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USF vs. SMU Road Trip Planner

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If you’re coming to Dallas for USF’s final road trip of the regular season, here’s our guide to the city from someone who’s lived here a lot longer than he ever expected to.

USF at SMU
Game Date: Saturday, November 19
University Setting: Urban
Nearest Airport: Dallas Love Field (DAL) and DFW International Airport (DFW)
Alternate Airport(s): Austin (AUS)
Usefulness of a Rental Car (1 = you don’t want one, 10 = you need one): 6
Stadium Name: Gerald J. Ford Stadium
My Road Game Rank (1 = best road game 5 = least desirable): 3

Which Airport Should I Use?

This choice will probably be made for you based on your airline. Both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines are headquartered in the area, and they largely control the two airports - American has DFW and Southwest has Love Field. The latter is easier to get in and out of, and now that you can fly here nonstop from most parts of the country on Southwest, Love Field would be my preference if I was flying into town.

Rental Car?

You may want one. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, or DART, light rail does run to both airports, and there’s a stop fairly close to Ford Stadium at Mockingbird Station. However, many of the places you’ll want to go are away from the rail system, or require transfers to buses or other transit systems. Also, this is a very big metropolitan area, so Uber can get expensive quickly.

Lodging

Like Mike has suggested for previous road trips, figure out what you want to do while you’re here and then choose a hotel. You’ll probably do a lot more driving than you’re used to doing, especially if you’re visiting from a more compact city like Tampa. The hotels near downtown Dallas will be ornate and pretty expensive. If you’re going to have a car, find something reasonably close to what you want to do.

My Take on the City

Dallas has changed a lot in my almost 15 years living here. In my opinion it’s joining Austin as a city that seems to exist outside of the suck pile that is the rest of Texas. Add in Fort Worth and all the suburbs between and around the two cities, and you can do just about anything you want to do while you’re here.

Keep a close eye on the weather forecasts before you decide what to pack. You can get almost any kind of weather in mid-November. It could be 75 degrees and sunny or 35 degrees and raining, and it can swing back and forth very quickly.

There are some obvious tourist attractions. You can go to the JFK memorial in Dealey Plaza, right off Elm Street, and the Sixth Floor Museum, inside the old Texas Book Depository. Since you’ll be visiting close to an anniversary, it may be busier than usual, but it only gets really out of control on round-numbered anniversaries. Reunion Tower is nearby - it’s like our Space Needle, although I question whether it’s worth the ticket price. For a honky-tonk experience, you can try Billy Bob’s Texas in the Fort Worth Stockyards, which has live music on Fridays and Saturdays. The Fort Worth Zoo is one of the best in the country, and I actually like the Dallas World Aquarium better than the Florida Aquarium. Culturists will find some top-notch museums to visit, like the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. The George W. Bush Presidential Library is on the SMU campus. For thrill seekers or roller coaster enthusiasts, Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington will open up for the holiday season beginning November 19.

Food and Drink

We all know that if you’re coming to Dallas, you probably want to eat some barbecue. If you do, meet me at Pecan Lodge in Dallas’s Deep Ellum district on Friday morning. Pecan Lodge runs neck and neck with Franklin Barbecue as the best in Texas, and lines form early. (Not even a recent fire could slow them down.) My first experience was for lunch on a random Saturday in January, and we still had to wait over an hour to order. I suggest going on a weekday so the lines won’t be as crazy, and they’ll be less likely to run out of certain menu items before you get a chance to order. If you can’t do Pecan Lodge, these two Texas Monthly best barbecue lists (one from 2013, and a 2015 update) will help steer you right.

Dallas-Fort Worth also has a huge selection of Mexican food. There are way too many places for me to definitively recommend one. Typically the more out-of-the-way and run down the place looks, the better and more authentic the food will probably be. Some people will recommend Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth, but I find it pretty overrated. You also have to pay in cash there, which can be a big inconvenience for tourists.

For general fun and partying, Dallas has three main bar districts. (Well, four if you count the West End, but you can do better than that.) One is Uptown, centered around McKinney Avenue just north of downtown, and it’s the most sedate of the three. While Deep Ellum has ebbed and flowed throughout the years, it’s doing pretty well right now and it offers lots of live music and a strong counterculture. Lower Greenville isn’t as wild as it used to be, but it’s still where the party people tend to hang out. There’s an Alumni Association mixer at the Barley House Friday night, which would have been a very good choice if it wasn’t the biggest SMU bar in town. You could also choose to head towards downtown Fort Worth, which has long been a model for nighttime activity in an urban center. There are plenty of food and bar options to choose from. Finally, Dallas is home to a number of gentlemen’s clubs, but you’re on your own with those.

If you need breakfast food, try Hypnotic Donuts near the Dallas Arboretum, or our own branch of Collin’s favorite breakfast restaurant, Hash House a Go Go in Plano. Cafe Brazil has a unique spin on breakfast and lots of coffee. You can’t go wrong with breakfast tacos, either. If the game is an early kickoff, stop by Taco Joint on Mockingbird Lane in the Lakewood neighborhood, not far from SMU.

