tanks with more than 10,000 gallons of saltwater showcase the underwater species that call the Great Barrier Reef their home. The zoo’s cache also includes Asian elephants, rhinos, a white tiger, cheetahs, gorillas, and orangutans.
Of course, Fort Worth is fully prepared for visitors who’ve worked up a Texas-sized appetite. Joe T. Garcia’s covers an entire city block, and for good reason—lines sometimes stretch around the corner to get into this fourth-generation family-owned Mexican eatery. The fare skews fancy at the Zagat-rated Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, though the pepper-crusted buffalo tenderloin, shrimp and grits, and oysters Texasfeller retain their Lone Star flavor thanks to ingredients sourced from Texas farms.