There's a saying that you enter Texas when you leave Austin, the state's hippie-friendly, live-music capital. The same might be said for Dallas. Despite its perception as the cowboy capital of the United States, Dallas is a cosmopolitan urban centre where you will be hard-pressed to find anyone in cowboy boots, let alone a 10-gallon hat. That is partly because most residents of Dallas are not from Texas.
Dallas has, since its early inception, been a hub of transport, drawing in people from all over the US, and in the late 1800s it was the last stop to pick up supplies before heading west to California. It has gone through periods of boom and bust all through its life. First it was cotton, then oil, then hi tech, when a Dallas-based engineer invented the integrated circuit. The first recession in 1986 lasted a decade until a booming telecoms industry turned Dallas into the "silicon prairie".
The residents of Dallas mirror the city and its history. They tend to be highly entrepreneurial, and the relatively high net worth of Dallasites leads the city's residents to be considered overly materialistic. Most visitors to Dallas come for business; few, if any, come to the "Big D" for a holiday, but those who do will be rewarded.
A comfortable bed
If you want a bed with a bit of history, stay at the storied Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas. Built in 1912 by Adolphus Busch of the Anheuser-Busch brewing family, the hotel has an old-world glamour and is consistently rated among the best in the US. Rooms cost from US$205 (Dh752) per night (www.hoteladolphus.com; 00 1 214 742 8200). When Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth came to town, they stayed at the Adolphus. But Hollywood stays at the Hotel Zaza, a small boutique hotel in Uptown known for its collection of themed suites, dubbed the Magnificent Seven. With names like the Last Czar, Red Shoes and Rock Star, there's something for everyone's tastes. The hotel also has a collection of unthemed rooms for lesser mortals, that start at $300 (Dh1,100) per night (www.hotelzazadallas.com; 00 1 214 468 8399).
Find your feet
Dallas is best known for two deaths: J R Ewing, from the soap opera Dallas, and John F Kennedy, the former US president. It's hard to say which was more infamous, and both are shrouded in conspiracy theory.
At Dealey Plaza you can stand on the spot (helpfully marked on the road with painted Xs) where Kennedy was shot. Expect to be shaken down by the ad hoc tour guides who mill about the area. The neighbouring Sixth Floor Museum in the Texas Book Depository tells the story of JFK's assassination in minute detail. You can take a stab at solving Kennedy's death at the museum. The curators guide visitors through the tone of the nation, using newspaper and television archives, and walk you through the day's events minute by minute (www.jfk.org; 00 1 214 747 6660).
Once you've immersed yourself in Dallas history, head over to the Nasher Sculpture Center to see something truly world class. The centre houses one of the world's best collections of modern sculpture and pre-Columbian American art. Accumulated by the late Raymond Nasher, the exhibition includes seminal works by Rodin and Picasso (www.nashersculpturecenter.org).
Book a table
Dallas vies with San Francisco for the title of "most restaurants per capita" in the US. At last count, there was one restaurant for every 416 people. Fearings restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton hotel, run by "the father of south-western cuisine", the chef Dean Fearing, turns the state's humble blend of Mexican and American cooking into culinary bliss. The menu changes seasonally, but past entrées have included chicken-fried lobster (lobster tail dunked in chicken batter and deep fried), or Buffalo Sloppy Deans (an upscale version of Sloppy Joes). It is soul food with style. Dinner is around $50 (Dh184) per person (www.fearingsrestaurant.com; 00 1 214 922 4848).
When Dallasites are not eating, they are shopping. Northpark mall is the place to go for everyday shopping. Once owned by Nasher, it acts as an additional gallery space, housing some of the larger pieces in his collection. Visitors, however, are encouraged to take advantage of the state's low sales tax and visit the Neiman Marcus flagship store (www.neimanmarcus.com; 00 1 214 741 6911). More luxurious is Stanley Korshak (www.stanleykorshak.com; 00 1 214 871 3600), the destination of choice for divorcées to spend alimony cheques - it carries exclusive pieces from pricey designers.
Meet the locals
Football, the American version, is the state religion of Texas and Dallasites are ardent devotees. The love of the game is not limited to the Dallas Cowboys game on Sundays or Mondays. For Dallas, and indeed for most of Texas, football starts on Friday nights when high school students hit the turf. Parking is impossible within miles of even the smallest school's stadium hours before the floodlights go on. Tickets can be purchased for a nominal fee at the box office outside every stadium.
What to avoid
Little happens in Downtown at night, the streets are devoid of foot traffic besides the homeless, of which there are many. Most of the nightlife is in Uptown or other locations.
Tex-Mex is what Texas is best known for, and Dallas has plenty of options. Wars are fought between Dallasites over which of the triumvirate (Mia's, Mi Cocina and Manny's) is best. Each restaurant is owned by different branches of the same family, and each uses the same recipes (www.miastexmex.com; www.mcrowd.com; www.mannysuptown.com). For something more authentic, go to the small taco stand at the Fuel City petrol station. Until their picadillo taco was listed first among the 52 tacos Texans had to eat before they died, only locals knew about this culinary treasure.