You’d think, with it’s enormous reputation in the American Imagination, the term ‘larger than life’ should be attached to any description of Dallas. But this is not so: with big buildings, big roads, big cars, big homes, and even bigger hair, Dallas more than fills its big boots. And all of that living large comes with a big budget. Sure, Dallas is more affordable than those big coastal cities, but that has a lot to do with its hefty suburban footprint and correspondingly low home prices. Taking advantage of all of its big city offerings–world-class museums, fine restaurants, stylish bars, operas, orchestras, and more–is still going to cost you a pretty penny. But that’s why we’re here: to show you how to live large on the cheap in the Big D.
Keeping on topic, let’s talk big: at 68 acres, the Dallas Arts District is by area the largest of its kind in the United States, and with four Pritzker prize-winning buildings is also one of its most impressive. Admission into many of these buildings is often similarly sizable. Fortunately, the big-hearted Texans behind many of these museums offer special days that are either free to the public, to certain disadvantaged members of the public, or are deeply discounted.
The Dallas Museum of Art, for example, is perhaps the premier attraction of the Arts District and is totally free to everyone on the first Tuesday of the month from 11am-5pm. On Thursdays from 5-9pm students and educators with a current Texas school ID receive free admission. Likewise, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra offers free community concerts, mostly during the summer. The 2012 season is over, and the 2013 schedule has yet to be released (though Memorial Day is always a shoe-in) so bookmark this page and check back in a few months. The Nasher Sculpture Center is free the First Saturday of the month from 10am-5pm. With a half-acre sculpture garden and an award-winning building by architect Renzo Piano, it’s worth it to just wonder around, let alone examine the fine collection of art.
Housed in what is arguably the most striking building in the entire Arts District, the Dallas Opera can get extremely expensive. Thankfully, they often offer online specials for current performances. Follow this link for 20% off Aida, their current show (the promo brings ticket prices down to $15, about the price of a 3D movie. And hey, this actually is art).
Over on the Southern Methodist University campus, the Meadows Museum houses one of the finest galleries of Spanish Art in the nation, and is free Thursday evenings after 5pm. Other museums, both inside the Arts District and out, are always free. These include the Dallas African American Museum, which houses one of the largest collections of African American folk art in the nation, and the Dallas Hall of State Museum at Fair Park, which contains one of the largest collections of art deco architecture in North America. The Crow Collection of Asian Art (in the Arts District) is also always free, though a $7 donation is suggested. Also, there are free tours every Thursday at 6:30pm and every Saturday at 1:00pm. On ‘Tranquil Tuesdays’ the museum hosts free meditation classes. The museum also hosts an annual Chinese New Year Celebration every year in January or February.
Prefer your art outside? Dallas still has sizable solutions. Six full blocks of the Deep Ellum entertainment district are shut down for the Arts Festival, a free three-day event that features over 200 artists as well as 100 musical acts performing on five different stages. The 2013 festival kicks off on April 5th. Be warned that to eat at any of the food stalls you’ll be required to purchase coupons, which come at $10 a roll. The Dallas Public Art Walk, on the other hand, can be experienced any time of the year. There are some phenomenal pieces of public art and architecture sprinkled about the Downtown and Arts Districts, and this 3.3 mile self-guided tour will take you past the best of them.
Or would you prefer to skip all the art, and have your historyoutside instead? You can do that, too–and it’ll still be big. Head out to the Dallas Heritage Village, a 20-acre park that features the largest collection of 19th century pioneer and commercial buildings in Texas. Many of the buildings were actually moved here from other locations throughout north-central Texas. It’s $9 to get in, but children attend for free on the third Sunday of every month.
If you simply prefer your outside outside, without all that art or music or history, than Dallas still has you covered in a big way. The Texas Discovery Gardens features 7.5 acres of botanical gardens in Fair Park, and is 100% organic, maintained with sustainable resources, and is free on Tuesdays. If you think that’s big, the Cedar Ridge Preserve sprawls across 640 acres of parkland. With seven miles of trails, plenty of picnic areas, and a variety of terrain, you’ll never be without something to do in this prodigious pocket of paradise.
