It seems like every time I leave our small town, I find a new road leading to another small town.
It’s made it especially difficult for this west-Texas girl to get her directional bearings, but some of the most beautiful places in East Texas can be found on these winding little highways.
Seriously, I am utterly dependent on Google maps. If I lose reception, my panic steadily grows until I reach the top of the next hill and the Google lady (I call her Ethel) starts talking to me again.
Based on my year of exploration so far, here’s a few of the best small towns Ethel and I have found in East Texas:
- Map of Can’t-Miss Small Towns in East Texas
- 1. Cutest downtown: Pittsburg, TX
- 2. Most convenient: Mt. Pleasant, TX
- 3. Quirkiest: Gladewater, TX
- 4. For when it’s too hot to farm: Mt. Vernon, TX
- 5. Most historical: Jefferson, TX
- 6. Blingiest: Kilgore, TX
- 7. Great for gardeners: Emory, TX
Map of Can’t-Miss Small Towns in East Texas
1. Cutest downtown: Pittsburg, TX
Ethel’s (my name for the Google maps lady) favorite route, and one of the prettiest drives in East Texas, goes right through downtown Pittsburg, Texas.
While a lot of small towns have trouble with dilapidated, vacant downtown buildings, Pittsburg is vibrant and full of small businesses to explore.
Even the old murals are well-preserved and vibrant.
It’s lit beautifully at night, making it a great place for a romantic evening stroll, or a photoshoot.
Every time I drive through, I fantasize living above a bakery on the main street and handing out bread on the street corner while everyone sings the opening number from a cartoon movie.
2. Most convenient: Mt. Pleasant, TX
If you’re looking to run errands, have some fun and eat some chocolate, Mt. Pleasant is the destination for you.
Mt. Pleasant is home to the country’s largest handmade chocolate shop. If that’s not a reason to drop everything and hit the road, I’m not sure what is.
But beyond sweets, Mt. Pleasant is a hub for the tinier towns in the area, and as a result has just a little bit of whatever you’re looking for. From big box stores to smaller specialty shops, medical services and easy access to I-30, (Ethel loves that) Mt. Pleasant is full of convenience.
How pleasant is that? (Sorry, had to.)
3. Quirkiest: Gladewater, TX
Gladewater prides itself on being the best spot for antiques in East Texas. That’s probably true, although I’m not a great antique collector myself. (I’m more of a furniture-nobody-else-wanted collector.)
Ethel has no use for antiques either.
But with those prized collections of treasures from days past, comes a whole quirky culture that I really get into when I have a chance to visit Gladewater.
There’s a few adorable little cafes and bakeries, plus boutiques with unexpected wares. In one such boutique, an artisan had upcycled mounted deer heads with rhinestones and paint. They even had fake eyelashes!
She said it’s one of her most popular products, and she regularly has clients commission glammed up deer for their home or office décor.
Bonus: Gladewater Book Shop
Several blocks from the diva-deer store stands my favorite little independent used bookstore.
I really thought I was going to find Meg Ryan sitting on the floor reading to children when we walked in.
Instead, I found an older man who resembles the man who runs the bookstore in the animated Beauty and Beast.
The place has that magical smell of books just waiting to reveal some new thought or adventure you haven’t had yet. It’s a great place to find inspiration.
In the middle of all of these stores and cafes, there are oil derricks and a railroad.
I think it’s a fascinating place.
4. For when it’s too hot to farm: Mt. Vernon, TX
Mt. Vernon has an adorable square, with a beautiful, small library.
It’s the perfect spot to spend a hot afternoon.
Right off the square, there’s a very nice, little splash pad where the kids can cool off and a nearby playground right out of 1998, complete with a long, metal slide and giant merry-go-round.
The town is completely surrounded by gorgeous farmland except for where I-30 runs right through it.
Dining options are pretty limited, but there’s an authentic Texas Barbecue joint. (That and Tex-Mex is really all a true Texan needs, and even the Tex-Mex place in Mt. Vernon can suffice in a pinch.)
If you’re looking for that true, small-town, slow-pace experience, Mt. Vernon is worth a visit.
5. Most historical: Jefferson, TX
Jefferson is on my bucket list of places to really go full tourist in. I’ve been through there a time or two and explored a couple of less-prominent places, but there is an incredible amount of history in Jefferson left to be seen.
It was the trade port for Northeast Texas, because of the railway and water access to Shreveport and New Orleans.
To this day, the antebellum architecture and landmarks tell the story of early Texas trade and are just so fascinating to me. I’m especially looking forward to geeking out at the gorgeous 1907 Carnegie Library.
Fun Jefferson Fact: A funny thing I didn’t know before I became a resident of East Texas is that a lot of people here believe in Bigfoot and keep an eye out for her (turns out bigfoot is likely female) on a regular basis.
Jefferson honors this search for Bigfoot at the Port Jefferson History and Nature Center, where you can take a picture with the Bigfoot statue and walk the trail to look for Bigfoot. (In fact, the Texas Bigfoot Research Center is located in Jefferson.)
Myself, I’m a skeptic. Ethel doesn’t know where bigfoot is, so I figure I don’t need to.
6. Blingiest: Kilgore, TX
Kilgore is a small town with retro, big-city aspirations.
As such, they’re big on entertainment. They have multiple historic movie theaters, East Texas’ only professional theater group, and numerous other throwback entertainment venues, including a roller-skating rink and bowling alley.
Even their museums tend to center on entertainment. The Rangerettes, the oil boom and TV and radio broadcasting each have their own museum in Kilgore.
All in all, Kilgore is a great place to step away from the routine of day-to-day life.
7. Great for gardeners: Emory, TX
If happiness to you involves potting soil and you’re in the neighborhood, spend a minute in Emory. That small town is somehow able to support a huge nursery, feedstore and other related businesses all within a mile of one another.
And I’m always tempted to pretend like I have a green thumb and bring home some poor unsuspecting plant, lying to myself about how unlikely it is to live more than a month in my “care.”
A fun game to play as you drive through Emory: who can spot the name Hooten on the most businesses.