Big cities in Texas are always worth a visit, but truly special experiences await a little further off the trail. Not only that, but smaller towns tend to mean smaller crowds and a more relaxed pace. If this sounds like the kind of trip you’re looking for, here’s where to point the GPS in East Texas.
The only place you’ll get lost in Tyler is in its rose gardens. This is the “Rose Capital of America,” and you’ll see why by taking a stroll through the idyllic Tyler Municipal Rose Garden and LeGrand Rose Garden. And don’t miss the azaleas—you’ll find them along the ten-mile Azalea Trail, which comprises two marked routes right in town.
Beyond Tyler’s beloved flowers, make time for its history. Your options are plentiful: There’s the Half Mile of History, Camp Ford, the Cotton Belt Depot Museum, the Goodman Museum and the McClendon House. Or simply stroll through the town’s historic districts—Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Tyler has it all.
Nacogdoches may be the oldest town in the entire state, but its best era is right now. With an arts and culture scene buoyed by the local university, brick-lined streets, historic trails, lakes and nature walks, Nacogdoches has no issue keeping its visitors busy.
Here are just a few ideas for when you’re here: Visit the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site in nearby Alto, fish or swim in Lake Nacogdoches, wander through the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden (a centerpiece of town) and go antiquing at one of the many shops in the historic downtown.
Not too far from the Louisiana line, Jefferson has a unique Old South feel mixed with a healthy dose of Texas tradition. It’s famous for its B&Bs, riverboat rides, horse-drawn carriages, gorgeous Greek revival homes and iconic cornbread sandwiches.
Sitting perfectly between two lakes, Jefferson abounds with outdoor opportunities, too. Paddling underneath the bald cypress trees—draped in Spanish moss—of Caddo Lake State Park is a hard-to-beat experience just a 20-minute drive away.
Venturing to small-town Texas for the food? Absolutely. In Palestine, you can expect to sample foie gras, order wine bottles at your B&B and grab a breakfast treat at the oldest continually operating bakery in Texas—that’s Eilenberger’s and, yes, their fruitcakes ship nationally.
Fill up heartily, and then book a trip on the Texas State Railroad, which makes a stop right in town. The complete journey will show you the best of the Piney Woods region.
If any town on this list can tout itself as the most family-friendly, it’s Longview. Air U Trampoline Park will have the kids jumping in foam pits and playing airborne dodgeball, while Balloon Adventures USA will get the whole family flying high above Lake Cherokee. And the free Jack Mann Splash Pad? It’s the place to be on those balmy summer days.
Museums, vineyards, gardens, trails and plenty of golf courses round out the rest of this 80,000-person town, appropriately nicknamed “The Balloon Capital of Texas.”
The 1901 Harrison County Courthouse, right in the center of downtown, is the most beloved spot around. Take a picnic on the lawn, and take your vacation at Marshall speed. In fact, all of downtown Marshall is reminiscent of a Hallmark movie, especially during the holiday season. The Wonderland of Lights Festival in particular makes this destination hard to beat.
But anytime of year, you’ll find plenty to do: Camp among the cypress at nearby Caddo Lake State Park, tour the Michelson Museum of Art and make sure to stop by Bear Creek Smokehouse for a true taste of East Texas.