In the 89 years since its inception, Tyler’s annual Texas Rose Festival has been suspended only twice: during World War II and in 2020, the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. Held the third weekend of October, the celebration includes a parade and the crowning of a debutante-style queen, whose custom gown is bedecked with crystals and jewels and features a long train that alone can take months to construct. The festivities continue to be a major draw to this area, which once grew more than half the country’s supply of rosebushes. (While still an industry powerhouse, it’s now better known for processing the blooms, mostly from other states, than producing them.) But there’s more to the self-proclaimed Rose Capital of the World than its flowers. Located about a hundred miles southeast of Dallas and boasting a population of around 106,000, Tyler, which benefited greatly from the 1930 discovery of the East Texas oil field, mixes small-town friendliness with a growing cultural scene and dining options that can hold their own against those in Texas’s biggest cities.  

Customers getting coffee and breakfast at Cafe 1948.
Customers getting coffee and breakfast at Cafe 1948. Photograph by Trevor Paulhus
A meat platter from Stanley's Famous Pit Barbecue.
A meat platter from Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue. Photograph by Trevor Paulhus

Dine + Drink

After enjoying breakfast and a pour-over coffee at the airy Cafe 1948, located on the Tyler city square, grab one of its cold-pressed juices. For lunch, try the baby back ribs or meaty sandwiches at Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue, which has consistently made Texas Monthly’s Top 50 list since 2008. The decor may be unassuming at Culture ETX, but chef Lance McWhorter’s sophisticated menu draws inspiration from East Texas and around the globe. For dining alfresco, get a table on the patio at Grove Kitchen and Gardens, where chef Arturo Lara serves dishes including ahi tuna crusted with togarashi. At the Black Pearl, the affable bartenders can mix a craft cocktail from the menu or concoct something to your specifications.

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The dress worn by 2003 rose queen Elizabeth Arlene Lilly on display at the Tyler Rose Museum. Photograph by Trevor Paulhus

See + Do

Gawk at the bespoke, bordering-on-campy gowns of past festival queens and court members at the Tyler Rose Museum before taking a meditative stroll through the adjacent fourteen-acre Tyler Municipal Rose Garden, where, during the peak seasons of October and May, floral hues include dusty pastels and rich jewel tones. Nearby Tyler State Park offers a spring-fed lake and hiking trails through the pines. Take a guided tour of the Victorian McClendon House, the childhood home of the late firebrand Sarah McClendon, one of the first female reporters to cover the White House, which she did for some fifty years. While Rick’s on the Square has long hosted live gigs, the local music scene has grown, with shows at Stanley’s and both locations of True Vine Brewing Company.

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Dried flowers and other items at Moss. Photograph by Trevor Paulhus
trip guide tyler velvet vintage shop
Vintage T-shirts at Velvet. Photograph by Trevor Paulhus


Inhale the fragrant air at Moss, near the square, as you peruse the flower shop’s collection of darling plant paraphernalia, dried floral and greenery wreaths, and gifts. Velvet, on the same street, offers a well-curated collection of vintage furniture and clothing. 

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Bungalows at High Hill Farm.Photograph by Trevor Paulhus


The modern but cozy Thomas Hotel, which opened in August on the square, features eight nicely appointed suites. For a rural retreat, make the twenty-mile drive to High Hill Farm, complete with a picturesque vineyard and cozy bungalows.

This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Tyler Comes Into Bloom.” Subscribe today.