Top 10 Activities & Fun Things to Do in Fort Worth, Texas
Visiting Fort Worth, Texas? Here are the top 10 fun things to do!
I was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, and lived there for about 40 years. I moved away a couple of times, but always returned. While I now live about 75 miles away from Fort Worth, I visit as often as possible. What is the attraction to Fort Worth, Texas?
While Fort Worth is a large city, and fairly close to Dallas, it's still a laid back town. Originally, it was the last stop for cattlemen driving their herds on the Chisholm Trail.
Today, Fort Worth still pays homage to it's cowboy roots, yet also offers a wealth of activities. There are an abundance of restaurants and nightclubs, plus attractions and activities of all kinds. From riding a miniature train in the zoo, to two-stepping at Billy Bob's Texas, to exploring the museums and learning about Fort Worth's heritage, there is something for everyone in this city!
A Brief History of Fort Worth, Texas
Also known as Cowtown, USA
Fort Worth was the major rail shipping point for longhorn cattle and other livestock in the late 1800s. Between 1866 and 1890, more than 4 million longhorns came through Fort Worth, which caused the town to be nicknamed "Cowtown".
With so many cowboys and cattlemen in the city, an entertainment district blossomed several blocks south of the Courthouse area. This district, which is now downtown Fort Worth, became known all over the West as "Hell's Half Acre". It was filled with saloons, gambling parlors, shooting galleries, and dance halls, which in turn, attracted a rough mix of gamblers, cattlemen, and others of ill-repute.
In 1902, a Livestock Exchange was built in the Stockyards area, in addition to livestock pens and barns. With the influx of cattle, local businessmen saw the need for processing plants. Two plants were built adjacent to the Stockyards. One was Armour & Company, and the other was Swift & Company. These companies were among Fort Worth's major employers. Several of my relatives, including my grandfather, his cousin, and my father, all worked at Swift & Co. between the 1940s and 1970s.
#1 - The Fort Worth Stockyards
A visit to Fort Worth should always include a trip to the Fort Worth Stockyards. This area of town has many of the original buildings that were built in the 1800s and early 1900s. Some of them, including the livestock pens, have been converted to shops and restaurants. A few of the "must-see" attractions in the Fort Worth Stockyards include:
- Billy Bob's Texas - known as "the world's largest honky-tonk". Set on 3 acres, this huge nightclub celebrated it's grand opening on April 1, 1981. It offers an indoor rodeo arena for professional bull riding, a Texas-size dance floor, dozens of bar stations, plus restaurants, arcade games, a Wall of Fame with celebrity handprints, and a general store. Billy Bob's is open during the day, so take a look around if you like. At night, Billy Bob's come alive with the music of local and national bands. Willie Nelson, Cory Morrow, Randy Travis, 38 Special, and many more well-known artists perform here.
- Cowtown Coliseum - here's your chance to see Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Or, if you're a rodeo fan, Cowtown Coliseum offers Championship Rodeo every Friday and Saturday night at 8:00 pm.
- Fort Worth Herd & Cattle Drive - Cowboys drive longhorn cattle from one end of the Stockyards to the other. Cattle drives are at 11:30 am and 4:00 pm. It's best to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to drive, as it's usually standing room only.
- Cowtown Cattle Pen Maze - 5400 square feet of wooden pathways that resemble the cattle pens of the Old West. You can compete against the clock, or each other, while your friends look on from an elevated observation deck
- Grapevine Vintage Railroad - Take a ride in an authentic 1920s or 1930s coach, powered by either a steam or diesel vintage locomotive. The train runs round-trip between the Fort Worth Stockyards and Grapevine, Texas, and is about 1 hour, 15 minutes each way.
There are a number of restaurants and bars in Stockyard Station. My recommendations for food include: Riscky's Barbecue or Cattleman's Steakhouse. For bars, try Filthy McNasty's, The White Elephant Saloon, The Thirsty Armadillo, or The Stockyard Saloon.
