38 Actually Cool Things to Do in Dallas This Summer
From safaris and two-step to figure skating, we’ve got you covered.
As if the upper-90-degree weather in early May wasn’t indication enough, summer’s right around the corner. And even though most of us haven’t had a full summer off since high school, there’s something about June, July, and August that still makes us feel more carefree and adventurous—even if it’s only for a long weekend road trip here or an after-work happy hour there. We’ve already got you covered when it comes to Date Night (or Date Morning/Afternoon) and eating your way through Dallas-Fort Worth.
But, we’re here to share some of the most fun things you can do around North Texas, taking full advantage of the warm weather (and the great air-conditioning all indoor spaces in Dallas offer). Among the 38 things awaiting your participation: wagering on live horse racing, splashing around one of several waterparks, immersing yourself in the works of a trio of world-renowned artists, drinking your fill of local wine, and brunching with drag queens. But don’t wait for actual summer to begin on June 21. You can start crossing things off this particular bucket list today.
Not every major Texas city has access to live horse racing, but those up for wagering a few bucks at the chance of big payouts know the thrill of being at Lone Star Park in person. The best way to experience the thrilling action is in a private suite, which for $115 per person (20-80 people) includes open bar and your own personal bartender, shrimp cocktail, charcuterie, and unlimited access to the suite-level buffet stocked with everything from fajitas to chicken fried steak.
The 61st anniversary season of the Texas Pool (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) kicks off on Memorial Day (May 30) for a new season of fun in the 168,000-gallon saltwater oasis. You’ll find a snack bar on-site, as well as BBQ grills if you prefer to bring your own food to cookout. Just make sure to wait at least 30 minutes before swimming from El Paso to Houston. It costs $10 per visit (tourists and non-members) or $150 for individual season membership.
Starting June 15, Shakespeare Dallas returns to the stage, overlooking the lawn at the Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre. Bring your own blanket or chair (or rent one on-site) for the limited-capacity performances of (appropriately enough) A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, and Hamlet. The productions here rarely go for the traditional approach, so you can always expect something unique. And the fact that you can pack your own picnic (including beer and wine) means you can have one amazingly cheap cultural experience under the stars.
Less than an hour’s drive from Dallas, Future Flight LLC Powered Parachutes offers thrill-seekers the chance to take flight with an FAA Certified Pilot in a powered parachute. See the North Texas landscape without the hindrance of windows or doors for an exhilarating journey at speeds up to 32 mph and altitudes up to 1,000 feet. And if you get hooked, you can buy your own starting at a cool $10,000.
Live that Vegas life, baby
Durant, OK & Thackerville, OK
Though not technically in Dallas (or Texas, for that matter), gambling locals love to hit the road north for a quick 90-minute drive to either Choctaw Casino & Resort in Durant or WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville. WinStar has bragging rights as the world’s largest casino with 400,000-square-feet of gaming space while Choctaw is a slot-lover’s dream with more than 7,400 test-your-luck machines. Both casinos feature luxury accommodations, resort-style pools, and fine dining to easily turn a day trip into a Vegas-worthy staycation—one that could pay for itself, if the odds are forever in your favor.
Immerse yourself in artistic masterpieces
Visit the Lighthouse ArtSpace in downtown Dallas to become one with the art of masters Vincent Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. And beginning July 1, Claude Monet and other Impressionists join the party. During each multimedia presentation, you’ll step into one of several spaces with floor-to-ceiling projections of the artists’ most spectacular works set to music and animated for a surreally beautiful way to experience these icons. Pro-tip: The side galleries are typically less crowded than the main exhibit space, offering a more intimate viewing. Pro-tip number two: Book one of the onsite yoga classes for a whole new kind of zen.
Pretend you live in a legal marijuana state
It always takes Texas a while to catch up with more progressive states, but we always get there eventually. And the same will likely be true soon enough for legal weed products. Until then, you can enjoy the equally chill—and totally legal—Delta 8-THC, Delta 9-THC, and Delta- 10-THC. Talk to an experienced budtender at some of the best dispensaries in town, including Bloom Labs, MoonTaxi, The Weed Spot, The Green Room Hemp Dispensary, and Delta 8 North Plano. (Of course, you can always Google “Delta 8 Dispensaries in Dallas” to find a different friendly neighborhood, er, joint.)
Get wet and wild at a waterpark
Kicking back in a pool may be fine and good for people looking to beat the soon-to-be hellish Texas heat, but if you want to add an adrenaline rush to your chlorine-scented day, the waterpark possibilities in town are quite abundant. Get wet year-round at Epic Waters Indoor Waterpark in Grand Prairie (they have an outdoor wave pool open for summer, too), or head a few miles down the road to Six Flags Hurricane Harbor for more than 20 rides and attractions. If you prefer a resort-style experience, book a room at the beautiful Hilton Anatole and get free access for two to their JadeWaters pools, including the adults-only leisure cove. And for a more local experience, head to one of the five Hawaiian Falls neighborhood locations throughout the metroplex.
