Beaumont likes to describe itself as “Texas with a little something extra.” West of the Louisiana border, Beaumont has absorbed zydeco music, with its unique washboard and accordion flourishes, and Cajun food. But just off Interstate 10, there’s no shortage of barbecue or country music—or its stars, such as singers Tracy Byrd and Mark Chesnutt, who live here.
The city also claims country singer George Jones, who was born in 1931 in nearby Saratoga. As a kid, Jones sang for tips on the streets of Beaumont.
Before you tour the city, start your morning off right at one of Rao’s Bakery’s three Beaumont locations where you are certain to meet locals—and maybe some more celebrities, such as former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Duriel Harris who likes to drop in—enjoying a great cup of coffee, fellowship and fresh desserts. Established in 1941, this popular bakery, which also has stores in Spring and Nederland, takes pride in its cakes, especially the round, colorful king cakes associated with the celebration of Fat Tuesday prior to Lent. Cakes are baked on-site and shipped internationally. My favorite delicacy here is the Red Velvet Crumb Cake. Rao’s Bakery also keeps youngsters in mind and in the summer offers a Kids Bake Camp. This is the perfect opportunity for children to step into the kitchen to bake cookies or decorate a cake.
Downtown Beaumont features some great museums, including the Fire Museum of Texas, where you can see what museum officials claim is the world’s tallest working fire hydrant painted with Dalmatian spots. The 24-foot-tall hydrant leads to the museum’s entrance. The museum, which has an amazing collection of fire engines and equipment dating to 1856, is housed in the 1927 two-story Central Firee Station and shares space with the Beaumont Fire and Rescue Services administrative offices. The building is a Texas Historic Landmark.
The Art Museum of Southeast Texas features an exhibit made by the Voodoo Man of Beaumont. Felix “Fox” Harris created totem-pole artwork, collecting and sculpting junk with a ball-peen hammer, butter knife and other common utensils to create a spooky forest in his front yard. The museum rescued and preserved a portion of his artworks in its permanent collection.
While strolling the renovated downtown district, take time to visit the Jefferson Theatre, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The theater opened in 1927 and for decades served as a stunning showplace for entertainment in the community. The building’s Old Spanish architecture, complemented by sculptures and rich fabrics, creates a romantic setting. One of the theater’s biggest attractions was, and is, a Robert Morton pipe organ—the “Wonder Organ.” Complete with 778 pipes, the organ was built on a platform rising from the orchestra pit to stage level.
Operating primarily as a movie theater, the Jefferson Theatre closed in 1972. But today, after reopening as a fully restored theater in 2003, it serves as a cultural and performing arts center, providing opportunities for artists to perform on a preserved and professional stage. And the rich sounds of the pipe organ still mesmerize audiences.
Of course, any fan of Beaumont knows that the Spindletop oil field was discovered in a salt dome formation south of town, ushering in a new energy era in January 1901. The Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum, at U.S. Highway 69 and University Drive on the campus of Lamar University, and the downtown Texas Energy Museum, which is 7 miles from the Spindletop oil field, educate visitors about the amazing world of petroleum, energy and science.
If you’re hungry after all that learning, try the barbecued crabs at Sartin’s West. Or check out Fat Mac’s Smokehouse, which serves up slow-cooked, award-winning barbecue that melts in your mouth.
Rao’s Bakery, 1-800-831-3098, www.raosbakery.com
Fire Museum of Texas, (409) 880-3927, www.firemuseumoftexas.org
Art Museum of Southeast Texas, (409) 832-3432, www.amset.org