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Dallas is the third largest city in Texas, yet is the center of the state's largest metropolitan area.
Dallas was built primarily on commerce, white-collar endeavors and convention business, and has a reputation as being "less Texan" than Houston or San Antonio. If you want to see a cowboy hat, you'll have to venture into a Hispanic part of town or head to a honky-tonk. Fort Worth is 30 miles away and a much better bet for "cowboy culture."
Historically, Dallas politics were dominated by the Republican Party, even when the rest of Texas was strongly Democratic. In recent years, however, an influx of people from outside Texas, coupled with a "re-urbanization" of Dallas, has created a liberal atmosphere in Dallas. Indeed, a 2005 study by the Center for Voting Research identified Dallas as the most liberal city in Texas (32nd most liberal in the United States). By way of comparison, Austin, which has long enjoyed a reputation as a liberal oasis in otherwise conservative Texas, was identified as the 93rd most liberal city in America. Living up to this study, the election of 2006 swept Republicans from all contested countywide offices.
With no geographical features to limit its growth, Dallas has accrued suburban sprawl that is among the largest in North America. Nevertheless, recent years have seen large population growth returning to Dallas' urban "Uptown" area, as well as the downtown area and the Victory development (surrounding the American Airlines Center). The "real Dallas" experience is to be had in the large area roughly described by the Dallas North Tollway to the west; White Rock Lake to the East; I-30 to the south; and Northwest Highway to the north. Within that area, it is perfectly possible to get around on public transit, but as in any Sunbelt boomtown (think Atlanta), you're best off with a car at your disposal.
Most people who come to Dallas are going to come by air since Dallas is home to DFW, the Dallas-Fort Worth International airport.
Coming from the south, I-45 is the major highway for travel between Houston and Dallas, while I-35 connects the city to Austin and San Antonio.If you come in on I-35 you need to keep in mind that, a few dozen miles both north and south of the "metroplex," the interstate splits into I-35W (which runs north/south through Fort Worth) and I-35E (the branch that runs north/south through Dallas). Miss the split and you'll wind up in a different city. Coming from the west, Dallas is reached by either I-20 on the south side or I-30 which comes directly into downtown. Both of these interstate highways approach Dallas from the east. I-20 comes from Shreveport, Louisiana and I-30 comes from Texarkana.
There are two major airports in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, DFW, and Love Field (DAL). Love Field is within the city limits not far northwest of downtown, but has certain restrictions on flights in and out. Love Field is home to Southwest Airlines , so if you are flying from within Texas, a nearby state or don't mind connecting, you might check with them. Love Field is also served by Continental Express to Houston. American Eagle also flies to several cities from Love. The flight restrictions at Love Field were partially lifted when the "Wright Amendment Reform Act" was made law in October 2006. The restrictions will be fully lifted in 2014.
Otherwise, you will probably end up flying into DFW . DFW, one of the largest airports in the country by passenger volume, is physically large as well, reasonably clean, and during tourist-travel type times, lines are short and staff are friendly. Equally positioned between Dallas and Fort Worth, DFW is a great airport to fly into. Don't forget that as you drive out of the airport, you will have to pay a toll to leave.
No matter which airport you are flying into or out of, if it is during rush hour, traffic will be a factor. Make sure you budget at least 2-3 hours to get to/from the airport if you are traveling on I-635, the Bush turnpike (SH-190), or 75 (Central Expressway). It will probably only take you an hour (and traffic has been getting better lately), but it is far better to have that extra hour of cushion than to be stuck on the one road that will get you where you need to go, and to be moving at a crawl.
Once you've arrived at the airport, you will probably do best to take one of the Shared Ride shuttle services. They offer door to door pickup and drop off, probably costing ~$30 for ~20 miles, which will get you to most places.
For DFW, there are courtesy phones that will let you ring them directly (for free), and they are usually pretty quick about pickups and drop offs. (at most adding an extra 30-40 minutes while you wait for them to pick up more people, or to drop your fellow passengers off on the way to your place or hotel).
A less expensive option, to some places, would be DART , Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which offers regular daytime bus service from DFW Airport to a commuter rail station located South of the airport.
There are two Amtrak routes which serve Dallas/Fort Worth, the Texas Eagle between San Antonio and Chicago, and the Heartland Flyer between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City.
To get here from Oklahoma, take I-35 or US 75 south. To get here from Houston, it's ~250 miles north on I-45 (which turns into US 75). To get here from Austin, take I-35 North. To get here from Louisiana, take I-20 east. Dallas is the junction-point for most cities within a 200-300 mile radius, with good road service to and from. Any map of the United States should have enough information to get you into Dallas with no problems.
However, once you are here, watch out for traffic. Traffic tends to go towards the city centers in the morning, and away from the city centers in the evening. Major choke points are 75 South in the morning (what takes 20 minutes with no traffic, ends up taking 1-2 hours with traffic). I-635 near US-75 is also usually a mess since I-635 (being the beltway that runs all around Dallas) is an often-traveled road. Also watch out for I-35E southbound in the mornings.
Also expect DFW drivers to drive discourteously. Local drivers often disregard the "Left Lane for Passing Only" rule. Strings of vehicles going ~5 MPH over the speed limit stay in the left lane to pass the 5% of drivers who travel ~5 MPH UNDER the speed limit in the right lane. A savvy driver can use this to his advantage as the right lane is often the least congested.
Dallas area drivers tend to be more aggressive than those in other areas, so be prepared to fight for you lane changes.
When stopped at a traffic light in DFW, be sure to give 1-2 seconds delay after the light turns green. DFW drivers are notorious for running red lights.
US-75 is also called "Central" or "Central Expressway", and turns into I-45 just south of Downtown
I-635 is sometimes called LBJ, which stands for Lyndon B Johnson.
There are two branches of I-35. I-35 splits into I-35W at Denton (30 miles north of Dallas) through Fort Worth to Hillsboro (50 miles south of Dallas), and I-35E that runs from Denton through Dallas to Hillsboro. After I-35W and I-35E reach Hillsboro, they simply rejoin as I-35.