Twice a day, a cattle drive featuring 16 longhorn takes place at the Stockyards in Fort Worth. | AP LM Otero
IF YOU GO
STOCKYARDS HOTEL: The infamous Bonnie and Clyde once bedded down at this historic property at 109 E. Exchange. The hotel’s 52 rooms start at $129 during the week, $219 on weekends; stockyardshotel.com.
HYATT PLACE: Another good option — particularly for families — is this Hyatt at 132 E. Exchange. The hotel has a Western-style John Wayne suite, free continental breakfast, wi-fi and parking and a pool, which will come in handy during those hot Texas days; stockyards.place.hyatt.com.
SAVE MONEY: For hotel discounts, attraction coupons, travel packages and free activities, visit the website FortWorth.com and click on the “Summer Stay & Save” box in the lower right corner.
EATING THERE: Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant, 2201 N. Commerce, opened in 1935 with 16 seats. The family-run eatery now accommodates over 1,000 customers, many of whom sit on the sprawling patio. It’s cash only and ordering is simple because there are only two dinner options: an enchilada/taco combo or fajitas; joets.com.
CELEBRATE THE COWBOY
The fifth annual National Day of the American Cowboy is July 23. Fort Worth will celebrate in the Stockyards District with a parade and contests, including Cowboy Idol, best mustache competition and a most worn-out boots contest, among other things; stockyardsstation.com.
Updated: October 19, 2011 7:23AM
FORT WORTH, Texas — Once a rough-and-tumble frontier town, Fort Worth now bills itself as “the city of cowboys and culture.”
We have plenty of culture here in Chicago.
Cowboys? Not so much.
And that’s a good reason to grab the kids and head down to Fort Worth this summer for an affordable, educational and entertaining family vacation built around this enduring symbol of the Old West.
This city of 741,206 — a place that feels a lot more Western than neighboring Dallas — used to be called “Cowtown.” The nickname stems from Fort Worth’s location on the legendary Chisholm Trail, where millions of Texas longhorn cattle made the long march to Kansas in the late 19th century.
These cattle, pretty much the only resource impoverished Texans had after the Civil War, were loaded on rail cars and sent to the stockyards — and the dinner tables — of Chicago and beyond.
Before making the lonely, arduous journey north, cattle drovers used Fort Worth as a place to stock up on supplies and get up to no good in Hell’s Half Acre (now downtown Fort Worth).
Droving days are long gone. But Fort Worth’s cowboy culture is still kicking — especially in the city’s Stockyards District, a 15-block area on the National Register of Historic Places.
Here you can watch a rodeo. Learn how to rope a cow. Pick up a pair of cowboy boots and take them two-steppin’ at the world’s largest honky tonk. And step back in time at one of the twice-daily cattle drives, where cowboys lead a herd of longhorns down Exchange Avenue, just like they did in the Old West.
Cowhands decked out in 19th century garb drive a herd of 16 longhorn cattle down Exchange Avenue twice a day at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., weather permitting. Don’t expect thundering hoofs or charging cattle in this mellow stroll through the Stockyards; the longhorns know the drill. When it’s over, kids have a chance to chat with the cowhands and pet the animals; fortworthherd.com.
Try your hand at roping, branding and other essential cowboy skills at this free, hour-long program held at 1:30 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day, behind the Livestock Exchange Building in the Stockyards; fortworthstockyards.org.
Top it off
Fincher’s White Front has been selling Western wear for more than a century. You can buy an entire cowboy wardrobe — and plenty of chotchkies — at this massive store in the Stockyards. Even if you’re not in a spending mood, drop by to watch them rev up the steam machine and hand-crease some cowboy hats; fincherswhitefront.com.
National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
It’s all about girl power at this showcase for heroines of the American West, from sharpshooter Annie Oakley and tour guide extraordinaire Sacajawea to entertainer Dale Evans and artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Check out the blingy cowgirl costumes and saddles, watch a movie on cowgirl culture and pop the kiddies on a bucking bronco (don’t worry — it’s not real). Not to feed into female stereotypes, but this museum in the city’s cultural district has one heckuva gift shop; cowgirl.net.
Get the boot
You know you want a pair, so pick up some cowboy kicks at the famous M.L. Leddy’s, 2455 N. Main, crafters of handmade boots and saddles since the 1920s; leddys.com. A custom-made pair of Leddy’s boots can cost thousands of dollars and take up to a year before they’re finished. To buy boots at bargain basement prices, hoof it over to Justin Boot Outlet, 717 W. Vickery Blvd.; justinboots.com.
Billy Bob’s Texas
A former open-air cattle barn in the Stockyards is now the world’s largest honky tonk, holding up to 6,000 people who come to dance, drink, eat and watch live bull riding in the indoor arena on Fridays and Saturdays. Top country music acts perform at this honky tonk landmark, which turns 30 this year. Free line dance lessons at 7 p.m. on Thursdays; billybobstexas.com.
Stockyards Championship Rodeo
See bull riding, roping, barrel racing and more at the 2,300-seat Cowtown Coliseum in the Stockyards, home of the world’s first indoor rodeo. The show starts at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; cowtowncoliseum.com.
Cowtown Cattlepen Maze
Make your way through a labyrinth of wooden cattlepens in the Stockyard’s sprawling maze featured on Season 5 of the “Amazing Race;” cowtowncattlepenmaze.com.
Cattle Raisers Museum
This “museum within a museum” (it’s part of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History) shows the history and science of cattle ranching through a series of fun, interactive exhibits. The story starts in 1850 and culminates with modern-day cattle raising techniques involving microchips, GPS tracking, online auctions and the bovine genome project. Tip: Your ticket gets you half-price admission to the Cowgirl Museum next door; cattleraisersmuseum.org.
Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame
The centerpiece of this Stockyards museum is a collection of more than 60 wagons, including a chuck wagon that served as a mobile kitchen on cattle drives from Texas to Kansas; texascowboyhalloffame.org.