Actually Cool Things to Do in Dallas this Fall

Catch a Cowboys game, learn to two-step, and get spooked at a haunted house.

Drag brunch at Commons Club at Virgin Hotels Dallas | Photo by Kathy Tran
Drag brunch at Commons Club at Virgin Hotels Dallas | Photo by Kathy Tran

With all the wacky weather events this year, from our epic February snowstorm to rain-soaked May and a cooler-than-usual summer, we might actually get a real fall for a change, foliage included. But no matter what the atmospheric gods have in store for us, this upcoming season is a fantastic time to get outside to both enjoy nature in its many forms.

Avoid indoor dining by camping out on a patio with some spectacular food and drinks, lean into the autumnal vibes (PSL in hand, if you so desire) by visiting a pumpkin patch, scream your way through a haunted house, or embark on a brisk hayride. You’ll also find year-round options that will help you make the most of life in Dallas-Fort Worth, so scroll on, grab your best flannel, and get ready to explore the city.

Dallas Zoo
Dallas Zoo

South Dallas
Why just wander around the Dallas Zoo like a regular ol’ tourist when you can go behind the scenes and get an up-close-and-personal experience with some majorly massive beasts. Feed the world’s largest land mammal, the African elephant, participate in a training session with hippos, meet giraffes, attend a private Wild Encounters show, and get digital photos of the whole shebang to share with the world. Note that humans are required to wear masks in all indoor spaces.

Drag brunch at Commons Club at Virgin Hotels Dallas
Drag brunch at Commons Club at Virgin Hotels Dallas | Photo by Kathy Tran

Pair your French toast with a side of drag performances

Various locations
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 fun-filled meal-and-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.

Moxley Manor Haunted House
Moxley Manor Haunted House

Get Boo-ed up at a haunted house

Various locations
Texans love a good scare, as evidenced by our city’s multitude of high-tech, Hollywood-worthy haunted houses. Last year, most venues pivoted to drive-thru experiences, but in-person frights will be returning to several sites this year. Among the spookiest are Moxley Manor, Zombie Safari, Dark Hour, Texas Scaregrounds, Reindeer Manor, and Screams Halloween Theme Park with five onsite haunted houses, live music, pubs, and a full-service restaurant.

YesterLand Farm
YesterLand Farm

Canton
During the fall festival at Yesterland Farm, you can stock up on pumpkins for as little as $1 each, get lost in a corn maze, go for a hayride, and take in a fireworks display every Friday and Saturday night throughout October. The haunted attractions here aren’t as bone-chilling as most, so if you’re timid (or have kiddos in tow), this family-friendly adventure has your back.

Oak Lawn
Every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday evening this fall, beloved LGBTQ honky tonk the Round-Up Dance Hall and Saloon will be hosting lively dance classes for folks of all abilities. In September alone, you can practice the two-step, mambo move, honky-tonk twist, and many other boot-stompin’ moves. Beginners are always welcome, and if you’re not inclined to boogie, saddle up to the bar, grab a draft beer in a cowboy boot glass, and watch from the sidelines.

Grapevine Wine Tours
Grapevine Wine Tours

Grapevine
Texas vino has grown into a world-class option for catching 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).

East Dallas
Starting September 8, Shakespeare Dallas kicks off its 50th anniversary season with Romeo & Juliet on the lawn at the Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre. Bring your own blanket or chair (or rent one onsite) for limited-capacity performances. The productions here rarely go for the traditional approach, so you can always expect something unique, and the fact that you can bring a picnic to enjoy under the stars—including beer and wine, mind you—means this is one no-brainer of a date night.

Benbrook Stables
Benbrook Stables

Fort Worth
Live like a true Texan (or at least the stereotype so many people outside the state envision) by climbing atop a horse for an outdoor trot 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.

Glen Rose
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 from your car. Masks are required for public guided tours, or go maskless if you opt for a private guided tour for your immediate household or up to 10 people in your pandemic pod. It all goes down in Glen Rose, a short 90-minute-or-less jaunt from most parts of Dallas-Fort Worth.

Fort Worth Water Gardens
Fort Worth Water Gardens | AmitabhClickz/Shutterstock

Designed by architect Philip Johnson, a variety of water features cascade all around you 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.

Grapevine
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.

