Ranking Texas Cities    Top Visitor Attractions    Cultural Resources    Visitor Interests    Recommendations    Information Sources    About the Author    Updates

March 2017


Most cities want to increase visitors and they need to provide appropriate resources for their growing and diversifying populations. As the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Metroplex will be home to about 9 million people in 10 years (by 2027), these imperatives will become more crucial.

Texas cities rank among the largest in the nation. However, their rank in visitors and tourism interests are not up to the level of their rank by population.

Compared with the largest cities and the most popular visitor destinations, Texas cities have a disadvantage in cultural resources (including natural resources) that requires them to do more with less. They also have a long-standing disadvantage in not effectively utilizing existing cultural resources and potential visitor attractions. The oversight is not only in obvious areas, like historic preservation and education, but also in not fully utilizing and engaging non-profit organizations and philanthropic entities.

Some Texas cities want to increase visitors with campaigns that may partially recognize their cultural resources (particularly using celebrities and slogans) in hopes to develop tourism interests, but without making serious efforts to shore up or improve attractions so that the advertised image and the visitor experience more closely match. The result is that travelers prefer to visit other nationally-prominent cities more than Texas cities. Due to lack of strategy in transforming cultural resources into visitor attractions, their rank in convention business is also disappointing and could be volatile as more cities compete for conventions and trade shows.

This report is for city leaders, planners and managers of unique districts, as well as philanthropic strategists, to consider the best prospects when they take up the topic of visitors and visitor attractions. As an overview, but not a detailed inventory of cultural resources, the report offers helpful ideas and recommendations. It will be useful to involve institutions, organizations and philanthropists.


Made by the volunteers of Imagine a Museum, the report draws from research initially produced by Vision for Houston and Houston Institute for Culture (HIFC) from 2011-2014. The report was updated with new research in 2016 and completed in 2017.

Organization members learned a lot in 20 years, working on cultural resource inventories in Houston (1997-2003), New Orleans (2004-2006), Arizona and New Mexico (2005-2011), and making comparisons to top national and international cities (2011-2014). While volunteers planned and moved the archives of the Digital Story Resource Center (DSRC), a former HIFC program, to Fort Worth in 2015, largely to avoid the dangers of Houston flooding and hurricanes. They discovered some interesting opportunities, as well as the obvious need to compare Metroplex cities and their resources with others around the nation. Relocating DSRC activities to DFW also created opportunities to extend educational event programming to the area.

Dallas and Fort Worth were surprisingly rich in cultural resources, with a multitude of Metroplex cities making ambitious and valiant efforts to serve local populations and increase visitors. For the purposes of this report, the term "visitors" generally includes local, national and international visitors, all of which matter to the Metroplex, as they yield economic activity, educational opportunity and better quality of life.

An indication that a problem existed and opportunities were being missed surfaced as volunteers discovered that there were substantial efforts, many or them expensive to the public, being made to attract and serve visitors in DFW, but results were negligible and discovery was challenging. As outsiders (though the author of the report lived several years as a child in Dallas), little was known about DFW. Most noticeably, two things struck the group: Dallas was well ahead of Houston in public transit, with a better rail system, and the Metroplex was better connected than the greater Houston region (lack of mobility is a major Achilles' heel for Houston); and Dallas spent more money on arts than Houston, though the impact was harder to detect. From fist-hand observations, arts, cultural activities and other educational activities appear to reach more broadly into Houston communities than DFW area communities, and there is a noticeably higher level of cultural literacy and cross-cultural experience in Houston (even indicating a higher level of segregation exists in parts of DFW). While it is not the purpose of this report (nor formally studied here), it is an important area for improvement in all cities.

Traveling to destinations all over the U.S., in every direction from Texas, volunteers (on educational tours, transporting camp scholarship students, hosting cultural exchange experts, working on research, etc.) rarely had reason to stop in DFW. Whatever local inspirations existed were not translating to regional interests, therefore HIFC educational and cultural activities happened all around - Mexico, New Mexico, California, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana, etc. - but not North Texas. Most revealing, however, while contacting and visiting many of the nation's top cities and institutions that were surveyed in the Houston report that compared the nation's top cultural resources (2011-2014), the author and organization volunteers were never referred to Dallas or Fort Worth (nor Houston, but it was understood that the author was calling or visiting from Houston) to examine organized efforts to produce the nation's leading cultural institutions and visitor attractions.


With the inevitable course of DFW to be a supercity, the proposed goal for the region is not only be a model one, but to join the ranks of the national and international World Class Cities.
"Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan." -Tom Landry
This report provides many recommendations about ways to improve cultural resources and visitor attractions in DFW.

While DFW may have substantially more cultural resources and visitor attractions than most other Texas cities, the region faces many problems. It is not cohesive, not strategic, not widely informed, not meeting the region's needs, and certainly not utilizing its full potential.

The report is not a full cultural resource inventory, though that is one of its recommendations (noted below). It provides a way to understand cultural resources and the benefits of transforming them into visitor attractions. Where city governments tend to think in silos, mostly out of obligation and necessity, and they may be mired in the reactionary demands of city government, this report promotes a plan to think about the greater DFW area more comprehensively and productively.

Natural Detractions

People are generally proud of their city - possessive even - and ready to instantly complain about constructive criticism. They can be touchy when challenged to think that their city could do more, people could have better experiences, or that they aren't living in "the best city in the world." A great competition between Dallas and Houston could involve residents of the two cities telling each other why their city is "the best city in the world," as long as actual proof or honest comparisons with other cities is not required. There is hard evidence that Texas cities are not the best. They have enormous room for improvement.

The report begins from experiences and lessons in Houston, where people are proud of the city, how far it has come and what it offers. But vision for change is a tough sell, particularly in places where standards are low and exposure to the world may be limited; while discussing future cultural resources for Houston, one philanthropist responded, "Houston already has a museum."

In traveling the nation, there are several things HIFC volunteers learned that may surprise people in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and other cities that are not living up to their potential to attract national and international tourists as a more significant part of their visitors.
The many trendy activities that people enjoy and like to brag about in their own cities - improved parks, trendy club districts, boutique hotels, micro breweries and bicycle sharing programs - tend to exist in all cities.

Places where you see obvious tourists in large numbers on most any day really are the cities with the most out-of-town visitors. In other words, most anyone without data can tell us, simply be seeing throngs of lost people, that New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Miami Beach and several others have more visitors (as out-of-town vacationers and hotel users) than Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. Even small districts in Miami (like the Wynwood Art District and Little Havana/Calle Ocho), and the center of the very small city of Santa Fe or the San Antonio Riverwalk, have more obvious tourists than the places where it is easy to identify them in DFW, like Dealey Plaza/Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas and the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. This information translates to more travel writers, website editors and hospitality agents recommending those other cities more often than DFW or Houston.

More than a Race for Visitors

In Texas cities, the goal that must come before the desire to increase visitors is recognition of the need to improve attractions. But, the actual ability to win attractions can come down to how well the city performs in visitor numbers and the kind of respect it has nationally, creating a "Catch-22" situation. This even applies to national sports events, where Texas cities excel, sort of, with a great deal of catching up to do. Having top sports facilities, but lacking the attractions of places like Los Angeles, Miami and New Orleans has not helped Texas cities land more national events or command the attention and imagination of the nation (not since the opening of the Astrodome). City leaders, foundation strategists and philanthropists must play a greater role in making their cities attractive, looking toward the top activities in other cities for comparison, and consider the best new concepts, to serve both the local populations and out-of-town visitors.
Note: DFW visionaries should not look to other cities to replicate their successful activities; they should create the ones other city planners and visitors come here to experience.
One way or another, the whole Metroplex must benefit from new efforts to improve attractions, become more innovative and appeal to diverse interests. Two focus groups and several civic clubs overwhelmingly reported that people are extremely pessimistic about their smaller DFW communities having resources comparable to Dallas or Fort Worth. And many, even in media, don't understand the population size and density of the "Mid Cities", between Fort Worth and Dallas, and to the north, where there is a population much larger than Dallas and Fort Worth combined, and cities like Arlington are more densely populated. It is hard to imagine a greater loss of energy and potential than for 70 percent of the population to live in Metroplex cities that are considered "nothing special" or just "adequate," rather than making an exceptional contribution to a World Class supercity.

Space Shuttle Endeavour
A potential hallmark of Houston ("Space City"), the Space Shuttle Endeavour is on display at Los Angeles County's California Science Center.

Houston is an example of a city that has lost opportunities due to lack of national awareness and respect, somewhat due to lack of vision and planning. When the location for the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum was selected, Houston and its many universities could not demonstrate the obvious advantages of their city (with hundreds of thousands of students attending dozens of universities and potential hosting partnerships) over College Station, TX. As "Space City," the city that launched the space program and is synonymous with space exploration, Houston could not get one of the four space shuttles for exhibition, losing the Space Shuttle Endeavour to Los Angeles. The Clear Lake museum, Space Center Houston, was later given a replica to display.

The struggle to know what to do with the Astrodome - to try to understand its amazing potential and value as a cultural asset - is a sign that Houston is improving, since the Dome has at least been designated historic and not demolished, for now. But Harris County leaders still struggle with what to do with Houston's own Eiffel Tower and could be considered somewhat aimless for many years in planning. The problem of Houston/Harris County officials not having clear ideas and not demonstrating an ability to look to major cities beyond Texas, at least to set a goal for the size of the potential attraction, says a lot about the problems many Texas cities face. The goals are extremely limited, good ideas are in short supply and the best ideas are sometimes stifled by obsolete ways of thinking. Houston leaders work to secure traditional events, like football and rodeo, possibly out of fear that new interests will diminish the value of the older traditions, or take away visitor support and tax resources. Or possibly they just aren't aware that people in many other prominent places benefit from interests that are much larger and more diverse than the current state of these things in Texas.

The challenge for Houston is well defined and it can be a great lesson for the Metroplex, as well. As Houston residents are excited about the prospects of the city becoming the nation's third largest city in years to come, it would be a better achievement for the city to become the third best. "Third Best" doesn't automatically come with being third largest.

It may seem like a pretty subjective goal, to become at least as good as the city's ranking by population, but effectively utilizing cultural resources and increasing attractions to improve quality of life is an important part of the goal, no matter what. The Metroplex will grow from about 7 million to 9 million people in the next 10 years, so in addition to being a descent place to work and commute, it needs to rise to be a great place to live.
"A civilization is just a way of life, and there have been hundreds of them in the world. But a culture is a way of making that life beautiful." -Frank Lloyd Wright
On one hand, the growing populations of Houston and the DFW area will naturally increase attractions - restaurants, clubs, bars, music venues, shopping, children's activities (like birthday parties), health facilities, etc. - where the commercial market is involved; but, on the other hand, it is the larger attractions - parks, historic resources, museums, universities, festivals, transportation options, etc. - that city leaders and philanthropists must aspire to create and sustain, in order to improve quality of life, lifelong learning, economic diversity and visitor interests - the things that engage people, inspire them, and make the city safe and livable

On the national level, cities desire to improve their cultural inventories by adding attractions, like the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which saw competition between Chicago, San Francisco and the finally determined location, Los Angeles. The addition of excellent, new cultural attractions for these cities ensures support for many of the others, as local interests and out-of-town visitors increase somewhat exponentially based on numbers of prominent attractions. In fact, larger attractions often bring additional support in terms of visitors and donor considerations to many smaller resources.

In Imagine a Museum's efforts to promote advanced museum concepts in Houston and DFW, volunteers discovered an obvious disadvantage in some major Texas cities, where lack of vision and lack of diverse interests by part of the population holds them back, certainly compared with the cities that have the top national attractions. It may not be accurate to say that there is a lack of diverse interests across the board, but there has been a historic and somewhat present lack of vision to build on the existing resources, where those assets that could be promoted as the basis for new institutions and supported by the wider interests of modern communities.

Lack of inspiration or vision for the future, particularly by city planners, philanthropists and even media, has resulted in substantial loss or stalling of potential for Texas cities, especially since they tend to look to each other more than other national cities for ideas and examples. It is a subjective statement, but considering the limitation in ambition in the existing goals and the iconic Texas ideas that continue to surface, it is likely true. But highly intriguing and innovative opportunities exist. With the new framework that the modern era presents, the immense changes witnessed in just a few decades and all the phenomena to come, Texas can see its cities utilize their cultural resources - providing scholarship in changing populations, technologies and climates, and leadership in transforming visionary, historic places, like Fair Park and the Astrodome, into inspiring modern attractions - to make giant strides forward. Or they may stand by and watch other national cities take the lead in a vast frontier of new ideas and interests.


It is important for city and district planners to know the rank and impact of attractions, and the many options and benefits any city could add to its cultural assets. There are many categories full of possible concepts that cities can build on for the purpose of increasing visitors and economic benefits, as well as education, quality of life and favorability.

Having many of its cities compartmentalized by their many boundaries and highways, DFW faces an even more unique situation than most major cities across the nation. The Metroplex is a unique situation that can be described as a solar system with two suns (Dallas and Fort Worth) and a chaotic arrangement of satellites that don't exclusively orbit any one center. Working to overcome the highly fragmented nature of the region and think like a cohesive supercity, hopefully with World Class aspirations, can magnify the region's successes. But failing to do that may make its obstacles and disappointments - holes in the transportation system, lack of support for many resources, missed opportunities, disenfranchised communities, etc. - more problematic for the region and more apparent to the outside world.

As noted, the challenge should not be to become the biggest city (a supercity, like it or not), but the best.

Please review the following sections and topics:

Ranking Texas Cities
Top Visitor Attractions
Cultural Resources
Visitor Interests

Introduction    Ranking Texas Cities    Top Visitor Attractions    Cultural Resources    Visitor Interests    Recommendations    Information Sources    About the Author

Texas and Pacific Station
The historic Texas and Pacific Railroad Station (interior detail) in Fort Worth.

Introduction    Ranking Texas Cities    Top Visitor Attractions    Cultural Resources    Visitor Interests    Recommendations    Information Sources    About the Author

Ranking Texas Cities

This section compares the size of Texas cities with the largest cities in the nation, the way Texas cities rank by numbers of visitors and tourism interests, and to help readers understand the relevance of the rankings, it lists many of the largest categories of visitor attractions and tourism-based industries by most numbers of visitors. The report should help DFW area cities make more effective plans to improve visitor attractions and increase visitors in the future.

What are Visitors?