Whether you’re looking to board a kayak or get vertical on a stand-up paddleboard, the 2022 season has officially begun at White Rock Paddle Company (except when they’re closed on Mondays and Tuesdays). Book your time on the lake by the hour, then hit up happy hour, lunch, dinner, or Sunday brunch on the patio at nearby Smoky Rose for a full day of quality Texas-style R&R.
Drag brunch was one of the things we missed most when indoor dining was on hiatus, but the queens have returned in full force to venues across town to dance, lip-sync, and stare at your mimosas with envy. Some of the best meal-and-a-show combos can be found at Commons Club at Virgin Hotels Dallas in the Design District, Mr. Misster in Oak Lawn, and Booty’s Street Food in Deep Ellum. And once a month at Cedar Springs Tap House, Marsha Dimes presents a version where all proceeds (sometimes thousands of dollars in one day) benefit a local LGBTQ nonprofit.
Every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday (and some Saturdays) this summer, beloved LGBTQ+ honky-tonk, the Round-Up Dance Hall and Saloon will be hosting lively dance classes for folks of all abilities. Practice your two-step, mambo grooves, honky-tonk twists, and other boot-stompin’ moves. Beginners are always welcome, and if you’re not inclined to boogie, sidle up to the bar, grab a draft beer in a cowboy boot glass, and cheer them on from the sidelines.
Texas wine has grown into a world-class option for seeking to catch a sophisticated buzz over the past decade or so, and the aptly named suburb of Grapevine just so happens to be home to one of the state’s most coveted wine trails. Taste through the offerings with a lunch or dinner wine tour that includes samples at three wineries plus a three-course meal with a professional guide to teach you everything you ever wanted to know about local viticulture (and probably a few things you’d rather skip over in favor of another generous pour). Or venture out on your own and discover your favorites one sip at a time.
Live like a true Texan (or at least the stereotype so many people outside the state envision) by climbing atop a horse for a ride through the scenic trails around Lake Benbrook. You’ll be matched with a horse that complements your riding experience, so whether you’re a beginner or expert, they’ve got an equine that’s right for you. We’re guessing the horse named Turtle goes pretty slow, but don’t take our word for it.
Giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, bison, and cheetahs await—along with dozens of other animals—at this drive-thru wildlife center dedicated to the preservation of species in peril. Meander through 7.2 miles of roads where you can stop whenever you like to feed the animals right from your car. Book a public guided tour or opt for a private guided tour for you and your most adventurous travel buddies. For a truly cool experience, however, book a room at the lodge or in one of the safari cabins where you can swap your white noise machine for real-life animal sounds as you drift into dreamland. It all goes down in Glen Rose, a short 90-minute-or-less jaunt from most parts of Dallas-Fort Worth.
Downtown Fort Worth
Designed by architect Philip Johnson, a variety of water features cascade all around as you explore this spectacular urban oasis in the heart of downtown Fort Worth. Hit up the quiet, serene pool, ideal for contemplating life or simply losing yourself in the moment, or climb down the stairs into the multi-level main pool for a truly unique perspective.
Summer always makes us think of sharks. But you’ll be completely safe when you get up-close-and-personal with them here. Grapevine Mills offers plenty of retail therapy and dining opportunities, but when you’ve had enough H&M and Applebee’s, make sure to check out the Sea Life Grapevine Aquarium located right inside the mall. Journey through Texas’s only 360-degree ocean tunnel filled with thousands of fish, rays, and sharks, or check out the sea turtle hospital and learn about their specific mission. Schedule your visit around feeding times for the most underwater action or book a behind-the-scenes tour for an in-depth look at what it takes to operate a large-scale aquarium.
Add some screams to your spring courtesy of the one-and-only Six Flags. The park opens on weekends before the official summer season kicks off on May 27. From that point until Labor Day Weekend, you can go every single day and scream to your heart’s (and lungs’) content. And if there’s even the remote possibility you’ll venture out more than once this year, a season pass always packs the best deal for frequent thrill-seekers.
When some folks think of Dallas, the first thing that comes to mind is JFK’s assassination. And although no city should be defined by a single event that occurred almost 60 years ago, its historical significance is undisputed. Take a walk around Dealey Plaza and the infamous grassy knoll to spot where the former president was killed in 1963. When you’re done dodging the conspiracy theorists hanging around the plaza, pop over to the Sixth Floor Museum to learn the full story of that pivotal day.
