What do Siberian tigers, roses and Greek-Revival mansions have in common? They are all attractions in the East Texas town of Tyler, Texas. Located about 100 miles southeast of Dallas, Tyler is an ideal family day trip destination.
Start your adventure at the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden (1900 W Front Street). This free garden sports 500 different rose varieties with fanciful names like Cinderella’s Song, Summer Wind, and Freckles. The rose garden contains over 38,000 rose bushes and dozens of spring-blooming azaleas. Enjoy brilliant azalea displays in pink, salmon, magenta and red tones from March through mid April. As the azaleas fade, the roses take center stage in a cacophony of color from April through October.
Tyler’s rose story began in the 1920’s after a peach blight wiped out local fruit orchards. Farmers turned to growing and selling roses, which thrived in the regions humid climate and sandy soil. In fact, the roses in your garden may have originated in Tyler. The Tyler area produces 20 percent of roses sold in the U.S. Tyler celebrates its rose history in October with the annual Texas Rose Festival and Parade. Adjacent to Tyler Municipal Rose Garden, the Tyler Rose Museum (420 Rose Park Drive) tells the region’s story with rose festival memorabilia, video and a computerized catalog of 250 rose varieties.
From the Tyler Rose Garden, catch a glimpse of genteel Tyler with a visit to the Goodman-LeGrand House and Museum (624 North Broadway). Built in 1859 originally as a four-room cottage, the house was purchased in 1866 by Tyler physician Samuel Goodman. The humble cottage underwent three massive renovations by subsequent generations of Goodmans. In 1940, Sallie Goodman LeGrand bequeathed the house and grounds to the City of Tyler. The city operates the mansion as a museum displaying period furnishings from the mid 1800s. The museum also houses a collection of medical equipment and books from early 1900s. Gardens are open free to the public and a small museum entrance fee is charged to view the house.
No trip to Tyler is complete without a visit to the Caldwell Zoo (2203 Martin Luther King Blvd). This small gem of a zoo is home to 2,000 animals. The zoo is named after Tyler resident David King Caldwell who operated a playschool in 1937 complete with an assortment of animals to entertain the children.
The Caldwell Zoo may be small, it spans only 85 acres, but it is big on charm. The animal variety is diverse, from North American bison grazing next to Longhorn cattle; to zebra and giraffe on the zoo’s African savannah. The zoo has all manner of big cat from a white Siberian tiger to the small African spotted servals. A favorite family spot, be sure to visit the Wild Bird Walkabout. Tickets for millet sticks can be purchased at the zoo entrances for $1. The birds, primarily parakeets, in the walkabout will land and feed on the millet sticks – a big treat for kids young and old.
The zoo’s Chakula Café overlooks the African exhibit, and serves hot dogs and hamburgers along with other snack items. If hungry for a burger, you might also try nearby Jucy’s Hamburgers (2330 East 5th Street). Texas Highway Magazine named Jucy’s one of the top ten burger joints in Texas. The hamburgers are made from freshly ground chuck and are, well, juicy. The onion rings are made from real onions, not fried up out of a frozen food bag; and the fries are made fresh too. This is not a restaurant for the cholesterol-challenged. It is, however, a fun local spot and beats the chain restaurants hands down.
On your way home from Tyler, check out the surrounding rose nurseries. Among the best is nationally known Chamblee Rose Nursery located at 10926 U.S. Hwy 69 North. Here you can purchase a rose souvenir of your Tyler visit to plant in your home garden. Group tours can be arranged by contacting Chamblee at (903) 882-5153. Chamblee also sells roses by mail order. Visit their website for more details.
Tyler Rose Museum – www.texasrosefestival.org
Goodman-LeGrand Mansion – www.cityoftyler.org
Caldwell Zoo – www.caldwellzoo.org
Jucy’s Hamburgers – www.jucyshamburgers.com
Chamblee Rose Nursery – www.chambleeroses.com