Columbia's Charms

Colorful roses and varied family fun bloom large in Tyler, Texas
By Rona Distenfeld

The Yellow Rose of Texas blooms in the Tyler Rose Garden. So do at least 500 other varieties in every shade of pink, peach, red and white.


Above: Brilliant colors are plentiful in Tyler’s Municipal Rose Garden. Tyler CVB photo

Below: See animals like this giraffe feeding during a visit to a drive-through safari park. Rona Distenfeld photo


Tyler has been known as America’s Rose Capital since the 1930s when thousands of rose bushes were grown in local fields, earning Tyler a national name for rose production. In 1933, local garden enthusiasts organized the first rose festival, an event that continues to attract thousands of visitors every October for the coronation of the rose queen, the parade and the chance to see thousands of beautiful roses at their peak. This year, the Texas Rose Festival will be Oct. 8–11.

You don’t have to be a garden enthusiast to have fun in Tyler, however. As the largest city in northeast Texas, Tyler boasts a variety of attractions for adults and children.

Learning as play

Named by Parents magazine last year as one of the “Top 25 Science Centers,” Tyler’s Discovery Science Place will keep children of all ages entertained for hours. Dozens of interactive exhibits in Discovery Landing help visitors explore the world around them, while other parts of the center encourage children to indulge their imaginations. Current traveling exhibits explore weather, colors, and other scientific insights into the human experience.

Observe animals at Caldwell Zoo and Cherokee Trace Drive Thru Safari Park. The zoo began in 1937 as part of a home-based playschool operated by the Caldwells. The focus was on child development and small animals were kept there for the children’s enjoyment. In 1953, the animals were moved to the current site, and the zoo was established with the mission to “provide positive educational and entertaining experiences that will stimulate the visitors’ appreciation of nature.” Today, more than 2,000 animals live in natural habitats on 85 acres. Guests can feed parakeets and cockatiels, view jaguars and giant anteaters, laugh at the antics of penguins and squirrel monkeys.

Interact with animals at Cherokee Trace. More than 25 species roam the preserve’s 300 acres in Jacksonville, just outside of Tyler. Zebras, wildebeests, llamas, and kangaroos are among the animals that may wander up asking to be fed as you drive your car through the open habitat. Or do the Behind the Scenes Tour in their open-air van and see places not open to the general public. Food for the animals is provided with admission.

Living history

Train enthusiasts love the Cotton Belt Railroad Depot. Built as the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad Depot in the early 1900s, passengers embarked on their travels here until 1956. The building is now city property, and the free museum houses $400,000 worth of memorabilia, including a baggage cart used in the 1890s, an original link-and-pin coupling from the 1850s, and the Bragg Model Train Collection with over 1,600 rail cars and 197 engines.

The Historic Aviation Memorial Museum is a treasure trove for aviation buffs. Located at the Tyler Pounds Regional Airport, the museum has a rare collection of recognition model aircraft, some of them made by students in 1942 and given to the military to help the war effort. These black plastic models were used in the training of spotters to identify flying planes in 1942.

Test your flying skills on a genuine flight simulator. Be moved by the before-and-after photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and view historical photos of aircraft, uniforms and headgear. The museum also has one of the best aviation libraries in the country. The best part of the collection for most, however, are the airplanes sitting on the tarmac. There is an F-111 Aardvark, an F-4D Phantom II, a Russian Mig-17F, an L-29 Delfin Trainer, and many others, including an FJ-4 Fury, one of only two in existence.

Where to eat and stay

Many of the national hotel and motel chains–including Best Western, Comfort, Fairfield and Holiday Inn–are here. Restaurants offer a variety of fare including TexMex, seafood, steaks and barbecue.

T yler also offers wineries to tour, festivals for every season, and outdoor activities from fishing to ziplining, making it an ideal weekend getaway no matter what you enjoy.

Rona Distenfeld is a contributor from Austin, Texas.

May/Jun 2009 Issue


For more information, contact the Tyler Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 235-5712, ext. 229 or

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