In 1865, when Texas found itself in an economic depression, its population of wild Longhorn cattle—which had grown to nearly five million during the Civil War—had the potential to serve as a major source of income. But demand in Texas and its surrounding states was low at the time. To capitalize, Texans would need to sell these assets elsewhere: enter the cattle drive. Serving as a critical economic lifeline, cattle drives led by cowboys, or “drovers,” took herds of wild Longhorn cattle north to market, where they could be sold for a significantly higher price. One of the most famous cattle drive routes, Chisholm Trail, ran from San Antonio through Oklahoma and Kansas, making a stop in Fort Worth, Texas.
From the mid-to-late 1800s, Fort Worth—eventually known as Cowtown—was the epicenter of cattle buying and trading in the United States. In 1876, Texas & Pacific Railway made its way to the area, solidifying the city as one of the largest livestock-trading centers in the United States. By the mid-1950s, the industry began to decline alongside the railroads, although its storied legacy remains. Today, Fort Worth’s history is at the forefront of its narrative (particularly in the Historic Stockyards District), but the city doesn’t dwell in the past. Rather, Fort Worth uses its story to maintain a sense of authenticity and groundedness while continuing to evolve.
Recently, this growth has come in the form of a $500 million redevelopment and revitalization of the Stockyards. A new luxury hotel, a 26,000-square-foot live music venue, and a collection of carefully restored and repurposed 100-year-old horse and mule barns have joined Fort Worth’s year-round rodeo, the world’s largest Honky Tonk, and the famed twice-daily Longhorn cattle drives. This evolution is also found outside of the Historic District. Most notably, the National Juneteenth Museum, which will live alongside the upcoming African American Museum, is set to break ground in 2023. Whether you’ve never been to Cowtown or you’re visiting for the first time since the Stockyards’ redevelopment, here is our guide to where to stay and the best things to do in Fort Worth.
Getting to and around Fort Worth
Fort Worth can be accessed by either Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport or Dallas Love Field, the city’s smaller, regional airport. Both are about 30 minutes from downtown, and getting an Uber or Lyft is relatively straightforward. The Stockyards Historic District is incredibly walkable—and it’s even legal to stroll around with an alcoholic drink à la New Orleans and Savannah. Public transportation options include the citywide bus system, Trinity Metro, and Molly the Trolley—a vintage-style trolley that runs every 15 minutes (from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm), seven days a week. The route is designed as a loop, extending from Fort Worth Convention Center to Sundance Square, with several stops along the way, including Trinity Metro’s Fort Worth Central Station and Fort Worth Water Gardens. You can hop on or off as needed; tickets are not required.
Best things to do in Fort Worth
Embracing cowboy culture is par for the course here. As you turn off North Main Street and onto East Exchange Avenue, you’ll enter the Historic Stockyards. A popular filming location (the first two episodes of Taylor Sheridan’s miniseries, 1883, recently shot here), the neighborhood is arguably the city’s main attraction. Cowboy hats and boots are a common choice of apparel for those meandering through the Old West atmosphere—and they fit right in during the cattle drive, which brings the Fort Worth herd through town every day at 11:30 am and 4 pm. A decidedly tourist event, yes, but it’s also something travelers should do at least once while there. Sightseeing in Fort Worth also includes absorbing history inside the Livestock Exchange (once called the "Wall Street of the West”), the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, and “John Wayne: An American Experience Exhibit,” which gives visitors a closer look at the actor who embodied the American West.
The Stockyards are far from just a collection of museums and historical markers, though. Cowtown Coliseum hosts weekly rodeos, sporting events, and concerts, and live music is on the agenda at the legendary Billy Bob’s, the Rodeo Music Stage, and Tannahill’s Tavern & Music Hall. The latter opened in the fall of 2022 inside one of the neighborhood’s mule barns. Shopping along Mule Alley, the pedestrian-friendly promenade lined with stores and restaurants, may result in a new pair of Lucchese boots; the iconic Texas brand has a ready-to-wear store on Exchange Avenue as well as a bespoke experience inside Hotel Drover. Here, customers can participate in the boot-fitting process—which hasn’t changed since the brand was founded in 1883—and design a pair of cowboy boots with their chosen style, height, material, colors, and embroidery.
You could easily spend a weekend inside the Stockyards District, but you’d be remiss not to venture out to the Kimbell Art Museum, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, or the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. Before the strong Texas sun reaches its height, a jog, walk, or horseback ride along the city’s Trinity Trails is a great way to take in Fort Worth from a different perspective.
Fort Worth’s growth extends to its culinary scene spearheaded by classic Texan cuisine (Goldee’s Barbecue was a 2023 James Beard semifinalist) and Mexican-inspired meals; Don Artemio also received a nomination for Best New Restaurant in the same year. Old favorites like Joe T. Garcia’s, which has been feeding guests since 1935, and Lonesome Dove are joined by newer destinations like Mule Alley’s Second Rodeo Brewing and Provender Hall. Brunch at Reata and rooftop drinks at Ático should also be added to the itinerary. Food may be the secondary priority at Side Saddle Saloon and White Elephant Saloon, but saddling up to the bar is a prerequisite for a complete initiation to Fort Worth.
Best hotels in Fort Worth
In just two short years, Hotel Drover, an Autograph Collection Hotel by Marriott, has become the de facto Fort Worth hotel. Seated at the end of Mule Alley, the 200-room property takes the area’s history and spirit of the West (the name nods to the cattlemen and women who brought the Longhorns to market) and expertly weaves it into its interior design and amenities. Skillful curation ensures your stay is a unique experience—one accented by the lobby’s life-size hybrid metal “Drover” sculpture at the entrance and the hotel’s impressive collection of Texas-inspired artwork.
If you’re looking for accommodation outside of the Stockyards, Omni Fort Worth and The Ashton are located further South, in the downtown area. The former is ideal for weekday business travel—given its close proximity to venues like the convention center and the Fort Worth Club—and the latter offers more of a boutique feel, with only 39 guest rooms and a can’t-miss afternoon tea on Saturdays. No matter where you choose to get your shut-eye in Fort Worth, though, there’s no missing the city’s authentic appreciation of its past and its steadfast march toward the future.