Fort Worth is one of seven iconic Western towns featured in our 2017 Best of the West issue.
Fort Worth. It’s a tale of two cities. And no, we’re not talking about Big D, a 30-mile hyphen away. Just FW, where the locals are warm and friendly and the authentic Old West meets the exciting New West seamlessly.
The town shoulders enough buzzwords to last at least another century. “Where the West begins.” “The Museum Capital of the World.” “The Wall Street of the West.” “Home of the World’s First Indoor Rodeo.” “The City of Cowboys and Culture.” “The Real Home Town of Dallas’ Larry Hagman.”
Cowboys once drove 3 million head of cattle through what is now downtown Fort Worth on to the historic Stockyards, which went on to become the second largest in the nation behind Chicago’s. Today, tourists from all over come by the millions — some 6.5 million annually — to experience everything from learning to two-step at the World’s Largest Honky Tonk to gazing upon the only Michelangelo in the Americas.
This former U.S. Army fort, Chisholm Trail cowboy depot, and cattle-trading hub boasts both a proud Texas past and a trailblazing future. It’s a storied city with Cowtown and culture in its DNA.
“It’s my favorite city on the planet,” says singer, poet, radio personality, and television host Red Steagall, whose annual Cowboy Gathering takes place here in “the heartthrob of the cattle industry” every October. Steagall has lived 20 miles west of town for 40 years, and his family’s been in North Texas for four generations on both sides. “We always considered Fort Worth Mecca,” he says. “It is the only city I have ever been in that has its own character and its own soul. ... It not only exemplifies the image of the West, it lives it.”
From the historic Stockyards to the stately Cultural District to the sophisticated downtown, the tale of today’s Fort Worth is one for the best of times.
Fort Worth’s hallowed cattle-trading grounds, now preserved as the Stockyards National Historic District, earned the nickname “Wall Street of the West” in its heyday. Today the Stockyards are one of Texas’ top tourist attractions and a living tribute to the city’s Old West heritage and iconic residents, all honored at the Stockyards Museum, Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, and Texas Trail of Fame. The district’s signature twice-daily happening is the Fort Worth Herd, an 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. longhorn cattle drive along visitor-lined Exchange Avenue. Friday and Saturday nights offer the district’s other main year-round event: Stockyard Championship Rodeo at the legendary Cowtown Coliseum. Pop in to the Stockyards Hotel, which has been welcoming cowboys, cattle barons, and country music stars since 1907. And if you’re not quite looking the part yet, The Stockyards have got you covered from hat to boot to home to horse. Stop in at M.L. Leddy's for everything from custom boots and buckles to saddles; The Best Hat Store for the tops in felt and straw; and Rios for hip rustic interiors. Cap off your shopping spree with a Westernwear-athon and a cold one at the in-store bar at Maverick, where valued clientele like Eric Clapton and Loretta Lynn have gone before.
DO THE HONKY-TONK
If Billy Bob’s Texas — aka “the World’s Largest Honky Tonk” and 12-time “Country Music Club of the Year” — was any larger, it could apply for official state park status. Housed in the Stockyards on the site of a former prize-cattle barn (with brief stints as a WWII airplane factory and enormous 1950s department store), Fort Worth’s landmark good-times Mecca provides enough floor space (100,000 square feet), bar stations (30), wholesome Texas grub (try the chicken-fried steak or Burning Bubba Burger), live music stars (Willie Nelson, Randy Travis, and ZZ Top have all performed here), and weekend Pro Bull Riding events at its indoor arena to satisfy you and your 6,000 new boot-scootin’ best friends.
JUST GET A PAIR
Few world-famous brands are as proudly roped to a single town as Justin Boots. The Fort Worth-headquartered cowboy footwear standard bearer — helmed for decades by legendary local bootmaker, businessman, Stock Show and Rodeo chairman, and city mayor John Justin Jr. — would effectively turn a once-dying niche product into an American fashion statement and the extension of jeans. With more than 15,000 pairs of Western boots, work boots, and casuals to choose from, finding the perfect fit at the company’s hometown factory outlet (717 W. Vickery Blvd.) shouldn’t be tough.
SEEK CULTURE AND COUTURE
World-class art museums rule in the Fort Worth Cultural District — home to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Kimbell Art Museum, and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Give the gals their due at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, and see what’s on at the 120-acre Will Rogers Memorial Center, which hosts everything from livestock shows to equestrian competitions. From there, it’s an easy hop to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, where serenity and koi-pond beauty await at the famed Japanese Garden. Just a couple of miles away and a world apart, downtown Fort Worth’s bustling 35-block commercial hub and ode to its (fashion) forward-thinking residents is Sundance Square — a boutique- and boîte-filled revitalization opus lined with red-brick streets, leafy courtyards, and jetted, LED-lit fountains. Find the three-story-high Chisholm Trail Mural, artist Richard Haas’ homage to Fort Worth’s historic cattle drives, and don’t miss the Sid Richardson Museum, famed for its collection of Wild West paintings by Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington. Then hit the trendy Bird Café for a cold brew; on its people-watching patio, which puts you in good position for a pop-up performance on the plaza, reflect on how this square — named after exactly that Sundance, who prowled these very streets with buddy Butch back in the day — was once lined with saloons and thirsty cowboys hitting the Chisholm Trail.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
For a well-reenacted look at how it was when Fort Worth was indeed a fort, the 16th annual Frontier Fort Days transforms Exchange Avenue into a 19th-century encampment of early Republic life during a free two-day heritage event in the Stockyards (May 12 – 13). If you’re in town for Independence Day, celebrate it at Billy Bob’s Texas’ 4th of July Picnic. Come on back for two top cowboy-saluting events: National Day of the American Cowboy (July 22), and the Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering and Western Swing Festival, happening for the 27th time October 27 – 29.
More info: fortworth.com