The Stockyards is also home to the Stockyards Hotel. Take a step inside, as it is an unbelievable property! Plus, there is a wealth of shopping opportunities at Stockyard Station, where you can purchase hand-crafted Western boots, Texas souvenirs and foods, Country music, and much more. Make certain you have a full day to spend at the Fort Worth Stockyards!
#2 - Sundance Square
Downtown Fort Worth, Texas
Sundance Square, originally dubbed "Hell's Half Acre", is located in downtown Fort Worth. This area was named for the Sundance Kid, who was a regular visitor to the establishments in Hell's Half Acre. Other frequent visitors to Hell's Half Acre were Butch Cassidy, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.
Most of the buildings in Sundance Square were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some of these have been restored to provide an authentic touch to the Square. A few buildings of note include the Knights of Pythias Hall, built in 1901; the Land Title Building, from 1889; and the 1907 Jett Building.
Today, Sundance Square is one of the best entertainment districts in Fort Worth. There are a number of restaurants, from casual to elegant. Retailers include well-known businesses such as Barnes & Noble, in addition to such specialty boutiques as Earthbones and Retro Cowboy. For evening entertainment, Sundance Square offers two live theaters, several museums and art galleries; a movie theater; a comedy club, and quite a few live music venues.
If you're in Fort Worth in April, check out the Main Streets Arts Festival. The streets are closed to vehicles, and art booths run the length of the downtown area. Live music, festival food and street vendors are in abundance. The Main Street Arts Festival is a favorite of locals and tourists alike.
#3 - Bass Performance Hall
Bass Performance Hall is a state-of-the-art performance venue and permanent home to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Texas Ballet Theater, Fort Worth Opera, and the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Built entirely with private funds, Bass Hall opened in May 1998 and currently offers a vast array of exceptional entertainment. Ballet, opera, stage, musicals, Broadway shows, symphony and rock concerts are just a sampling of what you will find.
Bass Performance Hall is a beautiful building, both inside and out. It is renowned for its superb acoustics. Every seat provides a great sightline, although I recommend bringing a small pair of binoculars if you are in the nosebleed section.
Adjacent to the Bass Performance Hall complex, is McDavid Studio. A small live-music venue, with seating for about 200 people, McDavid's is popular with locals & tourists alike.
If you don't have the time or money to attend a show at Bass Hall, tours are available on Saturdays at 10:30 am. It is definitely an attraction that you don't want to miss!
#4 - Fort Worth Water Gardens
The Fort Worth Water Gardens is a park in downtown Fort Worth that mixes art, architecture, and water. It features three pools: the aerating pool, the quiet pool, and the active pool. It's a great place to relax after sightseeing in Sundance Square. Many of the employees of downtown Fort Worth businesses eat their lunches here in the warmer weather.
The aerating pool has fountains in it that give off a nice spray in the summer. The quiet pool is great when you want to think or read a book, as it is fairly quiet. The active pool has water running down a series of terraces to a small pit. Be warned, as it can be quite scary to walk down to the small pit!
Plan on staying a minimum of 30 minutes at the Fort Worth Water Gardens to enjoy the entire experience.
#5 - Fort Worth Cultural District
Museums, Galleries, Restaurants and Shopping
The Fort Worth Cultural District is just a few minutes from downtown. Here, you can walk to six world-class museums, three theaters, and the famous Will Rogers Center.