Texas Rangers
Texas Rangers

Cheer on the Cowboys, Wings, Rangers, RoughRiders, Stars, and Mavs

Various locations
One of the best things about fall is the opportunity to see so many different sports teams on their home turf. Catch the boys of summer transition to autumn with a trip to see the Texas Rangers or the Frisco RoughRiders, watch as the WNBA’s Dallas Wings finishes out a lively run, get a rinkside view of the Dallas Stars, keep the billions rolling in for Jerry Jones at a Dallas Cowboys game, or kick off the season in style with Mark Cuban at a Dallas Mavericks matchup. The choice is yours.

Six Flags Over Texas
Six Flags Over Texas

Arlington
Swap your quarantine-fueled Netflix streaming for some coaster-fueled screaming courtesy of the one-and-only Six Flags. The park opens on weekends throughout the fall plus extended days and hours for their annual Halloween-themed Fright Fest. And if there’s even a remote possibility you’ll venture out more than once this year, a season pass always packs the best deal for frequent thrill-seekers.

Dealey Plaza
When some folks think of Dallas, the first thing that comes to mind is JFK’s assasination. 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, check out the content available online from the Sixth Floor Museum to learn the full story of that pivotal day.

Far North Dallas
Even though you can ice skate year-round at this indoor rink, there’s something that makes the activity that much more anti-establishment when it’s still warm outside (or at least not snowing with “Jingle Bells” playing). Masks are required of all guests and social distancing is encouraged. And if you really want to step things up with a few salchows and double axels, you can enroll in three-day beginner courses that include guest passes and other freebies.

Enjoy the city's coolest urban green spaces

Downtown Dallas
Dallas has made huge strides in recent years when it comes to increasing the amount 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 Klyde Warren Park, a 5.2-acre public expanse built over a major freeway. 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.

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

White Rock Lake
There may be no better place to celebrate the breezy fall weather than the Dallas Arboretum. Autumn at the Arboretum offers even more to look at than the usual flora and fauna, with more than 90,000 pumpkins, gourds, and squash. Visits currently require a pre-purchased ticket, scheduled arrival window, and face-covering indoors or whenever social distancing is not possible. To boot, the Cool Thursdays concert series is running fall performances from September 2 through October 28.

Trinity Groves
Trinity Groves

Trinity Groves
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.

Southfork Ranch
Southfork Ranch

Parker
Who shot J.R.? If you don’t know the answer, you can find out in person at 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 photographical variety, of course.

South Dallas
Even some longtime residents don’t know that 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. While the weather’s still steamy, hiking should only be done during the early morning hours unless you really love to sweat, but as fall settles in, feel free to hit up the woods almost any time of day thanks to increased shade and dropping temperatures.

Fair Park, TX
Fair Park, TX

Fair Park
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.

Sample some fine Texas barbecue

Various locations
If you spend time in Texas and don’t stuff yourself full of BBQ, 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 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 some smoked brisket tamales and prime rib on Sundays (plus other daily specials throughout the week). Finish the tour at 18th & Vine for some Kansas City-style BBQ (it’s okay to cheat on Texas from time to time) and burnt ends that are so perfectly caramelized and tender they practically count as dessert.

Retrace the steps of Bonnie & Clyde

West Dallas
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).

Dallas skyline
Silvio Ligutti/Shutterstock

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.

Waxahachie
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.

Bill Huang/Shutterstock

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.

Uptown Dallas
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.

Spinster Records Dallas
Spinster Records Dallas

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.

Cedar Hill
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.

Ngon
Ngon

Lowest Greenville
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.

Nasher Sculpture Center
Nasher Sculpture Center

Dallas Arts District
The iconic Dallas skyline stands 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? Currently, face masks are required indoors and tickets can be pre-purchased before arrival with timed entry for crowd control.

AT&T Stadium during Breast Cancer Awareness Month
AT&T Stadium | fitzcrittle / Shutterstock.com

Arlington
The Cowboys are back for a new season, but even if you’re not up for spending extreme amounts of cash to see them take the gridiron in person, consider a tour of their home stadium instead. Options include the chance to hang out on the field the day before a game, self-guided walkabouts, a VIP behind-the-scenes look, and an art-focused exploration featuring one of the area’s top contemporary collections. All guides and guests are required to mask up indoors and groups are limited to 35 folks at a time.

Downtown Dallas
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.

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 Steven Lindsey is a Thrillist contributor