Enjoy the city's coolest urban green spaces
Dallas has made huge strides in recent years when it comes to increasing the number of green spaces within its urban core. See for yourself by touring all the parks that make downtown such a vibrant place to live and play starting with the city’s newest spot, Carpenter Park, which just opened May 3. There’s always something to do at Klyde Warren Park, a 5.2-acre public expanse built over a major freeway with lots of free daily programming. From there, walk south to Harwood Street for a glimpse of Pacific Plaza and Main Street Garden Park, then wind down by taking in a live performance while lounging on the lawn at Annette Strauss Square, picnic basket optional.
Far North Dallas
Even though people typically associate ice skating with wintry days and hot cocoa, the activity is somehow that much more fun when it’s hot and sunny outside. If you really want to step things up with a few salchows and double axles, enroll in this year-round rink’s three-day beginner courses that include guest passes and other incentives, too.
White Rock Lake
There may be no better place to celebrate the warm summer weather than seeking out shade in the Dallas Arboretum. You’ll always find a gorgeous setting at this beloved nature spot on the shores of White Rock Lake, where you can dine on-site and make a day of it. Also, make sure to book well in advance (you’ll get better access as a member) for the Arboretum’s sell-out Cool Thursdays concerts on the lawn to enjoy the sunset with a live soundtrack.
Can’t decide what you’re in the mood to eat? Check out the multitude of options available at Trinity Groves. Asian, Italian, Mexican, barbecue, vegan, pizza, poké, wings, even a restaurant focused solely on avocados—it can all be found just across the river from downtown. Still can’t decide? Kick things off by hanging out in the new ArtPark beer garden, which sports its own menu of burgers and bar food, then patio hop from restaurant to restaurant or order bites to-go as you munch your way across the globe. Start by sharing a bowl from Hula Girl Poké before sitting down to stacked enchiladas from Beto & Son, a reconfigured New Mexico-style version of the classic. And for dessert, don’t sleep on the hummingbird cake at Cake Bar.
Who shot J.R.? If you don’t know the answer to one of the 1980s’ most popular questions, you can find out in person at the pop-culture mecca that is Southfork Ranch. As cheesy as it may be, a visit to the Ewing Mansion made famous on two different Dallas TV series should be part of every fan’s bucket list. The tour highlights several rooms inside the home, including J.R.’s bedroom, the family living room, and the famous pool where J.R.’s would-be assassin met her fate. The whole thing ends not with a cliffhanger, but a memorabilia exhibit featuring items from the actual TV show. Guests are also welcome to take a few shots of their own around the ranch’s sprawling grounds—of the photographic variety, of course.
Even some longtime residents don’t know there’s a hardwood forest right in our backyard, but heading off into the lush green space can quickly remedy the oversight. Paved trails make it easy to explore with routes rife with everything from birds and waterfowl to river otters and maybe even a snake or two. In the cooler weather, feel free to hit up the woods almost any time of day thanks to mild-to-cool temperatures instead of the blazing summer sun.
If you spend time in Texas and don’t stuff yourself full of barbecue, have you really been to Texas at all? Dallas hosts the full scope of Lone Star ‘cue from Central Texas-style brisket to east Texas pork ribs. Sample your way through the city’s bustling smoke scene starting with Cattleack Barbeque in Farmers Branch, Pecan Lodge in Deep Ellum or Lockhart Smokehouse in Bishop Arts for some of that aforementioned brisket. Next, head to Off the Bone in the Cedars for a few Pecan-smoked Baby Back Ribs or Blu’s Barbeque up north for Smoked Brisket Tamales and Prime Rib on Sundays (plus other daily specials throughout the week). If you’re headed out to Love Field, be sure to stop into Heim BBQ across the street from the airport or one of their original Fort Worth locations. Then finish your around-the-town tour at 18th & Vine for some Kansas City-style eats (it’s okay to cheat on Texas from time to time), including Burnt Ends so perfectly caramelized and tender they practically count as dessert.
Before this year’s State Fair of Texas returns—or after the Tilt-A-Whirl has been packed away for another year—Fair Park is a great place to walk around and appreciate one of the nation’s largest collections of 1930s Art Deco architecture and murals, with some museums currently open for visitors, too. Even if you aren’t an architecture buff, the fountains, Texas Star Ferris wheel, and Cotton Bowl stadium make it an interesting venue for an afternoon of urban discovery.