The report will consider visitors in a fully encompassing way, including the local, national and international populations that visit cities and their visitor attractions. The report is focused on visitors, regardless of whether they stay in their homes or hotels, who attend or travel for leisure and educational interests, rather than strictly work-related travel. It is generally understood that visitor attractions that serve leisure and educational interests play a significant role in attracting business activities, such as conferences, new business development, and even relocations of corporate operations and professional sports teams.

It is important to know that in every attraction and industry, a visitor may often be counted more than once. In every interest area, there are many repeat visitors. While this is true in museums, universities, parks and amusements parks, the clearest example is professional sports, because seats are assigned to ticket buyers. One visitor, particularly a season ticket holder, may attend eight home football games or 80 home baseball games. In Arlington, for example, where the football and baseball stadiums are located, a visitor may come from within the city limits, or from other towns and cities in the DFW Metroplex, or from around the state, nation and the world.

Across attractions, the same person may attend several events and be counted several times. Even when the same visitor attends several events or visits several places, they spend their time and money, and gain various benefits, as does the community.

One of the interesting ironies of the most successful attractions is that they may limit visitor opportunities and rely largely on local populations. For example, a successful sports team may have more season ticket holders - a major goal of team owners - and fewer seats available for distant travelers. While the same is true in other fields, like theater and music festivals, places and events that have that level of success are hopefully able to expand their industries for the growing population.

The best attractions serve the interests - including social and educational needs - of the local population, as well as visitors from far and wide. All visitors produce economic activity and, preferably, beneficial opportunities for local populations. For most of a city's attractions and the cultural fabric of the region, local and out-of-town visitor are important. Local people may be more likely to be the reliable supporters for smaller local businesses and institutions, while visitors from distant places may be more likely to support more widely known and heavily marketed attractions, including convention centers.

The shear population of cities like Houston, San Antonio and those in the greater DFW Metroplex make it possible to have attractions with tremendous support and attendance, even while missing out on the benefits many other U.S. cities experience as the top national and international attractions. In other words, their capability and current level of success doesn't necessarily mean that Texas cities are doing all that they can do, and should do, to provide for the interests of local populations or to support economic opportunity in the breadth of potential small businesses and cultural interests. And they certainly are not doing all that they can do to establish larger and more innovative attractions.

Everything is big in Texas, but research shows that Texas cities don't fully live up to the standards of other major U.S. cities, and certainly not to the standards of the world's most impactful World Class Cities. Texas cities are Global Cities, ranking highly in terms of international financial connections and industries, but they do not offer the attractions of the more elite World Class Cities. Because of that, Texas cities struggle to have the economic benefits, quality of life and international reputation of many other cities.

Ranking Texas Cities by Population

Texas Cities are ranked below by population, as estimated in 2015 by the United States Census Bureau. The Dallas-Fort Worth area has 6 cities in top 100, 11 cities in top 200, and 14 cities in top 300.

Houston (2.3 million)
4 in the nation
San Antonio (1.5 million)
7 in the nation
Dallas (1.3 million)
9 in the nation
Austin (.93 million)
11 in the nation
Fort Worth (.83 million)
16 in the nation
El Paso (.68 million)
20 in the nation
Arlington (.39 million)
50 in the nation
Corpus Christi (.32 million)
58 in the nation
Plano (.28 million)
69 in the nation
Laredo (.25 million)
82 in the nation

Ranking U.S. Cities (greater Metropolitan Statistical Areas) by Population

Texas Metropolitan Statistical Areas are ranked below by population, as estimated in 2015 by the United States Census Bureau. Dallas-Fort Worth (also called Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metropolitan Statistical Area) overtakes Houston to rank 4th.

New York City (20.2 million)
Los Angeles (13.3 million
Chicago (9.5 million)
Dallas-Fort Worth (7.1 million)
Houston (6.6 million)
Washington DC (6 million)
Philadelphia (6 million)
Miami (6 million)
Atlanta (5.7 million)
Boston (4.8 million)

Football is Big, but Not King

Professional sports are often considered to be the top attractions in Texas cities, but they are not the top attractions in the most visited cities in the nation and world. Due to numbers of games and stadium capacities, there is a general range of visitors based on the attendance of the three top sports teams (baseball, football and basketball) in most large cities. Some cities have a fourth or even fifth popular professional sports team, usually soccer or hockey, that may raise the overall attendance numbers. Some Metropolitan Statistical Areas are able to support substantially more sports activities than others, including two of each of the major professional sports teams. DFW may eventually face that consideration if it wants to serve more sports fans.

For smaller cities, professional sports may rank at or near the top of their visitor attractions, but most of the top cities (ranked above and below DFW by population) offer much larger visitor attractions. It is very rare, but it happens, that the top visitor attractions of a city are based on a single dominant industry. The best scenario is for a city or region to have a wide variety of attractions, like transportation/visitor hubs, cultural districts, parks, museums, professional sports, theater, arts, recreational activities, etc.

There are numerous reasons why many people in Texas, and even some other U.S. cities, think football is king, including the excitement of the game, a local culture that ingrains football at an early age, holiday traditions, television saturation, the simplicity of thinking in terms of winning and losing, and the extraordinary hype of the Super Bowl.

Sports is a major preoccupation of local media. It is basic and simple to report. But it doesn't accurately reflect the broad interests of community members, though the extensive coverage definitely drives interest up.

If you ask many people from DFW and Houston to rank the top attractions, they may say:
For Dallas - Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, State Fair of Texas
For Houston - Houston Texans, Houston Astros, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLSR)
But sports attendance numbers and even visitor numbers for large events, like the State Fair and HLSR are actually inversed. Baseball supports larger attendance figures than football. And attendance of major events can exceed baseball regular season totals.

The Super Bowl is considered the pinnacle of events for a "football city," which is thought to add dramatically to the total numbers of visitors for the sport. But there is still limited stadium capacity for fans to attend the actual post-season game and there are typically many years between games for host cities, with some cities rarely (like DFW and Houston) or never hosting the championship game. The average number of years between Super Bowls for host cities is:

Super Bowls

Miami has 11 (1968, 1969, 1971, 1976, 1979, 1989, 1995, 1999, 2007, 2010, 2020), Average of 5.2 years apart
New Orleans has 10 (1970, 1972, 1975, 1978, 1981, 1986, 1990, 1997, 2002, 2013), Average of 4.8 years apart
Los Angeles has 8 (1967, 1973, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1993, 2021), Average of 7.7 years apart
Tampa has 4 (1984, 1991, 2001, 2009), Average of 8.3 years apart
Houston has 3 (1974, 2004, 2017), Average of 21.5 years apart
San Diego, Phoenix, Atlanta have 3
Detroit, San Francisco, Minneapolis have 2
Dallas has 1 (2011), Average of more than 10 years apart (Sites are set through 2021)
Jacksonville, Indianapolis, New York have 1

On one hand, there is hope for cities like Houston and DFW to host more, since some cities have hosted many more, but on the other hand, most cities have only had one, two or three, with others waiting to host their first Super Bowl. Host sites are currently selected through 2021.

Note about Television Audiences
Professional sports, particularly football and the Super Bowl, are broadcast on television, adding to their attraction and, to a certain degree, awareness of cities (though many fans can't remeber where the game was played two years later). That is true of almost limitless subjects on television, computers, internet and social media, including pop culture entertainment (dramas, sit-coms, movies), music, news, social issues, travel, culture, nature, weather, and much more. This report doesn't explore the dynamics of media viewership or media markets, because even given all those possible subjects, it is still creative industries that make most all media possible - not simply the athlete, actor, newscaster, etc.

Report Experience

In Houston, Imagine a Museum and Vision for Houston completed a study (2011-2014) to compare cultural resources and numbers of visitors, and found that, not only are the Houston Texans not the largest, or second, or third largest attraction in Houston, there are larger attractions that the population is generally unaware are larger, like the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Hermann Park, Houston Astros baseball team, and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

The same is true for Dallas. Museums, baseball and major events are larger attractions based on visitor numbers than football.

In looking at the top attractions in DFW and Houston, other attractions slightly outweigh professional sports teams in numbers of visitors. However, in many other major U.S. cities, other attractions substantially outweigh professional sports.

By bringing the information forward in this report about the difference in visitor attractions, where top events, museums and other institutions are highly underrated, or their impact is not fully understood, compared with professional sports, the goal is not to recommend the role of professional sports be diminished or discounted as an important cultural resource. The goal is to make planners and philanthropists aware that there are areas in visitor interests where it is possible to make a massive impact in DFW (or Houston), as happens in the most significant and impressive cities. There are highly underutilized cultural resources to build on, particularly for Texas cities, and phenomenal innovations waiting to be explored.

In order for cities, particularly Texas cities that have been behind others and that have some obvious disadvantages, to implement ideas and develop new strategies to improve what they offer for residents and tourists, it is important to know the general national rank of top attractions and industries.

Chicago's Museum Campus with the Field Museum in the foreground
Chicago's Museum Campus includes the Field Museum (foreground), with Soldier Field and the McCormick Place convention center in the distance. Visitors also enjoy Millennium Park, the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, amphitheatres, the downtown skyline, the Lake Michigan shoreline, and many more attractions in walking distance.

The Los Angeles Skyline with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background
The image of the Los Angeles skyline with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background reveals one of the region's strengths - a wealth of cultural resources nested between the mountain range and the Pacific Coast.

Introduction    Ranking Texas Cities    Top Visitor Attractions    Cultural Resources    Visitor Interests    Recommendations    Information Sources    About the Author

Top Visitor Attractions and Industries

This section explores the top attractions and industries in many major U.S. cities and provides visitor data about successful transportation centers.

Some of the top industries that attract visitors generally only benefit one or two major cities. Las Vegas, NV and Orlando, FL stand out most. Even those are not entirely one-dimensional, having important natural resources, cultural significance and history to add to their appeal. Most of the top cities, however, have several major attractions in the top visitor categories described below.

Some cities are so successful that mass tourism is one of their major industries, where in many other cities, increasing tourism is a major goal of their convention and visitor agencies, but not yet a significant industry. Consider these attractions, which reflect successes in major cities and even rural areas:
-As an industry, Visitor Services (transportation, parks, education and entertainment, markets) is dominated by New York City, Washington DC and a few others.

-Amusement Parks are popular in many U.S. cities, but Orlando and Los Angeles particularly dominate the industry.

-Gambling is the main attraction to Las Vegas, but states surrounding Texas, including Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma, have established casinos to attract the state's large populations (and their easy money).

-Major Parks are one important key to the cities that national and international tourists are most drawn to, including New York City (Central Park, Battery Park, the High Line, etc.), San Francisco (Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, etc.), Washington DC (the National Mall, National Zoo, Potomac Park, etc.), and Gatlinburg, TN (Great Smoky Mountains National Park). The National Park System accounts for many of the nation's largest visitor attractions.

-Major Museums are among the largest attractions in the top tourism destinations, including Washington DC (where the Smithsonian Institution attracts more annual visitors than the entire season of the National Football League), New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and several others. It is even more true of the leading international cities. The top cities continue to enhance their museum assets by adding institutions like the Lucus Museum of Narrative Art (Los Angeles), Barack Obama Presidential Center (Chicago) and National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington DC), with the fairly certain prospects that they will rise above the normal large museums to be major museums with well over 2 million visitors each. Even the recently renamed Museum of Pop Culture (formerly Experience Music Project) (Seattle) and the future OKPOP (Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture) (Tulsa) are signs that cities have high expectations for visionary museums among their cultural resources. They are also useful to inspire critical awareness and lasting reputations for their regional histories and assets.

-Festivals and Music Festivals is the key industry in many of the cities that travelers consider to be the most vibrant places to visit, including New Orleans (Mardi Gras, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, French Quarter Festival, etc.), Chicago (Lallapalooza, Chicago Blues Festival, World Music Festival, etc.), Austin (South by Southwest, Austin City Limits Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest, etc.), and even many rural and remote places, including Coachella in the California desert and Burning Man in the Nevada desert.

-Adventure Travel and Recreation is a surprisingly large industry in cities like Atlanta (due to its proximity to the Appalachian Trail), Denver (a gateway to the Rocky Mountains), Flagstaff (between Grand Canyon National Park and Sedona, AZ), and Moab, UT (central to several prominent national parks and recreation areas). It is also a surprisingly successful industry in Oklahoma City (with the "Oklahoma River" development, a recreation area and athletic training center) that is new to the city, and even rural Nantahala Gorge, North Carolina (a beneficiary of the Olympic games and a current training center). The majority of recreation travlers visit National Recreation Areas, national Parks and national Forests, many are season, and many activiely use the parks, courts and trails in their home cities.

Texas cities perform poorly compared with cities that rank above and below them by population. While the resources are there, the attractions are not; or they are not well developed.

Though not entirely accurate, professional sports are generally considered to be the top attractions in Texas cities. As the report has stressed, those attractions exist in most major cities, well beyond even the top 50 U.S. cities, and have similar attendance across the board.
Where professional sports are less represented or not available, other attractions, like parks, recreation, music, festivals, museums and galleries, serve as major industries and achieve substantial tourism goals, such as Santa Fe, Tucson, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Memphis, Chattanooga, etc.

Attractions are ranked below in a way that might better help planners and sponsors consider the kinds of attractions cities offer and how new ideas may be useful in a better strategy to increase visitors and visitor attractions.

Transportation Centers
Transportation hubs are the most successful visitor centers. Being historic and picturesque is often among their most significant assets, but more importantly they are often places to make ground transportation or rail connections. They serve as meeting/rendezvous sites for tourists, and they are popular places to eat, drink and shop. They benefit from walk-in traffic and leisure visitors. Unlike airports, such as Chicago's O'Hare International Airport or Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, they attract visitors for the sake of sight-seeing and touring. The non-airport sites listed below specifically include visitors who are not strictly through commuters, but who utilize visitor services, like restaurants, exhibits, information services, ground transportation and retail.

Times Square, New York City - 41.9 million (transportation hub, theater/cultural district, market)
Union Station, Washington DC - 36.5 million (transportation hub, market)
Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, NV - 29.5 million (transportation hub, business district, gambling)
Grand Central Terminal, New York City - 21.6 million (transportation hub, market)
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA - 15 million (transportation hub, park, landmark)
Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA - 10-12 million (community benefit district, market, transportation hub)
San Francisco Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA - 9-10 million (transportation hub, market)
Mackinac Bridge/Ferry Terminal Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island, MI - 4.5-9 million (transportation hub, historic district)
Gateway Arch, St. Louis, MO - 4 million (transportation hub, park, monument, recreation area, sight-seeing)

While the airports themselves are not considered attractions and many people often only make connections (change planes), it is also useful to compare airport passengers, with numbers reported by the FAA (2015).