- The Amon Carter Museum
- Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
- Kimbell Art Museum
- Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
- National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
- Cattle Raisers Museum
Theaters are close to the museums, and include:
- Casa Manana - The first permanent theater designed for "theater in the round". It offers Broadways musicals, originals, and children's plays
- Omni Theater - the largest IMAX theater west of the Mississippi River. It is located in the Museum of Science & History
- Sanders Theatre - a small, intimate theatre featuring performances of music, theater, dance, poetry, or literature
- Scott Theater - Theater dedicated to the performances of Fort Worth artists, musicians, actors and dancers
The Fort Worth Cultural District also offers a multitude of art galleries, shops and boutiques. You can purchase fine art, antiques, and unique, hand-made items. After visiting the museums and shops, you'll also find a wide array of restaurants, from barbecue and hamburgers to continental cuisine. Kincaid's or Tommy's can't be beat if you love hamburgers. If you want a bit more than a burger, try lunch at the Kimbell Art Museum, which offers homemade soups, salads, sandwiches, quiche, and desserts.
#6 - Fort Worth Botanic Gardens
The Fort Worth Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in Texas. Located on 109 acres, it is home to over 2500 species of native & exotic plants. This is a great place to visit on a sunny afternoon to have a picnic, or eat at the Gardens Restaurant.
One of the highlights of the Fort Worth Botanic Garden is the Japanese Garden. It is set on 7 acres, withh paths winding through the trees and plants. There are koi ponds with thousands of fish, and feeding is allowed.
Another favorite area of the Botanic Garden is the Conservatory. It is filled with all kinds of exotic plants and trees, such as orchids and bromeliads. Paths run throughout the 10,000 square feet of the Conservatory, giving you ample opportunity to discover and observe the tropical foliage.
The Rose Garden is favored by couples wanting an ideal setting for their wedding. During the spring & summer months, it's more common than not to find a wedding ceremony being performed in this garden. I have attended several here over the years, and they are beautiful!
During the summer months, the Fort Worth Symphony holds "Concerts in the Garden". These are really popular, and sell out well in advance. On July 4th, the Symphony performs a special concert, complete with fireworks at the end.
In all, there are 23 specialty gardens at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. While it's possible to visit all of them in one day, you might wish to visit here on multiple days
The Fort Worth Botanic Garden is open 7 days a week. From Monday through Saturday, the Gardens open at 8:00 am, and close at dusk. On Sundays, hours are from 1:00 pm until dusk.
#7 - Fort Worth Zoo
The Fort Worth Zoo is the oldest zoo in Texas. When it first opened in 1909, the Fort Worth Zoo had a lion, two bear cubs, an alligator, a coyote, a peacock, and a few rabbits. It has grown a great deal over the years, and now has nearly 5000 native and exotic animals. Tigers & cheetahs, apes, raptors, snakes, fish, penguins, rhinos, and Komodo dragons are just a few of the animals that live at the Fort Worth Zoo. There is even an entire 8-acre section dedicated to the animals of Texas, called "Texas Wild!".
Years ago, the Fort Worth Zoo had a Carnival-like section with midway rides and games. There are still a few of these attractions, and if you have limited time or money, I suggest the miniature train ride and the petting "zoo".
The Texas Wild! Petting Corral has domestic animals of Texas, including goats, a longhorn calf, chickens, an armadillo, turtles, corn snakes, and a hog. You aren't allowed to feed them, but you can pet them all you wish!
Other attractions include the Merry-Go-Round, a Playbarn for toddlers, a rock climbing wall, and the Wild West Shooting Gallery.
The Zoo is one of the most popular destinations in Fort Worth among both locals and tourists. Approximately one million people visit the Zoo every year. It is located just a few miles south of the Botanic Gardens and Cultural district. If you plan on visiting the Fort Worth Zoo on multiple occasions, plan on purchasing a membership to save on admission and parking.
#8 - Log Cabin Village
As a child, all elementary schools provided field trips to Log Cabin Village so we could learn how the pioneers lived. I've been back to Log Cabin Village several times as an adult, and find that it is still an enjoyable, educational experience.
Log Cabin Village is located near the Fort Worth Zoo. It is a collection of actual log cabins & shops that were moved from their original locations, restored, then set up like a village. Each of the log houses displays a different aspect of pioneer life. Staff & volunteers wear period clothing, and educate visitors on what it was like to live & work during the 1800s.
