I have traveled to Tyler a number of times, enjoying such diversions as New York Texas Zipline Adventures, Rick’s on the Square restaurant in historic downtown, top-ranked Jucys Hamburgers, Discovery Science Place and the famous Rose Garden Center. But three destinations top my list.
First, sprawling Kiepersol Estates includes vineyards, a winery, a distillery, tasting rooms, a restaurant and lodging. Guided tours of the distillery and winery production facilities are offered Saturday afternoons and by appointment.
Wine tastings include a selection of four to six wines, and if you’re staying on the premises, I recommend happy hour on the veranda, which overlooks some of Kiepersol’s 63 acres of vineyards. I also recommend strolling the 1-mile trail through the vineyards. Watch for a flock of large grey guinea fowl prowling the rows of vines, eating insects and providing natural pest control.
Just across a tranquil pond from the winery, the Restaurant at Kiepersol features one wall lined with windows and other walls lined with wine bottles, whites chilling on the bottom floor and reds aging on the second. My most recent dinner here started with jumbo lump crab cakes, followed by black pepper and honey-glazed salmon and buttery green beans. I noted the juicy filet mignon and Colorado lamb chops at a neighboring table for my next visit. The wine list contains more than 20 Kiepersol wines and hundreds of others. “Servers can recommend how to best pair your meal with a wine from our list,” owner Pierre de Wet says. “But most importantly, we want you to drink what you like.”
Five bed-and-breakfast rooms line a nearby hall, and other lodging options include the five-bedroom Stable House and the two-bedroom Caretaker’s Cottage.
Next, Tyler State Park ranks as one of the best places to enjoy this area’s outdoor beauty because it encompasses the junction of Pineywoods and Post Oak Savannah bioregions, mixing shortleaf and loblolly pines with oak, sweet gum, pecan and black walnut. The park contains more than 13 miles of hike-and-bike trails, but I often opt for the three-quarter-mile Whispering Pines Nature Trail. It loops through pines and hardwoods and passes enduring structures from the Civilian Conservation Corps, which created this park between 1935 and 1941. Beauchamp Springs forms a 64-acre lake in the center of the park. Circle the water on the 2.1-mile Lakeshore Trail, which passes fishing piers, picnic areas, campgrounds, boat docks and a playground. You could enjoy a day on the east shore of the lake, with its swim beach and bathhouse, well-equipped store and boat pavilion that offers canoes, paddleboats, kayaks, bike boats and johnboats for rent—daily in summer and weekends year-round. And it’s just a short walk to a fishing pier and shady picnic area.
The park offers tent and recreational vehicle camping, screened shelters and cabins, as well as several group camping areas and facilities. Rangers offer a variety of guided activities, including birding and stories around the campfire, and kids can keep busy with Junior Ranger Explorer Packs.
My third fave is Lago del Pino restaurant, created by locals Randal and Donna Brooks with sons Trey, Derek and Daren, which overlooks a 40-acre, tree-lined lake. The restaurant offers an expansive menu and live music on the patio every Friday and Saturday night. There’s an eclectic
Sunday brunch menu accompanied by more live music. In addition to steaks and seafood, the chef creates smoked jalapeño meatloaf, shrimp and grits, and beer-battered chicken tacos. Don’t miss the cocktail selections made with unusual ingredients such as habanero-infused tequila, fresh lemongrass and lavender gin.
And the sunsets can be spectacular.
Melissa Gaskill is an Austin writer who specializes in travel and nature topics.