10 Busiest U.S. Airports by Total Visitors (Passengers)

1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport - 49.3 million
2. Los Angeles International Airport - 36.4 million
3. O'Hare International Airport (Chicago) - 36.3 million
4. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport - 31.6 million
5. John F. Kennedy International Airport (New York City) - 27.7 million
6. Denver International Airport - 26.2 million
7. San Francisco International Airport - 24.2 million
8. Charlotte Douglas International Airport - 21.9 million
9. McCarran International Airport - 21.8 million
10. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport - 21.4 million

George Bush International Airport (Houston) is 12; Dallas Love Field is 31; William P. Hobby Airport is 33; Austin Berstrom International Airport is 34; San Antonio International Airport is 45.

10 Busiest U.S. Airports by International Visitors

1. John F. Kennedy International Airport (New York City) - 27.4 million
2. Miami International Airport - 19.3 million
3. Los Angeles International Airport - 18.7 million
4. Newark Liberty International Airport - 11.5 million
5. O'Hare International Airport (Chicago) - 11 million
6. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport - 10.6 million
7. San Francisco International Airport - 10 million
8. George Bush International Airport (Houston) - 9.5 million
9. Washington Dulles International Airport - 7 million
10. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport - 6.9 million

Amusement Parks
Amusement parks are the largest intentional destination, where travelers from across the nation and around the world travel to a specific destination, usually a park or amusement park, rather than a general city or region for their broad range of activities. For several U.S. cities and other prominent international cities, however, the array of attractions is a bigger lure than top parks.

The industry is dominated by Orlando/Buena Vista, FL (10) and Los Angeles/Anaheim, CA (5). The top ranked amusement and theme parks, listed below, attract 2 million to over 19 million annual visitors:

Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Buena Vista, FL - 17.1-19.4 million (amusement park)
Disneyland, Anaheim, CA - 16.1-16.7 million (amusement park)
Epcot at Walt Disney World, Buena Vista, FL - 10.9-11.4 million (amusement park)
Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walk Disney World, Buena Vista, FL - 9.8-10.4 million (amusement park)
Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walk Disney World, Buena Vista, FL - 9.7-10.3 million (amusement park)
Disney's California Adventure, Anaheim, CA - 8.8 million million (amusement park)
Navy Pier, Chicago, IL - 8.7 million (amusement park)
Universal Studios, Universal Orlando, FL - 8.3 million (amusement park)
Islands of Adventure, Universal Orlando, FL - 8.1 million (amusement park)
Universal Studios Hollywood, Hollywood, CA - 6.8 million (amusement park)
Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA - 5.5 million (amusement park, entertainment district)
Sea World Florida, Orlando, FL - 4.7 million (amusement park)
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay, FL - 4.1 million (amusement park)
Sea World California, San Diego, CA - 3.8 million (amusement park)
Knott's Berry Farm, Buena Park, CA - 3.7 million (amusement park)
Cedar Point, Sandusky, OH - 3.2 million (amusement park)
Kings Island, Kings Island, OH - 3.2 million (amusement park)
Hershey Park, Hershey, PA - 3.2 million (amusement park)
Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia, CA - 2.8 million (amusement park)
Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, NJ - 2.8 million (amusement park)
National Zoo, Washington DC - 2.7 million (amusement park, museum)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Williamsburg, VA - 2.7 million (amusement park)
Typhoon Lagoon at Disney World, Orlando, FL - 2 million (water park)
Blizzard at Disney World, Orlando, FL - 1.9 million (water park)
Aquatica, Orlando, FL - 1.5 million (water park)

Texas Amusement and Water Parks
Houston Zoo - 2.5 million (amusement park, museum)
Six Flags Fiesta Texas, San Antonio - 1.6 million (amusement park)
Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington - 1.4-1.5 million (amusement park)
Dallas Zoo - 1 million (amusement park, museum)
Schlitterbahn, New Braunfels - 1 million (water park)
Schlitterbahn, Galveston - .6 million (water park)
Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, Arlington - .5 million (water park)

Major Parks/ National Parks
Many national parks and some prominent city and state parks rank very high on the list of intentional destinations, second only to amusement parks. In fact, it is not an accident that some theme parks, like Dollywood, have located themselves next to places like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (with 9-10.7 million annual visitors, or more), the nation's most visited designated national park. Intentional destinations, like the Grand Canyon and Disneyland, are the places people specifically go for vacation. It is also true of cities, like New York and San Francisco.

The list of "Major Parks and National Parks" reveals that the visitors for the top one is definitely supported by New York City's local population and out-of-town visitors. Having one of the most popular parks for visitors didn't stop the city from going much further. The High Line is an example of how innovative and useful a park can be.

Many of the other parks that rank highest are tourism driven, with recreation being very high on the list of visitor interests.

Here are some of the most visited major parks:

Central Park, New York City - 40 million (major city park)
The National Mall, Washington DC - 25-26 million (national park)
Note: 8 million visitor arrive on 200,000 tour buses.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA - 15 million (major park, transportation hub, landmark)
Blue Ridge Parkway - 13.9-15 million (scenic highway park)
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA - 13-14.9 (major park)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 9-10.7 million (national park)
George Washington Memorial Parkway - 7.3-7.5 million (memorial park)
Lincoln Memorial - 7.1-7.9 million (memorial park, national monument)
Lake Mead National Recreation Area - 6.9-7.3 million (recreational park)
Gateway National Recreation Area - 6-6.4 million (recreational park)
Natchez Trace Parkway - 5.8 million (scenic highway park)
Hermann Park, Houston, TX - 5.5 million (major park) C&O Canal National Historical Park - 5 million (historical park)
Vietnam Veterans Memorial - 4.9-5.6 million (scenic highway park)
Grand Canyon National Park - 4.7-5.5 million (national park)
Millennium Park, Chicago - 4.7-5 million (major city park)
Rocky Mountain National Park - 4.2-5.5 million (national park)
Yosemite National Park - 4-4.5 million (national park)
Yellowstone National Park - 4-4.1 million (national park)
Gateway Arch, St. Louis, MO - 4 million (park, monument, recreation area, riverboat terminal)

National Parks in/near Texas
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, San Antonio, TX - 1.3-1.4 million
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Carlbad, NM - 445,720
Big Bend National Park, Outside Marathon, TX - 381,747
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Outside El Paso, TX - 169,535

Cultural/Historical Districts
Cultural and historical districts are major attractions, particularly because they centralize numerous attractions for visitors. They generally draw from existing historic assets and places, and therefore present challenges to accommodate large numbers of visitors. But as the numbers reveal, historic centers, landmarks, markets and venues are the places where visitors want to go.

Here are some of the most visited cultural districts:

Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, MA - 15 million (historic district, landmark, market)
Balboa Park, San Diego, CA - 13 million (cultural district)
Note: Balboa Park features 1,200 acres, 15 museums, 9 performing arts groups, 16 gardens, and numerous visitor services.
Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA - 10-12 million (community benefit district, market, transportation hub) Pike Place Market, Seattle, WA - 10 million (historic market)
South Street Seaport, New York City - 9 million (cultural district, landmark, market, museum)
The French Quarter, New Orleans - 8.2-9.3 million (historic district, entertainment district)
Pier 39, San Francisco, CA - 8.1 million (landmark, market) Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA - 5.5 million (amusement park, entertainment district, historic landmark)
San Antonio Riverwalk - 5.1-5.5 million (cultural district, landmark, market)
Charleston Historic District - 4.2-4.7 million (historic district, landmark, market)
Old City/Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia - 3.7-4 million (cultural district, landmark, museum, entertainment, market)
Freedom Trail (Downtown Boston sites) - 2.3 million (historic district, landmark)
Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District - 2.2 million (historic district, landmark, market)
Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, AR - 1.4 million (historic district, national park)
Grapevine Historic Downtown District, Grapevine, TX - 1.3 million (historic district, market)

Note: Many of the most visited historic districts are also residential areas, like San Antonio's King William District, New Orleans' Garden District, and Boston's Beacon Hill, making actual visitor numbers hard to determine.

Major Museums
Considering the top museum destinations in the world, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, at 28-31 million annual visitors, ranks above cultural districts and most major parks. But that wouldn't help planners understand the difference between the nation's major museums and the many other valuable museums and cultural centers that operate in cities and towns all across the U.S.

Most all the museums are valuable for their ability to attract visitors and develop educational and creative interests. Some of them, however, are attractions on a much higher level. They serve audiences on a much more national and international level of interest.

Smithsonian Institution - 28-31 million (2016: 30.2 million)

Top Smithsonian Units
National Air and Space Museum - 6.9-7.5 million
National Museum of Natural History - 7.1-7.3 million
National Museum of American History - 3.8-4 million
National Zoo - 2.7 million
National Air and Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Center - 1.6 million
Center for American Art and Portraiture - 1.2 million
National Museum of the American Indian - 1.1 million
Smithsonian Institution (Historic "The Castle") - 1.1 million

Other Major U.S. Museums
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City - 5-6.3 million (museum)
American Museum of Natural History - 5-5.5 million (museum)
National September 11 Memorial, New York City - 4.5 million (memorial, museum)
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC - 3.9-4.2 million
Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago - 3.6 million (amusement park, museum)
Ellis Island, New York/New Jersey - 3 million (museum)
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York City - 3 million (museum)
National Zoo, Washington DC - 2.7 million (amusement park, museum)
Houston Zoo - 2.5 million (amusement park, museum)
California Science Center, Los Angeles - 2-2.6 million (museum)
Brookfield Zoo, Chicago - 2.3 million (amusement park, museum)
Houston Museum of Natural Science - 2.1-2.4 million (museum)

International Museums
Louvre, Paris - 9.3 million (museum)
National Museum of China, Beijing - 7.6 million (museum)
British Museum, London - 6.7 million (museum)
National Gallery, Mondon - 6-6.4 million (museum)
Vatican, Vatican - 5.6-6.2 million (museum)
Tate Modern, London - 4.9-5.8 million (museum)
National Palace Museum, Taipei - 4.4-5.4 million (museum)
Natural History Museum, London - 5.3-5.4 million (museum)
Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, Shanghai - 3.6-4.2 million (museum)
National Museum of Korea, Seoul - 3.5 million (museum)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris - 3.5 million (museum)
Centre Pompidou, Paris - 3.4-3.7 million (museum)
Science Museum, South Kensington, London - 3.3-3.4 million (museum)
National Folk Museum of Korea, Seoul - 2.7-3.3 million (museum)

Universities and colleges may not strike everyone as visitor attractions. But they contain a significant number of cultural resources within their operations. The report counts them for a variety of important reasons:
They offer significant programs for outside visitors, including art, culture and science museums, and many public programs, conferences, film screenings, etc.

They are a very important part of the cultural resources of any community, with large cities needing many campuses to serve their populations and contribute to the diverse fabric.

Students come from near and far, and while they may be long-term visitors, who - much like a baseball or theater season ticket holder - will visit several times per week.

Universities attract numerous visitors - researchers, visiting lecturers, administrators, etc. - to their campuses and their presence impacts travel industries, like transportation, hotels and restaurants.
Their athletic events and graduation ceremonies attract significant visitors.
The activity of everyone involved with universities is like that of other visitor attractions. Students and other visitors support restaurants and vast businesses, as well as parks and museums, all around the campus. Most large public universities, and many small private ones, offer collegiate sports events that combine to attract 100,000 to 1 million visitors. Before Austin was the "Music Capital of Texas," its most publicly identifiable business was the University of Texas, which contributed enormously to the kinds of unique business and cultural districts that Austin is known for (such as Sixth Street and "The Drag," Guadalupe Street). Government business and the population have increased there, making for a major city that, like DFW and Houston, struggles to conserve artifacts of its past and support its cultural resources. But the university population is a large part of the reason Austin is able to present the major music and media festivals it is known for today.

It might seem odd to think that a city can do more than what it already has in university campuses and their visitors, but it happens from time to time, espeecially as the population grows. Certainly, cities can build better infrastructure to serve their universities and make them more attractive to visitors, which extends their impact into more communities. And sometimes a city can even gain a university. The University of Texas System considered expanding a campus in Houston. Though the idea has been shelved, a new campus in Houston could have brought major benefits, if planned well.

Visitors to major public universities like University of Texas, University of Texas at Arlington, and University of Houston can range from 3-6 million. (Reminder: the report considers multiple visits by visitors, including students, because each visit increases cultural opportunities and economic activities.) The number of visitors for cities like Houston, with multiple universities, reaches 20-25 million, and may likely be substantially higher in the larger DFW area.

There is another factor that should not be overlooked when considering the total numbers of people who visit universities: the impact of employment. As cultural resources, universities provide excellent employment opportunities for cities and regions. Most are full-time positions and they raise the level of education across their communities. Because universities provide the best overall employment opportunities of the top visitor attractions, the report samples their workforce numbers below:

University of Texas at Arlington - 5,300 (third largest employer in Arlington)
Approximately 40,000 students

University of Texas at Austin - 14,500
Approximately 51,000 students

University of Texas at Dallas - 3,500 (third largest employer in Richardson)
Approximately 27,000 students

Texas A&M System - 16,000 (largest employer in College Station, TX)
Approximately 60,000 students (College Stations)

University of Houston System - 10,000
Approximately 70,000 students

Houston Community College - 4,000
Approximately 70,000 students

Oklahoma State University - 6,000 (largest employer in Stillwater, OK)
Approximately 24,000 students

Museums, Cultural Centers and Galleries
The range of museums, cultural centers and galleries in various major cities is about 4-7 million, and can be higher, not counting the major museums found in cities like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington DC.

