Texas Travel

Texas Travel Guide: East Texas City Spotlights

By Patrick Reardon 11.18.22

Following our tour of North Texas towns, we’re now heading east in our Texas Travel Guide series. The frontier of East Texas is where rolling plains transform into towering pine trees. This is the Pineywoods ecoregion, which sprawls across East Texas and spills over the border into Louisiana and Arkansas. Among this region is a collection of towns and cities with the typical Texan offerings — barbecue joints, rodeos, oil boomtowns — but also so much that you won’t find elsewhere, like Texan-Cajun cuisine, swampy excursions, and niche-but-enormous vegetable festivals.

From Longview in the northeast to Port Arthur in the southeast, here are the best 10 East Texas cities and what makes them so unique.

1. Athens

The truth of the matter is disputed, but residents of Athens will tell you that their town is the birthplace of the hamburger — and they may be right. But what’s undisputed is Athens’ stake as the Black-Eyed Pea Capital of the World, as it has been popularizing the little legumes since 1909 and has hosted the Black-Eyed Pea Jamboree since 1971. Athens is also a haven for fishing and scuba diving in its several human-made lakes.


2. Beaumont

Beaumont is a small town in Southeast Texas between Houston and the Louisiana border. It was put on the map by the Lucas Geyser at Spindletop, a 150-foot-high fountain of oil that sprung out of the ground for nine days straight in 1901. Today, Beaumont is known for its Cajun culture and cuisine: Besides the crawfish and seafood joints on nearly every street, Beaumont also hosts the largest Mardi Gras party in Southeast Texas every year.

3. Golden

At its peak as a railroad town in 1914, Golden consisted of around 650 people. That number dropped to about 150 in 2000, but the town has made an impressive name for itself despite its size. Every October since 1982 it has transformed its streets into the Golden Sweet Potato Festival. The yam-boree brings in visitors from all over Texas each year and has even received national attention on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show.

4. Jacksonville

As if East Texas didn’t have enough global renown for its produce, Jacksonville — about 30 miles south of Tyler — is the Tomato Capital of the World. The annual agenda for their Tomato Fest includes a tomato pageant, a tomato-eating contest, and even a tomato-peeling contest. In 2010, Jacksonville residents made a 2,672-pound bowl of salsa, recognized by the Guinness World Records.

Karnack Texas
Inge Johnsson Alamy

5. Karnack

Karnack is settled on the front door of Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and it’s less than an hour’s drive from Shreveport. It’s well-known as the birthplace of former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, whose conservation efforts continue to preserve Texas’ natural beauty today. During World War II, Karnack played an important role in the manufacturing of more than 400 million tons of TNT. Today, however, it’s a cozy East Texas city that merely enjoys the nature offered by Caddo Lake.

6. Longview

Just east of Karnack is Longview, the balloon-racing capital of Texas. Each year folks blow up hot air balloons and go head-to-head in the skies over East Texas during the Great Texas Balloon Race. Longview is also home to the Gregg County Historical Museum, where you can see relics from East Texas’ first inhabitants in A.D. 800.

7. Lufkin

Lufkin is on the edge of the Davy Crockett National Forest, a 160,000-acre coniferous wood that’s a paradise for hiking, camping, bird-watching, boating, hunting, and fishing. In town, be sure to swing by Stringer’s for some barbecue of Texas-wide acclaim.

8. Kilgore

Kilgore is another small-town-turned-boomtown after the largest oil reservoir in the U.S. was discovered there in 1930. Today, it’s home to the East Texas Oil Museum, which offers a glimpse into what life was like in these boomtowns a century ago.

9. Nacogdoches

Archaeological digs have shown that Nacogdoches was originally a Caddo Indian settlement from some 10,000 years ago, leading to its claim as the oldest town in Texas. The territory has changed hands over the years (it’s one of the only cities in Texas that can claim to have flown more than the standard six flags over Texas), but today it’s beloved for its public botanical gardens and the Nacogdoches Azalea Trail.

10. Port Arthur

Port Arthur is about as southeast in Texas as you can go — it’s just a short hike to the Louisiana border, and it’s right on the Gulf. The town has borrowed lots of its culture from its Cajun neighbors, as seen in the restaurants that serve up boudin, jambalaya, and barbecue crabs. The ecosystem around Port Arthur is hot and swampy, but Sea Rim State Park offers a beachside view of the Gulf and is a great spot for bird-watching. Just mind the gators — this is Southeast Texas, after all.

Inspired to see more of East Texas? Check out the state parks in the area here.

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