15 Top-Rated Things to Do in Tyler, TX
While many Texas cities hang their hats on famous BBQ, music, or culture, the northeastern city of Tyler claims the rose. With a reputation and history of production and cultivation of roses, it earned the title of the City of Roses. Tyler is home to the biggest rose garden in the United States and the popular Caldwell Zoo, but these are just a few of the top attractions and things to do in Tyler.
Tyler has a laid-back Southern vibe. It is a city that is easy to explore, with a series of sightseeing excursions, ranging from museums and historical visits to outdoor recreation. For those who enjoy architecture, the Azalea District is a must-see, with several residential sections of eclectic homes, each with individual character.
To experience the local energy, head downtown to take in the shops, eateries, arts, and antiques. Though Tyler has a range of great restaurants, two types of culinary distinctions take center stage as you drive through town: locally owned BBQ pits and dozens of small donut shops, each with loyal customers that speak passionately about the homemade, melt-in-your-mouth varieties available and many ways to eat them.
Most of the tourist attractions in Tyler do not require much time, but they are rewarding experiences, making it possible to see many of the highlights in one visit. See our list of the best things to do in Tyler, Texas.
1. Caldwell Zoo
The Caldwell Zoo is a nice way to spend a day, especially for visiting families. The zoo features more than 200 animal species in its 85-acre park. The zoo's landscape provides many shade trees, sitting areas, and picnic spaces. Explore the various animal habitats from North and South America and East Africa, and a reptile collection.
There are a number of threatened and endangered species at the Caldwell Zoo, and you can learn about the conservation efforts to protect them. Some of the highlights of the zoo are the Animal Encounters, Wild Bird Walkabout, and the children's petting zoo.
Address: 2203 Martin Luther King Blvd., Tyler, Texas
Official site: https://caldwellzoo.org/
2. Tyler Municipal Rose Garden
One of the most significant tourist attractions in Tyler is its famous Municipal Rose Garden. It features more than 500 varieties of roses spread across 14 acres of manicured gardens. The paths that wind through the grounds take you past special collections, like the Heritage Garden and day lily sections.
The Tyler Municipal Rose Garden is one of the best free things to do in Tyler, and it is a must-visit while in town to appreciate the rich history that rose production has in the city. The best times to visit are in mid-May and October when the roses are in peak bloom.
Besides walking the paths in the gardens, be sure to stop into the Tyler Rose Garden Center & Rose Museum to learn more about the importance of the flower to the city and the elaborate celebrations around it, like the Texas Rose Festival each year.
Address: 420 Rose Park Drive, Tyler, Texas
3. Tyler State Park
For some time outdoors, plan a day of recreation at Tyler State Park. Hiking opportunities are abundant, with 13 miles of trails that meander through the park's 100-foot-tall trees. Biking, birding, swimming and boating are popular things to do at the park.
Bring your fishing rod and try your luck at catching perch, catfish, or bass from one of the three fishing piers or from the banks of the spring-fed lake. You can even rent tackle for the day from the park office. You do not need a fishing license to fish from the shore.
You can spend a weekend camping in one of the basic cabins or in your own tent in the campground. Water sports are nice on the lake, and you can rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards from the park store. There is a small admission fee for a day visit.
Address: 789 Park Road 16, Tyler, Texas
Official site: https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/tyler
4. Goodman Le-Grande House & Museum
The Goodman Le-Grand House and Museum is a Texas treasure, with gardens that cover an entire city block. The historic home was built in 1859 on a nine-acre lot as a private residence. It was sold several times throughout its history and eventually belonged to the Goodman family, who were prominent millionaires and known for their involvement in the founding of Dallas.
The home has a long history of being a gathering place for Texas politicians and dignitaries. The family home is now a public museum and a beautiful representation of how prominent Tyler residents lived in the 1800s. It is furnished with original décor, and the surrounding gardens, also called LeGrand Park, have an exquisite collection of roses, azaleas, and shade trees.
Take a tour through the home and museum to see 1800s-era hand-carved furniture, silver used for extravagant galas, historic period clothing, and Civil War-era medical equipment. Admission is free, but hours are limited.