The number of visitors who attend many of the museums that fall on a threshold where they fit in this general category and the "Major Museums" category above is about 2-3 million visitors. Below, several museums that rank in or below the threshold, and contribute substantially to high visit numbers in regional cities are included in the sample of museums (by a variety of several cities of interest) that represent the main museum base of attendance, which is generally about 2-3 million:

Houston Zoo - 2.5 million (amusement park, museum)
Houston Museum of Natural Science - 2.1-2.4 million (museum)
Museum of Fine Arts Houston - 1.2 million (museum)
Space Center Houston - .7 million (museum)
The Health Museum (McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Sciences) - .2 million (museum)
The Menil Collection - .2 million (museum)

Perot Museum of Nature and Science - 1 million (museum)
Dallas Zoo - 1 million (amusement park, museum)
Dallas Museum of Art - .9 million (museum)
George W. Bush Presidential Center - .5 million (museum)
Crow Collection of Asian Art - .1 million (museum)

San Antonio
The Alamo (UNESCO World Heritage Site) - 1.3-1.7 million (historic site, landmark, museum)
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site) - 1.3-1.4 million (historic sites, landmarks, museum)
Witte Museum - .3-.4 million (museum)
Institute for Texan Cultures - .2-.3 million (museum, archive)
San Antonio Museum of Art - .2 million (museum)
Buckhorn Saloon and Museum - .1-.2 (museum)
McNay Art Museum - .1 million (museum)

Shedd Aquarium - 1.9 million (museum)
Art Institute of Chicago - 1.5-1.8 million (museum)
Field Museum - 1.3-1.7 million (museum)
Museum of Science and Industry - 1.4-1.5 million (museum)
Morton Arboretum - 1.1 million (nature center, museum)
Chicago Botanic Garden - 1.1 million (nature center, museum)
Chicago Cultural Center - .8 million (museum, activity center, historic site)
Adler Planetarium - .6 million (museum)
Chicago Children's Museum - .4 million (museum)
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum - .3 million (nature center, museum)
Chicago History Museum - .3 million (museum)
Museum of Contemporary Art - .2 million (museum)
National Museum of Mexican Art - .2 million (museum)
DuSable Museum - .1 million (museum)

Los Angeles
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County - 1 million
California Science Center - 2-2.6 million
J. Paul Getty Museum - 1.4-1.7 million
Huntington Libraries and Art Collections - .5-.6 million
Norton Simon Museum - .2 million
Hammer Museum - .2 million
Peterson Automotive Museum - .2 million
Note: The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will open in 2020 in Centennial Park.

St. Louis
Gateway Arch and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial - 4-4.3 million (including Museum of Westward Expansion, Old Courthouse, Old Cathedral)
St. Louis Science Center - 1.4 million
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Museum and Interpretive Center - 1 million
City Museum - .7 million
St. Louis Art Museum - .5 million
Missouri History Museum - .4 million
Note: The National Blues Museum in St. Louis opened in 2016.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo - 1.1 million Cleveland Museum of Art - .6 million
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - .4 million
Cleveland Museum of Natural History - .3 million
Great Lakes Science Center - .3 million

New Orleans
The National World War II Museum - .5 million
New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park - .2-.3 million
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve - .4-.5 million (several regional units)
The Presbytere, The Cabildo (Louisiana State Museum) - .3 million

Museum of Pop Culture (Formerly EMP Museum) - .7 million (2.7 traveling exhibit audience)
Seattle Art Museum - .5 million
Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum - .2 million
Pacific Science Center - 1.6 million

Museum of Science - 1.4-1.6 million
Museum of Fine Arts Boston - 1.2 million
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum - .3 million

Independence National Historical Park (includes Independence Hall, Benjamin Franklin Museum, Printing Office, President's House, others) - 3.6-5.1 million
Franklin Institute - 1.2 million
Philadelphia Museum of Art - .8 million

San Francisco
California Academy of Sciences - 1.4 million
Exploratorium - .8 million
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art - .6-.7 million

Denver Museum of Nature and Science - 1.3-1.7 million
Denver Botanic Garden - 1.4 million
Denver Art Museum - .6 million
History Colorado Center - .2 million

The Henry Ford (The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village), Detroit/Deerborn, MI - 1.6-1.7 million
Children's Museum of Indianapolis - 1.2 million
Guggenheim Museum, New York City - 1.2-1.3 million
National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY - .3 million
Detroit Institute of Arts - .7 million
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA - .5 million
U.S. Holocaust National Museum, Washington DC - 1.4-1.6 million
Newseum, Washington DC - .8 million
Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, Austin - .1 million
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR - .5 million

Professional Sports
The number of annual visitors who attend professional sports events in most major cities with three to five professional teams (baseball, football, basketball, soccer, hockey) is 3-5 million. However, several markets support as many as two teams in each sport, with the 10 teams in the New York City area attracting more than 10 million total visitors.

Here are the attendance numbers for teams in several sample cities in the most recently completed seasons:

Dallas (DFW)
Baseball - 2.7 million
Football - .7 million
Basketball - .8 million
Soccer - .2 million
Hockey - .6 million
TOTAL: 5 million

Baseball - 2.3million
Football - .6 million
Basketball - .7 million
Soccer - .3 million
TOTAL: 3.9 million

Baseball - 2.3 million
Football - .6 million
Basketball - 0
Soccer - .7 million
TOTAL: 3.6 million

Baseball - 1.6 million
Football - .5 million
Basketball - .8 million
Soccer - unavailable
TOTAL: 2.9 million

Baseball - 2 million
Football - .6 million
Basketball - .7 million
TOTAL: 3.3 million

Tampa Bay
Baseball - 1.3 million
Football - .5 million
Basketball - 0
Soccer - unavailable
Hockey - .5 million
TOTAL: 2.3 million

Some cities support more than one professional team in each major sport. Consider the following Metropolitan Statistical Areas:

New York City
Baseball (2) - 5.8 million
Football (2) - 1.3 million
Basketball (2) - 1.4 million
Soccer (2) - .8 million
Hockey (2) - 1 million
TOTAL: 10.3 million

San Francisco/Oakland
Baseball (2) - 4.9 million
Football (2) - .9 million
Basketball (1) - .8 million
TOTAL: 6.6 million

Los Angeles presently supports two professional baseball teams and two professional basketball teams. It will return to hosting professional football with two teams in the near future after not having any for 20 years.

Festivals/Music Festivals
The largest festivals in most major cities combine to attract 1-4 million visitors. Some cities have historic events, or flagship festivals, that attract 2-3 million visitors on their own, like the State Fair of Texsa, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and Fiesta San Antonio.

Below are the visitor totals for key festivals in several regional cities, along with a few others of interest. Keep in mind that most cities support about 6 to 30 or more festivals.

Flagship Festivals
The State Fair of Texas (Dallas) - 2.6 million
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo - 2.5 million
Fiesta San Antonio - 2.9-3.5 million (with Battle of Flowers - .4 million)
Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo - 1 million
George Washington Birthday Celebration, Laredo, TX - .4 million

Austin City Limits Festival - .5 million
South by Southwest - .6 million (registered, unregistered official and unofficial)
Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix - .2 million (including music festival)

The State Fair of Texas - 2.6 million
St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival - .1-.2 million
Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and Celebration - .1 million

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo - 2.5 million
Houston Art Car Parade/Art car Weekend - .2 million
Free Press Summer Fest - .1 million

New Orleans
Mardi Gras, New Orleans - 1.4 million
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival - .7 million
French Quarter Festival - .7 million

Washington DC
The National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington DC - 1-1.2 million
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Washington DC - 1-1.2 million
A Capitol Fourth (4th of July fireworks on the National Mall) .7 million

New York City
Times Square New Year's Eve Celebration - 2 million
New York City Marathon - 50,000 runners; 2 million spectators
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Puerto Rican Day Parade
West Indian Day Carnaval

Mardi Gras, Mobile, AL - 1.2 million
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta - .8 million
Chicago Blues Festival - .5 million
Indianapolis 500 - .3 million (not including parade and festival)
Texas Renaissance Festival Todd Mission, TX - .7 million
Scarborough Renaissance Festival Waxahachie, TX - .2 million
Tournament of Roses Parade -

Smaller Impactful Events
Burning Man, Black Rock Desert, NV - 70,000
North Texas Irish Festival, Dallas - 60,000
All Souls Procession Weekend, Tucson - 100,000+
Holi, Houston/Sugar Land - 14,000 (the largest of several events)

Outdoor Recreation
Outdoor recreation and personal recreation make up a sector of the travel industry much larger than most people realize. And cities that benefit substantially from visitors are also surprising.

A significant number of the visitors to New York City's Central Park are there for recreation and excercise. The National Mall grounds around the Washington Monument provide 15 softball fields, 8 volleyball courts, 2 rugby fields and 2 multi-purpose recreation fields.

The reality is, however, that outdoor recreation is a top visitor industry for many smaller cities, whereas its impact in many larger cities is not at the top of their industries. Outdoor recreation and personal recreation are one of the largest tourism intersts across the nation.

Below are only a few of many widespread examples:

White River National Forest, Glenwood Springs, CO - 9.7; 6.5 million skiers
Gateway National Recreation Area, NY/NJ - 6-9 million
Lake Mead National Recreation Area, outside Las Vegas - 6.3 million
Rocky Mountain National Park, outside Denver/Boulder, CO - 5 million
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, NJ/PA - 4.8 million
Lake Powell/Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Page, UT - 3.2 million
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, outside Atlanta - 2.7-3.2 million
New York City Marathon - 50,000 runners; 2 million spectators
Muir Woods National Monument, outside San Francisco/Marin, CA - 1-1.1 million
Everglades National Park, outside Miami - .9 million
Santa Monica National Recreation Area, outside Los Angeles - .9 million

Texas Recreation Areas
White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX - 2 million
Lake Grapevine, Grapevine, TX - 1.5 million
Amistead National Recreation Area, Outside Del Rio, TX - 1.2 million
Lake Merideth National Recreation Area, Outside Amarillo, TX - .8-1 million
Padre Island National Seashore, Outside Corpus Christi, TX - .6 million
Bardwell Lake, Ennis, TX - .5 million
Big Bend National Park, Outside Marathon, TX - 381,747
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Outside El Paso, TX - 169,535

Rankings by Visitors

There are many benefits for cities with popular visitor attractions. Of course, economic benefits are most sought after. But the benefits extend to things that ultimately matter in quality of life terms, including education, lifelong learning interests, exposure to diverse cultures, broader business opportunities and greater satisfaction with the resources provided by the city or region.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce and World Atlas, the following are the 10 Most Visited U.S. Cities. Keep in mind that this list is not a strictly tourism based list and includes visitors who may travel for medical, family, business, or personal leisure interests.

48 million
New York City
47 million
45.6 million
Los Angeles/Anaheim, CA
42.7 million
38.1 million
Las Vegas
36.4 million
35.4 million
31 million
30.3 million
San Diego
29.6 million

Note: The Dallas Morning News reported that in 2014, 25 million travelers visted DFW, resulting in $4.3 billion in spending; 2.2 million were international visitors; 1.44 million were from Mexico.

Rankings by Recommendations

Below is a composite of many features and lists for travel to U.S. cities based on recommendations by travel editors and writers.

San Francisco/Napa, CA
Las Vegas
New York City
Washington DC
New Orleans
Phoenix/Sedona, AZ

Most Visited Cities by Foreign Travelers

The National Travel and Tourism Office ranks these as the most visited U.S. cities by foreign travelers. The report uses the most common visitor numbers, though they change slightly from year to year. Predictions are for international visitor numbers to decline in the short future due to current world-wide negative perceptions of the United States. Long term predictions are for international visitors to exceed past levels.

New York City
9.6 million
4 million
Los Angeles
3.8 million
3.7 million
San Francisco
3 million
Las Vegas
2.9 million
2.6 million
Washington DC
1.7 million
1.4 million
1.3 million

Rankings by Hotel Rooms

Hotel research firm STR Global reported these Top 10 cities by numbers of hotel rooms, with the reported numbers of hotel rooms that were expected to be added in 2016.

Hotel Rooms
Projected Additions in 2016
Las Vegas
New York City
Washington DC
Los Angeles

Rankings by Conventions

Below is a composite of popular convention, trade show and meeting sites ranked by Cvent, Trade Show Week 200, TSNN-Trade Show Network News, and others.

Las Vegas
New York City
Los Angeles/Anaheim, CA
Washington DC
New Orleans

The Peterson Brothers play Texas music
Talented musicians, like the Peterson Brothers (Alex Peterson, pictured as a teenager), are a tremendous Texas asset. The group has played Houston's Juneteenth Celebration at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston and the State Fair of Texas at Fair Park. They appear in the DFW region's historic venues and regularly perform in the historic Gruene Hall near New Braunfels.

Cultural artists performing in Carrollton Texas
Traditional artists enhance cross-cultural experience during a festival in Carrollton, Texas. The nation-leading diverse populations of DFW communities, along with other regional cities, represents one of the state's most underutilized resources. Where Texas has the opportunity to lead the nation and world in the future of education, social tranquility and quality or life, the state has historic precedent for being passed up by others to the tremendous detriment of its citizens. The unmistakeable benefits of cultural education and experience are as prepared and provident in DFW as any place in the world.

Introduction    Ranking Texas Cities    Top Visitor Attractions    Cultural Resources    Visitor Interests    Recommendations    Information Sources    About the Author

Cultural Resources

Like natural resources in the natural environment, cultural resources are the many resources in the human environment, including human relationship with nature. For the purpose of the report, the ones of interest are the resources that produce interests and activities, which is nearly all of them.

A fuller understanding of cultural resources will help produce services and attractions that better match visitor interests and build greater enthusiasm for attractions.

Texas cities have been behind other cities and have looked to the kinds of successful attractions in the others for their ideas. Generally, this has produced good results. Dallas and Houston were once criticized for their sprawling parking lots and, because of it, they have moved to have more parks in the downtowns and surrounding areas. In fact, a single park, Discovery Green, strategically placed in Houston's downtown in 2008, along with a rail line, tons of national marketing and the winning bid for the Super Bowl LI, changed Houston from a place that was barely on leisure travelers' radar in 2007 (not appearing on any of Travel and Leisure's Top 25 lists, except "Best Culture in U.S. Cities") to a place that was reviewed quite favorably by 2015. (Note: Dallas-Fort Worth squeeked into the Top 25 on most of the lists in 2007, but hasn't improved much by 2016).
By 2016, however, Travel and Leisure readers were again focused on smaller, more cultural and historical resource-laden cities: 1) Charleston. 2) New Orleans. 3) Savannah. 4) Santa Fe. 5) Nashville. 6) San Franciso. 7) Chicago. 8) New York City. 9) Austin. 10) Ashville. 11) Honolulu. 12) San Antonio. 13) Boston. 14) Seattle. 15) Portland.
Sometimes cities have desires based on other cities that don't make much sense. Some Houston planners have envisioned water taxis, like Chicago, and a Houston organization is interested to have a "swimming hole" like Austin's Barton Springs. DFW area cities have considered creating canals or having rivers lined with businesses, similar to San Antonio's River Walk. While all are interesting and might be appealing if they can be successfully developed, they face the same real challenge of all silty, murky East Texas rivers.

Similarly, DFW area cities often look to each other for examples, while the Metroplex seems to have difficulty in thinking as a cohesive area, to compare itself with the other major cities around the nation

The report considers the largest identifiable attractions and draws information from studies that have looked at total resources and their impacts, like total numbers of non-profit organizations. Admittedly, it would take a longer and better funded study to get down to the more broad impact of smaller music venues, theaters and art galleries.

