A man holds a large green sign reading "Canton City Limit"

Photo courtesy The Daytripper

To properly enjoy Canton, an East Texas town of 4,200 near Tyler, you should show up with two things: an empty car trunk and an empty belly. Before you head back home, they’ll both be full. Founded in 1850, the community is a paradise for antiquers, junkers, and thrifters. It’s home to the self-proclaimed World’s Largest Flea Market—here you can find vinyl, yard art, aprons, bathtubs, old phone books, knickknacks, you name it. Canton is also a great place to sample comfort food, both traditional and experimental. For your next vacation, consider this small town destination, where they don’t care if you show up empty-handed—so long as you don’t leave that way.

First Monday Trade Days

Folks have gathered near the Van Zandt County Courthouse since the 1800s to swap goods, a tradition that continues today. Trade days—which actually take place Thursday through Sunday—attract more than 150,000 visitors to peruse the wares of upwards of 5,000 vendors spread across 500 acres. My advice is to start walking; before you know it, you may become the proud owner of a taxidermied squirrel playing poker with a fish.

Dairy Palace

If you’re looking for a delicious burger, a milkshake, or a full-on cowboy breakfast, this is the palace for you. It’s been a Canton staple for nearly 40 years, specializing in keeping weary travelers well fed. While the traditional beef burger is near-perfect, they also offer patties made of exotic meats such as elk, duck, and even Spam. I recommend the Texas Sunrise burger topped with bacon, hash browns, and a fried egg.

 

Van Zandt County Courthouse Square

This historic town square is usually hopping with eager shoppers. Check out A Wicked Read bookstore, where vintage books are stacked to the ceiling, and fuel up on craft coffee at The Pony Expresso. Fun fact: Van Zandt County, which seems to embody a rugged, independent spirit, was once known as its own independent republic called the Free State of Van Zandt.

 

Rocky Ridge Drive-Thru Safari

Just south of town is a ranch that gives visitors a glimpse of the South African Plains. This drive-thru safari boasts roughly 25 species of animals across 200 acres of wilderness. You haven’t lived until a bison sticks its entire head through your car window and covers the interior with slobber.

 

The Kickin Mule

This casual eatery on the downtown square puts a creative spin on everyday meals—and the results are delectable. Popular dishes include the stuffed avocado in spring and summer, along with the mainstay cornbread sandwich. Keep an open mind as you sample your first banana pudding taco. For something truly decadent, order Chef April’s ribs: a platter of deep-fried pork ribs atop a mountain of mashed potatoes.


 

So whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.

Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper® travel show on PBS.
To view the Canton episode, visit thedaytripper.com.
Follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @chettripper.

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