Stop and Smell the Roses While Exploring Tyler

by Joey Held on July 8, 2024 in Travels,
Flower garden filled with pink roses

Tyler is nestled in East Texas, halfway between Dallas and Shreveport, Louisiana. The “Rose Capital of America” is known for its extensive collection of roses. And yes, the gorgeous flowers are a prominent part of the city, though there’s much more to explore. 

Luckily, that’s easy to do. Things are laid out close enough together that you’re never a short walk or drive away from something worthwhile. We’ll start our Tyler tour in the heart of the city.

A Bustling Downtown Scene

Tyler’s downtown is easily walkable and has a number of spots worth visiting along the square. In the morning, pop by 1948 Coffee and Juice Co. for an invigorating start to the day. The employees are friendly, the coffee is tasty, and, as a bonus, some of the seating consists of swivel chairs, which are far more entertaining than they should be.

Paintings of an orange fish, a black leopard, a butterfly emerging from a rose, and two dinosaurs serving each other tea.
Tyler’s Art Alley is a vibrant showcase of local artists. Photo Joey Held.

With a cup of coffee in hand (or in your belly), walk over to the Tyler Art Alley. This block is hidden from street traffic, giving you plenty of time to admire the works of art from 40 local artists. The art cycles every two years, so you might discover a new favorite piece the next time you visit. 

The Plaid Rabbit is a nod to a classic. This Alice in Wonderland-themed bar is tucked in the back of Culture ETX and requires a password to enter. You can find the latest phrase on the bar’s social media channels. Announce you’re looking to enter the rabbit hole and utter the magic words—my phrase was, “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” The staff will whisk you away, transporting you to a whimsical world with excellent cocktails and a surprisingly good bread pudding. Be sure to stop in the bathroom before leaving to fully embrace the wacky theme. 

Several doorknobs on a door.
Pop into the bathroom at Plaid Rabbit for a fun Alice in Wonderland experience, but remember which handle is the real one so you can eventually leave. Photo Joey Held.

For a nightcap, Odd Fellows Wine Bar is a relatively new addition to the city, but it’s already become a cozy neighborhood spot that feels like home. Rick’s On the Square offers a more electric environment with live music filling the air. Rick’s has a robust food menu, though simply grabbing a drink and taking in the sights and sounds is a great time, too.

If you’re visiting with kids, the Cotton Belt Railroad Depot Museum sports dozens of impressive train artifacts, while the Discovery Science Place gives hands-on learning experiences through interactive exhibits. Grab a vintage handcrafted T-shirt from Brands and Threads, which also has fascinating tales about a few local legends, including Shorty the Squirrel.   

Visiting the Charming Mosaic District 

Three storefronts at the Mosaic District, with patrons sitting out in front.
This stretch of Tyler’s Mosaic District is the perfect way to start off a day of adventure. Photo Joey Held.

The Mosaic District is just a short drive from downtown but provides a different feel. The buildings are constructed like brick shops from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and there are a variety of artisanal stores and family-run eateries.

True Vine Brewing Co. takes up the most real estate, with a lively taproom and spacious outdoor area, complete with playground and picnic benches. Give the classic ¡Salud! Mexican lager or Howdy Y’all honey wheat beer a try, and sample the pizza or soft pretzels from Sola Bread. On the final Saturday of each month, True Vine hosts a market for local crafts, from jewelry to clothing to delightful stuffed animals made of yarn.

One notable stretch of the Mosaic District features treats for just about every palate. Likewise Coffee has exceptional lattes, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to pet another patron’s very friendly dog while you wait for your order. Next door, Joyful Bites serves both breakfast and lunch with an entirely gluten-free menu. It almost seems silly to order a coffee and then not pair it with something like the Waffle Sammy, so the proximity of these two spots is perfect. 

And what’s the ideal dessert after coffee and a sandwich? A gourmet candied apple, of course. The Apple Gal delivers that in bushels. You can snag one or a pack of classically dipped treats, or the more adventurous flavors like Circus Animal or Italian Cream Cake don’t disappoint.      