Civic planners should warn against certain ways of thinking that limit the full utilization and appreciation for cultural resources, like excessive Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) expectations placed on smaller organizations (since they greater collective impact than individual impact) or circumventing non-profit organizations to self-produce cultural events, causing loss of potential funding (that usually comes to non-profits by leveraging matching grants) and dimenished community support.

Cultural Resource Inventories

There are differences between inventories of historical and archaeological sites, and those of a city or region. Primarily, the resources of a limited site generally reflect the artifacts and other significant features of the site. The cultural resources of the city or region are much larger in scope and pertain to past, present and future. The resources are the history, interests, organizations and large assets, like universities and institutions. But mostly, the cultural resources of a place are the people and all their diverse ways of life - food, religion, education, architecture, arts, social life and many other traditions.

Building Visitor Attractions

Visitor attractions best utilize the cultural resources, including the capability and productivity, as well as interests, of the population and location. Having facilities without interests or interests without facilities amounts to lost potential to improve health, quality of life, education, productive uses of technology, creativity, tranquility, cultural literacy, and much more.

The Houston Astrodome
The steel frame of the world-famous Astrodome is pictured under construction in 1964. Originally called the Harris County Domed Stadium, known as "the Eighth Wonder of the World," the Houston Atrodome opened as the first domed stadium in 1965. As domed stadiums are now the norm, the first and most historic one symbolizes a significant change to our ways of life. If planned well, it has the potential to live on as one of nation's most innovative places, following in a long line of international cultural landmarks where public gatherings and competitions took place, including the Colosseum, Olympia and others. To think Houston leaders aren't intent to produce the world's leading museum of civilizations and cultures in the space, leaving the door open for other cities, says everything about the challenge of having vision and good timing.

The Texas Rangers Stadium in Arlington
The Texas Rangers Stadium in Arlington has the potential to serve as many as 5 million visitors, and maybe more. However, it presents a challenge similar to the Astrodome. How may a facility live on to have more use, with many possibilities available and waiting to develop, than it did as a sports facility? Leaders often fail to think bigger, but rather often think a facility has met its demise when its use as a sports facility is done. The answers lie in the level of expectation a community has for it and their city. The level of vision and planning make a big difference. Had the planning for Arlingyon been better integrated into the Metroplex, possibly making it a train station (rail and trolley) and mixed-use transportation center, it could have been the center of many connections in the region, rather than the "largest city in America without pblic trasit." But even as a major museum and festival site, it could have ranked at or near the top of DFW visitor attractions.

Introduction    Ranking Texas Cities    Top Visitor Attractions    Cultural Resources    Visitor Interests    Recommendations    Information Sources    About the Author

Visitor Interests

More people visit the state of New Mexico than the cities of Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW). What is significant about that? The population of New Mexico (2 million) is less than 30 percent of the population of the Metroplex (7 million) and that gap will grow over the next ten years. New Mexico's success is in a high level of utilization of cultural resources, whether intentional or not, for development of visitor interests.

The most effective strategy to increase visitors is to effectively utilize the cultural resources of a city or region. Not only to utilize them effectively, but to involve the largest possible segment of the population in developing attractions in order to gain and distribute the benefits. Without the benefits of enjoying events, presenting traditions, experiencing nature, appreciating talented artists, learning new things, knowing history, tasting unique foods, selling interesting products, joining with fans, etc., there isn't the necessary base of commitment from local populations and little hope of elevating attractions.

The largest cultural resource every community or city has is its population, and the array of backgrounds and interests of the population. There is probably no greater potential force to build on interests than energized people with few barriers to their productivity.

While funding is the key issue - ask any community leader, event producer or institution director - cities should focus on making more fertile grounds for organizers and activities, particularly growth of organizations and access for their productions. As cities attempt to establish attractions without the grassroots support of invested people and organizations, they often end up with uninspiring and poorly supported activities, lacking sense of pride or ownership by the community.

Cultural Visitor Attractions

The following list of attraction categories considers possible areas where the DFW area might improve or better coordinate and promote existing resources. The categories are based on the most often cited reasons people travel, compiled from both research and surveys.

Topics include: Amusement Parks | Architecture, Landmarks | Arts, Performing Arts | Celebrations, Holidays, Parades | Conventions, Conferences | Diversity, Cultural Interests | Fairs, Festivals | Food (Cuisine), Beverage | Gambling | Government | History, Historic Sites | International, Cosmopolitan | Monuments, Statues | Movies, Film Locations | Museums, Galleries | Music, Festivals | Nature, Landscape, Parks | Personal Recreation | Professional Sports | Relaxation, Spas | Sight-seeing | Shopping | Universities | Weather, Climate

Areas with excellent potential for improvement are shaded with green and areas with good potential for improvement are shaded with blue, while areas that require caution are shaded with yellow.

Amusement Parks

There is often talk of new amusement parks and theme coming to the DFW area. For one reason or another, they don't materialize. It may be an insurmountable challenge in Texas to make a large industry from amusement parks, considering how they have massed in the Orland/Buena Vista, FL and Los Angeles/Anaheim, CA areas. As Texas lost Astroworld, one of its three big amusement parks, in the league with Arlington's Six Flags Over Texas and San Antonio's Fiesta Texas, it seemed they may be doomed as entertainment options. But the most historic one, Six Flags, and the relative newcomer, Fiesta Texas, have held on to many loyal supporters and regional visitors. Along with thrill-ride type parks, water parks have lured many patrons, due to the state's long, hot summers, with several of the most successful operating in the DFW area. Not only in DFW, but in the greater Houston area, interest in opening new amusement parks could spur a limited amount of growth over the next decade.

Architecture, Landmarks

There is a surprising amount of interesting architecture in the DFW area. Historic architecture is a tremendous asset.

There has been a visionary effort to preserve historic buildings in downtown Fort Worth and, of course, the Fort Worth Stockyards historic district. There are several other historic downtowns in the greater DFW area, such as Grapevine, Carollton, McKinney and Granbury, where there have been efforts to preserve interesting historic architecture. And there are many historic houses, turned museums throughout the Metroplex.

Downtown Dallas has its share of historic buildings. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza and Old Red Museum of Dallas County are surely the most recognizable. But there are many historic buildings, theaters, churches, locations designed by early African-American architects, and numerous other endangered sites mixed in to renewing urban areas. One of the top historic architectural assets in Dallas is Fair Park, which faces many questions about preservation, utilization and community improvement and development. As valuable as it is and as visionary as its purposes were many decades ago, it should be considered a good problem to have. It has enormous potential.

Something that is not well considered in the region is the proliferation of "heritage parks," including: Dallas Heritage Village, Farmers Branch Historical Park, Log Cabin Village (Fort Worth), Historic Fort Worth's cattle baron mansions, Heritage Farmstead Museum (Plano), Frankfort Cemetery and Church (Dallas), A.W. Perry Homestead Museum, Heritage Park (Irving), Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Museum (Irving), Knapp Heritage Park (Arlington), Fouders Row (Midlothian), Grapevine Vintage Railroad, Grapevine Museum and Galleries, Nash Farm (Grapevine), Garland Landmark Museum, and many more. All tolled, it's an impressive collection of period architecture. While it is a privately operated site and not quite as old as it might be considered, the Southfork Ranch (built in 1970), famous for being the set of the televion show "Dallas", attracts about 100,000 visitors per year.

Coordination and strategic resources could increase visitor activities significantly.

Arts, Performing Arts

Dallas and Fort Worth have state of the art facilities that present world class music, dance and theater. The Dallas Arts District is very impressive for a relatively new development. The Fort Worth Cultural District is also impressive and certainly well beyond what the city's history suggests it was capable to develop. Of course, the Metroplex has more than 7 million people and should be interested and capable to support substantially more arts.

Two interesting observations came out of two years of programming and attending arts events in Houston and DFW. 1) The level of attendance in arts events across DFW seems to be lower than Houston, where there is a more visible level of energy and broad participation in the arts communities. 2) Involvement in arts is likely more widespread across DFW than in Houston, but arts are produced independently as personal painting, photography and crafts.

From studies commissioned in Houston, Houston has more arts organizations, while the city of Dallas spends more money on arts. The threshold for a Dallas arts organization to receive civic funding is higher than it is for a Houston organizations to receive civic funding. Dallas public funding appears to be more utilized by larger, though fewer professional arts organizations. Where Houston visual artists largely seek opportunities with small and midsized arts organizations (art centers, galleries, etc.), up-and-coming artists, amateurs and hobbyists in the larger DFW area look more toward fairs and festivals. Houston artists would not believe there is more arts activity in DFW, but there is more.

If a more in-depth study is done, it might be discovered that DFW arts receive fewer grant funds, or possibly fewer grants, than Houston, particularly relative to its larger population. In meeting with arts organizations in DFW, Imagine a Museum and DSRC volunteers discovered that many of them don't apply for grant funds. Receiving critical matching funds also seems like it might be a substantial challenge for many of them, since fewer of the organizations have opportunities to serve as producing organizations for their communities and districts. It is a problem that can easily be solved.

Another aspect the volunteers discovered seems like a much harder challenge to overcome. There is a higher level of segregation in many DFW communities and audiences aren't well integrated. Some populations remain isolated and believe activities in other parts of the DFW area aren't open to them. Divisions based on language, race and religion seem to exist. As a result, there is a serious need for greater cultural literacy and cross-cultural experience.

(Note: Some of the statements in this section are first-hand observations, supported by information provided by focus groups, rather than research based. Regardless, research in this area is needed and will likely find a need for improvement.)

Celebrations, Holidays, Parades

As with arts described above, traditional activities abound throughout the DFW region. But the level of activity and participation doesn't match the potential for a region of its size, with a large, diverse population. The celebrations of Holi, Divali, Lunar New Year, Juneteenth and even the rodeo are more widely enjoyed and obviously more multicultural in Houston than DFW. Fair Park is the most known among community festival facilities, but several others are needed throughout the DFW area. More opportunities to work with various facilities, and more opportunities to access grants and sponsorship funding are needed to increase public events and attract larger audiences. Much of this activity needs to be understood as non-profit activity, with the benefits being for the community (pride, interests and productive activity), and vendors and small businesses, rather than major revenue sources for cities and large businesses.

Conventions, Conferences

Convention business is one of the most sought-after industries by Texas cities, and may be no more apparent than it is in DFW. Where cities that act more as central hubs usually command their regions, many cities in the Metroplex are competing for convention business. While Dallas has a well-established convention center, Arlington and Irving are building sizeable facilities and trying to attach popular entertainment venues and centers to them. Fort Worth is also increasing its facilities for popular entertainment in its Cultural District, not far from its downtown convention center.

Convention business can be risky. Many convention facilities around the country are not living up to their goals. Many are in cities that don't have the level of attractions that audiences want. Many aren't accessible to transportation, which is a growing expectation for participants. Many are not centrally located to attractions, particularly when comparing the proximity of Chicago's McCormick Center to Museum Campus (Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, Soldier Field, rail lines, parks and concert venues). Surrounded by Millennium Park, Downtown Chicago, Navy Pier, Northerly Island and Lake Michigan, the bar is set very high by the McCormick Center. Many convention centers rely on trade shows and other kinds of declining retail-driven markets.

Heather Middleton, with the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation, reported to USA Today that tourism brings $5 billion per year to Nashville and 40 percent of the revenue is convention-related. Referring to the city's central location, music history, entertainment, and many attractions, the spokesperson stated, "It's an easy city to host a meeting and it has a culture."

For convention visitors who attend from out of state, vacation appeal and World Class attractions matter. As the region is so driven to succeed in convention business, especially where there are many options in a small radius, improving the cultural, social and educational attractions for the region is paramount.

More commonly hosted at universities, conferences are a prominent visitor attractions in the Metroplex. Though usually designed for highly specialized and specific audiences, therefore not widely advertised, they also rely partly on their audience members' desire to visit the region, however, their audiences may think mostly in terms of Dallas or Fort Worth.

Diversity, Cultural Interests

"Culture" is an area of interest that is acknowledged, but not well utilized. Cities and states use it in their tourism campaign mottos: Fort Worth, "City of Cowboys and Culture"; Houston, "The Culinary and Cultural Capitol of the South" (a lesser tag line in a long line of questionable slogans); New Mexico, "Adventures Steeped in Culture"...

There are various definitions of "culture," from academic to vernacular uses, ranging from folk traditions and daily life to high art. The fact that culture generally means that things are done differntly in different places is the main reason people travel or participate in diverse activities.

Diversity and cultural interests are an often taken-for-granted, overlooked reason people travel. Outbound American tourists usually travel abroad for cultural interests, but forget that people from other countries find similar interests in U.S. cities. Like Houston and San Antonio, DFW has a tremendous amount to offer because of the extensive grassroots cultural interests the diverse populations hold and may have turned into physical. From interesting restaurants to unique districts, Texas cities have a phenomenal, broad resource to share. Add to that the kinds of cultural celebrations, sacred sites and temples, which Texas populations are usually interested to open for interested guests, and it is clear that Texas cities have great foundations to build on in the changing world.

As an indication of how diverse DFW and Houston are, the Dallas suburb of Irving and Houston's Sugar Land have diversity to rival Queens, NY. Some of the populations have built outstanding temples and specific cultural centers (Arab-American, Chinese-American, Indian-American, etc.), but the surface has barely been scratched. When looking at the more broad definition of culture, the full array of our ways of life, it is obvious that diversity and cultural interests (past, present and future; local, regional and international) have only barely begun to be explored or utilized as an educational cultural resource. It seems likely that DFW or Houston will spring forward to take a national lead in this area, but other cities with the drive to increase visitor attractions, educational opportunities and innovative leadership will definitely build on these interests as they start to clearly recognize the potential benefits in their own cities.

Learn more about ideas for this in the "Museums" topic and also "Recommendations" below.

Fairs, Festivals

Having what may be among the largest of Texas events, the State Fair of Texas, and a very substantial Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, it seems certain that DFW provides quite a lot of opportunities for visitors in this area. And many street festivals, from Deep Ellum and the Dallas Arts District to Fort Worth's Near Southside and Cultural District, fill in during the in-between weeks and months. Art is pretty well represented in the Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival, Arts Goggle and Dallas Aurora, while music is the centerpiece of most others, like Carrolton's Festival in the Switchyard, Richardson's Wildflower! Music and Arts Festival and Fort Worth's soon-to-be-tested Fortress Festival.

