Our art, theater, music and architecture critics are often asked to offer recommendations. How to choose? We made it easier: Pick just one great thing in their city, in their area of expertise, we asked. Where would they take a best friend or a family member in Dallas if they could only do one great thing? Here's their list.
Gawk at Dallas City Hall
Architect I. M. Pei celebrates his centenary this year, which makes it a perfect time to visit one of his most important commissions, the monumental concrete cruise ship that is Dallas City Hall. So imposing is the 1978 structure that it was conscripted for use as headquarters of the evil OCP corporation in the 1987 action-thriller RoboCop (although the producers doubled its height, digitally).
Like much about Dallas, City Hall is paradoxical. While its exterior seems a vision of Orwellian brutality and control, within it is a stirring exercise in democratic openness and accessibility, with offices arranged around dramatic and bright central atrium. A more lavish expression of Pei's vision can be found at the Meyerson Symphony Center, in the Dallas Arts District. --Mark Lamster, architecture critic
1500 Marilla St., Dallas. dallascityhall.com.
Take a free tour of the Dallas Arts District
The AT&T Performing Arts Center offers free tours of the Winspear Opera House, the Wyly Theatre, Strauss Square and Sammons Park on the first Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on the half hour, subject to change. You can see the costume shop at the Wyly, the Moody Foundation Chandelier -- which features 318 L.E.D. acrylic light rods and is accompanied by an exclusively adapted piece, "The Light," by composer Philip Glass at the Winspear -- and learn about the Pritzker Prize-winning architects who designed the buildings. You don't even have to make a reservation on first Saturdays; just show up at the Winspear Opera House entrance.
Or, get free one- or two-hour tours Monday through Friday, too, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., customized to your area of interest and the size of your group if you schedule them seven to 60 days in advance. --Nancy Churnin, theater critic
All tours for ages 8 and older. Free. Located in or near the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St., Dallas. attpac.org/your-visit
Visit Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Garden
Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Garden is an oasis in Far North Dallas. It's a haven to butterflies, bumblebees and Brian Cobble pastels, a well-kept secret to many but an alluring destination for connoisseurs and artists whose work it continues to honor.
Its roots go back to April 1, 1953, when an artist named Donald S. Vogel acquired a piece of property on Spring Valley Road. Spread over 4.2 acres and flanked on its southern edge by a creek rich with wildlife, Vogel's land was bucolic, eerily serene, an almost heavenly place for an artist to live. The gallery opened in 1954, the sculpture garden five years later.
The garden has become an open door to the four seasons, while the gallery has shown the work of such giants as Henry Moore, Georges Rouault, Sedrick Huckaby and even Claude Monet. Artists come and go with the seasons, in the same way that the fiddlehead fern, the spider lily and the Japanese maple do their dance in the garden. Valley House is so appealing to visitors that, a while back, it even managed to attract former U.S. President George W. Bush for a look-see at Sedrick Huckaby's show. -- Michael Granberry, arts writer
6616 Spring Valley Road in Dallas (between Preston and Hillcrest). Free. valleyhouse.com.
Listen inside the Meyerson
One of Dallas' claims to fame is one of the world's greatest concert halls. Inaugurated in 1989, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center is the only concert hall ever designed by Pei. You likely recognize the name: He's one of the most celebrated architects of the second half of the 20th century -- and the same man who designed Dallas City Hall.
Both outside and inside, the building is an elegant play of geometries. Swooping glass "lenses" that filter natural light into the lobby were early examples of computer-assisted design, each pane different from any other. The lobby itself is almost unimaginably vast and lofty; it's a thrill just to walk inside.
The play of geometries continues inside the concert hall, with mahogany walls punctuated with onyx sconces. High over the stage looms a huge and movable acoustical canopy that's been likened to the Starship Enterprise. All around the top of the room are grilles concealing big concrete reverberance chambers that can be opened or closed to vary the acoustics.
Acoustics adjustable over quite a wide range were designed by the late Russell Johnson and colleagues at Artec Consultants. For Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) concerts, the acoustics are set for a wonderful balance of clarity, warmth and spaciousness you'll rarely experience anywhere else. -- Scott Cantrell, classical music critic
2301 Flora St., Dallas. meyerson.dallasculture.org.