Exploring the Bounty of Nature

Tall trees alongside the border of a lake.
The soothing rustling of the trees alongside the lake in Tyler State Park makes for a peaceful respite. Photo Joey Held.

Once you’ve gotten your fill of snacks and done some shopping, it’s time to enjoy more of the outdoors.

About a 20-minute drive from downtown, Tyler State Park provides ample shade from the hot summer sun, with the Pineywoods sporting trees over 100 feet tall. Stroll or bike through the 13 miles of trails that wind through the park and you might glimpse some of the native wildlife. Even if an animal doesn’t say hello, it’s a peaceful oasis to calm your senses. The park also features a 64-acre lake, perfect for fishing or cannonballing. As any Texan can attest, few things are more exhilarating than diving into a pristine body of water.

If you prefer drier activities, head to Tyler Berry Farm, home of the oldest blueberry crops in Texas. This multigenerational farm provides all the joy of picking fruit and flowers without the difficulty of growing them yourself. Grab a bucket and stock up on the season’s fruit (whether blueberries or strawberries) for a refreshing treat.     

I said there’s more to Tyler than roses, but the Tyler Rose Garden is absolutely worth checking out. With about 600 cultivars on display across 38,000 rose bushes, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more attractive—and sweet-smelling!—stretch of land. There are also some neat exhibits throughout the area, including a sensory garden and the Tyler Rose Museum. The garden itself is free to enter, though it accepts donations to help with maintenance.

What to Eat in Tyler

A frozen margarita perched on a railing.
Sure, you don’t have to order the frozen margarita at Villa Montez. But after a busy day of exploring, don’t you think you should treat yourself? Photo Joey Held.

There are plenty of treats to sample around downtown and the Mosaic District, and snacking can easily fill you up and satisfy your hunger pangs. Should you want to sit down, these spots are worth checking out.  

Nourish ETX is an entire market with items from more than 100 local food producers and artisans around East Texas. While some visitors are perfectly content to peruse the shelves and walk out with a cookbook and a bottle of wine, take a break and dine in. The grilled sourdough sandwich adds goat cheese for an extra burst of flavor, and whether you get the baklava cheesecake in the market or to go, make sure it ends up in your mouth at some point. Nourish ETX also hosts monthly prix fixe events that sample cuisine from a particular part of the world.

Villa Montez gives the experience of eating in a mansion with a creative Latin fusion menu. The Chino Latino Rolls are an unusual take on traditional spring rolls, and the accompanying jalapeño jelly is a delectable dipping accouterment. If it’s not too windy, a seat on the balcony offers a gorgeous view of the sky and the large trees on the property.

When the brunch mood strikes, III Palms—which opened earlier this year—has a variety of clever shareables, such as burrata with peaches and fried green tomatoes topped with crab. The steaks are the star of the show, with the prime filet being an exceptional standout. Pair it with one of the restaurant’s many iced martini options.   

Where to Stay in Tyler

A sofa with throw pillows, a writing desk, and an old black-and-white bus station photo on the wall.
The interior of the charming Greyhound Inn features several photographs from decades past, highlighting the building’s former use. Photo Joey Held.

Staying in the downtown area provides a central hub for exploring the city. The Greyhound Inn is a former bus station converted into a relaxing hotel. The rooms are spacious, with extensive living room and dining areas. 

You’ll also find nods to the inn’s past throughout the building, with pictures of historical vehicles and travelers adorning the walls. It’s a lovely way to step back in time without fear of a bus horn waking you up earlier than you’d like. 

When visiting Tyler, you can—and should—stop and smell the roses. But there’s far more to discover in the city, making it an excellent destination for Texans and out-of-state travelers alike.


Cover photo Joey Held.

Joey Held is a writer, author, and podcaster based in Austin. His book, Kind, But Kind of Weird: Short Stories on Life’s Relationships features stories inspired by living in the Lone Star State. He’s also the founder of Fun Fact Friyay, a newsletter for curious people, and Wacky Travel, for travelers who enjoy quirky discoveries in the places they visit.