Honorable Mentions: The J. Erik Jonsson Central Library has free wifi and free computer access open to the public. Oh yeah, and you can catch a glimpse of one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence. Shakespeare Dallas holds ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ free performances through June and July.
When it comes to a food scene, the Big D still goes big. While most dining spots worthy of magazine coverage will put a fat dent in your wallet, there are still a few budget gems to be found around D-town. One of the most notable is the Dallas Farmer’s Market–one of the largest of its type in the nation–which offers up fresh, locally-grown produce. It’s very possible to make a meal out of all the free samples.
Dallas is famous for its barbeque, and some of its best joints offer up some of the most succulent deals. Take, for example, the $4.99 BBQ sandwiches (pulled pork, pulled chicken, turkey, sausage or ham) or $6.99 Po boys at Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse. Or head to Lockhart’s BBQ for the $5.99 ¼ lb of smoked beef brisket with two sides, the $5.49 the pulled pork, or the $3.59 the smoked ham.
If burgers are your thing, try the turkey burger, hamburger, bean burger or all beef hot dogs at Twisted Root Burger Co. for $5.99. at Twisted Root Burger Co.–you customize them from there. Game meats like venison, elk, emu, lamb, ostrich, boar, kangaroo, and alligator are also available. Or go for $2 burgers, $2.15 cheeseburgers, and $2.48 for the house Special No. 5 at Keller’s Drive-in on Harry Hines Blvd.
You’re in the South, after all, so go for some comfort food: $5.50 for a 3pc combo (1 leg, 1 thigh, 1 wing) with fries and bread or 2 pieces of dark meat with fries for $4 at Big Mama’s Chicken and Waffles. Or get the Texas Dog (covered with mustard and jalapenos) at the Dog Stop for only $2.75.
Don’t go thirsty in the Bid D: $2.50 wells, $3 domestics, frozen drinks, and house wine, and $3.50 premium mixed drinks and import beers during the Grapevine Bar’s wide-ranging happy hour (all day Sunday-Tuesday, 3pm-7pm Wednesdays through Saturdays). The rooftop deck, with its view of Dallas’s skyline, is highly recommended.
Happy Hour at the Double Wide (Monday-Friday 5-9pm) means $2 wells and domestics. $3 U-Call-its on Sundays, $3 pints on Wednesdays, and a special happy hour with karaoke till 10pm on Thursday nights. They also feature live music on certain nights, often with a cheap cover charge (~$5).
Primo’s Tex Mex slings $3 domestic pints, house ritas, wells, and house wines Monday-Friday from 3-7pm. You can find more specials on their extensive drink special calendar here.
Frankie’s Bar also offers an extensive list of weekly drink specials, like $3 Martini Mondays, $2.50 PBR tall boy Tuesdays, ½ price craft beer and wine Wednesdays and more.
Take an old-fashioned trolley into Uptown Dallas for free on the M-Line, the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority’s touristy-yet-functional brainchild. Its 27 stops will drop you off or pick you up in close proximity to many of Dallas’s best attractions, including the Art District.
Dallas is a famously-sprawling city whose suburbs are so far-flung they merge with one of Texas’s other major cities, Fort Worth. Such sprawl makes DFW notoriously reliant upon the car-and-freeway system, but Dallas has a surprising light-rail system with four useful lines and counting. They’re well-connected to the bus system as well, which should only be used for short trips given the city’s notorious traffic. Single rides cost $1.75 for a local trip or $3.50 to travel anywhere in the system. All-day passes cost $4 for local trips or $7 for system trips, while monthly passes cost $65 for local trips or $100 for system trips.
Did we miss anything? We beg you, let us know–for the sake of your common (wo)man–in the comments below!