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JS Travel Guide to the Big D

In the Lone Star State everything is done in a big way, from the splashy hotels and killer dining destinations to the art venues and festivals that keep popping up every year. So give your hair a blowout, check out our Dallas travel guide below, and make haste to the big D, where the sun always shines and home is never more than a 5-hour flight away.

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For years, Dallas was defined by formal hotels where guests were addressed "sir" and “ma’am” and a jacket and tie was required for dinner. That all changed with the opening of The Joule in 2008. The city's first real boutique is set in a 1920s Neo-Gothic building downtown, with whimsical interiors (note the oversized chess pieces and $20 million–plus contemporary art collection) by Adam Tihany. Don't miss a treatment at the 8,000-square-foot ESPA spa; sunning on the rooftop pool, and pre-dinner drinks at the cocktail lounge housed in a former vault of the Dallas National Bank's reserves.

Originally a 1960’s Hilton, The Highland has re-emerged as a stylish 198-room urban resort complete with an Exhale Spa, a modern steakhouse with a James Beard-nominated chef, and a rooftop infinity pool that’s always buzzing (the slick cabanas and cocktails help). We love the location in the upscale Lakewood District and there's a free shuttle, which takes guests anywhere they want to go in the city.

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What began as a passion project in 2005 by restaurateur Phil Romano has grown into a bonafide phenomenon at the base of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. Also an urban renewal project, Trinity Groves spreads across 100 acres and includes dozens of dining concepts (don’t miss Casa Rubia), a microbrewery, art galleries, and a culinary events center. In 2012, Trinity Groves launched a Restaurant Incubator Program, which helps fledgling chefs get their restaurants off the ground. Next up: a boutique hotel coming next year.

There’s nothing fancy about the super-authentic Sammys BBQ uptown, just counter-service and a pickle bar with every type of pickle you can think up. Order the hickory-smoked ribs and dig into as many of the sides as you can fit into your midday meal (it’s only open for lunch): fried okra, stuffed potatoes, zucchini casserole, and enough French fries to satisfy a family. Pick a wrought-iron table outside and be sure to save room for the pecan pie, perhaps the best you’ll ever have.

If you can’t get into Jennie Kelley and Ben Starr’s secret supper club, don't cry in your soup. Instead head over to Chef Nick Badovinus’ clubby Design District restaurant Town Hearth, which has all the conviviality of a private club, with more dripping chandeliers. Wood-fired meats (cedar-roasted salmon; seared bone-in prime steaks) are the stars here, though the oysters have everyone raving. Grab a red-leather banquette (watch out for the motorcycle!) and watch the chefs make magic in the open kitchen while you sip one of 23 specialty cocktails.

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Set in the middle of the Dallas Arts District, the Nasher Sculpture Center displays one of the world’s premier collections of modern and contemporary sculpture. Wander around for a few hours to soak up the three-dimensional beauty of more than 300 masterpieces by Giacometti, Gormley, Matisse, Calder, Miró, Moore, de Kooning, Picasso, Rodin, Serra…the list goes on and on. The Renzo Piano-designed building is a sculpture unto itself, and the grounds host events year-round.

Ping Pong, petanque, a putting green, a performance pavilion….lots of things start with a “P” in Klyde Warren Park. But pretty much the whole alphabet is represented at this 5.2-acre deck green space in the heart of downtown that's built over an eight-lane highway. (Go big or go home in Texas, right?) Privately funded (to the tune of $110m) but open to the public, the park debuted in 2012 and offers food truck rallies, yoga classes, Music Thursdays, and children’s workshops. It’s the heart, lungs, and brains of Dallas.

It’s worth the short trek to Kimbell Art Museum & The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth to witness stunning examples of architecture old and new art living harmoniously with world-class art collections. Originally commissioned by Louis Kahn in 1966 to house the private collection of Kay and Velma Kimbell, the Kimbell Museum grew to add a Renzo Piano addition in 2007, not to mention a Caravaggio, a Noguchi, a Cezanne, and other blue-chip artists’ works. Directly across is the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, built in 2002 by Tadao Ando and floating on a 1.5-acre pond. The museum is one of the oldest in the United States, and certainly one of its most architecturally striking.

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Only in Dallas would a department store up its game to this level. At the one-stop-shop Forty Five Ten Ten the furniture is by Knoll (with pieces by Eero Saarinan and David Adjaye); the art is by Tracey Emin and Mario Testino; and the pastries at the Copper Bar are by Thomas Keller. And the fashions? Think Alaïa, Rick Owens, Givenchy, Balenciaga, and any other designer a confident Texan could deign to wear downtown. The four-floor concept store plans to roll out to other locations nationwide, but it came to Dallas first, natch.

The adaptive reuse project Bishop Art District has turned some derelict storefronts into a vibrant destination in Dallas’ Oak Cliff area. Pretty much an open-air, year-round food hall, the district has don’t miss pies at Emporium Pies (sweet) and Eno’s Pizza Tavern (savory); a fab flower shop, called Dirt; to-die-for coffee at Espumoso Coffee; several art galleries and a ton more reasons to spend an afternoon. On Sundays to Wednesdays, you can stroll the intimate spaces and do some eating and window shopping; from Thursday to Saturday, expect to find live musicians, lots of people loitering with friends, and even more lingering over glasses of Chard. Seasonal events are a big deal here, like Bastille on Bishop and the Pumpkin Festival, when the surrounding streets shut down to accommodate all the revelers.

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