Blooms, Balloons, and BBQ: An East Texas To-Do List

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Fun fact for you: Did you know that, at its widest point, Texas stretches for more than 700 miles? If you wanted to drive from widest point to widest point, it would take you roughly 15 hours.

There's a reason why they say everything is bigger in Texas.

With Texas being such a large state, it also means that there are a lot of nooks and crannies to explore. Prior to this year, I had only even driven across the very top section of Texas, stopping in Amarillo to (legally) spray-paint some cars and watch people eat really big steaks. It took my sister and I nearly four hours to cross that little section of Texas – and I knew then that we had barely even scratched the surface.

So when Texas Tourism and East Texas invited me to come down for a few days this year in March, I was immediately intrigued. I knew absolutely nothing about East Texas other than its rough location, and I was interested to learn more about the Lone Star State.

Goodman-LeGrand House and Museum

I was surprised to find everything from barbecue to elaborate flower festivals to hot air ballooning.

After that trip, here are my must-dos for any trip to this side of Texas.

East Texas To-Do List

Longview, Texas

Longview is a city of about 80,000 people two hours to the east of Dallas. If you find yourself there, you'll want to be sure to:

Eat breakfast tacos at Mi Casita

Mi Casita tacos

You may have had a breakfast burrito before, but let me tell you: breakfast tacos are where it's AT. Mi Casita is a small, locally-owned joint in Longview that serves Tex-Mex food at any time of day. Their breakfast tacos are especially delicious (my favorite had egg, cheese, and potatoes), and I have since dreamed about eating these again.

Take flight in a hot air balloon

Hot air ballooning in Longview, Texas

Each summer, Longview plays host to the Great Texas Balloon Race. The race draws dozens of balloon pilots each year, and they compete in a series of challenges spread out over a couple of days. The race was begun by Longview local Dr. Bill Bussey, who also owns Balloon Adventures USA. If you've ever wanted to go up in a hot air balloon, Longview is a great place to do it!

Hot air ballooning in Longview, Texas

We did a tethered ride with Dr. Bill Bussey himself – you can contact him via his site if you're interested in booking a flight for yourself. And check out video of this balloon adventure here.

Have pie at The Butcher Shop

Pies at The Butcher Shop in Longview, Texas

Another locally-owned restaurant, The Butcher Shop began as a bakery and is now a burger staple in Longview. Food is served on plastic trays a-la school cafeteria, and there's a “fixins” bar where you can load up your burger (and/or fries) with everything from pickles to chili. But the real star here is the bakery – and especially the pies. They have everything from key lime to strawberry cream, and they are all delicious.

Visit the World's Richest Acre in Kilgore

Kilgore, Texas

Kilgore is a small town about 10 minutes from Longview. During the oil boom in the 1930s, Kilgore was absolutely covered in oil derricks – there were more than 1,000 oil wells in the tiny town at one point, marking the greatest concentration of oil wells anywhere in the world. This is how the area got the name “The World's Richest Acre.” Today, some replica derricks still remain to commemorate Kilgore's history and it's a cool historical stop if you're already in the area.

Tyler, Texas

About an hour from Longview, Tyler is a slightly larger city with a population right around 100,000. The city is known especially for its flowers and beautiful homes. When in Tyler, be sure to:

Trace the Azalea Trail

Azalea Trail in Tyler, Texas

Every spring, Tyler's azaleas bloom in brilliant shades of pink and red. The city has created a “trail” that visitors can follow to see some of the best blooms outside of some of the prettiest houses. Some homeowners also open up their private gardens to visitors – the Pyron garden was my absolute favorite – and there's even a shuttle that will take you around the trail.

Pyron Garden in Tyler, Texas
In the Pyron Garden

A unique tradition that goes along with the Azalea Trail is that of the Azalea Belles. These are high school girls who go through an application and interview process in order to act as the faces of the Azalea Trail. You'll find them dressed in debutante-style dresses complete with parasols outside many of the homes and gardens along the trail. They are happy to pose for photos, as well as answer any questions visitors have about the Azalea Trail or the city of Tyler.

Azalea Belles in Tyler, Texas

The Azalea Trail stretches over three weekends each spring in Tyler, usually in late March/early April. If you decide to go, you won't be alone – roughly 100,000 people travel the trail each spring!

Enjoy brunch, Tyler style

Pulled pork eggs benny

Tyler does brunch – and Tyler does brunch well. Don't miss a Sunday brunch in the city, complete with mimosas, of course. My favorite was brunch at Cork Food & Drink, where I had pulled pork eggs benedict – YUM!

Go back in time at the Goodman-LeGrand house

Goodman-LeGrand House and Museum in Tyler

Tyler has lots of beautiful, historical old homes, but many of them are not open to the public on a regular basis. If you want to get a peek into Old Tyler, though, head over to the Goodman Le-Grand House and Museum. This home used to be owned by the well-to-do Goodman family, and was donated to the city after the death of Sallie Goodman-LeGrand in 1939. Sallie wanted the house, which was built in the 1800s, to be open to the public and all of her family's effects to be on display inside. Taking a tour here really is like stepping back in time, and you really get a sense of the family that used to call this place home.

Goodman-LeGrand House and Museum in Tyler

Plus, the house is gorgeous in the spring when all the azaleas are in bloom.

Goodman-LeGrand House and Museum

The Goodman-LeGrand House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is also a Texas Historic Landmark. Allow at least an hour to explore the house, and feel free to bring a picnic as the grounds around the home are public parkland.

Learn about rose royalty

Rose in Tyler, Texas

Even though I visited Tyler during the Azalea Trail, Tyler is actually better known for its roses. In fact, the city's nickname is “the Rose Capital of the World,” owing to the number of rose bushes that are processed in Tyler. The city is also home to the largest rose garden in the U.S., as well as the annual Texas Rose Festival.

