Paul Buck  /  AFP - Getty Images file
A woman lays flowers on the memorial to assassinated US President John F. Kennedy in downtown Dallas, Texas.
By Pauline Frommer
Special to msnbc.com
updated 5/11/2006 12:32:09 PM ET 2006-05-11T16:32:09

If you think Dallas has little to offer beyond Big Hair, Barbecue, and Bull Riding, the city will surprise you. Dallas is a genuine cultural oasis, shimmering on the Texas hardpan like a mirage. With an endearing swagger, Dallas boasts of an impressive spread of museums, a half dozen pro sports teams, a honky-tonk-transcending nightlife, and the fact that it’s got more top-end restaurants than you can shake a grilled baby artichoke at.  With one day and the following itinerary, you can get a good Texas-sized helping of what Big D’s serving.

8 a.m. - 9 a.m. Breakfast
Head to the Mansion on Turtle Creek for an elegant Southwestern-style breakfast in the refurbished Italian Renaissance-style estate of a Texas cotton mogul. The service is impeccable, and the Texas-style hospitality (they ask for the plate number of your car so they can welcome you by name when you pull up) is as charming as Dallas is sprawling. Try the eggs with roasted-tomatillo hollandaise, set atop oak-smoked salmon and served with sun dried tomatoes, cilantro pesto, and a warm goat cheese tart.

9 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
Take the elevator to the sixth floor of the old Texas Schoolbook Depository and see the infamous perch from which Lee Harvey Oswald is believed to have shot President John F. Kennedy. The space has been transformed into The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza , and it’s filled with exhibits and artifacts telling the story of JFK’s life, times, murder, and legacy. The corner window where Oswald took aim has been preserved as it was on that dreadful day in 1963, Oswald's perch now under plexiglass to preserve the flooring. Next, wander to the nearby JohnF. Kennedy Memorial , a stark white cenotaph, or empty tomb. Along the way, stop at the triple underpass, where a red X on Elm Street marks the approximate spot where the bullet found the president. It's set there by hawkers peddling their wares nearby, but still worth a look.

11:00 a.m.-noon
No place invites quiet contemplation quite like an aquarium, and at The Dallas World Aquarium & Zoological Garden you can contemplate in the company of sea creatures from four continents, three oceans, and various seas. Check out the needle-toothed moray eels, the ostentatious lionfish with their lethal venom, and the Texas-sized goliath groupers, which can weigh up to 800 pounds. Don’t miss the indoor rainforest, inhabited by crocodiles, jaguars and those irresistible squirrel monkeys.

A  MORNING ALTERNATIVE
Visit Fair Park . Built for Texas’ 1936 state centennial celebration, this 277-acre National Historic Landmark is home of the state fair and the Cotton Bowl stadium, as well as more art deco -style exposition buildings than anywhere else. Everywhere you turn you find a museum. Pick one, or two, or three of the following and pop in: the African American Museum , The Women’s Museum The Dallas Museum of Natural History , Texas Discovery Gardens , the Age of Steam Railroad Museum , The Science Place , the Hall of State (where the history of Texas is told with heroic grandeur in murals), or The Dallas Aquarium .

Noon-1:30 p.m. - Lunch
Join the herd of downtown office workers as they descend from their skyscrapers, throw their ties over their shoulders, and devour heaping’ helpin’s of tender beef briquette, hearty pork ribs, and savory sausage at Sammy’s Barbecue . This downscale and wildly popular eatery does barbecue the way Dallas likes it, smoky not spicy. The sides -- such as baked-potato casserole and fried okra – are as well-regarded as the meats, and some people make a meal out of them alone. Have the pecan pie for desert, if there’s room.

1:30 p.m. - 3 p.m.
Go to the downtown Arts District and stroll the garden and galleries of the Nasher Sculpture Center . It’s got sturdy, stand-alone works by Matisse, Miro, Picasso and hundreds of other masters. Then head for the nearby Dallas Museum of Art to see its collections of American, European, ancient Mediterranean, contemporary and other types of art, including the largest collection of African art in the U.S.. Just down the street you’ll come to the Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection , the only museum in the Southwest specializing in Asian art.

AN AFTERNOON ALTERNATIVE
The Nasher Sculpture Center may have the most extensive collection of sculpture in these parts, but

The Dallas Zoo has the tallest statue in Texas: a 67.5-foot giraffe. The zoo also has living, breathing, endangered tigers from Sumatra and Indochina, as well as gorillas, chimpanzees, and a monorail crossing through six animal-filled habitats.

3 p.m. -5 p.m.
Visit Southfork Ranch , family estate of the fictional Ewings and shooting location for the TV show “Dallas.” Guided tours of the ranch, which has found new life as a convention center, are steeped in memorabilia from the series, including Lucy’s wedding dress and the pistol that knew all along the answer to the question, “Who shot J.R.?”

5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m. - Dinner
Dine at Abacus , an exquisite restaurants that’s as elegant as it is casual. The pools of warm light bathing the tables give the enormous interior a grand-scaled hominess. The menu is a sweeping fusion of Southwestern, Asian, American, Mediterranean, Cajun, Creole, and Pacific Rim cuisines, and there’s a sushi bar to boot. Start off with a lobster shooter, which involves a shot glass filled with sake that’s been infused with coconut and red chili. For your main course consider the buffalo tenderloin, served with a red-wine butter sauce and whipped black truffles.

