Though I’ve found a place to call home a little further down the Texas road, I still venture back to my native Fort Worth for holidays, employing a 48-hour time limit as a general rule. Seems fast, but it's time enough to experience the striking dichotomy that creates Cowtown's unique character.
Should you find yourself on the road to Fort Worth, here’s a little guide to two days in Cowtown: It gets a little bit country, and a little bit, well, rock and roll might be a stretch... we’ll stick with "cultural."
When you arrive in Fort Worth, my vote is for you to cruise on into town and hit the red brick road that is Camp Bowie as soon as possible. It may be bumpy, but it’s one of the most charming thoroughfares in town.
Hitting the bricks will offer your first glimpse of Cowtown culture. Fort Worth offers its fair share of high arts, most of them neatly packed into the few city blocks referred to as the Cultural District. Honestly, the architecture of the museums offers high arts enough, but if time allows, attempt a museum trifecta: The Amon Carter for Texas art, the Kimbell for renaissance and reconstruction and the Modern for a broad look at post-war pieces.
If you have time for only one, choose the Modern. When you step inside, walk up the main staircase and you’ll find one of the most impactful views of a Warhol self-portrait you could hope to encounter. And before you leave, spend some time outside at the reflecting pond, a beautiful accompaniment to the building designed by Japan’s Tadao Ando.
The other side of the Cultural District gets a little more homegrown, with the newly rebuilt Museum of Science and History and the National Cowgirl Museum framing the Will Rogers exhibit halls that host the rodeo each January.
If at this point you haven’t exhausted Day One, head to the Fairmount District (the near-south side of town) for dinner and drinks. Here you’ll find Fort Worth’s least conservative crowd (and offerings), from the vegetarian Spiral Café to Ellerbe (a boutique restaurant for fine Fort Worth dining) and The Usual for specialty cocktails (try the Fireside during winter).
You’ve covered culture pretty well so far, so Day Two should focus a little more of the country side of Fort Worth life. Fort Worth was, after all, built on cattle drives and the Chisolm Trail, so head to the heart of it in the historic Stockyards. Residents of Fort Worth don’t spend much time here, but I promise it’s not as much of a hokey tourist trap as you might think.
Park your car, grab a beer to go (it’s like New Orleans on the North Side) and scope out the shops lining Main Street and Stockyard Station. The stores you’ll find — Luskey’s and Leddy’s — and casual restaurants — Joe T.’s and Risky’s — are all long-standing, family-owned spaces that Fort Worthians hold dear.
You’ll also encounter endless options for the mandatory red meat meal, Tim Love’s Lonesome Dove (just seen on Top Chef Texas) included. For this trip, though, I say set the fancy white tablecloth aside and duck into Cattlemen’s, paper placemats and all. You can choose your own cut from the counter, or go for the filet mignon, served without bacon (my personal favorite).
Now, onto music. Fort Worth is Texas music heritage: This is the city where Townes Van Zandt was born, where Austin guitar legend Stephen Bruton was raised and where Willie Nelson cut his teeth as a disc jockey. Chances are you’ll find music flooding out of the White Elephant Saloon, Lola’s or Billy Bob’s (the world’s largest honky tonk) no matter the time of day. But if you’d rather scoot to another part of town, Fred’s Cafe, just off 7th Street, hosts some of the best local songwriters seven days a week. They also serve up the finest under-the-radar Bloody Mary in town.
With a little music under your belt, hopefully you'll leave without the "Fort Worth Blues." You'll at least be well-fed, satiated and properly learned on Cowtown's deep running roots of cowboys and culture.