If you visit Dallas and Fort Worth hoping to spot the city slickers of television fame—the cowboy-hatted oilmen in suits and boots, the socialites dressed in Easter-egg colors—you will most likely be disappointed. Today, modern-day dandies sprint across streets in well-cut jeans and European blazers. Women zip from business meetings to charity balls in innovative clothes sourced from the most cerebral designers. "Good-bye, big hair," says Ken Downing, fashion director of the Dallas-based department store Neiman Marcus. "That's a stereotype that no longer defines the area."
Located just 32 miles apart, both cities are witnessing a rise in population, as well as booms in business and building. In Dallas's buzzy Uptown, Cesar Pelli, the architect behind some of the world's tallest towers, is raising a billowy-looking glass office block that evokes the sail of a ship. Cranes dip and swoop along the Trinity River, hoisting elegant steel arcs into place for what will become the second dramatic span by architect Santiago Calatrava to open here within five years. Both bridges tie downtown to a reignited West Dallas, a hilly residential area with panoramic views.
"Neighborhoods once considered the wrong side of the tracks are now the right places to be," says Downing. Take the Bishop Arts District, a hip, walkable grid of streets lined with brick buildings, largely former warehouses that now shelter one-of-a-kind boutiques and acclaimed restaurants. Built in the 1920s and known for its vibrant murals, this area is undergoing a careful renaissance thanks to its passionate residents, who are wary of its historic character being stripped away.
In Fort Worth, construction has begun on downtown's first new mid-rise building in nearly a decade. The enlivened Magnolia Avenue area has been dubbed the city's restaurant row, with old buildings transformed into bistros, pubs, and sidewalk cafés serving everything from Italian to Thai to vegan to, of course, Mexican.
"Fort Worth is a smaller town than Dallas," says Elaine Agather, managing director of J.P.Morgan Private Bank, who has residences in both cities. "There's a little less traffic and hubbub, and a little less frantic of a pace. But you also have finance, good restaurants, and great art. You get the best of both worlds."
Shopping is, unequivocally, a regional sport—one wherein Dallas tends to triumph. "Glamour is a given," says Downing. "Dallas is a city where you dress to impress." Style-obsessed Texans flock to Highland Park Village, which bills itself as America's first shopping center. Built in 1931 in the Spanish-Mediterranean style, it is now home to a wealth of internationally known luxury brands. The striking and modernist NorthPark Center, filled with stellar contemporary art and more than 200 stores, just observed its 50th birthday. Things are more relaxed in Fort Worth, says Agather, comparing the fashion sensibilities of the women in each town: "Dallas is edgier, more chic and current. Fort Worth is very classic and very elegant."
Both cities have become known for their outstanding museums. Fort Worth's Kimbell Art Museum houses a compact collection of international works, from Michelangelo to Mondrian, in a 1972 concrete-and-travertine masterwork by Louis Kahn; traveling exhibitions are displayed in an airy pavilion by Renzo Piano, which opened to critical acclaim two years ago. Jeremy Strick, director of Dallas's Nasher Sculpture Center, is gaining notice for his canny exhibition programming. Over the past few years, the Nasher's own Renzo Piano building, with its peaceful garden right in the middle of downtown's bustle, has hosted shows of avant-garde artists such as Mark Grotjahn and Phyllida Barlow and designer Thomas Heatherwick. Meanwhile, every April, the Dallas Art Fair attracts more artists, more patrons, and more dealers to the city. The result is an influx of global connoisseurs who come to see, learn, advise, and buy, and also an increasingly sophisticated public. "Dallas has achieved special renown for its community of art collectors," says Strick, "for the quality and breadth of their collections, which are among the finest in the country, and for their extraordinary civic purpose, generosity, and collaborative spirit."
That philanthropic open-handedness is a suitable emblem of the local sense of hospitality. While the rootin'-tootin' stereotypes of the past may have vaporized, the famous Texas big-heartedness remains firmly in place. "Newcomers, both residents and visitors alike, are frequently surprised by the remarkable warmth they encounter here," says Strick. "I've found the welcome to be like nowhere else."
1530 Main St., 214-748-1300, : This 161-room, 1920s Gothic stunner is the unofficial hub of downtown Dallas's shopping and dining renaissance. Its art-laden lobby—rescued midcentury mosaics included—is a scene in itself; its CBD Provisions restaurant is frequented by locals.
3411 Gillespie St., 214-559-2100, : Celebrities know and love this 143-room hotel for its discreet location and impeccable service; natives revere it for its restaurant—contemporary American fare served with French verve by chef Bruno Davaillon—and its late-night bar and patio scene.
2001 Flora St., 214-242-5100, : This museum's eye-popping permanent collection, situated in a lush garden and a subdued Renzo Piano building surrounded by skyscrapers, includes sculpture by Picasso, Calder, and Giacometti, as well as contemporary artists.
841 W. Davis St., 214-948-1000, : An airy corner shop filled with the global design finds of owners Adam and Jennifer Littke: evocative furniture, chic tableware, and stylish kitchenware.
408 N. Bishop Ave., No. 108, 214-942-1828, : This French bistro in the Bishop Arts District is a favorite for its oysters, heady wines, house-made charcuterie, and bouillabaisse.
3333 Camp Bowie Blvd., 817-332-8451, : Louis Kahn's 1972 masterpiece is a must for architecture devotees, as is the colonnaded, concrete pavilion by Renzo Piano, with an imaginative glass roof, that opened in 2013.
3220 Botanic Garden Blvd., 817-392-5510, : The oldest botanic garden in Texas consists of 110 aromatic acres of roses, perennials, and even herbs.
3811 Camp Bowie Blvd., 817-731-8545, : Colorful contemporary bedding, throw pillows, and rugs, as well as furniture, lighting, and cocktail table books.
954 W. Rosedale St., 817-886-8365, : Recent standouts from a rotating roster of delectable flavors include salted caramel with pineapple jam, and grape-and-mint sorbet.
401 W. Magnolia Ave., 817-708-2663, : Chef Ben Merritt creates comfort food with an eclectic twist, like brie-and-cranberry-salsa nachos and duck-and-sweet-potato hash.
Check out the November 2015 issue of ELLE Decor for even more Dallas and Fort Worth travel suggestions.