Retrace the steps of Bonnie & Clyde
The two infamous outlaw lovers called Dallas home whenever they weren't on the lam. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are said to have met at a house on Herbert Street, behind today’s Trinity Groves. Just a few blocks away at 1221 Singleton Boulevard stands Clyde’s childhood home, where the Barrow family ran a gas station (long since abandoned and currently very creepy). Bonnie and Clyde are both buried in Dallas as well, though in separate gravesites per Bonnie’s mother’s wishes. All of these historic sites are open to the public and easy to enjoy at your own pace (you can also book a guided tour of the key sites).
Ronald Kirk Bridge
If you’re dying to get the perfect picture of the Dallas skyline, make your way to the Ronald Kirk Bridge. This cool retrofitted pedestrian park sits right next to the gorgeous Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and makes for some breathtaking panoramas. Once you’ve fulfilled your Instagram duties, follow the path down between the Trinity levees to spot native wildlife like white egrets and blue herons.
One of the most unlikely (yet thoroughly enjoyable) tourist attractions in the area is this lovingly recreated replica of the mansion from the 1960s TV series, The Munsters. Private tours make it one of the safest ways to witness a part of pop culture history with a room-by-room journey filled with actual artifacts from the series, recreated elements, and fascinating stories from the owners’ interactions with the stars over the years.
Fort Worth Stockyards
Each Friday and Saturday in the heart of the Fort Worth Stockyards, you can watch cowboys and cowgirls take on bucking broncos and feisty bulls in addition to other traditional events. And while you’re in the area, make sure to check out the country’s only twice-daily cattle drives through the historic district.
White Rock Lake
From runners to bikers to casual park-goers, more than 1 million people visit this urban lake every year. It’s a little more than nine miles all the way around the lake, most of which can be done on a paved path separated from car traffic. Rent a bike and hit the road. And if biking isn’t your thing, go for a walk near the Filter Building and check out the 1930s Art Deco boathouse nearby. Catch the sunset from the shores near Winfrey Point for epic skyline views and technicolor rays as the sun dips behind the treeline each evening.
The Katy Trail is a fantastic spot for a run, bike ride, or just a nice walk, extending 3.5 miles across Highland Park and Uptown before bottoming out at American Airlines Center. If you’re not sure where to park or how to enter, there’s usually plenty of open spots at Reverchon Park adjacent to the trail. And if you walk far enough, you can reward yourself with a margarita from Katy Trail Ice House.
Bishop Arts District
The Brooklyn to Dallas’ Manhattan, Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff is going through a rapid transformation with new developments popping up all over the neighborhood. It’s a quaint and walkable area not to be missed, especially if you like Instagrammable murals and cool shops like Spinster Records or Wild Detectives bookstore bar. Check out Eno’s Pizza Tavern for dinner and follow it up with a sweet treat from Emporium Pies.
Hills are pretty scarce in Dallas, but you can get a hint of the Texas hill country at Cedar Hill State Park. The park road winds through modest curves complete with views of Joe Pool Lake that are quite scenic (for North Texas at least). Make reservations online for camping and day passes, and if there have been heavy rains, call or visit the website to ensure the trails are open. Multiple paths range from a short two-mile loop to a 12 mile route shared with mountain bikers.
The buzzy nightlife vibes that once characterized this popular section of town have slowly but surely started to come back, but you can also plan your Lowest Greenville adventure around some of the city’s best eats (drinks included, don’t worry). For starters, Wabi House boasts some of the best ramen in the city, Ngon Vietnamese Kitchen puts out a mean duck curry, and HG Supply Co. has been a neighborhood staple for years with an emphasis on healthy and sustainably produced meals. Make sure to satisfy your sweet tooth with a scoop or sundae from Botolino Gelato Artigianale, offering some of the best in the city. For more al fresco calorie consumption, hit up Truck Yard across the street with plenty of seating options, a treehouse bar, and regular live music.
Dallas Arts District
The iconic Dallas skyline poses as the ideal backdrop for the city’s most impressive collection of sculptures and other creative installations—after all, skyscrapers are just sculptures built on an enormous scale right? The ever-changing exhibitions complement the permanent collection and docents are on-hand to help you get more out of your visit and answer questions about specific pieces.
The Cowboys missed out on the Super Bowl this past year (AGAIN), but even if you’re not up for shelling out extreme amounts of cash to see them take the gridiron in person next season, consider a tour of their home stadium instead. Options include the chance to hang out on the field the day before a game (in-season, of course), self-guided walkabouts, a VIP behind-the-scenes look, and an art-focused exploration featuring one of the area’s top contemporary collections.
Formerly the wholesale fruit and vegetable hub for all of North Texas, the Dallas Farmers Market has evolved into a community-oriented space where urbanites congregate to shop and dine. Each weekend, local vendors set up shop under The Shed to peddle fresh goods of all kinds. What’s more, the indoor area features a food hall with more than 20 restaurants and shops open throughout the week. Looks like your work is cut out for you.