This Underrated Texas Destination Has Daily Cattle Drives, the World's Largest Honky Tonk, and a Gorgeous New Hotel
Once the largest livestock trading center in the country, where cattle, hogs, horses, mules, and sheep were bought and sold, the Fort Worth Stockyards now welcomes visitors to relive that exciting era. Travel back to when cowboys drove cattle from Texas ranches northward along the Chisholm Trail, stopping on the way for some rowdy fun in Fort Worth. Today, the historic district remains an authentic reminder of those days, and it's still a destination where visitors can find fun — along with luxury, relaxation, great food, and entertainment.
On a recent visit, I was captivated by a tour with Ed Brown, a delightful Texan with encyclopedic knowledge of Fort Worth history and a special talent for presenting it. We started in the Cowtown Coliseum, built in 1908, where rodeo competitions take place nearly every weekend. We walked past the Fort Worth Livestock Exchange, once called "Wall Street of the West," at the time as important a market as its East Coast namesake. We visited the Stockyards Museum and railyard as Ed regaled us with the story of how the Swift and Armour meatpacking plants came to be.
The highlight of my Fort Worth trip was staying at the new Hotel Drover, an Autograph Collection Hotel by Marriott. The sophisticated art-filled hotel combines Texas ambiance and style with touches of whimsy and the overall feeling that you're guests at a grand Texas ranch. There's an expansive landscaped Backyard overlooking the Trinity River where you can grab a drink at the Veranda Bar, swim in the heated pool, relax in the hot tub, gather around a fire pit, and play outdoor games.
The hotel is brimming with interesting details, from hand-tooled leather and a video at the reception desk to custom seating in the restaurants, Old West paintings on chair backs, and colorful children's tables and chairs. It's a pleasure just to relax in the lobby among the immense bookshelves, wall of longhorn cattle skulls, stone fireplace, and seamless combination of modern and rustic furnishings.
Arriving guests are greeted by a custom bronze and steel cowboy and a stunning antler chandelier. More than 150 pieces of original art throughout the hotel include colorful neons, traditional Western art, bigger-than-life Lone Ranger and Tonto (Baby Boomers will recognize them immediately), Marilyn Monroe in Western garb, a Picasso, and some unique pieces that will make you smile and stop for a second look. Not only does the art reflect the Texas vibe, but the hotel's design includes textiles, 26 species of wood, and four types of stone, all sourced from within the state. The hotel celebrates Fort Worth history by naming it for the drovers who were the trail bosses of the cattle drives of the past.
Each room features unique decor and accessories, and suites with fireplaces, soaking tubs, furnished patios, and kitchenettes are available. My room was outfitted with bedside lamps made of Lucchese boots, and the plush robe, Los Poblanos bath products, bluetooth speaker, and city views made it tempting to linger inside, but I had spotted the lively Lobby Bar and it was almost time for happy hour.
"Something for everyone" is a claim often used, and sometimes exaggerated, but in the case of the Fort Worth Stockyard District, it's not an overstatement. Another plus — it's all walkable. Just park the car and stroll through the area all day and under twinkling lights at night. Here are some ideas.
Bachelorette Parties and Weddings
Meet up in Hotel Drover's Lobby Bar for a cocktail and head out to Billy Bob's Texas for live music, a ride on the mechanical bull, billiards, or dancing. Check out Sidesaddle Saloon on your way, and wind down in the Backyard around a fire pit. Visit Jersey Lilly Photo Parlor for a vintage-style group picture.
Head to the hat bar at Flea Style for a unique creation and shop for some new Western gear. Browse the shops on Mule Alley and learn about how Lucchese Boots are designed and made in the hotel's lobby shop. Visit the John Wayne Experience for some film hero history. Spend the afternoon in the heated pool or hot tub while you make plans for the evening.
Plan ahead for the wedding with a look at The Barn, a gorgeous combination of rustic wood, crystal chandeliers, and landscaped outdoor space. Dinner at 97 West Kitchen and Bar and a nightcap at the Veranda Bar would be a perfect ending for a day.
Watch the cattle drive when a herd of 16 Texas Longhorns travels through the Stockyards District. The twice-daily event is a thrill, and the steers can also be seen in their holding pens behind the Livestock Exchange Building.
Little ones will love the Barnyard Petting Corral, with goats, sheep, and more. And everyone will enjoy a rodeo at the Cowtown Coliseum, with bull riding, roping, barrel racing, and activities for kids. Experience the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze for some friendly competition and fun.
All aboard on one of the train rides from the Stockyards, or travel vintage style in a carriage or stagecoach ride. Horseback riding, music, and local tours are more ways to get into the Texas spirit.
A stay in the Hotel Drover's nearly 2,000-square-foot Presidential Suite will ensure a memorable experience, with two fireplaces, soaking tub, living room, dining room, and two terraces for stunning views.