Fort Worth's Stockyards Station
Hooves clopping down a brick road. Boots meandering along a wooden boardwalk. Spurs jingling in rhythm.
The sights and sounds of America's cowboy culture are part of our collective memory, from an era strongly tied to our cultural identity, yet an era which none of us experienced and few of us fully understand.
But for those of us eager to understand, there is a place where these sights and sounds live on, where the cowboy culture is lived, preserved, and shared: Fort Worth's historic Stockyards Station district. One day in this well preserved (and somewhat re-created) former frontier town will give an in-depth understanding of the influences on, shaping of, and lingering legacies of American's revered cowboy culture.
Following the infographic, see our guide to the ultimate day in Stockyards Station.
The ultimate day in Stockyards Station:
9:30am Breakfast at Esperanza's Bakery & Cafe
Relying on word of mouth over advertising since 1935, the Joe T. Garcia family offers Tex-Mex at its most basic, thus its finest, at several locations around Fort Worth; breakfast at Esperanza's (named for Joe's daughter, Hope), just outside Stockyards Station, is a treasured local institution.
Breakfast plates include portions fit for old-school ranch hands: generous on the eggs, chorizo (spicy pork sausage), and tocino (bacon), not to mention delicious tortillas caseras (tortillas made in-house). Beans and potatoes, plus chips and salsa (yes, at breakfast!) accompany every meal. But the pièce de résistance of the Esperanza's breakfast experience, surprisingly, is their pancakes. Large, light, and tasting of birthday cupcakes, these pancakes are made from scratch using a family recipe.
- Hours: 6:30am to 7:00pm daily
- Location: 2122 N. Main St., Fort Worth
- Phone: 817-626-5770
11:30am Watch the Cattle Drive
Moving cattle from Texas to central Kansas, from where they could ultimately be transported by rail to Chicago, essentially saved the local economy from collapse in post-Civil War Texas. This important economic activity eventually became a cultural institution, evolved into the stuff on Hollywood legend, and ultimately became part of the American identity. See the drive that started it all, reenacted on a small scale twice daily in Stockyards Station.
If you are into photography, plan to arrive early to scout a spot to stand. Fort Worth's annual 229 days of sun can wreak havoc on your photos' lighting, so you'll need some time to pick your best vantage point.
Casual photographers can also enjoy photo opps with "drovers" (cowboys/girls who drive cattle) along the route for a quarter of an hour before the drive.
- Cost: Free!
- Schedule: 11:30am and 4:00pm daily, weather permitting
- not conducted on Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas Day
- Location: 131 E. Exchange Avenue, in front of the Fort Worth Livestock Exchange Building
12:00pm Wrangler Walking Tour
Do not miss Stockyards Station's Wrangler Walking Tour! In an entertaining but educational style, this 90-minute guided walking tour gives important perspective on the North Texas frontier and the Old West. Guides cover everything from how longhorns were smuggled into The New World in the 16th century, to the role the interstate system played in changing the meat-packing industry in the 20th century, plus endless quirky and fascinating facts on the 4-centuries in between.
Following the tour, be sure to stop back in the Visitors Center to catch the 12-minute video "The Spirit of the West" for an nice recap of the region's history. (The movie is $1/person, free for those on the walking tour.)
- Tour Cost: $7 Adults, $6 Seniors, $5 Children
- Schedule: 90 minutes, conducted on Mon-Sat 10am & 12pm (Tours also conducted at 2pm when four or more guests attend.); Sun: 12pm & 4pm
- Location: Tour begins in the Stockyards Visitors Center, 130 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth
- Phone: 817-625-9715
1:45pm Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame
At first glance, the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame's interior is not going to knock your spurs off; it looks more of a warehouse than a museum. First impressions aside, the Sterquell Wagon exhibit alone is worth the price of admission. The collection includes 60 horse-powered vehicles, from buckboards to single-seat buggies, milk trucks to "one horse open sleighs," and even a horse-drawn hearse. In compliment with the live cattle drive and the wrangler walking tour, this exhibit helps gives a tangible connection to frontier life in the Old West.
Also of note is "The Exploratorium," three interactive stations for kids. The Exploratorium includes: Packing for the Trail (saddling a horse), Cowboy Alphabet (creating a cattle brand), and The Chuckwagon (choosing which supplies to pack on the meal wagon). Unfortunately, during our visit to the museum, The Exploratorium was not operational, due to a private event the previous night. While we were not able to interact with the stations, we could see them, and judged that they would be fun and interesting for elementary aged kids. Museum Executive Director Julia Buswold assures me The Exploratorium is once again fully operational.
Allow 30-45 minutes.
- Cost: $5.00 Adults; $4 Seniors (60+)/Students (with ID); $3 Children (5-12)
- Family (2 adults & up to 4 kids ages 5-12): $15.00
- Hours: Mon-Thur 9am-4:15pm, Fri-Sat 10am-6:15pm, Sun 11am-4:15pm
- Location: 128 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth
- Phone: 817-626-7131
The most technologically interactive museum we've yet to encounter anywhere, The National Cowgirl Museum & Hall of Fame maximizes innovation to speak to the new generation of museum-goers. A hologram of Annie Oakley accompanies visitors through the "Cowgirls and Wild West Shows" exhibit. A soda fountain counter, complete with tabletop jukeboxes, immerses guests in the ongoing contributions of women to country/western music. And a mechanical bull ride in front of a green screen allows for a fun ride and unique souvenir.
In a town that touts "cowboys and culture," the exhibits of the Cowgirl Museum inspire a spirit of courage, pride, resilience, innovation, and self-reliance in its young female visitors. A trip to cowboy country would be incomplete without a stop here.
Allow 2+ hours.
- Cost: $10 Adults; $8 Children (4-12)/Seniors (60+)/Military (w/ID); Children 3 and under are free.
- Parking: $7
- Tip: Ask at the Stockyards Visitors Center, or check your hotel pamphlet rack, for $1 off coupons.
- Hours Labor Day-Memorial Day: Mon Closed, Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12pm-5pm
- Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Years Day
- Hours Memorial Day-Labor Day: Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12pm-5pm
- Location: 1720 Gendy St., Fort Worth
- Note: this museum is located in the Fort Worth Cultural District, about a 15-minute drive from the Historic Stockyards Station district.
- Phone: 817-336-4475
5:30pm Dinner at Cooper's Old Time Pit BBQ
No meal is more cowboy than barbecue is, and Texas has lots of it! Texas barbecue can be categorized into four general styles, and Cooper's is home to our favorite: "Central Texas Style Barbecue." Central Texas Style begins with a dry rub, then meats are slow-smoked over oak or pecan.
Cooper's Old Time Pit BBQ completes this process (with a slight adjustment of mesquite, rather than oak or pecan) exactly as their name implies: over an "old time pit BBQ," just outside the entrance of the restaurant. Diners walk right up to the pit, chat with the pit master about what meats he has prepared, and then hand select their own portions.
Inside, the dining hall has a somewhat unassuming cafeteria vibe. But as their jingle attests, at Cooper's "it's all about the meat!"
- Hours: Sun-Thurs 11:00am-8:30pm, Fri & Sat 11:00am-9:30pm
- Location: 301 Stockyards Blvd, Fort Worth
- Phone: 817-626-6464
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