When visiting Texas, it’s easy to focus on the major metropolitan areas, but if you do, you’ll risk missing most of East Texas. East Texas is rural, often folksy, and hard to define; is it the beginning of the Deep South or something else entirely? It’s undeniably Texan, which means it’s full of friendly folks and excellent food. That’s not all it has going for it, though. Here are three towns in the Eastern portion of the Lone Star State that are worth exploring, even if only for a few hours.
Tyler is proud of its roses. You’ll understand why if you visit during the annual Texas Rose Festival, which will celebrate its 85th year this October. If you think Texas is full of dust and tumbleweed, East Texas will make you think again. There’s a reason they call this part of the state the Piney Woods. When you’re in Tyler, you can experience beautiful roses sprinkled amongst the legendary pine tree cover. If you want to focus solely on the roses, head to the city’s municipal rose garden. The 14-acre garden showcases around 500 kinds of roses, making it the biggest municipal rose garden in the United States. If you can, try to visit between late spring and Halloween, as everything is in full bloom then. The flowers are so dazzling that it’s worth popping allergy pills before you go.
The city has a population of a little over 100,000, making it one of the biggest cities in the East Texas region. It’s located 100 miles east of Dallas, which means Tylerites have relatively easy access to the largest metropolitan area in the state, minus all the traffic and gentrification.
Texarkana is in Texas. Texarkana is also in Arkansas. The city straddles the state line, with two separate City Halls and municipal governments. In fact, the name Texarkana is a mix of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Texarkana, Texas, has more people and a larger tax base, although it only began allowing convenience stores to sell beer and wine after a vote in 2013. Previous attempts had failed at the ballot box thanks to vehement opposition from local churches. Now you can get alcohol on both sides of State Line Avenue, a unique arterial where one side of the street is in Texas and the other is in Arkansas.
Alcohol may be relatively new in parts of town, but the barbecue is well-established and delicious. There are a lot of options, but Big Jake’s is a homegrown barbecue joint with a rabid local following. Once you’ve had your fill of ribs, head downtown for a photo opportunity unlike any other in the country. Texarkana is home to the only post office in America that sits in two states. You’ll want to get a photo of yourself with one foot in Texas and one in Arkansas, so make sure to stop by one of the many AT&T stores in Texas for a suitable selfie stick.
Nacogdoches is in Deep East Texas, about 120 miles north of Houston. Its status as the oldest town in Texas means it draws a fair amount of history buffs, but Nacogdoches isn’t living in the past. See, it’s also home to Stephen F. Austin State University, home of the 13,000 or so student Lumberjacks. The school has a well-known forestry program, and its basketball team has gotten attention in recent years for pulling off a few upsets in the NCAA basketball tournament.
The 400-acre campus is especially picturesque in the springtime, especially if you stop by the azalea garden. When you get hungry, head off campus for some lasagna at Auntie Pasta’s, an Italian restaurant that’s always packed to the gills during graduation weekend.
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