There is not a feeling of stability in DFW festivals, though, as some tend to disappear or go on a hiatus, even while providing very high quality music, art and food. This is similarly addressed in "Music" below. Support for the events is not only dependant on finances and the volatile economy, but the level of participation by sponsors and donors. Most critical is the ability to expand interests by raising the levels of cultural literacy and music experience across communities, a challenge that requires all forms of media support (news coverage, radio broadcasts, social media) and wider access to music and arts (which starts with having many activities that people who live with difficult economic challenges can travel to and attend).

Being the largest in DFW, the State Fair attracts perhaps the most attention. Its attendance numbers have apparently been unavailable at times and therefore controversial. But attendance should be easy to calculate, since tickets are sold and visitors enter through controlled gates. The ability of the State Fair's producing organization to contribute millions of dollars to the improvement of Fair Park indicates the operation is pretty solid. By comparison, one thing that stands out when looking at Houston's successful Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLSR) is that HLSR presents dozens of top entertainers. The State Fair presents fewer top entertainers and features the same artists on stage for days on end, and there are entire areas of Fair Park that go unused and could feature more entertainment (music, dance, etc.), so there is much room to grow if the marketing need or desire is there.

Food (Cuisine), Beverage

Food traditions are among the top resources in Texas. DFW offers many diverse restaurants, but they are very spread out and can even be difficult to notice. Cuisine is being promoted as an attraction in DFW and, a few decades behind schedule, in Houston, one of the main cities that really broke down barriers between people and their food traditions. There are also food and wine (or beer) festivals in DFW, but the opportunity to present food traditions to the public through institutions and events is highly underutilized. As much as any other cultural resource, food represents one of the areas where Texas cities fail to stand out when they are ahead, only to stake their claims when most others have caught up.

Wine and beer festivals are fairly common in many cities across the nation, but craft and micro breweries and wineries are successful in Texas and have strong presence in North Texas. More visitor activity, especially by local participants, will certainly improve the industry as a visitor attraction.


Gambling is not considered an attraction in Texas, though there are businesses that would like to make it one. For the most part, people in Texas who would like to gamble must travel to a neighboring state, including Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma, or farther to Arizona and Nevada. Ironically, there is an industry and economic activity around it in most of Texas, including tour and bus services, and hotel, food and fuel sales. Some experts say that gamblers would lose more money to casinos if they were in Texas, closer to home, and did not require travelers to plan and budget.


Government is a major attraction in Washington DC, for both business and tourism. It is also an attraction in Austin, but to a much lesser extent. City and county government centers tend to mostly attract business travelers, but county courthouses in Texas are an attraction, particularly for Texans, and some people like to visit all of them. The Metroplex has 13 counties, with several represented by interesting historic courthouses. They can obviously share benefits with other historic architectural sites mentioned in "Architecture and Landmarks" above.

History, Historic Sites

To a great extent, history and historic sites are represented by architecture, particularly historic architecture. With the lack of architecture that is older than 100 years, Texas is sometimes considered to be a place with little history. Particularly, people from East Coast cities and many other countries see it that way. Texas history is, however, preserved in less visible archaeological sites, even in DFW and the North Texas region. Another downside is that prominent Texas history subjects are not popular with everyone. The Confederacy, war with Mexico and the Indian wars do not appeal to most people today, at least not in the sense that some older Texas populations considered them points of pride. But when considering Texas history in the larger picture of the United States and the world, Texas history is highly impactful, important and very interesting to people.

The oldest written history in the modern boundaries of the United States describes Texas environments and the lifeways of the region's indigenous peoples. As an independent nation, its entry into the Union led to the Civil War. The enforcement and end of slavery in Texas and the South was declared in Galveston, with Juneteenth celebrations spreading to Houston, and quickly throughout the state and nation. Basically, the most important human rights event in the modern world, the end of slavery in the most powerful nation, as it is celebrated on June 19, originates in Texas. Not having strong appreciation for history or all of its benefits, most Texas cities failed to understand the significance of the annual commemoration of the end of slavery. They failed to acknowledge the sesquicentennial on what should have been a very inspirational festival on a local level, and one that merited national recognition, utilizing Texas academic and artistic resources, by bringing out home-grown stars like Beyonce, for a nationwide presentation from Texas.

With a very interesting history of immigrant populations and their traditions, as well as a tremendous modern presence of diversity that makes DFW and Houston comparable to the nation's most prominent cities (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC, Miami, etc.), Texas basically has the history of the world in all the diverse cultures and stories found here. The major cities have failed to produce adequate institutions to preserve and present history, with the state's official museum, the Bullock Texas State History Museum, opening as late as 2001. History museums in Texas are often presented as heritage museums, a naming convention that guided much of the state's thinking about its history. To fully utilize the available cultural resources, there should be more inclusive and in-depth culture museums, especially since that is the way many modern Texas populations see themselves - as people from many diverse cultures living together in dynamic places. The potential content and interests are endless.

International, Cosmopolitan

Places that provide a pleasant experience for international visitors tend to attract more international visitors. Many U.S. travelers like the experience of visiting places that have a cosmopolitan feel, as well. International districts and events that attract international interests are great resources in major cities, and prominent smaller cities. There are 70-80 million international travelers to the U.S., with visitors from Mexico exceeding 22 million. Foreign visitors make up a significant economic benefit for major U.S. cities.

The forecast for international visitors is expected to slow currently, but Texas cities - Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio - should remain attractive destinations.

Monuments, Statues

Of course, the cities that really dominate the interests of visitors who seek important monuments are Washington DC, with dozens of monuments and hundreds of statues on the National Mall, and New York City, home of the Statue of Liberty. DFW is not particularly strong in this area, though several important monuments related to the J.F.K. assassination are found in Dallas and Fort Worth. There are also several Western history/cattle industry sculptures. However, considering public art and sculpture gardens (some in botanic gardens), and the relative ease of increasing those resources, the area has a base to build on.

Movies, Film Locations

As expected, the Metroplex offers a wide variety of cinemas and specialized theaters, with food and beverage service, or specialties in art and documentary films. While movie theaters serve local visitors, it is film festivals that may attract visitors from the region and even the nation. Very good film festivals with reputations for excellent and groundbreaking presentations may even attract international visitors. While there are several good ones, there is room to grow in the area of film and media festivals, since there is phenomenal growth in new media technologies.

Film locations attract visitors, but not on a routine basis. Of course, while Dealey Plaza is a historic site, it could also be considered a film (or news) location, since historic footage of the J.F.K. assassination was made there and film production companies have since used the site.

Nearly 100 films and television shows have been filmed in Dallas. The television show "Dallas" is not only the impetus for some tourism in the region, but it has inspired people to relocate to the area, even coming from other continents. Influenced by the iconic show, the owner of a popular tulip farm was enticed to move to DFW from Europe.

When the show made a brief comeback in 2012-2014, Southfork Ranch and Hotel management, Forever Resorts, reported to the Dallas Morning News that visitors rose from 150 per day on weekends to 375-400, and from 75-100 visitors per day on weekdays to 200-300, increasing visitors at the famous film location to 90,000 to 120,000 per year.

Cities aggressively work to bring television and filmmaking to their city for a variety of reasons (economic activity, crew hospitality, celebrity visitors, reputation, etc.). but not generally with the belief that the films will attract substantial visitors. That phenomenon is reserved for cities with fascinating natural environments, important centers of activities in historic settings, places with unique identities and diverse cultures. Places in DFW could meet some of that criteria. The inspiration for filmmaking in these kinds of settings generally comes from works produced in the creative sector - literature, art, music, media, documentary, theater, folk traditions, foods - making it most worthwhile for cities to support the broad range of their communities' cultural interests.

There are numerous strategies to increase filmmaking in North Texas through greater exposure for its potential settings and stories. Increasing the level of arts across the Metroplex in general will increase the region's level of professional employment in the creative sector. Raising interest in historic structures and places for amateur and professional photographers will also increase awareness for filmmakers.

Museums, Cultural Centers, Galleries

Museums are one of the top attractions to the most visited U.S. cities, including New York City, Washington DC, San Francisco, Santa Fe, and many others. DFW offers excellent museums, mostly centered around the Dallas Arts District and the Fort Worth Cultural District. Perhaps, one of the real weaknesses of the DFW area related to its perception in the outside world is lack of cohesiveness. The sum of excellent museums as a complete resource is very substantial. But for the visitor who may set their sites on either Dallas or Fort Worth, the impact of museums won't likely cause them to increase their stay. With more attractions in the vast area in between the two cities, which our report describes as a solar system with two suns, a more cohesive Metroplex would be a much more inviting destination, particularly if better visitor districts with hotels, restaurants and other attractions were available in-between the two. The area in between the two major cities is as large as a major city (it would rank in the top 10 of U.S. cities and rival Dallas in many ways).

The gap is a very significant deficit of attractions, but is has many opportunities that may be built on based on the size of the population and their divese interests. Being one of the most important attractions to other cities, museums may be one means to fill the void. And given the breadth of cultural interests and business/industry resources of Texas, tremendous possibilities for insiring and innovative centers and museums are open.

Successful museums are capable to increase attendance and donor support for most other area institutions. The strong presence of major museums has the effect of exponential gain in visitors. Where one or two may attract 1-2 million, three or four usually serve 4-8 million. Chicago's museums collectively serve 15-20 million visitors.

Considering the expansion in architecture and subject matter of museums, as well as the many potential innovations in the way museums and major centers are presented, the possibilities are limitless.

The description of Norway's national Rockheim museum is a very good way to think about the capability and purpose of a museum, in this case, a museum about music: "Music is a source of enjoyment. It creates a sense of belonging and offers new experiences. But it is also a vital source of knowledge of ourselves and our cultural history." This is a way to consider the value broad cultural subjects in media and technology, nature and environment, social and political sciences, cultural arts and activities, and infinitely more subjects.

Music, Festivals

Music is an aspect of interest in Texas that rivals Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans. It is, however, almost certainly one of the most underappreciated and underutilized cultural resources in Texas. Famously, Austin made music a major visitor industry from the rest of the state's failure and declared itself the "Music Capital of Texas." Houston could have made that claim. The combination of Dallas and Fort Worth could most arguably support the claim. Lubbock, San Antonio, El Paso, Denton... all have a significant place in Texas music history and the music industry. But, unlike Austin, most Texas cities failed to build the resources it takes to have a knowledgeable, informed public and to expand involved communities of musicians and fans.

Prominent regional cities have taken different approaches to the presentation of music as one of their valuable cultural resources: For Memphis, it's museums; Nashville, live music and the Country Music Hall of Fame; New Orleans, major festivals. Austin capitalized on several successful examples - live music, showcases, festivals - but it went much further by broadcasting the Austin City Limits television program and growing institutions like South by Southwest to include new dimensions - film and technology.

Again, DFW and Houston advocates could argue about which has the greatest music legacy, certainly being more substantial than Austin in their diversity. Both can make the case that they are among the strongest epicenters of American music. In fact, their legacies depend on each other pretty substantially. One of the state's most important resources that interprets its legacy in music is Irving's Texas Musicians Museum. Irving's effort to bring the museum to its downtown area was, no doubt, one of the DFW area's most visionary efforts. It will take a great deal of support for it to grow to its full potential, to be something like the Rock 'n' Soul Museum in Memphis, with comprehensive music history exhibits, high quality media presentations, and Smithsonian affiliation and professional accreditations.

The DFW region presents a substantial amount of live music, as well, in venues from Deep Ellum to historic theaters and modern concert venues. There are grassroots opportunities for the music scene to thrive, but not fully up to the level that should be supported in DFW. The potential in festivals is tremendous, but DFW area music fans, media sponsors, city leaders, district managers and philanthropists need to do much more to raise the level of public support for local music. That grassroots effort will translate to greater export of Texas music and broader import of music from around the nation and the world. With cities interested to make live music an important draw to their convention centers, developing widespread music interest and support across the Metroplex is critical.

The opportunities to build on Texas music as an industry and historic interest are endless. Even at its present level, visitors come from near and far to support Texas music events. If done properly, it will account for gains in national and international visitors for DFW that currently pursue their interests in Austin, New Orleans, Cleveland, Seattle, etc.

Nature, Landscape, Parks

To most outsiders, the Metroplex does not offer the kinds of features that attract visitors to cities like Miami, with its ocean beaches, Denver, the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, or Los Angeles, with ocean beaches and mountains. DFW area lakes are highly utilized by local populations. There is the making of a good trail system on the Trinity River. Park improvements, certainly in downtown Dallas, have been impressive, with exciting developments on the horizon, both in the urban setting and on the Trinity River.

Some DFW area cities are beginning to recognize their deficiencies. And there are many improvements that can be made. They should generally be obvious (e.g. An Arlington resident can mostly bike east-west along creeks, but not north-south; communities have expansive utility right-of-ways that may make excellent bike freeways; the ability to bike or hike between Dallas and Fort Worth is not complete). The way forward is clearly to increase parks, particularly as means to connect districts and communities, especially where wide freeways and river basins are currently barriers.

There are, however, even more ways to improve the standing of the overall Metroplex for local people and visitors who seek beautiful natural environments and parks. One predominant Texas natural resource that is greatly appreciated by most visitors is wildflowers in spring, a very easily increased resource.

Texas natural resources have extensive interesting crossover with many historical subjects - indigenous cultures, explorers, adventurers (historic and modern) - so there are opportunities to expand the scope of parks. Where parks may struggle (and a trend has been to make them activity centers), they may become professionally-designed gardens, community gardens, research centers, seed farms, arboretums, etc.

North Texas and especially the neighbor just across the Red River, Oklahoma, have more impressive fall colors than Gulf Coast cities. A surprising number of Metroplex residents are unaware that they live only 3 hours or less by car to several mountain ranges, including the Wichita Mountains, Arbuckle Mountains and Kiamichi Mountains, making lost opportunities for DFW to serve as an access hub to those diverse regions.

Personal Recreation

Personal recreation is not a strong attraction in DFW. Local people have many opportunities for biking, running, golfing, boating and water skiing. Most any unique commercial operation that can be found anywhere, like indoor and outdoor skydiving, and climbing walls, can be found in DFW. Fort Worth has an innovative public health and fitness program. But the natural resources that are most evident in DFW are not all that attractive to out-of-town visitors. There are areas for improvement - certainly the Trinity Trails and other parks.

There are also ways to present and launch very bold initiatives in the future, such as tie-ins to popular national trail systems and other concepts, like "bike freeways," using utility corridors and expanded parkways. The DFW population may also be interested to explore the nearby mountain ranges in southern Oklahoma or the Texas Hill Country, helping to create broad interest for DFW as a hub for recreation and adventure travel.

