Let’s play a quick game of “you might be in Fort Worth if…”
You might be in Fort Worth if,
…there are longhorn cattle moseying down the street.
…half the shops in town sell custom made boots starting at $1500.
…your salad comes with meat croutons.
Okay, okay yes, Fort Worth is a modern thriving city, but it has still kept its roots as “cowtown” and you’ll find proof of that at the Fort Worth Stockyards more than anywhere else.
If you just finished watching 1883 and you have dreams of a cowboy getaway, this is it. If you had to dream up a picture book version of Texas and cowboys and “the west,” it’s the Fort Worth Stockyards. In the best possible way.
Here’s the scoop on the Fort Worth Stockyards: You can sit and eat a brisket sandwich at a BBQ joint while a cowboy wearing actual spurs and chaps walks by. You can go to the rodeo every weekend. You can buy a $3000 western shirt and a $20K pair of boots from a cutie with a handlebar mustache. You can belly up to a bar with people who actually wear that kind of stuff. You can eat six different types of meat at dinner. You can watch a cattle drive down mainstreet. You can line dance at the world’s largest honky tonk. And you can do it all while staying in a luxury hotel.
It’s historic, but it’s also modern. They’ve struck a perfect balance of the Stockyards being a working agricultural hub and social center with being a place that attracts visitors looking for a bonafide western experience. I mean really…If I’d run into Tim McGraw on his way to the train station to pick his family up before they headed west, I would’ve believed it.
Where to Stay at the Fort Worth Stockyards
First things first, you need a place to stay. And there’s only one answer. The Hotel Drover. I’ve written a full review of my stay here, but the short of it is…this is one of my favorite hotels EVER. They take the “western luxe” vibe to the extreme and have really put the Stockyards on the map as a destination. Even if you’re not staying there, you’ve got to stop by for a drink at the lobby bar or a round of cornhole in The Backyard.
Where to Eat at the Fort Worth Stockyards
Lonesome Dove Bistro: If you only have time for one dinner, make it this place. It has an upscale vibe and menu, but there’s no mistaking you’re in Texas. Meat is what’s on the menu.
We pretty much went with our waiter’s recommendations throughout the whole meal and he didn’t disappoint (except for the truffle mac and cheese which was actually orzo and not that great and that’s really saying something from me because I’ve rarely met a mac and cheese I didn’t like). But onto the good stuff. Drinks were had. I don’t remember what exactly but it was good and had bluebonnets in the name. On to the appetizers. We put together a sampler based on our server’s recs and we ended up with elk sliders, bbq duck spring rolls, and kangaroo carpaccio “nachos.” Now, let me tell you…I am not the kind of person who normally eats things like carpaccio. Or kangaroo. I’m not sure I’ve actually ever been somewhere where they served kangaroo. But, when in Rome. And it was all GOOD.
My friend got a salad that our server sold as coming with “meat croutons.” Had to try that. Well the salad had pieces of pork belly in it and it’s forever changed my expectations of salad. I mean really. Only in Texas. And of course, beef for dinner. The filet was pretty amazing even if my eyes were starting to cross after all the meat. Now sad to say that we didn’t even look at the dessert menu, but I’m willing to bet that bacon made an appearance.
Make reservations because the restaurant isn’t very big.
Cattleman’s Steakhouse: This historic restaurant is a Fort Worth favorite. Don’t miss: steak (duh), calf fries, chicken fried steak.
BBQ: We tried Riscky’s on this trip and it was okay (meat was good, sides were weak), but it’s more of a large all day restaurant instead of a true BBQ joint. Next time, I’d try Cooper’s (not as conveniently located as Riscky’s but still in the Stockyards). Also, not in the Stockyards, but Heim BBQ on Magnolia comes highly recommended.
Second Rodeo Brewing: What a place to hangout! This is probably where I would head if you want something more casual (and less $$$) than Lonesome Dove Bistro. It’s a big place with a lot of places to sit, hang out and listen to live music. It’s part restaurant, part bar, and there’s some food hall type windows too.
The Biscuit Bar: There aren’t a ton of places to grab breakfast in the area, but I tried this one and it was good.
Shake Shack: I know it’s a chain, but it’s just sooooo good and a good budget option.
I would also try Provender Hall, but I haven’t made it there yet.
Things to Do at the Fort Worth Stockyards
See a cattle drive: Sure, plenty of places do a daily cattle drive for the tourists, but Fort Worth does TWO. Every day (except Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) at 11:30AM and 4PM, drovers drive a herd of longhorn cattle down East Exchange Avenue. Find a spot along the curb and keep an eye out for Sam Elliott. If you miss the drive, you can still see the cattle in their pens behind the Livestock Exchange Building and the cowboys usually hang out there before and after to take pictures and answer any questions you have. It’s really something to see! Set your expectations though…this is not a wild stampede. It’s more of a “mosey.”
Get decked out in western wear: The shopping scene at the Stockyards is really wild. Checking out the luxury western wear is probably my favorite thing to do.
Lucchese is my favorite. They have a shop on Mule Alley and also a Bootmakers in the Hotel Drover lobby where you can design a custom pair of boots to be made in their El Paso factory (starts at $1500, 6 month lead time).
Leddy’s is not to be missed. It’s like a luxury western department store. And some of the people that work there are really something to see.
My favorite overall store is Maverick Fine Western Wear. It’s definitely western, but more accessible for people who are more casual about the western fashion scene.
Take your picture on a steer: There’s usually a couple of places in front of the Exchange Building and Cowtown Coliseum where you can climb onto a steer for a picture. I assume there’s a fee or tips are expected. Take cash.
Go to the rodeo: Yeeeeee haw! The Stockyards Championship Rodeo is every Friday and Saturday night and it’s the heart of the Fort Worth Stockyards. If you’re not there on the weekend, you can still go inside and look around. They have some exhibits set up around the corridor where you can read about the history of the coliseum.
Billy Bob’s: Learn how to line dance at the world’s largest honky tonk! For all you city slickers, a honky tonk is a bar that plays country music. And Billy Bob’s is a big one. The biggest. It’s actually a whole attraction. Food, bars, music, concerts, actual LIVE bull riding on the weekends, line dancing lessons. Check out their website for info on hours, times, tickets, events, etc.
John Wayne Experience: If you’re a John Wayne fan, you’re not going to want to miss this. Spend an hour or two getting to know the American film icon. Buy tickets here.
Things to Know Before You Go
The Stockyards are a very kid friendly place (even Billy Bob’s!), but like anywhere, the later it gets and the more drinking that goes on you may not want your kid in the middle of it.
It’s all western, but it’s a bit of a mishmash of quality. It’s not Disney World where everything is overarchingly designed to give you a picturesque experience. Some of it has been there since 1876 and some of it was just built a couple of years ago. Mule Alley is the newest development (where Hotel Drover is) and it’s where a lot of the high end shopping is, but it’s been built to look like it’s always been there. I was excited when I read about old cattle stalls that were converted to shops, but that bit is mostly just junky souvenir shops (“somebody I know went to the Fort Worth Stockyards and brought me this t-shirt”, etc.). The main intersection of shops and restaurants is Exchange Ave and 287 and it looks like an old western town. And then there’s a bit that spills over behind Billy Bob’s that feels a little more strip mall-ish.
More posts about the area: