Because it’s close to my hometown, I’ve driven through Dallas more than most cities in Texas. However, when you’re only several hours from your final destination, it’s so difficult to justify stopping to see the sights. But last summer, we made a day of it, and it was an excellent visit. The Dallas Arts District has so many amazing museums to offer that are within a walking distance of each other. Plan an extra day on your Texas road trip (at least) to explore this city.
Where to Park in Downtown Dallas
While there is metered parking on the street, we ended up parking in the Dallas Art Museum underground parking lot. Within walking distance of the Dallas Art Museum, you can be at the Nasher, the Crow Museum of Asian Art, and the park in mere minutes. Park once and go exploring. If you brought a snack or lunch, it would be easy to stop off and grab what you needed; this is also a good opportunity to change clothes if your kids get wet at the playground.
At $15 for the whole day, this cool shaded lot is your best bet on a warm day. Credit card accepted. As this parking lot only has 400 spots, check out this map showing other parking options. Technically, you could walk from the Perot Museum lot to the JFK museum, but I would probably drive to Perot.
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
History nerd confession. Seeing the John F. Kennedy museum was the real draw for me to explore Dallas. Our family has read so much about President Kennedy and I’ve read both fiction and non-fiction novels… that I knew this would have significance to all of my kids. This wasn’t just a boring stop; this was meeting the man and seeing the history.
Located within the former Texas School Book Depository, this museum is built around where Oswald looked out over Dealey Plaza and took aim. Start with the legacy of the Kennedys and JFK. Learn about his presidency and his role in the Civil Rights Movement. Examine scale models of the area and the famous video of the shooting. This museum is essential for any history skeptics who have always wondered.
When you’re done in the museum, make sure you walk outside to Dealey Plaza to stand on the grassy knoll and look up to the building. Walk over to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza to the concrete structure to reflect.
This is a stop that needs some prep work. Not only because it’s a serious memorial, but because of the subject matter. Much of this museum is about the investigation and the assassination. If your kids are unable to be “grown up” enough to take it seriously, wait a couple of years to show this area the respect it deserves. If they are ready, spend time reading through history with JFK before your trip. Prep work really is worth the effort.
Details: At the time of our visit Summer 2021, tickets sold out and had to be purchased in advance; plan accordingly. This was not a loose “show up whenever” time slot. You waited in line and got in at your thirty minute slot. Even then, the narrow museum areas were crowded. Come with patience. Tickets: Adults $18, 6-18 yo $14, under 6 free.
Dallas Art Museum
The Dallas Art Museum and much larger than the other art museums we explored in Dallas. With multiple floors of exhibits, there is something here for everyone from ancient art to art from around the world to classical art. Starting with the beautiful building, I really can’t say anything bad about this four floor museum other than we did not allot enough time to wander it completely.
As the Dallas Art Museum has many programs for families, classes, and special events, you might help use this calendar to help you pick the best day to visit. Also available are family art kits to help make your trip around the museum even more meaningful to the littlest people in your family.
A free museum as of Spring 2022, you need to still plan to reserve a ticket online, and this museum could be a quick walk through or last you several hours. You may be required to pay for any special exhibits – check the online schedule for upcoming events.
Details: Admission is free, but you need to reserve a ticket online. Not knowing this, we did it at the front desk without difficulty. Hours of operation depend on the day. Check signage; the entrance to the museum is near the garage. What looks like the front door to the museum is not.
Nasher Sculpture Center
Nasher Sculpture Center is a medium-sized art museum in downtown Dallas with an outdoor and indoor area. The large outdoor sculptures within the walled garden offer a beautiful setting with a lovely water feature. These permanent large size sculpture installations were our favorite of the visit. The several rooms inside appeared to be rotating exhibits of contemporary and modern art with a mix of paintings thrown in, so check the schedule online.
When we were there, we were surprised to find a tiny little Picasso sculpture and Matisse paintings. Other than that, most of the artist names meant nothing to us. As a family that can’t manage to appreciate modern art, this museum lasted about an hour before we were ready to move on.
As a reciprocal NARM museum, I was glad this museum didn’t cost us anything extra. If you’re a modern art lover though, this is the place for you. (Learn how we save tons of money with reciprocal memberships in this post: Museum Memberships: How to Save Money with Family Travel.)
Details: Open Wednesday to Sunday, 11 AM to 5 PM. Adults $10, Kids under 12 free. There are some free days and other discounts so check online for this information.
Crow Museum of Asian Art
Full confession. I didn’t have time for the Crow Museum of Asian Art, but it’s amazing front entrance made me wish we had made time – especially once I found out it was always free. We missed out, so make sure you don’t. It’s right across the street from the other museums and a shame to miss. Check out the list of upcoming exhibitions. Donations are accepted.
Klyde Warren Park
Downtown Dallas has the amazing Klyde Park – a modern playground build on top of the overpass. With a water play area and multiple climbing structures, this green space can become crowded with kid groups, but it’s a great rest for a busy day. The best part of our visit was the food trucks which arrive daily at lunch time (check out the lunch schedule here). With many food choices to pick from, we were able to each have a variety of food quickly. The bathroom on site at the park even a provides a place to clean up and refill water bottles. There aren’t many tables for eating your food, so you might want to bring a picnic blanket or be prepared to sit on the grass.
Love amazing playgrounds? Read this all about the gathering Place in Tulsa, Oklahoma
The Perot Museum in downtown Dallas is a four story science museum which you shouldn’t miss. With its impressive size, this could be a full day adventure if you’re up for it. Enjoy the view of downtown Dallas from the escalator on your way upstairs to see the dinosaurs, earth science, and natural science. For hands-on exploring, stay on the lower floors for robots and learning about your body. This museum is “adult-enough” that littler kids might get bored. And watch out for those field trips! This place gets busy.
For parking, there is a museum associated parking lot next to the museum; both times I’ve been, these have been full. There is additionally parking under the freeway across the street to pay at a kiosk ($10); however, you may be approached by homeless people. Just be alert.
Outside the entrance, your kids will want to play on the frogs or walk through the water or explore the outdoor musical section. This area alone functions as a small playground; allot plenty of time for this distraction. (Note to self: You don’t have to have a ticket to the museum to enjoy this area. Wink Wink.)
Details: This museum is one main reason I have an ASTC reciprocity membership to make it free! You don’t need a time slot – just show your card at the front desk (at least that’s what we did). Tickets are about $25 per person and need to be purchased ahead of time. The time slots fill up.
Want to save money on family road trips? Read “Museum Memberships: How to Save Money on Family Travel”
More Sights to See in Downtown Dallas
With so much to see in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, I haven’t been to some of these ever or in a very long time. However, they all come with highest recommendations from my distant memory or the habits of friends who live in the area.
- Dallas Aquarium – Pricey but fabulous and unique!
- Dallas Arboretum – Beautiful and offers reciprocity with other associated gardens.
- George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
- Dallas Zoo
- Reunion Tower
- Dallas Holocaust & Human Rights Museum
- Dallas Contemporary Art Museum