As the open road and great outdoors beckon, it's good to know that some of the best destinations in Texas can be experienced for free! Here are a few of our favorite places for road trips with the best opportunities for East Texas nature.

Beautiful Texas Flowers

Some of East Texas' most historic missions are working cultural centers, and many have beautiful, natural grounds to explore. Mission Dolores in San Augustine was full of these beautiful yellow flowers when we visited.

A Relaxing Texas Beach

This beautiful dog knows that the beaches of the Bolivar Peninsula can be less crowded and more relaxing than it's busy neighbor, Galveston. Especially if you go during an off-season, when it's warm enough to dip your paws in the water, but not so hot that you burn them on the sand.

An Amazing Texas Lake

There's a reason that Caddo Lake, in East Texas is so popular! These beautiful, ancient bald cypress trees can be at least 3,500 years old, and can grow to heights of up to 150 feet with a diameter of 17 feet. Set in among huge lily pads and surrounded by forested landscape, it transports you to a place you thought could only exist in the imagination.

A Creative and Cool Texas Sculpture Garden

If you want a lot of art and a little shade when exploring Texas' nature in the summer, the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden and Mast Arboretum in Nacogdoches is a year-round treat. With its heavily-treed, winding paths that pass changing sculpture exhibitions, visiting here combines art and nature to offer the best of two worlds.

Many of these Texas road trip destinations can be found on our East Texas interactive map!

Photos by James Khattak

Center, Texas in Shelby County has one of the most interesting courthouses that we have encountered on our travels. As James says, it's "extra." But in a good way! Our recent road trip through the Texas Forest Trail region took us through Center, so in keeping with the theme, we planned an extra stop that was extra fun!

A showstopping, Romanesque centerpiece to Center's burgeoning town square, the 1885 courthouse is known by its twelve chimneys and handmade brick, special touches that its Irish architect implemented in order to replicate an Irish castle, and the only remaining American courthouse of this design.

Sitting next to the courthouse, the Historic Shelby County Jail was built at the same time, and by the same architect. When we were there, we saw many young people in formal wear - it was prom season - posing next to the jail. It was a great scene, but funny to imagine what the residents of 1800s Center would think about the jail being a desirable backdrop for beautiful dresses!

Downtown Center, Texas was full of such backdrops, from vintage facades to modern landscaping and vibrant businesses. There were also quite a few people out walking dogs, strolling the sidewalks and jogging around the square, not something we always see in a town of this size.

My favorite discovery, perhaps of the whole trip, was DavMar Gallery and its outdoor murals, the work of local artist David Masterson. As enthusiastic art adventurers, we wished we had known about this charming space earlier so that we could have made an appointment to go inside. But there was plenty to see around the building and across the alley from this contemporary art gallery in East Texas, as well.

Historic Shelby County Jail in Center Texas. Brick building by trees.
The Historic Shelby County Jail now houses the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce.
Art Gallery with Texas flag painted on the side.
DavMar Gallery in Center, Texas.
bright zebra and polka dot murals on alley walls
A bright row of murals behind DavMar Gallery, seen on an East Texas road trip to Center, Texas.
yellow and magenta flowers in a rustic pot.
Spring flowers in downtown Center, Texas.

Travel notes: While we were there fairly late in the day and already had dinner plans elsewhere, there were a few local stores and restaurants that looked interesting! Many with patios, as well.

As always, please check independently to learn business hours or other visitor's information. While most of our stops are outdoors and easy to access, things can change quickly, especially these days.

Pandemic guidelines tend to vary a bit from town to town. While we are fully vaccinated (yay!) we still fully comply with local public health policies, and encourage others to do the same.

Local guides for more information:

Click here for an interactive map of East Texas travel stops, including the Center, Texas points of interest mentioned in this post. Connect with us on Instagram and Facebook to learn more about Center and future small town Texas road trips!

Photos by James Khattak

San Augustine is in far east Texas, roughly a half-hour from the Louisiana border. It's a small town - the population in 2019 was 1,1889, a slight increase from 2018 according to the US Census bureau. But it is an important town in the story of Texas. In 1716, it became home to the first European settlement in the state, and as the region evolved into a republic, and then a state, San Augustine's role in Texas History did, too. San Augustine County is also part of the Texas Forest Trail's El Camino Real de los Tejas, "The Royal Highway" that ran from the Rio Grande to Louisiana. Mission Dolores, a State Historic Site and designated State Antiquities Landmark, is a beautiful park, campground and museum that tells the story of the region's Native American history and hosts community events - even a Ham radio club!

San Augustine is also home to one of the more interesting art pieces we have encountered. Local carpenter and artist Gary Brewer's ongoing work in progress is a massive wooden structure at the edge of downtown San Augustine. A mix of religious iconography, gothic architecture and creative ambition, it may be hard to understand, but it definitely makes you think and return for closer looks and new discoveries within the boards.

This is an undeniably beautiful part of the state. I appreciated that the town has held on to its historic charm and natural beauty.

Close up on an American flag in downtown San Augustine, Texas.
Downtown San Augustine, Texas.
A red building with vintage lettering "Hardware, General Merchandise"
Hardware on the Square, downtown San Augustine, Texas.
Vines and flowers over an enclosed walkway
An arbor at Mission Dolores State Historic Site, San Augustine, Texas
A multi-story architectural structure in San Augustine, East Texas
Artist Gary Brewer's Gothic Structure, San Augustine, Texas.
Historic buildings and a winding road.
Leaving downtown San Augustine, in East Texas.

Travel notes: We were there on a Saturday afternoon and just a few places were open in downtown San Augustine, although there was still plenty to see and learn about. We saw one restaurant being renovated, so perhaps that would be a future option.

Wear sturdy shoes if you are walking the paths at Mission Dolores. We went after a rain, and the mud was not kind to our footwear. The paths themselves seemed fine for most abilities, though.

As always, please check independently to learn business hours or other visitor's information. While most of our stops are outdoors and easy to access, things can change quickly, especially these days.

Local guides for more information:

Texas Forest Trail Region: Web site

Mission Dolores State Historic Site: Facebook, Instagram, Web site

Main Street San Augustine | Hardware on the Square: Facebook, Web site

Click here for an interactive map of small town East Texas travel stops, including the San Augustine points of interest mentioned in this post. Connect with us on Instagram and Facebook to learn more about San Augustine and future small town Texas road trips!

Should we visit your town and highlight some of its culture and special features? Drop us a line and share a bit about what makes it unique! We'd love to learn more.

Photos by James Khattak