Every town wants to be known for something. In Texas it’s often a popular farm crop: Poteet has strawberries. Mission has citrus. Luling has watermelons. You get the idea. Longview’s railroad and oil patch history, which is similar to that of many other East Texas towns, doesn’t exactly lend itself to striking imagery fit for a T-shirt. So the city of about 82,000 owes a lot to a local dentist named Bill Bussey, who became interested in hot-air balloons in the 1970s. He began competing in races across the country, and then in 1978 he started the annual Great Texas Balloon Race, which now draws 15,000 to 20,000 visitors. You’ll see the hot-air balloon as a symbol of Longview pride on shirts and murals and in statues all over town.
The 2023 iteration of race weekend kicks off June 16—this year’s event also runs in conjunction with the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship, which comes to Longview June 12–18. If you’re interested in going up at other times of the year, Bussey gives rides through his company Balloon Adventures USA. Acrophobics can happily keep both feet on the ground in the downtown area, which has experienced a steady revitalization over the past twenty years, especially in its dining scene.
Dine + Drink
Join the regulars at Deb’s Downtown Cafe, where soups and sauces are made from scratch. Barbecue fanatics are rejoicing at the spring opening of the brick-and-mortar version of bassist turned pitmaster Bryan Bingham’s Sunbird Barbecue. At Korean fusion spot Evergreen Food Factory, chefs Seajin Kim and Stella Park whip up poke bowls, Korean-style corn dogs, and sushi. For a high-end dining experience, drive a few minutes from the city center to Tomboni’s Bistro. Every other Saturday, bring your yoga mat to Oil Horse Brewing Company, which specializes in beers crafted to remove gluten, for its “Poses and Pints” class. Enjoy natural wines and regional beers at the new Greenside Beverage Company, then pick up some Creole food next door from Cace’s Kitchen. At Wild Honey Creamery, local ingredients are stirred up into small-batch ice creams.
See + Do
Learn about Longview’s past at the Gregg County Historical Museum. Since its opening four years ago, the Longview Arboretum and Nature Center has become a popular spot for events, but it’s also an outdoor refuge. Ahead of a move into its new home, in 2025, the Longview Museum of Fine Arts is highlighting pieces from its permanent collection, which focuses on Texas regional art since the 1930s.
You never know what you’ll find at the 504, a six-thousand-square-foot vintage marketplace that gets new items every day. At Mélas Clothing Company, look for Mexican handbags constructed out of recycled materials. Peruse the hardcovers and zines at Books & Barrels, then belly up to its wine bar. Longview mainstay Ellie Bee’s, a women’s upscale-clothing boutique, recently moved to a larger location just north of downtown.
Chain hotels dominate the landscape, but if you drive twenty minutes west to Gladewater, you can tap into your Downton Abbey fantasies at Walker Manor Bed & Breakfast, a three-story neoclassical mansion built in 1901 that’s known for its afternoon teas.
A version of this article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Up, Up, and Away in Longview.” Subscribe today.