Professional Sports

The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metropolitan Statistical Area is the fourth largest in the U.S., but ranks fifth, tying with five other cities, in terms of numbers of major professional sports teams.

With professional baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer, DFW has most every major sport covered. Several Metropolitan Statistical Areas are capable to support two major teams in different sports, including some that are larger (like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago) and some that are smaller (like San Francisco/Oakland and Washington DC/Baltimore). DFW teams are generally successful and have little room to increase visitors, though filling empty seats may be more of an economic problem than a marketing challenge.

One of the few ways to provide more professional sports to DFW's growing population is to add a second team in a sport. Los Angeles is about to experiment with a second professional football team in addition to its two professional baseball and basketball teams. With the longest season and therefore the largest number of visitor opportunities, baseball is the top professional sport that should be in consideration to provide another team for the growing population. It isn't easy to attract a professional team in a limited league, and it should not be a high priority for area governments, but investors might weigh the opportunity to join cities like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Franscico/Oakland, Washington DC/Baltimore, and take action. Baseball is the sport that can offer the most visitor benefits and probably the greatest ticket price flexibility.

Another goal of many major cities is to host significant events, like the Super Bowl, All Star Game, Final Four, World Cup Soccer or even the Olympics. On the international level, Texas cities have struggled to win bids for events like the Olympics, partly because they lack the attractions of many World Class Cities. They have also historically presented themselves as industrial centers, more than cultural centers, since that's what they were. It is further evidence that actual visitor experience and international image are important.

Relaxation, Spas

Major cities aren't significantly appealing when it comes to ideas about health and relaxation. Most likely, places like Santa Fe and Sedona will command the market for retreats and spas. But with a high-stress urban environment, there is certainly desire for some of the 7.1 million local people, soon to be 9 million, in DFW to have close escapes to the rural outskirts of the Metroplex.


Sight-seeing is a challenging area for interests in DFW. The Metroplex, like Houston, San Antonio and many other major metropolitan areas, developed with lots of unattractive freeways, signage, power lines, strip malls and generic box stores.

Those who venture into the many interesting neighborhoods and districts of Dallas, Fort Worth and some of the communities around and in between, can be rewarded. The challenge for Dallas, more than the others, is how to connect all the interesting areas - east, west, north and south of downtown - with auto trails, and hiking and biking paths.

Covering freeways with parks (like stretches of I-30 and I-35) and even removing some of them (like U.S. 75 east of downtown) is good for local communities, business development, and visitors. It is not onl good, it is inspiring and bodes well for the future. Building up cultural resources at strategic connector points has enormous potential to make greater cohesiveness work for leisure interests, tours, recreation, and general sight-seeing.

Other DFW area cities have to face these considerations. Fort Worth is in the best condition for sight-seers, at least in the central districts, with its simple layout of downtown, the cultural district and university area. But even there, improvements need to be made. Expanding and better connecting the unique historic areas, but being extremely cautious to keep their main asset - their uniqueness - is critical.


Shopping and retail is one of the most volatile visitor interests. Travelers want to buy things in the places where they travel, but they want (first) the experience of the place or event to be unique, and (second) for their purchases to be memorable and rare (regional, iconic, custom, handmade, etc.).

Keeping the independent and unique business zones that are found in the Metroplex is critical. Property owners in trendy areas, like Deep Ellum, sometimes see the potential for higher profits based on the short-term gain of larger retail and restaurant operations, but may ultimately find the districts losing business as they lose their character.


Colleges and universities are an important resource and have substantial visitors, even if they may not have the historic appeal of William and Mary or the beauty of the Rice University campus. The many universities in the Metroplex have the capacity to invite the public and even expand the distance their visitors (more than just prospective students) will come to be part of activities, conferences, exhibits and sports events.

Weather, Climate

The DFW area benefits from "snowbirds," who come from the north to enjoy warmer temperatures during the winter. The overall improvement in utilization of the region's cultural resources and increase in visitor attractions is key to increasing long-term vacationers. With a short, sometimes non-existent winter, there isn't much drawback to increasing the window of time that events are offered.

While the summers are hot, being a couple hundred miles from the Gulf Coast is a benefit. Most evenings cool off quicker than in Corpus Christi, Houston, New Orleans, and other Southern coastal cities.

News that air quality in the DFW area is declining is not good for local people, nor appealing to visitors. A sure key to improving the environment and reducing temperatures in the urban areas, as well as improving aesthetics and property values, is enormous gains in numbers of trees across the region. And, the effort provides productive activity for residents, especially young people.

Additional Considerations


Innovation, Ingenuity

Highly innovative communities attract growing interest. Community improvement, energy efficiency, renewable energy, use of new technology, tiny houses, supermileage competitions, Earth Day events, and other futuristic trends and innovations are appealing to many visitors.


Luxury is a reason growing numbers of people travel to destinations like the French Riviera, as well as other sites in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Some U.S. cities, like Miami, Las Vegas, New York City and Los Angeles, have had year-round success with luxury accomodations as a large industry. Texas cities experience their best success when they host professional sports and other large events.

Though the population of luxury travelers is growing, it is decreasing relative to the population of regular travelers and those who have liitle opportunity to travel or even attend many local activities.


Houston often touts its large medical center (the "largest in Texas") as a city accolade and major visitor attraction. But the reaction can be, "let's hope I never have to go there."

There is also a phenomenon of "medical tourism," where people pick a country to travel to based on lower medical costs.

Undoubtedly, people come to DFW for medical reasons, but other than meeting the needs of the population, it isn't much of an interest to build on. Health museums, on the other hand, may interest visitors, but it seems they would be more appealing in the broader context of science or culture.

Nightlife (Bars, Clubs)

Nightlife is an attraction in many places, like Miami, Los Angeles, New York City, etc. While demographic information about users and their origins exists, it is very difficullt to know where to draw the line between quality attractions and everyday services. It could be compared with restaurants and whether the decision to count them should include global chains and fast food services. Trinity Groves and Magnolia Avenue are surely attractions, but what about every freeway exit? Counting all restaurants, like counting all bars and festival beer stands, would indicate the biggest visitor attraction is casual dining and drive-throughs, which works against the goal of making great places.


Access to trains, cruise ships, subways, tours, and more, is a much larger interest than it is usually considered. These places are usually the centers and hubs of major visitor attractions, and food and retail operations. The room for improvement in transportation access in the DFW area is virtually unlimited, especially as the region plans to become better connected.

Return to topics:
Amusement Parks | Architecture, Landmarks | Arts, Performing Arts | Celebrations, Holidays, Parades | Conventions, Conferences | Diversity, Cultural Interests | Fairs, Festivals | Food (Cuisine), Beverage | Gambling | Government | History, Historic Sites | International, Cosmopolitan | Monuments, Statues | Movies, Film Locations | Museums, Galleries | Music, Festivals | Nature, Landscape, Parks | Personal Recreation | Professional Sports | Relaxation, Spas | Sight-seeing | Shopping | Universities | Weather, Climate

The Lucus Museum of Narrative Art
The Lucus Museum of Narrative Art will be located in Exposition Park, a historic district of Los Angeles that was known as Agricultural Park as early as 1872. Home to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, California Science Center, California African American Museum, Exposition Park Rose Garden and others, the district is a major visitor attraction. More attractions are coming to Exposition Park.

The Canadian Museum of History
The name for the Canadian Museum of History was changed from the Canadian Museum of Civilization. As demonstrated by this re-naming and the recent name change of the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum to the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop), the name of a museum and its connotation are very important. A "Museum of Civilitation" is different than a Museum of Civilizations," and a "Museum of Culture" is different than a "Heritage Museum." The change in these conventions and approaches to subject matter opens up a vast world of potential museum subject matter and content.

Introduction    Ranking Texas Cities    Top Visitor Attractions    Cultural Resources    Visitor Interests    Recommendations    Information Sources    About the Author


Arlington and Irving are examples of a developing understanding in DFW that cities need to have more attractions if they want to increase visitors and support convention business in their new facilities. They are building on music as a centerpiece for entertainment and markets.

However, building resources in the silos that city governments represent will always be very restrictive in DFW. Arlington and Grand Prairie lie directly between the two largest cities, while Irving and Grapevine are best connected to the major airports that serve Dallas and Fort Worth. All of the cities have a great deal at stake in the success of the other cities, and the cohesiveness of the region matters greatly.

Arlington's and Irving's development of entertainment centers to enhance their convention centers may also potentially become evidence of the limit in the understanding of how cultural resources work. Interest and support must be built up from the local community level (grassroots) in order for larger facilities to have the support and longevity of interests to synergize. It takes a wide variety of other channels of interest and diverse institutions to activate the population. There are vast areas to build on and numerous areas that need improvement, but it seems unlikely in terms of strategy that most DFW area cities can see the benefit of resources and attractions that may be outside their own city limits. In many cases, it will require some coordination across the larger DFW area by city leaders and philanthropists who encourage more strategic investment to support and grow the region's assets.


Build a New Foundation

Several DFW cities should call on their visionary philanthropists and successful businesses to form a new philanthropic foundation. The goal of the foundation is to strategically provide support to enhance cultural resources across the Metroplex in a way that will ultimately benefit the entire region.

Some of the existing institutions and organizations, as well as manythat are needed can provide the fabric of the community that builds involvemet and gives purpose to many people. There is most certainly need to better support some key pillars and activity centers.

Where many foundations have priorities they serve and they tend to be reactive, the new strategic foundation should have the following goals:
Steering philanthropy: Apply support for cultural resources and visitor attractions in a way that will encourage and build the support of others.

Umbrella to the region: Serve the entire DFW area by making decisions that will bring visitors to the region and effectively distribute their support to many key cultural resources.
Supportive: Determine where support will make the most impact to enhance existing resources, build key attractions and improve communities.

In-touch: Survey the region's cultural resources and participate in their activities or visit them to develop the best strategy for the region.

Visionary: Look well beyond the region and beyond the existing institutions to determine new and innovative attractions for the Metroplex and international visitors.

Proactive: Determine the areas that will make the greatest impact for DFW and primarily seek to provide resources and direction in those areas.

While the potential foundation name is not determined, the recommendation is "Funding Advisory Network of Dallas-Fort Worth", or "FAN of DFW". The name was developed in a DSRC effort to plan and bring grant workshops, along with good information and advice to area non-profit organizations.

Build Truly Great Attractions

The DFW area has the capability to build on its existing resources to achieve the goal to provide the fullest gamut of visitor experiences (social, educational, recreational, etc.) for local populations and tourists. Strengthening the existing cultural resources by making them part of larger institutions is critical. This includes parks, museums, cultural centers, festival grounds, universities, libraries (however they may evolve in the future), entertainment zones, health campaigns, conferences, technology initiatives, projects for social innovators, and more.

To a large extent, this goal can be met with the establishment and leadership of a strategic foundation described above.

Be the Most Innovative

The Metroplex should be known as the leader in innovative initiatives and attractions for its residents and the benefit of national and international visitors. There are exciting and sometimes phenomenal concepts being developed and presented all over the world, in places with far fewer resources than DFW. Many excellent ideas are waiting on shelves and drawing boards, and being dreamed up by organization volunteers who know where critical challenges can be met.

To a large extent, this goal can be met with the establishment and leadership of a strategic foundation described above.

Grow Non-Profit Organizations

Non-profit organizations are critical to offer and operate many of the most needed programs for communities, and develop attractions to serve the Metroplex. They are the basic structure that represents the fabric of the community, whether small associations or large institutions. They make up many of the pillars - education, health advocacy, cultural literacy, arts, history, environment, etc. - that people associate with quality of life. They turn cultural resources into visitor attractions.

Even small and mid sized non-profits have a tremendous economic impact. With budgets of about $150,000, 100 non-profits produce $15 million in direct economic activity; 500 will produce $75 million. The creative sector is absolutely one of the most important aspects of good communities. And in areas of health and social issues, non-profits are one of the few accepted means to have community buy-in for improvements.

Grants to non-profit organizations are needed in DFW area cities. In many cases, grants may be offered in ways that use existing resources, but extend impact. For example, agencies like the Irving Parks Department and Near Southside Fort Worth provide music programming in their communities, along with many others across DFW. By offering grants to local organizations to produce the events, funds for performing artists can be increased by requiring matching funds and promotional efforts can be expanded by involving the organizations.

If an agency budget provides $2,000 for artist fees, a $2,000 grant will increase the payments for artists to $3,000 by requiring the successful grantee to provide matching funds of 50 percent. The additional 50 percent of the grantee's required match should be in-kind support and should extend the grant-making agency's promotion and outreach efforts.

The benefits of this activity for non-profit organizations include: the ability to expand their operations to more broadly serve the community; the opportunity to increase their budgets, making them eligible for larger grants from other grant-making agencies (including state and national agencies); and, the credibility and opportunity to receive matching funds from other agencies by being integral to the presentation of valuable, established programs.

A Central Transportation Hub

One of the most valuable assets for the Metroplex will be a major transportation center with vast connections and possibilities for travelers, as long as it is an appealing center and not strictly an airport-style terminal.

With talk of new high-speed rail from Dallas to Houston, and the great potential for high-speed rail to serve Fort Worth to Waco, Austin, San Antonio and the Rio Grand Valley, or even possible future routes to Oklahoma City and/or Denver, there should be major interest for a Metroplex community to serve as the hub. It would seem like a community between Dallas and Fort Worth would be the ideal location for the hub, though some of them have resisted public transportation all together, contributing to the lack of cohesiveness for the region.

Regardless, the value in visitors and economic impact for a major transportation center and hub for the region is undeniable. The level of use is only limited by the level of other great attractions in its vicinity and the reputation of DFW as a destination. It makes sense that the hub should be near museums, stadiums, music venues, hotels and restaurants, and easily serve universities and business centers.

Certainly these types of hubs are considered at all stages by planners in Dallas and Fort Worth, the two cities most aggressively working to expand transit in the region. But a larger hub may only be possible in a more neutral area in between, one with less rigid development that can host new high-speed rail, or whatever the future may hold. Arlington, again, seems like a logical place for this kind of hub, but it has not expressed support for new visions. Irving, Grand Prairie or Grapevine could make a case for being central and having vision.

While it seems like Arlington is the easiest part of the puzzle, local reporters have informed the author of the report that the door is nearly closed on Arlington's ability to have rail transit. The city is in easy position to tie in to new transit, even if it bypasses Arlington. Being known as the largest city in the U.S. without public transportation isn't a positive reputation to have and certainly not helpful in efforts to serve visitors in the Metroplex.

