Tuesday, March 5, 2013

spring break guide: hometown tourist

When was the last time you drove around your hometown and thought to yourself, "Self, I live in a really cool place,"? Yeah, thought so. It's so easy to take for granted the cool places you live in because you're so used to everything. You've been to the attractions, you've eaten at the restaurants, you know the roads back and forth. But to an outsider, your town may be the coolest place ever.

If you're not doing anything this Spring Break but going home, take this opportunity to re-explore your hometown as a "hometown tourist." Go to all the touristy locales, eat places you've never eaten at before, use a GPS to get to where you're going, even if you've been there before. Get to know your hometown all over again as an outsider would. 

I can't speak for every major city in Texas, but I can speak for my hometown: Fort Worth. I've lived in the Fort Worth area since I was four, so I'm pretty familiar with the area. I have my favorite places to eat, shop, and hang out, and can direct tourists to the coolest places that a travel guide can't tell them. But when was the last time I actually went to some of the "touristy" places and took it in as a traveler would? Years, probably. Maybe even not since I saw them for the first time.

Whether you're a Fort Worth local or a fellow Texan interested in seeing this grand city for yourself, here are some of the major things to see and do while being a "hometown tourist":

Go to the museum

Lucky for me, this one is almost too easy. Fort Worth boasts several renowned museums, including the Kimball Art Museum, the Modern Art Museum, the Museum of Science and History, the National Cowgirl Museum (which I am in, holla!), the Texas Civil War Museum, and the Amon Carter Museum. Phew! If you're interested in seeing amazing art galleries or getting a glimpse into rich Texas history, you're going to want to visit a few of these awesome museums. I'm definitely wanting to go to the Museum of Science and History to see the Titanic exhibit - I'm a huge Titanic nerd, so this sounds so cool!

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History

In case you were wondering why the heck I'm in the National Cowgirl Museum...

Go to a famous attraction

The most popular attraction in Fort Worth is definitely the Stockyards. This area of Fort Worth has an Old Western feel that will take you back to the days of cowboys and stagecoaches. Visit Stockyard Station for some boot shopping and good eating, the Cowboy Hall of Fame for some history, or see the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo if you're visiting in January or February. Other things to visit when the weather is warm are the Botanic Garden and Water Gardens, filled with beautiful landscaping and botany, and the Log Cabin Village, which is an interactive museum that gives you a glimpse into the lives of the Pioneers. Fort Worth is teeming with culture!

Fort Worth Stockyards

Also, just a few miles away in Arlington (which is NOT Fort Worth NOR Dallas), you have Six Flags Over Texas, Hurricane Harbor, the Rangers Ballpark, and Jerry World (Cowboy Stadium), all of which are super fun places to go. Catch a game, ride some awesome roller coasters, or pay $10 for a bucket of popcorn (I'm serious. Jerry World's concessions are the worst).

See that wooden one at the bottom? I got stuck on the top of that when I was 8.

Go to the zoo

Also lucky is that Fort Worth has a world-renowned zoo. It is ranked #5 by USA Travel Guide's Top 10 Zoos in America and was named a top zoo by USA Today, Family Life, and the LA Times. It is home to over 5,000 different animals, both native and exotic, and house many really cool exhibits, such as Penguins, World of Primates, Australian Outback, African Savannah, Texas Wild! and the Museum of Living Art (MOLA). If you do ANYTHING in Fort Worth, go to the zoo! 

Fort Worth Zoo

Go downtown

Over the past 20 years, the city of Fort Worth and the Bass family have done a lot to clean up the downtown area (called Sundance Square) and make it more metropolitan. Now, it is full of restaurants, shopping, and my favorite attraction, Bass Hall. Bass Hall is THE place to see musicals, symphonies, ballets, operas, and rock concerts. There is also decent nightlife, although I personally have never gotten to experience it (21 in 7 months!). If you go in April, be sure to check out the Main Street Arts Festival to see beautiful paintings, sculptures, crafts, and photography from local artists. 

Downtown Fort Worth. My daddy works in one of those buildings.

Another really trendy area of town is West 7th. It has a two-story Movie Tavern and lots of stylish boutiques and awesome food. Sometimes, you can even catch some live music during the warmer months. 
West 7th Street

Go eat

Between all your tourist activities, you're going to want to stop and refuel. While normally I would recommend Urbanspoon, it can be difficult to navigate if you're not from the area because you won't know which part of Fort Worth to select. I would try to plan ahead using an app like TripAdvisor so you know ahead of time which restaurants are in which areas. But some of my favorite local places to eat are:

Love Shack - Burgers - West 7th and Stockyards
Fuzzy's Tacos - Mexican - TCU
Chubby's Burgers - Burgers - West Ft. Worth
Sushi Axiom - Sushi - Hulen
Margie's - Italian - Camp Bowie
Bombay Grill - Indian - Hulen
Terra Mediterranean - Mediterranean - West 7th
Zeke's Fish and Chips - Seafood - Camp Bowie
Edelweiss - German - Bluebonnet Traffic Circle
Spiral Diner - Vegan - Downtown
Joe T. Garcia's - Mexican - Stockyards
Parton's Pizza - Pizza - West Ft. Worth

But no matter where you go, whether you choose to eat at a local dive or Chick-fil-A, I encourage you to try something new that you can't get at home. It makes the experience that much better.

The patio area at Joe T. Garcia's

Go dancing

If you're feeling in a country mood, Billy Bob's Texas is the place to go. Think Harry's times ten. They have a huge dance floor, a bull machine, a restaurant, a gift shop, and much more. Most people go for the awesome concerts for country stars such as Dwight Yoakam, Randy Travis, David Allan Coe, Kyle Park, The Band Perry, Josh Abbott Band, Willie Nelson, Ted Nugent...you get the idea. A lot of famous people play at Billy Bob's. Whether you're wanting to dance to a house band or check our your favorite country artist, you've got to go to Billy Bob's. 

Billy Bob's Texas

Go be a college kid...somewhere else

This may sound sacrilegious, but I love the TCU campus. It is absolutely gorgeous. One of my favorite areas of town is the area surrounding TCU because it's just another college town...but it's not MY college town, so I'm not exposed to it every day. There's plenty of cheap eats and bars to satisfy your home-away-from-home-sickness, and you'll still be surrounded by people your own age...they'll just prefer purple to maroon.

Riff ram bah zoo? ...nah

And now for a few don'ts...

Don't go to the same ol' haunts

If you're going to take this seriously, you HAVE to go to new places. Otherwise, it's just a normal day. Go to different restaurants, shop at different stores, explore new parts of the city. It's the only way to really get to know your city from a different set of eyes.

Don't act like a local

I know it's tempting to go to the museum or the zoo and stroll through quickly because you've seen everything before, maybe several times. But really try to take the time to look at things as an outsider would. If you want to really act like a tourist, dress like one - wear ridiculous clothes and fanny packs. Ask for directions, even if you don't need them. Use a GPS to get everywhere. Really act like you're visiting your hometown for the first time.

Don't under-appreciate your hometown

When you're accustomed to a place, it's so easy to forget all the beauty that lies within it. This whole experience is meant to provide you with a new perspective on the place you grew up in. Think of how different things would be if you had grown up somewhere else, how different you would be if you weren't shaped by your city's own unique culture. Try to use this as a way to learn to appreciate your hometown all over again. 

If you're interested in touring your hometown, I suggest apps like TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon so you can find new places to go. If you're interested in visiting Fort Worth because it sounded really cool (aww, shucks), leave a comment and I'd be ecstatic to give you more information! 

Much love,

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