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Shops on Houston Street in the Sundance Square district of downtown Fort Worth (Photograph by Ian Dagnall/Alamy Stock Photo)

Why Locals Love Fort Worth

There’s a deep-rooted sense of home in Fort Worth, even for new visitors. You immediately feel at ease because everyone seems at ease.

Billing itself as the city of “Cowboys and Culture,” Texas’s fifth largest town is proud of its Wild West attractions, such as the historic Fort Worth Stockyards, and well-known cultural draws like the acclaimed Kimbell Art Museum and the Fort Worth Opera, one of the oldest opera companies in the U.S.

Fort Worth native June Naylor, a travel and food writer who has seen much of the world, says she views the city anew with each homecoming.

“I’ve always thought of it as a place that is as at home in boots and jeans as in silk and pearls,” she says, “as happy with a platter of smoked brisket and an icy longneck [beer] as with foie gras and champagne.”

Eager to discover one of America’s fastest-growing cities, I embarked on my visit by enlisting in-the-know residents as my guides to the best in what to do, see, and eat.

Here’s what locals love about Fort Worth:

> Big City Amenities, Small Town Charm

Nearly every local I speak with mentions the friendliness of Fort Worth, something I’ll experience multiple times a day.

“It’s the biggest little city ever,” says photographer Cherry Werner. “Neighbors are truly the ‘borrow a cup of sugar’ kind.”

The city is also the perfect size. It doesn’t take me more than ten minutes to drive my rental car across town. McKenzie Zieser, a communications specialist with the Blue Zones Project, agrees: “You can pretty much get from one place to another in under 15 minutes, and each district offers a completely unique personality.”

Holland Sanders, who works with the Fort Worth Opera, loves the city’s vibrant community feel and western heritage. Along with “cowboys and culture,” she notes, there is a fast-growing indie scene composed of local musicians, foodies, artists, and cool new venues that house them all.

“It’s as if there’s an undercurrent that is infusing Fort Worth with new energy,” she says.

> The Great Outdoors

Fort Worth’s moderate climate allows for outdoor exploration much of the year.

Zieser recommends paddleboarding on Lake Worth. “The lake is a beautiful hidden gem. Only 15 minutes from downtown, it feels like a natural oasis.”

The Forest Park Miniature Railroad is a favorite with Becky Fetty, marketing director for Downtown Fort Worth. “The train ride takes about 30 minutes and travels over the Trinity River, under bridges, through a beautiful park, and even makes a stop where you can purchase popcorn and a soft drink before returning to the station,” she says.“It’s fun for the kid in everyone.”

For Wendell Nelson, who has been giving dance lessons at famed Billy Bob’s for more than 30 years, the Fort Worth Water Gardens, downtown, are a must-see. “You’ll find a spray pool colored by constant rainbows, a quiet meditation pool, and an active pool where water seems to cascade onto you,” he says. “I love to see jaws drop when people see it for the first time. It’s like being in the middle of a whirlpool.”

> Cool Culture

Movies and entertainment are a top priority for investment banker and filmmaker Porter Farrell: “We love the film series at the Modern Art Museum, and there’s a great theater called the Movie Tavern, where you can order food.”

Megan Henderson recommends a concert at Shipping & Receiving, a bar in South Main Village. It’s a community watering hole, a beer garden, and “an all-around cool place to grab a picnic table, soak in the tunes, and suck down some suds,” she says. “It’s also one of the best music venues in the city, with friendly bartenders and an awesome historic building.”

Henderson also points visitors to Thistle Hill, a 1904 mansion that represents one of the last grand homes from the cattle-baron era. Now a popular local wedding venue, it offers guided tours four days a week.

Maybe because she works with the opera, Sanders loves fashion. Her picks for locally owned boutiques include Beehive, Esther Penn, and ReVint for lovers of retro finds.

> The Icons

Every visitor, Cherry Werner says, has to see the Stockyards and Sundance Square (bustling with retail and food spots), attend the Stock Show and Rodeo (“it fills your heart with Texas pride”)—and stop in at Joe T. Garcia’s for Tex-Mex food and margaritas.

Sundance Square, the heart of downtown Fort Worth, also is a must for Fetty. “It’s a great place to gather, people-watch, enjoy free events, play in the fountains, sip a drink, grab a bite to eat, take in the view, or just relax.”

Texas Christian University (TCU), especially its culture and football team, is a big part of life in Fort Worth, with many students staying in the city after they graduate. Zieser recommends attending a TCU football game, when the “entire town is painted purple” and buzzes with “high energy and loud crowds.”

The Fort Worth Zoo is a major draw for families, says Mark Leddy, general manager of cowboy- boot maker M.L. Leddy’s. He loved taking his children to the zoo when they were young, and to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

> Biking, Brews, and Brunch

Kristen Camareno is the executive director of Fort Worth Bike Sharing—and a big fan of two-wheeling around the city. She especially enjoys biking to brunch at the Bearded Lady, or Stir Crazy Baked Goods (for the quiche), both on Magnolia Avenue.

Fort Worth’s breweries are the draw for Zieser, who loves Panther Island, Rahr & Sons, and Martin House for stellar craft beers in a laid-back atmosphere.

Visitors keen on traditional comfort foods such as chicken and dumplings should head to the Paris Coffee Shop, says Nelson. “Any celebrity in town will be there, and their pies are out of this world.”

Annie Fitzsimmons is Nat Geo Travel’s Urban Insider, exploring the cities of the world with style. Follow her adventures in Texas on Twitter @anniefitz and on Instagram @anniefitzsimmons.

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