7pm-10pm
Take in a game. Dallas boasts (with lovable bravado) of six professional sports teams. In addition to the five-time-Super-Bowl-champion Dallas Cowboys , Big D’s got: basketball with the Mavericks ; baseball with the Texas Rangers , and their minor league feeder team, the Frisco Rough Riders; hockey with the Dallas Stars ; and soccer with FC Dallas . As if that weren’t enough, there’s  NASCAR, Indy, and motorcycle racing at the Texas Motor Speedway . And if the Barbecue you had for lunch whetted an appetite for Bull Riding, there’s the Mesquite Championship Rodeo (if lunch whetted an appetite for Big Hair, I’m sorry, but you’re on your own there).

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EVENING ALTERNATIVE
Take in a play at the Contemporary Theater of Dallas , situated in an old red-brick church and winner of The Dallas Observer’s readers choice awards for “Best Place to See a Play” and “Best Theater Company.” Seating is at large, round tables decorated with centerpieces keyed to the theme of the production, and offering plenty of room for the drinks mixed at the full bar in the back.

10 p.m. - onward
Check out the scene in the Deep Ellum neighborhood, an after-dark hot spot brimming with nightclubs and live music venues. For blues, head to Deep Ellum Blues , a bar upholding the legacy of the first artists to give the neighborhood a musical soul (they say Blind Lemon Jefferson set a cup on the sidewalk in Deep Ellum and played for change.) For Pabst Blue Ribbon in ice-cold cans, hit the Double Wide Bar , a trailer-trash themed joint adorned with auto parts and macramé, and featuring live rock, pop, and alternative music with a country accent. For a good shot at catching a touring national band, a rising local group, or possibly an Internet-based performance (monitor onstage with jamming band webcasting from some far-off place) go to Club Dada , which has three stages, two indoors and one out. For one-stop club hopping, go to Club Clearview , which is five clubs in one. It features everything from Top 40 on a free jukebox to DJs spinning house, trance, and 80s. Be sure to stick you head into Club Clearview’s Blacklight Room, where the walls are painted in ultraviolet hues and lined with go-go dancers painted to match. Go up to the enormous rooftop deck, where you’ll get a terrific nighttime view of the glass boxes of the Dallas skyline.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

Restaurants: In fact more restaurants of all kinds per capita than New York City!

Mansion at Turtle Creek: 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd.; 214/559-2100. Jacket and reservations required.

John F. Kennedy Memorial:Corner of Main and Market streets

Sixth Floor Museum:411 Elm St.; 888/485-4854 or 214/747-6660; $10 admission; www.jfk.org

World Aquarium & Zoological Garden:1801 N. Griffin; 214/720-2224; $16 admission; www.dwazoo.com

Fair Park:3809 Grand Ave, on outskirts of downtown; 214/670-8400 or 214/421-9600; www.bigtex.com

African American Museum:214/565-9026; free admission

The Women’s Museum:214/915-0860; $5 admission; www.thewomensmuseum.org

The Dallas Museum of Natural History:214/421-3466; $6.50 admission; www.dallasdino.org

Texas Discovery Gardens:214/428-7476; free admission

Age of Steam Railroad Museum:214/428-0101; $5 admission

The Science Place:214/428-5555; $7.50 admission; www.scienceplace.org

Hall of State: 214/421-4500; free admission; www.hallofstate.com

The Dallas Aquarium: 214/670-8443; $3; www.dallas-zoo.org/aq/aq.asp?page=aq

Sammy’s Barbecue:2126 Leonard St; 214/880-9064; open 11am-3pm, closed Sunday.

Nasher Sculpture Center:2001 Flora St., 214/242-5100, $10 admission; www.nashersculpturecenter.org

Dallas Museum of Art:1717 N. Harwood St.; 214/922-1200; $10 admission; www.dm-art.org

Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection: 2010 Flora St.; 214-979-6430; free admission; www.crowcollection.org

The Dallas Zoo: 650 South R.L. Thornton Freeway; 214/670-5656; $8.75 admission; www.dallas-zoo.org

Southfork Ranch: 3700 Hogge Road; 972/442-7800; $8.95 admission; http://southfork.com

Abacus: 4511 McKinney Ave.; 214/559-3111; reserverations essential

Dallas Cowboys:972/785-4800; www.dallascowboys.com

Mavericks:214/747-MAVS; www.nba.com/mavericks/

Texas Rangers:817/273-5100; www.texasrangers.com

Frisco Rough Riders: 972/334-1909; www.ridersbaseball.com

Dallas Stars: 214/GO-STARS; www.dallasstars.com

FC Dallas:888/FCD-GOAL; www.mlsnet.com/MLS/dab/

Texas Motor Speedway:817/215-8500; www.texasmotorspeedway.com

Mesquite Championship Rodeo: 800/833-9339 or 972/285-8777; www.mesquiterodeo.com

Contemporary Theater of Dallas: 5601 Sears St; 214/828-0094; www.contemporarytheaterofdallas.com

Deep Ellum Blues: 2612 Main street; 214-760-9338; www.deepellumblues.com

Double Wide Bar: 3510 Commerce Street, (214) 887-6510; www.double-wide.com

Club Dada: 2720 Elm St 214/744-3232; www.clubdada.com

Club Clearview:2803 Main St.; 214/939-0077; www.clubclearview.com  

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

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