By Karen Ruffini
October 26, 2019
Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty Images

The state of Texas is home to a handful of notable bucket-list cities: its hip and trendy capital of Austin, the bustling metropolis of Dallas, and the coastal city of Houston to name a few. But there’s one place in particular that we’re collectively looking over: Fort Worth, brimming with history and a special kind of cowboy grit that’s hard to replicate elsewhere.

Fort Worth locals have a total love affair with their city, and that affinity far exceeds your average haunt. The pride they share of their city, endearingly known as Cowtown, is quite hard to miss. “It’s a laid-back, modern city that’s charming and unpretentious in all the right ways,” says Mitch Whitten, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Strategy for Visit Fort Worth. “It’s not only friendly, but it’s buzzing with creativity.”

And he’s absolutely right. Visiting Fort Worth is a curious blend of looking into the past as well as into the future; the old and the new come together here to create a world that is a nod to our country’s cowboy past while simultaneously creating a space that is innovative and new. Houston may have outer space, and Austin may very well be keeping it weird, but Cowtown is in a class of its own.

Where to Stay

Fort Worth is home to a handful of boutique hotels, but you won’t find one with more history than The Ashton. Located right in the heart of downtown, this 100-year-old hotel delivers high marks on hospitality and charm. And, with rooms that won't break the bank, you can add “affordable” to its list of pros.

Should you choose to opt for a hotel other than The Ashton, it’s still well worth a visit for their Afternoon Tea experience. Every Saturday afternoon, the hotel offers an elegant dining experience of tea, finger sandwiches, and pastries to guests. During their holiday season (Nov. 29th through Dec. 29th, 2019), Afternoon Tea is extended to Thursdays through Sundays.

Where to Eat

For breakfast, make a beeline straight to Brewed, where inventive coffee flavors and mouth-watering breakfast is served all day. Whether you opt for the savory Magnolia Chicken Biscuit or go for the tastes-like-dessert Thai-Licious coffee, you’ll quickly realize there’s really no wrong choice here. If you’re a sucker for above-and-beyond hospitality and an atmosphere brimming with kitsch, you’ll not want to leave. Should you actually stay here all day, Brewed also serves beer on tap, which you can enjoy while soaking up the sun on the outdoor patio.

If brunch is more your thing (and whose thing isn’t it, really?), stop at Cork & Pig, a modern, Insta-worthy spot located in the vibrant West 7th neighborhood. If you’re debating whether to indulge in the Fruity Pebbles French Toast or the Piglet — the restaurant’s take on a rosé mimosa — I can give you a quick and easy answer: order both.

For lunch, prepare yourself for a long wait at what seems to be a very ho-hum-looking restaurant, Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant. But don’t let the restaurant’s exterior fool you: the people standing in line (which can extend down the block) know exactly what they’re waiting for, and that’s the restaurant’s outdoor hacienda-style oasis, lush with greenery and serene signature fountains.

Since 1935, Joe T. Garcia’s has been a Cowtown staple, each year growing in business, and, by default, in size. As of today, their outdoor sanctuary has enough seating for over 1,000 guests. Yes, you read that correctly — 1,000. It’s worth the wait in line simply to enter through the gates and take one long walk around the restaurant’s seemingly endless premises; you’ll find respite in it’s hidden nooks and corners, ivy-covered archways and bright Mexican-tile murals. This family-owned restaurant, now a James Beard Award winner, has certainly come a long way from its original seating capacity of 16.

But save room for dinner at Clay Pigeon Food and Drink, a trendy and gorgeously-styled restaurant dreamed up by its talented owner, chef Marcus Paslay. Each dish is as carefully crafted as the restaurant’s interior, which is to say that it’s equal parts refined and lavish, making Clay Pigeon not just a foodie destination, but an experience.

What to Do in Fort Worth

If you’re looking for a place to pop in for a cold one, Fort Worth has got you covered. The hip HopFusion Ale Works has some plenty of tasty flights to imbibe on, but if you prefer your beverages on the sweeter side, head to Locust Cider, where hard cider is served up in the taproom and food trucks are parked just outside.

For a different kind of drinking experience, visit Thompson Bookstore in downtown Fort Worth. While its name sounds like the antithesis of a cool, speakeasy-style establishment, that’s precisely what it is. Walk inside and you’ll find a very nice, very fine bar, with mismatched furniture and books adorning the walls — but that’s not what you’re here for. You’ll need to tell the doorman the day’s password (which may or may not be found on their Facebook page), and, as if by magic, a bookcase will reveal itself to be a secret door, where you will be led down to the basement, and given one of the most innovative and inventive cocktail lists in the Lone Star State.

Spend your day outside at the Fort Worth Water Gardens, a stunning stretch of land filled with various structural bodies of water, designed by architect and engineer Philip Johnson. There are three pools of water: the aerating, the quiet, and the active pool, and all three work together to create a harmonious balance. There is no fee to enjoy the park, so do yourself a favor and carve out an hour’s worth of time to check it out — then perhaps an hour more, after realizing just how tranquil and therapeutic it is to hop stones, climb concrete pyramids, or simply sit down and listen to the gentle sound of moving water.

Of course, you can’t visit Cowtown without visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District, which takes the term “Old Western” to an entirely new level. Here, you can watch a live rodeo or hit up a honky-tonk. Whatever you do, don't miss the Fort Worth Herd, a twice-daily cattle drive where Texas cowhands walk a herd of Texas Longhorns down the street filled with spectators.

Fort Worth’s unwavering spirit and proud locals draw you in and show out-of-towners just exactly what they’re all about: community, authenticity, and the appreciation of this city’s rich history. “It is without a doubt the people that make this Funkytown so special,” says Jonathan Morris, Owner of Fort Worth Barber Shop and The Lathery. “We have a whole cast of characters that give this city life. There’s a certain non-pretentiousness and openness that creates a culture of familiarity, and a collaboration that is palpable.”

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