Discovering Dallas, en route to Super Bowl

Anybody with a trace of green and gold in their blood soon heads to Dallas, at least figuratively, because of our beloved Packers and Super Bowl XLV. Know this: The metro area holds its own as a travel destination throughout the year.

Hook up with the right tour guide, and you’ll learn where bank robber Clyde Barrow was laid out (at Belo Mansion, a former funeral home), where to find the Neiman Marcus flagship store (1618 Main St., open since 1907) and why Dave Krupinski, the city’s director of tourism, confides that “we’re real proud of the Slurpee here” (Dallas is the corporate home of 7-Eleven).

The frozen margarita was invented in Dallas. The city boasts the most shopping centers per capita in the nation; NorthPark Center (www.northparkcenter.com, 214-361-6345) is the biggest. Inside Dallas Arboretum (www.dallasarboretum.org, 214-515-6500) is the country’s biggest public collection of azaleas, although camellias are what bloom in winter.

Wander the Nasher Sculpture Center (www.nashersculpturecenter.org, 214-242-5100), whose 300-plus modern/contemporary works makes it among the world’s largest such collections. Or order a cold one at the Hard Rock Café (www.hardrock.com, 469-341-7625), which began in a former Baptist church where a stained glass window of Jesus was replaced with one of Elvis.

At the 277-acre Fair Park are restored and repurposed buildings from the 1936 Texas Centennial, making this a classy museum campus as well as home to the nation’s largest state fair (in October). Look for the Women’s Museum (www.thewomensmuseum.org, 214-915-0860), a Smithsonian affiliate that honors the history, strength and diversity of women with exhibits that document relevant trivia, trends and transitional times.

No visit to Dallas is complete without a visit to downtown memorials at Dealey Plaza, site of President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, at Houston and Elm streets. Take a guided tour or wander on your own, but don’t skip the emotionally dynamic Sixth Floor Museum (www.jfk.org, 214-747-6660).

Free McKinney Avenue trolley rides connect downtown and uptown, an artsy-foodie-entertainment area with a mix of historic homes and high-rises. Or ride Dallas Area Rapid Transit (www.dart.org, 214-979-1111) light rail into Fort Worth; the trip takes under one hour.

Arlington is in the middle of this route; buy a four-day, unlimited use regional transit pass for $30 which includes transit service to Cowboys Stadium (www.northtexassuperbowl.com). Ride the Trinity Railway Express to CentrePort/DFW Airport Station, then board a bus to the stadium.

Also in Arlington: Six Flags Over Texas amusement park (www.sixflags.com, 817-640-8900).

What’s the big difference between Dallas and Fort Worth? Personality. Think “cosmopolitan” for Dallas and “cowboy” for Fort Worth.

Twice daily, a herd of 15 longhorn steers – horn spans exceeding six feet, tip to tip – are routed down Exchange Street in Fort Worth’s Stockyards National Historic District (www.fortworthstockyards.org, 817-625-4741). The cattle drive takes all of five minutes, but it attracts a crowd and is good for photos.

Also worth visiting: the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (www.cowgirl.net, 800-476-3263), devoted to the stories of singers, ranchers, trick riders and Hollywood starlettes who demonstrate the “cowgirl spirit.” Among the 2005 Hall of Fame inductees: Elaine Kramer of Prairie du Chien, a 20-year trick rider at rodeos who retired her horses in 1972. Consider her museum quote: “I’m happiest when my hair is blowing and I’m galloping at a breakneck speed in the arena.”

Also lesser known is the JFK tribute at the Hilton Fort Worth (www.hilton.com, 817-870-2100), where President Kennedy spent his last night alive. A “follow the footsteps” exhibit retraces his last steps.

Regardless of where you roam, check out www.EscapeHatchDallas.com for insider advice about where to eat and invest your time while in the Dallas area. Writers Mike Hiller and June Naylor make it their business to stay on top of these things; June also arranges food tours through www.junenaylor.com/tours.

Milwaukee native and politico Graeme Zielinski adds this advice: “Stephan Pyles (www.stephanpyles.com, 214-580-7000) and Fuel City (214-426-0011) is all you need to know about Dallas.” Expect southwestern fusion and white linens at the former, life-changing tacos from an off-interstate gas station at the latter.

For five-star dining, consider Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek (www.mansiononturtlecreek.com, 214-443-4747) for a French toast soufflé or grilled shrimp and grits at Sunday brunch. It’s $49 for three courses and a mimosa, bellini or Bloody Mary.

Heading to Dallas without Super Bowl tickets? Order chicken fried steak, fried catfish or taco fingers (cheese and chicken/beef, rolled into corn tortillas) while watching the game at no-frills Vernon’s Grill (www.myvernonsgrill.com, 972-661-3707). Another munching option there: Chickles and Pips (batter-fried pickle slices and potato chips, made on the premises).

For more about this part of northern Texas: www.visitdallas.com, 800-232-5527; fortworth.com, 800-433-5747; and www.arlington.org, 800-342-4305.

Last, a word about drinking alcohol in Texas, from Mike Howard, a criminal defense lawyer who blogs.

“Most states have public intoxication laws, but Texas has come under fire for having such extremely broad and vague laws regarding public drunkenness that officers have begun to abuse their power,” he writes. “The most recent controversies regarding public intoxication involve police officers entering bars and arresting drunks from within the bar.

“In fact, the law is so vague that an officer is legally allowed to arrest someone who is merely suspected of being drunk, without the need to issue a breathalyzer. While there’s not much that can be done on an individual level to prevent being targeted by the police for public intoxication, it’s something that’s important to know if you’re planning on drinking in Texas.”

“Roads Traveled” is the result of anonymous travel, independent travel, press trips and travel journalism conferences. What we choose to cover is not contingent on subsidized or complimentary travel.