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Explore East Texas’ Hidden Gems

Expect the unexpected with these local experiences.

By Kari Kynard Ridge on June 25, 2020

Tyler TX
Tyler / Antony Boshier

Sure, many people know Tyler for roses, but did you know you can also feed giraffes in Tyler? Or that you can visit the fancy headstone of a rodent who was beloved by city residents? Here are seven lesser-known things to do in Tyler that may surprise you.

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Lions and Tigers…

Tyler is home to Tiger Creek Animal Sanctuary (TCAS), a preserve for tigers, lions, cougars, leopards and other wild felines that offers guided and self-guided tours as well as special visit experiences. A VIP behind-the-scenes tour provides a look at feeding times and training sessions. TCAS also works to develop the conservation genetic database and conservation of these mighty mammals.

Tyler TX
Tyler / Jeff Adkins

Encounters of the Furry and Feathered Kind

More than 3,400 animals reside at Caldwell Zoo, and visitors are invited to create special memories with some of them. You can feed lettuce leaves to giraffes at the zoo’s African Overlook as well as seed sticks to winged residents at the Wild Bird Walkabout exhibit. A Penguin Encounter and Reptile Encounter allow close-up experiences and unique chances to understand life from the perspectives of these creatures.

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Celebrate Freedom

The American Freedom Museum takes visitors back in time to wars and conflicts, from the American Revolution to those in Iraq and Afghanistan, to illustrate the journeys and sacrifices of our nation’s military. On the campus of The Brook Hill School, the museum includes a vast collection of artifacts as well as documents signed by every president since George Washington and is open for tours and educational courses.

Tyler TX
Tyler / Courtesy of The Grove Kitchen + Gardens

Get in the Grove

Ever wanted to have your birthday party in a greenhouse or eat dinner on a veranda overlooking lush gardens or in a wine room? The Grove Kitchen + Gardens provides these opportunities, along with a farm-to-table philosophy and chef-crafted menu on a sprawling historic farm. Features include locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and special events, restaurant dining and private party hosting.

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Pay Your Respects to Shorty

It’s said that Shorty the Squirrel lived outside the Smith County Courthouse for 15 years before he died in 1963. During his lifetime, he was so beloved that city residents gave him free food, medical care, a special crosswalk and a lower speed limit on Broadway. So it’s no surprise that, in death, Shorty is honored with a Georgia granite headstone near the courthouse that you can still visit today.

Tyler TX
Tyler / Antony Boshier

To Infinity & Beyond

TJC Earth and Space Science Center featuring Hudnall Planetarium is a local favorite. A major expansion and renovation project equipped this state-of-the-art planetarium with the latest in digital projection technology and an immersive, full-dome video experience. The facility also has interactive displays and exhibits, a classroom and outdoor play spaces.

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Running on Beer

The Annual True Vine Beer Run combines running with drinking beer in one of Tyler’s quirkiest fundraisers. This unique and popular tradition began four years ago in an event where participants start the day with breakfast and beer, then head out on a 3-mile run with community-sponsored food – and beer – stations along the way and activities, swag and prizes. Recipients of the fundraising part differ each year.

If you’d like to learn more about the Tyler area, check out the latest issue of Livability: Tyler, TX

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