Address: 624 N. Broadway Avenue, Tyler, Texas
5. Discovery Science Place
One of the best stops for families visiting Tyler with children is Discovery Science Place. It is an interactive science and discovery attraction. It is located inside an old car dealership that has been repurposed for community engagement.
Exhibits in Discovery Science Place include hands-on experiences in The Cave, exploring paleontology; a kids' television station; a mine; and displays exploring robotics and veterinary science. The Discovery Store at the center is a good stop for unique educational and science-related gifts and toys.
Address: 308 N. Broadway Avenue, Tyler, Texas
Official site: https://www.discoveryscienceplace.org/
6. Drive through the Azalea District
An enjoyable drive in Tyler is through the historical Azalea District. The neighborhood is comprised of 36 sections of homes that display various types of architecture, from Classical Revival and ranch homes to Queen Anne and Craftsman styles.
It is easy to identify the district by the brown Azalea District markers located above the street signs throughout the residential neighborhoods.
The subdivisions not only represent various styles of architecture, but they reflect the changes that the city of Tyler experienced in the early- to mid-20th century during the East Texas Oil Boom, with population growth and development.
The subdivisions that feature these homes are even more stunning to see in the spring, when the gardens of azaleas are in full bloom. If you visit between mid-March and mid-April, you can walk the historic neighborhoods on the Azalea & Spring Flower Trail, which puts the residential gardens on display to the public.
Official site: https://historictyler.org/districts-properties/azalea-district/
7. Texas Rose Horse Park
You can easily spot the Texas Rose Horse Park off State Highway 110 by the sprawling white fences that border the property and horses grazing in the fields. The complex is known for its horse competitions that are held in the on-site arenas, and the public is welcome to attend.
The 1,700-acre complex hosts events throughout the year, like Horse Trial Events and Dressage Shows, which provide wholesome entertainment for families. There are dog agility and training shows that take place at the park and are also open to the public.
If you want a more engaged equestrian experience, you can look into the guided trail rides that are offered at the property. Be sure to look at the events calendar before your trip to see what's taking place.
Address: 14078 State Hwy 110N Tyler, Texas
Official site: http://www.texasrosehorsepark.com/
8. Historic Aviation Memorial Museum
This small aviation museum located inside the Tyler Pounds Regional Airport is worth a visit, especially for those who enjoy seeing historic aircraft. Walk out to the tarmac to see a collection of vintage aircraft, like the Lockheed F104A Starfighter, FJ-4 Fury, Russian MiG-17F Fresco C, and the T-2C Buckeye.
Inside the museum, you will find a range of exhibits that cover military aviation history through artifacts, photos, and unique collections of things like aviation headgear. The museum is designed as an educational resource and to honor pioneers in aviation.
While you are at the museum, stop into the Sky's the Limit Diner for a bite to eat surrounded by aviation relics.
Address: 150 Airport Drive, Suits 2-7, Tyler, Texas
Official site: http://tylerhamm.org/
9. TJC Cultural Arts District
The Tyler Junior College Cultural Arts District is a spectacular complex with several centers of public interest that showcase fine, cultural, and performing arts along with a top science center. The Cultural Arts District is located on the Tyler Junior College campus, with venues offering programs that are open to the public.
The buildings on the complex include the Rogers Palmer Performing Arts Center, Jean Browne Theatre, Tyler Art Museum, and The Center for Earth & Space Science Education. Each facility has exhibits, shows, and special events, from dance and music at the performing arts center to evenings under the stars at the science center planetarium.
Official site: https://www.tjc.edu/culturalartsdistrict
10. Walk around Downtown Tyler
The downtown area of Tyler centers around the town square and park. There are small shops, restaurants, and cafés in the buildings surrounding the square. Walk to the old movie theater to see what's showing, advertised on the vintage marquee, and plan an evening at the movies.
To fully appreciate the history and evolution of the Tyler downtown area, pay attention to the details of the buildings, and look closely at the sidewalk below. You will see the Half-Mile History Markers that share important points of interest in Tyler's history, with information about the city's growth, development, and change, especially after the discovery of the East Texas Oil Field.