Tyler Rose Gardens

The Texas Rose Festival is an over-the-top event full of pomp and circumstance and elaborate gowns for the Rose Queen (always a local Tyler college student) and her Rose Court. You can see some of these amazing gowns on display in a small museum at the Tyler Rose Gardens.

Dress from the Texas Rose Festival

The Rose Festival takes place each year in October, so if you're in town then keep an eye out for the big parade.

Have BBQ at Stanley's

Stanley's in Tyler, Texas

Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q was Tyler's very first restaurant, opening in 1958. Today, it's still going strong in its original location, serving up delicious barbecue and live entertainment. If you're in Tyler, you definitely can't skip Stanley's.

Pulled pork at Stanley's in Tyler

 

There are plenty of other things to do in East Texas, too, from shopping to biking to canoeing on Caddo Lake. It's a laid-back slice of Texas, full of the friendliness and charm you expect when you hear the phrase “Southern hospitality.”

It's a far cry from the Midwest where I grew up, but East Texas is worth a visit and would make a nice stop on any southern road trip.

Have you ever been to this part of Texas? If not, is it somewhere you'd like to visit?

 

East Texas travel guide

 

*Note: Thanks to East Texas and Texas Tourism (along with the cities of Longview and Tyler) for hosting me on this trip. As always, opinions are 100% my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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33 Comments on “Blooms, Balloons, and BBQ: An East Texas To-Do List

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  1. Yay, Texas posts! Texas is one of those polarizing states that quite often I don’t hear the best things about, but every country/state/place/area has it’s special spots and it seems like east Texas is no exception.

      Yup, it’s my opinion that most every destination has it’s redeeming qualities and spots worth visiting – and Texas is no exception! Glad you liked the post!

    Great post! Yes, Texas is often referred to in negative ways for many reasons (some of which are very justified!) however, we have a lot of great things to do and see. You should definitely come back and visit the Hill Country, outside of Austin. You’ll be amazed you’re in the same state as these photos from East Texas. 🙂

      Yes! I’m happy to be able to show a different side of Texas. And I definitely need to see that part of Texas, too – I’ve actually never been to Austin!

    I’ve never made it out to Texas, but it looks incredible! All your food pics, and that super-blue sky! I’m convinced…

      The food certainly was a highlight!

    I’ve never been to Texas, but I have new breakfast ideas from this post! It looks like a great time and SO beautiful!

      Breakfast tacos are SO good!

    We used to go to Tyler every year because that’s where my grandmother lived. The Rose Parade is huge there, and I remember thinking that it was so much fun! No matter what, you have to try out breakfast tacos, Tex Mex, and BBQ when you’re visiting too!

      The rose festival and parade sounds so insane! Seeing all those dresses boggled my mind – they’re so intricate!

    Ooh, I love a good meal of BBQ! 🙂 Pass that paper towel roll… (for cleaning your fingers)

      Ohhhh yes – you need it! I love that most of the places we went served food in such an unpretentious way. Give me a pile of BBQ meat on a tray, and I’m happy!

    Delicious-looking food (BBQ yum!), fun activities and dressed up people. What’s not to like? Texas looks amazing!

      I’ll admit that I was very surprised by this little corner of Texas – Tyler especially was gorgeous!

    Look at all the pie. Yum. I would love to visit this part of Texas. I want to see the house. My husband would love the Azalea Trail. He loves to garden. Such beautiful pictures.

      Oh man, anyone who loves gardening would love Tyler, especially in the spring!

    What a fun adventure! The Azalea Trail looks stunning!

    Would you say that Longview and Tyler are walkable or did you drive to most of your destinations? I enjoy walking around cities that I travel to because I feel like you see more up close, but it’s not really fun if the city is not really walk-friendly.

      I’d say you would definitely want to have a car. Tyler has a cute, walkable downtown area, but most of the places we visited really required a car since the cities are fairly spread out.

    The food just looks fantastic! I would love to check out Texas one day, especially explore Jacob’s Well. It looks absolutely stunning there 🙂

      Texas has tons of cool spots. Austin, San Antonio, and Big Bend are still all on my list!

    A great list of activities for East Texas! The food looks really delicious and the gardens look lovely.

      Both the food and the gardens were great!

    I would love to do the balloon ride. Seems like such a cool way to get a unique view of the state.

      Going up in a hot air balloon is a really cool experience, no matter where you do it!

    I did not know that Texas is that big. Tacos for the breakfast! Look delicios though. Those balloons make me remember Cappadocia in Turkey. Thank you for the great post Amanda. I enjoyed reading as always.

      Yup, Texas is HUGE!!

      I haven’t been to Cappadocia yet, but I love hot air balloons so I know I need to go sometime!

    I found you through us being both pinned on many Texas Travel boards. I had the privileged of living near Tyler for several years. You hit many of the highlights of the area!! Absolutely love the LeGrand-Goodman House and the Azalea Trail is a yearly must! 🙂 Stanley’s is also absolutely amazing–we had many good meals there! Can you believe I’ve never tried brunch where you recommended? Will definitely put that on my must-do for the next trip back!

      Definitely check out that brunch spot! I think it’s newer… maybe it wasn’t there when you lived there? Glad I hit up all the musts, though – it was a fun trip!

    The population of Tyler, Texas definitely indicates its popularity. Flowers and beautiful homes help make a picturesque environment.

      Yes it’s a very pretty part of Texas!

    Awesome post! Texas is definitely a great place to visit. Certainly lots to do, with a rich and interesting culture. Thanks for sharing!

      It’s such a big place, and each corner is so different!

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