Beaumont has more to offer than just terrific food. Between bites, try these highlights:
Boat the Neches River. This 400+-mile-long river meanders through the region, offering residents and visitors alike a relaxing opportunity to fish and explore the birds, alligators, turtles, and other wildlife that live around the river and surrounding bayous. The non-profit group Neches River Adventures offers inexpensive ($15 pp), two-hour trips on their covered patio boat. If you like, they’ll transport your kayak or canoe and drop you off in one of the many beautiful bayou offshoots of the river. http://nechesriveradventures.com.
Check out a gusher. Beaumont was the site of the discovery of the Spindletop oil well, one of the most prolific oil wells in history and the well that launched the modern petrochemical and auto industries. You can see what it was like at the turn of the century at the Spindletop/Gladys City Boomtown Museum. Authentic buildings, era antiques, re-enactors, and a replica of Spindletop complete with a 150-foot gusher of water captures the flavor and history of the era. www.spingletop.org
See how the other half lived. The McFaddin-WardHouse Museum, which belonged to one of Beaumont’s wealthiest families, is open for tours and is well worth a stop. Located at the corner of Calder Avenue and Third, this fine, perfectly-preserved, old home is filled with finely crafted woodwork and family antiques, and features a light-filled Tiffany glass solarium and private gymnasium. While you can self-tour the Carriage House for free on weekends, house tours are by reservation only so be sure to call ahead (409)- 832-2134. www.mcfaddin-ward.org
Grab a gator. This part of the country has alligators and Beaumont’s Gator Country is home to the stars of CMT’s new hit show “Gator 911” that follows the escapades of Gary Surage and his crew as they capture nuisance alligators from backyards, swimming pools, drain pipes, and other places they’re not welcome. Gator Country features 300 alligators, snakes, and turtles, and they let kids and adults alike to pose for photos with an albino python or with Chubb, a tiny, 3-foot alligator that has a jaw disability (he’s unable to bite). More than a theme park, Gary and his staff offer three daily shows that educate the public about the ecology of these animals. www.gatorcountrytx.net
Love an orchid. A 400-acre botanical garden, Shangri-La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, is a short 30-minute drive from Beaumont in the town of Orange. The extensive garden has a collection of more than 300 species of orchids, many of them rare. www.shanrgilagardens.org
Collect it. If you’re a lover of everything old, check out Crockett Street where eight antique shops, all withing walking distance will keep you busy. Do you like European antiques and collectibles? Stroll through Julie Burns’ 6,000-square-foot Antik Haus. If your taste runs more toward eclectic collectables, check out The Tattered Suitcase, on Calder and 10th (next to the original Rao’s Bakery), where you’ll find everything from vintage vinyl albums to snakeskin high heels. What’s not to love? www.burnsantikhaus.com and www.thetatteredsuitvcase.com