You will also notice some nice artistic elements that enhance downtown, like the Gallery Main Street located inside the Plaza Tower, which features changing art exhibits. Visit the Art Alley just down Erwin Street, where local artists showcase their talents on creatively painted murals on the sides of buildings.
11. Camp Ford Historical Park
The military training facility turned POW camp at Camp Ford in 1862 is a nice stop, especially for Civil War history buffs. Camp Ford Historical Park sits on the original encampment, which is now a public park with a walking path and history placards.
Camp Ford was the largest Confederate-run prison camp west of the Mississippi River, and housed the most naval prisoners of any camp in the North or South. As you walk the trails, you can imagine the grounds as they were in the 1800s, housing more than 5,000 prisoners. The public park, path, and picnic areas are all part of the former camp stockade, located just off the highway.
Address: 6500 US Highway 271, Tyler, Texas
Official site: https://smithcountyhistoricalsociety.org/camp-ford/
12. Ride on Tyler Bike Trails
It is easy to see that the City of Tyler is a bike-friendly town by the designated bike lanes on bike routes throughout the main streets. There are also a number of bike trails throughout the city that are easy to access and offer varied distances.
The most well-known bike trail in Tyler is the Legacy Trail, which is a paved 4.5-mile path that runs on the east and west sides of Old Jacksonville Highway near Three Lakes Parkway.
There are several bike trails that start at Faulkner Park, including Hoot and Holler, a six-mile loop that is nice for beginners and families, and the Sleeping Giants bike trail, a 3.5-mile trail, where intermediate bicyclists can tackle turns and changing elevations. The Blackberry Patch is another bike trail in Faulkner Park that is ideal for anyone looking for a short trip. It is less than a mile long.
Other Tyler bike trails to try are the Rudman Loop Trail in Rose Rudman Park, which is a 1.2-mile loop suitable for beginners, and the Southside Trail and Creekside Trail, both under a mile in length. The Grande Trail is a bike path on Grande Boulevard that goes through the city and residential neighborhoods.
13. Go Antiquing
An outing of antiquing in Tyler will probably score you an unexpected souvenir of your visit.
There are several antique centers in Tyler. One of the most popular and oldest is the Ye Old City Antiques Mall in the historical part of downtown. It has been around for decades and reflects the old-world essence that the city streets around it reveal. The Ye Old City Antiques Mall is an ideal place to visit for authentic pieces of history from the area, like estate furniture and jewelry or vintage glassware and nostalgic pieces like radios and antique toys.
There are several other small antique stores in Tyler that could make for a full day of finding vintage treasures that you didn't know you needed.
14. East Texas Oil Museum
Just 30 miles outside of Tyler is the East Texas Oil Museum at Kilgore College. It is a comprehensive look at how the discovery of oil changed East Texas in the 1930s and is worth a half-day visit if you are staying in Tyler.
The unique element of this museum is its full-scale replication of oil discovery and production, how it impacted the lives of the people involved in the largest oil field in the United States, and how it radically changed the population and landscape of Tyler.
You can take a guided tour through the museum, or go on your own to see the interactive exhibits, movies, portraits of prominent oil tycoons, and hand-painted murals depicting the many facets of changing life during the Texas oil boom.
The highlight of the museum is the replicated Boom Town Street scene, where you can experience what life looked and felt like in the 1930s during the East Texas Oil Boom.
Address: 1301 S. Henderson Blvd., Kilgore, Texas
Official site: http://easttexasoilmuseum.kilgore.edu
15. Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center
The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens is a 40-minute drive from Tyler, but it makes for a unique and educational day trip, especially for families. The center's focus is on research and conservation of freshwater wildlife in Texas in the streams and lakes.
You can take part in regular educational programs, and take a narrated tram sightseeing tour through the production hatchery. There are several interactive activities to experience, including learning how to fish for catfish and rainbow trout, and watching a daily dive show.
Take a hike along the wetlands trail, and take a packed lunch for a picnic in one of the picnic areas outside.
Address: 5550 FM2495, Athens, Texas
Official site: https://tpwd.texas.gov/spdest/visitorcenters/tffc/facts/