With its irresistible cowboy culture, Fort Worth certainly lives up to its “Cowtown” moniker. But there’s a more sophisticated side to the city, too. This is most notably evident in the urban revitalization in the downtown area, which includes the recent addition of the Sundance Square entertainment district, and the opening up of chef-driven restaurants and chic wine bars and cafés all over town.
If you’ve only got a couple of days to explore Fort Worth, that’s just enough to get a sense of the city’s twin personalities, and without spending too much money either. Here’s how to get the best of both worlds.
Day 1: Western Heritage
Start your day with a heaping plate of home-style migas at Esperanza’s Mexican Bakery and Café, just south of the Stockyard District. This locals’ favorite developed out of the adjacent Joe T. Garcia’s, an iconic Mexican restaurant that’s been packed with hungry locals since it opened in 1935. Plates are huge at Esperanza’s, so order a half portion ($7) and save some room for a sweet treat from the bakery out front.
For the rest of the day, take it easy strolling the Stockyards National Historic District. You can order some custom handmade boots at M.L. Leddy’s (in business since 1922); have a cowboy hat custom steamed at Fincher’s White Front Western Wear; and visit the Stockyards Museum ($2). We also recommend checking out the Stockyards Hotel where Bonnie and Clyde stayed in 1933 — though, if you want to actually check in, you can even stay in their suite where Bonnie’s gun is on display (from $219). Make sure to catch the twice-daily cattle drive at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., when real Texas cowhands drive a herd of Texas longhorns down Exchange Avenue (free).
In the evening, fill up at Cooper’s Old Time BBQ, which has been serving its neighbors since 1953. Head straight for the barbecue pit and pick your slab of meat, cooked to perfection over mesquite coals and sold by the pound ($25.99/lb for the prime rib). Keep an eye out for specials — beers start at $2.50 — and leave some room for Cooper’s famous blackberry cobbler.
Post-dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, don’t miss the bull riding and barrel racing of the Stockyards Championship Rodeo in the Cowtown Coliseum ($17.50). Or if you’re in town on a Thursday, head to Billy Bob’s Texas, the world’s largest honky-tonk, for free line dancing lessons.
Day 2: High Culture
Begin your day of culture with a made-from-scratch breakfast and locally roasted Texas coffee at Brewed, whose scruffy-chic surroundings wouldn’t look out of place in NYC’s hipster Williamsburg. If you linger past breakfast time, this coffee shop morphs into a bar with more than 60 craft beers — with all local Texas beer on tap.
Fort Worth’s concentration of world-class museums probably comes as the biggest surprise to a first-time visitor. Don’t miss the new Renzo Piano-designed pavilion at the Kimbell Art Museum, where entry to the permanent collection is always free. Adjacent to the Kimbell is the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, housed in a stunning Tadao Ando-designed modernist building. The Modern’s current exhibition focuses on New York City in the 1980s and features work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cindy Sherman, and Barbara Kruger. While admission is typically $10, first Sundays of the month are always free. Another timing strategy: visit for around lunchtime so that you can enjoy seasonal dishes at the onsite Café Modern (entrées from $12.75)
Before dinner, have a glass of wine at Kent & Co, a car dealership-wine bar hybrid. Funnily enough, it’s one of the best places to score a deal on vino — the owners are happy to offer wine at market price, because their business really comes from the big car sales. You’ll find featured wines for just $6 or $20 a bottle here. For the main meal, try the product-driven Clay Pigeon restaurant just this year (main courses from $25). It makes its own breads, pastas, and ice cream in-house, and it sources vegetables from its rooftop garden.
End the night with a stroll down an atmospheric downtown alleyway and down into the basement-level Scat Jazz Lounge. This venue is everything an underground jazz lounge should be: dark, intimate, and capable of slinging strong drinks. Live musicians play Tuesdays through Sundays, and you’ll avoid the $10 cover charge if you visit on a Sunday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.