In addition to the log homes, the Village includes a blacksmith shop, a gristmill, a one-room school house, and an herb garden. There is also a gift shop on property where you can purchase souvenirs.
Log Cabin Village is open Tuesday through Sunday. It is closed on Mondays. You might wish to call ahead before visiting. If there is a group scheduled for that day, you might wish to visit at another time.
#9 - Trinity Trails
Trinity Trails are a network of more than 30 miles of paved trails than run along the Trinity River and its tributaries. The trails connect 21 parks, including Heritage Park, Forest Park, the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and the Cultural District. It also connects to the Stockyards, the Fort Worth Zoo, downtown Fort Worth, and Log Cabin Village.
Roller blades and bicycles are allowed on the trails, in addition to walkers and joggers. Some portions are open to horseback riders. Trail hours are from 5:00 am until 10:00 pm.
Along the trail, you'll find river crossings, trees, benches, misting stations, and parks. You might encounter people walking their dogs, or fishing in the Trinity River. During the week, it's not very crowded. However, on weekends, Trinity Trails is heavily populated.
It's best to take a map with you, and be certain to familiarize yourself with the routes before starting out. In addition, take bottled water with you, as some of the routes do not have water fountains.
#10 - Water Activities in Fort Worth
Fishing, Boating & Swimming Activities
Several lakes are in the vicinity of Fort Worth, although not in the city limits. If you'd like to go fishing, boating, swimming, camping, or just spend some time outdoors, there are a number of options available.
Benbrook Lake is just to the southwest of Fort Worth, about 10 miles from downtown Fort Worth. It offers a couple of marinas, boat ramps, designated swimming areas, and horseback riding trails. The predominate fish in Benbrook Lake are largemouth bass, white and hybrid striped bass, channel and blue catfish, and crappie.
Lake Worth is west of Fort Worth, and home to the mythical "Lake Worth Monster", a half man, half goat beast. The lake is a great place for swimming, as there are a number of city parks along its banks. The fishing is excellent, and it is not unknown to catch blue catfish over 40 pounds. In addition to fishing, other popular activities include water skiing, boating and personal watercraft activities.
Eagle Mountain Lake is popular among area residents who enjoy sailing and water skiing. It is located about 20 minutes west of Fort Worth. There are a number of marinas and boat ramps, in addition to public parks. Eagle Mountain Park has 400 acres of walking & hiking trails, and there is a camp on the north side of the lake. Fishing is excellent for crappie and white bass.
Burger's Lake is a 30 acre park with a spring-fed lake. It is located near the Joint Reserve Base in west Fort Worth. It offers two sandy beaches, diving boards, a rope trapeze, a 20-foot slide, volleyball courts, BBQ grills, and picnic tables. It is open from Mother's Day through Labor Day each year. The water is filtered, so if you don't like dirty lake water, you'll enjoy swimming at Burger's Lake. Keep in mind that pets and alcohol are not permitted.
Need More Information on These Fun Things in Fort Worth?
For even more information on these fun things to do in Fort Worth, visit the following links:
- Fort Worth Stockyards
Official site of the Fort Worth Stockyards provides information on shopping, attractions, restaurants and music.
- Bass Performance Hall
On the official website for Bass Performance Hall, you will find a calendar of events, information on the Hall and McDavid's Studio, ticket information, a seating chart, and more.
- Fort Worth Botanic Garden
Official website for the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. Provides information on the Gardens, Restaurant, weddings, educational programs and more.
- Fort Worth Cultural District
Guide to the museums, entertainment venues, shops, galleries and restaurants in the Fort Worth Cultural District.
- Fort Worth Zoo
Official website for the Fort Worth Zoo. It provides information on hours, parking, maps, exhibits, attractions, and educational opportunities. Use this site to help plan your visit, so you can make the best use of your time.
- Log Cabin Village
Information, events, directions and information about Log Cabin Village in Fort Worth