Tyler, Texas, is a great family destination, whether for a day trip or for an extended vacation. Located east of Dallas/Fort Worth just south of I-20, Tyler is in East Texas between Lake Tyler and Lake Palestine. Tyler is the locale for the annual Texas Rose Festival and other local nature attractions, as well as a few other wild life experiences and family fun recreations.
What to Do
Caldwell Zoo // Enjoy a day at the zoo, which is always a family favorite! The Caldwell Zoo’s newest exhibit, the Big Black Bear Encounter, allows visitors to observe resident black bears Timber and Tyler. The zoo also hosts a Penguin Encounter, giving families the opportunity to interact with the zoo’s penguin population.
Cherokee Trace Drive-Thru Safari // Just south of Tyler in Jacksonville, the Cherokee Trace Safari spans 300 acres. Drive through the landscape and observe more than two dozen species of wild life.
Discovery Science Place // This recreation center and children’s museum provides an inclusive experience for all families, including people and children with disabilities. The Discovery Science Places houses more than a dozen current exhibits that encourage science education and pretend play. Kids can play their way through a veterinary clinic, neonatal nursery, courthouse, bank, grocery store, TV station, and more! They also offer summer camps, such as a Vex Robotics camp, Minecraft Coding camp, and an outer space camp.
Tyler Rose Garden // Best known as the location for the Texas Rose Festival, The Tyler Rose Garden holds this annual event in October. However, the gardens are open to the public year-round from sunrise to sunset, and admission is free! Visitors can also walk The Azalea and Spring Flower Trail in the months of March and April, winding through historic neighborhoods and offering springtime views of azaleas, dogwoods, and tulips.
Tyler State Park // Open daily in the summer, children under age 12 are free, and adult admission to the park is $6. Enjoy 13 miles of trails, fishing, swimming, and other water recreations, camping (pitch a tent or rent a cabin), and take in serene views of the pinewood trees and other East Texas nature.
The Waterpark at the Villages // This family destination houses an indoor water park including a lazy river, wave pool, multiple water slides, and a playscape for kids. Part of the Holiday Inn Club Vacations, you can stay at the resort and also enjoy an outdoor pool and hot tub, sports courts, mini golf, marina rentals, horseback riding, arcade, and fitness center.
Where to Eat
Jucys Hamburgers // Want the Best Burger in East Texas? Jucys Hamburgers had held the title for the last 30 years! There are six locations, with two located in Tyler. The menu is short and uncomplicated, and it also serves Blue Bell ice cream for dessert.
Mercado’s // This bright and colorful Tex-Mex restaurant is great for a family dinner. They have a large menu of Mexican food favorites, Tex-Mex, street tacos, American food, and a kids’ menu. They will also give you a free sopapilla if you post a selfie on Instagram with the hashtag #mercadoscafe.
The Grove Kitchen and Gardens // Fairly new to Tyler, The Grove strives to emphasize the farm to table quality of its entrees. Its sophisticated menu and the ambiance of the indoor seating is more suited for a date night, but its large patio dining area outside is great for families to enjoy a meal while listening to live music.
The Potpourri House // A unique garden-style restaurant, the Potpourri House offers salads, sandwiches, and American entrees. Diners can also shop in the women’s boutique and gift shop. You can also plan a party or special event, including a quaint tea party.
Sonic Drive-In // The classic drive-up fast-food place hardly seems like a food destination, as there are more than 900 locations in Texas alone. But the Sonic on South Broadway in Tyler is one of the largest in the state! Besides the usual burgers, hot dogs, drinks, and desserts, diners can also play beach volleyball on the sand court next to the restaurant.
Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue // Stanley’s is the oldest mom-and-pop barbecue joint in Tyler. Opening in 1958, this restaurant serves classic barbecue fare, as well as tacos, stuffed potatoes, Frito pies, and even has vegetarian options. It also prides itself as the “friendliest bar in Texas” and often has live music and entertainment.
Where to Stay
Cora’s Cabins // Go “glamping” at Cora’s Cabins! These lodgings are located in the piney woods of Tyler and offer fun camping amenities, like outside grills, fire pits, and walking trails. But don’t worry; you can also enjoy the free WiFi and satellite TV.
Hilton Garden Inn, Best Western, Hampton Inn, La Quinta Inn, Marriott Courtyard and Residence Inn, and others // Most family-friendly hotels in Tyler are located along the main strip, Route 69, also known as Broadway, in the south side of the city. These hotels and others are also near The Villages of Cumberland Park, a new shopping center with a magnitude of stores and restaurants.
Holiday Inn Club Vacations Villages Resort // Already mentioned above, the Villages is not just a water park, it’s a vacation destination inside a Holiday Inn. Family’s can enjoy its many attractions and hotel amenities.
Kiepersol // This upscale lodging is a little fancy for young children, but for families with older children or an adults-only vacay, Kiepersol is a Texas food and wine destination. The bed and breakfast and winery offers 15 rooms spread throughout the estate grounds, or stay at the on-site RV park. Other grand amenities include wine tours and tastings, and also a restaurant, reservations required.
For more driving destination ideas, check out Fort Worth Moms “Guide to Road Trips from Fort Worth.”
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