Imagine the hub also serving as a busy tour bus terminal (a new take on the cruise ship terminal) for regional excursions described in "Hub for Broad Regional Tourism" below.

A More Cohesive Region

While the challenge for Metroplex city planners and the North Central Texas Council of Governments may be to have working connections and planning for future transportation, the region faces a different challenge in the way people think about it and the ultimate measure, quality of life, that residents may not often think directly about or feel they have much control over. If residents were presented with a map of the distribution of cultural resources and visitor attractions, they would see that they aren't well served, or that they haven't had the means to build what their communities deserve, or that the philosophy of how to build attractions hasn't thoroughly or effectively involved the potential resources.

A profile of attractions would reveal a sizeable mountain over Fort Worth and an even larger mountain over Dallas, with seasonal spikes over Arlington and a number of hills in the spaces in between. The virtual city in between, while made up of several small cities, is actually almost as large as Dallas and would rank in the top 10 of America's largest cities. With density that no longer qualifies as rural, the population is well distributed across the Metroplex. The transportation system is mostly keeping up (with the obvious problems being large public transportation gaps in Arlington and the Mid Cities areas). But the distribution of attractions does not nearly live up to the potential or need of the entire region. In fact, it hurts the region in terms of loss of visitors from outside the region. And it even affects local residents' opinions and beliefs about the quality of their cities. A better visual profile for the Metroplex would be several mountains of resources filling in the space between those that represent Dallas and Fort Worth. One or more of those - Arlington, Irving, Grand Prairie or Grapevine - should be growing impressively.

Resources and attractions should also be dispersed outside the direct lines between Dallas and Fort Worth, since the population has grown significantly in those areas, particularly north of the two major cities.

The famous Texas Triangel
"The famous 'Texas Triangle' that started it all" by launching the concept for Southwest Airlines should be an isnpiration for regional interests and new generations of travelers. The broader Southcentral U.S. region - as DFW sits about half way between New Orleans and Santa Fe - is fascinating and only increases the value of the Metroplex at the center of it.

Hub for Broad Regional Tourism

DFW should become the central hub for tourism in the Southcentral U.S., serving the unique cultural region between the Southeast and Southwest.

The larger region, well beyond the greater DFW area, is among the most exciting and rich set of cultural destinations in the world, especially when considered for its total resources. Efforts should be made to grow interest and build business potential for the many bus and tour companies that operate in the DFW area. Consider the potential interest in "triangular tours", where adventurous groups set out from DFW to see two complimentary cities in the region, along with many interesting sites in between, and return to DFW.
DFW - Memphis - New Orleans (music, civil rights, the Delta)
DFW - Houston - San Antonio (culture, history, food)
DFW - Austin - Fredericksburg (Hill Country, wildflowers, culture)
DFW - El Paso - Santa Fe (culture, Camino Real, art, architecture)
DFW - Amarillo - Oklahoma City (Western heritage, Route 66)
DFW - Tulsa - Little Rock (civil rights, music, history)
DFW - Natchitoches - Nacogdoches (history, archaeology)
DFW - Big Bend - Carlsbad (nature, parks)
DFW - Natchez - Lafayette (food traditions, culture, history)
DFW - Galveston - Port Aransas (Gulf Coast, scuba [boat trip to Texas Flower Garden Reef], birding)
DFW - College Station - Corpus Christi (oceanography, marine archaeology, history)
DFW - Del Rio - Marfa (art, wine, nature)
DFW - Lawton - Davis (wildlife, nature, hiking)
DFW - Talihina - Hot Springs (mountains, parks, fall colors)

And there are many more tour possibilities.
This concept brings a variation on the cruise terminal to landlocked DFW by using different aspects of transportation and the vast interests offered by the region. Where it would send visitors out to many locations around the Southcentral U.S., increasing their visitor support, it would also increase visitors in DFW, and elevate awareness for the vast cultural resources of region. All the described communities, with their institutions, historic sites, businesses and parks, have a similar desire to gain support for their resources and increase visitors.

Cultural Resource Accounting

The region needs an effort to account for all of its cultural resources and to track gains and losses. This includes populations, traditions, institutions, sites, natural resources, etc. The resources should be understood as valuable and integral to quality of life in the Metroplex.

With more thorough inventories of DFW's cultural resources, an excellent tourism plan may be formed and revised from year to year. A comprehensive plan for the entire Metroplex would surely carry more weight than the separate plans for area cities.

The goal may also be met with the establishment and leadership of a strategic foundation described above.

Inclusive Price Structures

Institutions should recognize the extremely wide economic backgrounds of people throughout the region and offer price structures to make opportunities available to everyone.

Museums, theaters, parks, sports facilities, music festivals and venues, and other cultural institutions meet a serious need in communities to develop productive interests, provide education, increase cultural literacy, instill community values, teach respect of others, improve health and inspire creativity. Access to the widest possible variety of activities is important for successful communities.

The extreme disparity in what people earn and the growing condition of the "working but poor" population is unlikely to change in the range of years that institutions are planning for in their futures.

While it is appealing to raise admission prices to the level that the upwardly mobile can afford to try to maximize the budget, the value of most cultural institutions is in how many people they serve. Budgets may ultimately be pinched by trying to rely too much on one economic strata.

There are many ways admission fee-based institutions can offer broad price structures, including lower-priced group rates, reduced fees with transit passes, increase group access through school districts, expand free hours to include a weekend day or half day, lower membership rates for evidence-based economic disadvantages, even lower fees for those in need based on an honor system (as most donation-oriented places offer), and more.

Launch Campaigns for Attractions

Generally, the existing attractions need more media exposure even within the Metroplex. Increased media exposure isn't limited to journalism, entertainment reporting and commercial advertising. Increased sharing of information between organizations and media that are based on arts and culture (such as the existing LPFM radio in Fort Worth and the future LPFM station in the Dallas Arts District, along with college and community radio) is valuable. Increased use of new media, internet, photography and video is important. A clearinghouse is needed for better dissemination of interesting ideas and features that may come from North Texas.

The goal may also be met with the establishment and leadership of a strategic foundation described above.

Walkability and Practice

An excellent model for future development of visitor attractions includes more activity centers and arts and culture districts distributed throughout the Metroplex, with more large parks and institutions also better distributed and serving as visitor hubs and outreach centers. Having the sense that many places - cultural attraction, unique commercial zones, entertainment centers, etc. - should benefit local populations also makes clear that many destinations and residential and park connectors should be walkable or bikeable.

In order to demonstrate the benefits - health, social connectivity, leisure interests, etc. - the places that are walkable, like the Fort Worth Cultural District, should be the sites of more activities that encourage walking and biking, with a larger goal for the practice of using alternative transportation to improve. Broadening transportation habits is critical to bring additional attractions closer to communities that are far from the existing cultural attractions and the centers with the most concentrated visitor interests.

Block by Block Quality Survey

Interactive technology makes it possible for one or more major institutions to build a sociological picture of Dallas or more communities throughout the Metroplex by allowing for user input to be the primary guide. With survey parameters determined by area academics in social sciences and interactive media presentation capability that is found in places like Ellis Island, Dallas, or even the entire Metroplex, can develop an extremely useful tool for community improvement, education, resource distribution, quality of life, civic engagement, social innovation, addressing cultural and social issues, and more.

The goal may also be met with the establishment and leadership of a strategic foundation described above.

Preserve Unique Attractions

The DFW area starts from a disadvantage, having fewer dramatic natural resources and fewer visible historic places than many of the most visited cities. The demolition of historic places, even those that may not seem historic by comparison to much older U.S. cities, is not only heart-breaking to those who enjoy historic architecture and appreciate the charm of local places; it is a tremendous loss of resources that may make significant attractions if preserved.

Districts that thrive based on history and unique character (interesting arts, shops, restaurants, etc.) should consider those values to be an asset more than simply the potential rent prices they may garner. Greater revenue from higher rents that often result in greater homogenization of businesses may ultimately result in loss of value from diminished interest. The general loss of cultural resources, like Deep Ellum, Bishop Arts District, Grapevine's Main Street and Stockyards National Historic District in Fort Worth, along with many others, results in loss of visitor interests (local, national and international) for the entire Metroplex. The challenge for the broader community should be to bring more support to DFW's unique places.

Deep Ellum sign
Deep Ellum is one of the most enduring cultural assets in Dallas, being the site of numerous important resources - history, music, architecture, food, art, design, social life, cultural interests, occupations and other traditions.

Dallas Historic Markers
As many historic markers indicate, Dallas is a prominent location for historic events, trends, arts, architecture, and numerous critical social and cultural issues. Lacking purposeful interpretation, the vast cultural resources of the city and the Metroplex - prominent events, national impact on the arts, worldwide interests in popular culture, paramount American history, etc. - are extremely underutilized in building visitor interests and education opportunities for the region.

Introduction    Ranking Texas Cities    Top Visitor Attractions    Cultural Resources    Visitor Interests    Recommendations    Information Sources    About the Author

Information Sources

All visitor attendance numbers are provided by the respective facilities, institutions, parks, events, etc.

Information has been confirmed with industry trade organizations and managing agencies, including:

Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index
Major League Baseball (MLB)
National Basketball Association (NBA)
National Football League (NFL)
National Park Service (NPS)
STR Global
Themed Entertainment Association (TEA)
Trade Show Week 200
TSNN-Trade Show Network News
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration
U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office
United States Census Bureau
United States Chamber of Commerce
And more


There are four areas or types of sources for the information in the report.

1. Information about total numbers of visitors is provided by the management organizations for attractions and destinations (e.g. the National Football League, National Park Service, etc.), as well as many national agencies and trade industry organizations.

2. Information provided in other studies and reports.

3. Many of the ideas that developed for the report have come from numerous conversations with museum directors, city officials, travel writers, convention and visitor industry professionals, marketing professionals, district managers, etc., which were mostly originally conducted between 2011 and 2014 (during a national survey about cultural resources), but the report includes others that are more recent, 2015-16 (during a local DFW survey).

4. There are some first-hand observations included, and usually noted, based on volunteers' and the authors' many years of experience planning travel, organizing events, researching activities, documenting traditions, etc.

Latest Year (or Years) Available

Attendance numbers or visitor numbers come from the most recent year available. A range may be presented that includes generally three years, if various figures are available that are not consistent. If a composite of information is provided, in cases where rankings may change slightly over several years, but generally stay the same, it will be noted.

For example:

Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Our Ranking
Ohio State
Ohio State
Ohio State
Ohio State

For demonstration purposes only. Please, no wagering!

Irving Music Factory and Convention Center
The Irving Music Factory at Las Colinas is an effort to boost visitors and attractions for the community, while building up interests in the vicinity of the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas. Being located on a DART rail line between major airports and Downtown Dallas should prove an advantage.

Texas Live and the Rangers New Ballpark
Texas Live and a new hotel project in the vicinity of the future Rangers Ballpark and Arlington Convention Center are a similar effort to increase year-round attractions to support convention business. Like Irving's efforts, transportation access and the overall attraction of visitors to DFW will matter in Arlington's goals.

Introduction    Ranking Texas Cities    Top Visitor Attractions    Cultural Resources    Visitor Interests    Recommendations    Information Sources    About the Author

About the Author

The report was written by Mark Lacy.

Lacy founded Houston Institute for Culture (HIFC) in 1997 and served as executive director from 2002 to 2014. He has been a founding member and committee volunteer with several advocacy organizations, including Vision for Houston and Imagine a Museum.

Lacy worked as a grant writer for HIFC and other non-profits, and served as a grants panelist for Houston and Texas arts agencies. He raised about $3 million for area arts and education organizations, including HIFC, and worked on a $360 million university capital campaign.

Lacy organized travel to locations around the U.S. and Mexico. He also attended conferences in cities from coast to coast. He has planned, hosted and lectured at many conferences, on a wide variety of subjects, including media, economics, public relations, cultural competency, history, travel and others. Lacy has visited major attractions in most U.S. cities, toured many of the nation's highways and historic trails, and visited most of the nation's parks and national monuments.

Lacy also hosted international visitors sponsored by the Eisenhower Fellowships, and for lecture tours and cultural exchange programs of HIFC, University of Houston and Houston International FotoFest. He served on several local host committees for international organizations that surveyed Houston as a possible site for World Cup soccer and the Olympic Games.

Lacy spent several years as a child in Dallas, where he threw the Dallas Morning News and became interested in Texas music. He later met Tom Landry, along with many innovative thinkers, scientists, world leaders and Nobel prize recipients, while working for the University of Houston. Landry helped him better understand the role of strategy in solving organizational problems.

Lacy has completed several surveys of museums and cultural tourism attractions, including a three-year study, 2011-2014, to compare the status of Houston cultural resources with those in many major U.S and international cities.


Upon establishing HIFC in 1997, Lacy published an online inventory of the Southeast Texas region's cultural resources. For many of the arts and education organizations, the on-line index pages were their first websites. More than 300 were identified and HIFC had the most comprehensive on-line listing of organizations, as well as parks and historic sites, ahead of all other agencies at that time.

The organization offered tours to cities throughout the region, as well as the Southwest and Mexico. A variety of documentary projects grew from the tours, including surveys of cultural activities and traditions in New Orleans. Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the organization produced a comprehensive list of the cultural resources in the South Louisiana region and kept status updates as places and traditional activities returned, remained on hiatus, or were determined to be lost. The information was provided to an email listserv of tens of thousands of people and businesses that relied on it in their decisions to return, and in the rebuilding of New Orleans neighborhoods and resouces.

The organization also established a youth camp in Southeast Arizona in 2004. The decision to locate the camp in Cochise County was based on the high level of cultural and educational resources available. While Texas government agencies were interested to see the camp located in a rural region of Texas (such as Big Bend State Park), they were not able to provide evidence that the history and interesting places, combined with the education and recreation opportunities, could be equaled. While the camp eventually moved to Northern New Mexico, due to increased border tensions, the second site in the Zuni Mountains and the scholarship-based advanced camp site in Mesa Verde National Park were chosen based on the quality and wealth of education and recreation resources offered.


The report was produced for Imagine a Museum with the help of volunteers who donated many hours of proof reading, fact checking and formatting. It is hosted by DSRC on the Texas Culture website.

Imagine a Museum banner logo
Imagine a Museum volunteers supported the preparation of this report.

Introduction    Ranking Texas Cities    Top Visitor Attractions    Cultural Resources    Visitor Interests    Recommendations    Information Sources    About the Author


Future updates will be noted or linked here. Also see posts for future consideration and discussion on the Overview Page.

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