There are several local breweries worth sampling if you’re into craft and local beers. Dallas’s Deep Ellum Brewing Co. has a taproom and bar, and Fort Worth has a cluster of breweries just south of downtown, headlined by Rahr & Sons. (The Shiner brewery is too far away to suggest a side trip. It’s east of San Antonio and five hours away from Dallas. While Shiner Bock is Texas’s most famous beer, it’s easy to find outside the state these days.)

Sporrrrrrrts!

If you will be in town on Friday night, you can see what Texas high school football is all about. The state playoffs are underway, and games in the DFW area are normally held at neutral sites like Ford Stadium, AT&T Stadium, Toyota Stadium (FC Dallas’s home stadium, in Frisco), and Apogee Stadium (the University of North Texas’s home field, in Denton). Check ahead to see where the games are being played. You might be able to buy tickets at the gate depending on availability. Or if there’s a certain game you want to see, you can call ahead to the high schools’ athletic departments and try your luck.

All of Dallas’s in-season pro sports teams have home games next weekend. The Dallas Stars play Thursday and Saturday night at American Airlines Center, and the Dallas Mavericks play in the same building Friday night. Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys play the Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium in Arlington Sunday afternoon if you’ll be around that long. If you just want to see the monstrosity that is Jerry World, there’s essentially an open house on Saturday morning if USF isn’t playing at 11.

If you want to make it a doubleheader Saturday, head over to Fort Worth to watch TCU play Oklahoma State beginning at 11 a.m. You’ll have ample time to make it back to Dallas in time for the USF game. And don’t worry about tickets - you shouldn’t have any trouble buying them in the parking lots.

Finally, even if you don’t care about Dallas sports, make sure to listen to The Ticket, hands down the best sports radio station in the country. It’s so much a part of Dallas that it transcends its format, and it’s so good it might ruin all other sports and talk radio stations for you.

Getting Out of the City

One of the real problems with visiting Texas is that its major cities are so far apart. I would normally recommend a side trip to Austin, but if you want to go there, it’s a three-hour drive on Interstate 35, and with that road constantly under construction it will probably take you even longer. San Antonio is at least another hour past Austin.

Shorter trips that may be of interest:

  • Southfork Ranch: If you were a fan of the Dallas TV series, this was the real-life stand-in for the Ewing homestead. It’s in a town called Parker, about 20 minutes northeast of downtown Dallas.
  • GAMBOLLLLLL: You can’t do this legally in Texas. However, you can drive to Oklahoma or Louisiana to get your casino on. The Shreveport casinos are further away than WinStar and Choctaw, but if you really need to gamble I recommend making the longer trip. Most casinos in Oklahoma make you pay an ante for table games, even against the house.
  • Buc-ee’s: Calling Buc-ee’s just a convenience store is like calling Everest just a mountain. It’s almost worth finding one for the spectacle alone. A massive selection of snacks, homemade jerky, sandwiches, desserts, cooking supplies, and souvenirs awaits you, along with dozens of gasoline pumps. The nearest Buc-ee’s are in Terrell, half an hour east of Dallas, and next to Texas Motor Speedway between Fort Worth and Denton.
  • Fossil Rim Wildlife Center: This is located in Glen Rose, about an hour and a half southwest of Fort Worth. It’s less of a zoo and more of a drive-through safari, so if you’re renting a car, take the guided tour to avoid any awkward conversations when you return your car. (I’ve had a zebra poke its head into my passenger seat when I’ve gone down there.) You’ll see antelopes, gazelles, zebras, giraffes, emus, deer, cheetahs, and plenty of other animals on your tour. There’s a gift shop and rest area at the halfway mark of this 2-4 hour journey.
  • Inner Space Cavern: There are a lot of underground caverns in the Texas Hill Country that you can explore if you’re up for a nice hike. I picked this one because it’s the closest to Dallas. It’s in Georgetown, about a half-hour north of Austin and right off I-35. You may want to save it if you plan to come back when USF plays Texas in a few years.
  • The Crash at Crush: Actually, don’t make this trip. All that’s down there between Hillsboro and Waco is a hard-to-find historical marker. But if you want to read about the absolute stupidest thing that has ever happened in Texas, this is it. Good Bull Hunting, SB Nation’s Texas A&M blog, wrote a piece about it in 2013.

My Travel Plans

Well, I live here, so not much. If any of you are coming out here and need a guide, I’ll be glad to show you around on Friday. Otherwise I’ll just go to the game on Saturday and that’s it.

Road Game Rank

Stuben had this ranked third on his list, which seems about right. Memphis is a more interesting tourist spot and Philadelphia is a bigger city, but Dallas offers something from both categories. You shouldn’t have much trouble enjoying yourself if you make the trip. Hopefully USF beats the Mustangs and guarantees a nice weekend for everyone.