Beaumont Is the Cajun Capital of Texas You Need to Know About

Full of history, nature, wildlife, and a thriving food scene, Beaumont is an infusion of Texas and Louisiana.

Crockett Street in Beaumont, Tx
Photo: Anne Rippy / Getty Images

When you get close to the Texas-Louisiana border in Southeast Texas, you'll find that cultures and traditions begin mixing together. Beaumont, Texas, about 30 minutes from the border, is no exception. It's the unofficial Cajun Capital of Texas, where bayous and swamps dot the landscape, Mardi Gras is celebrated Louisiana style, and you can find just as many great Tex-Mex restaurants as you can Cajun joints. Beginning in the 1840s, early French settlers from Louisiana migrated into Southeast Texas over time, bringing with them their Cajun culture that's still alive in the area today. And while Beaumont holds onto its Cajun traditions, it's still a very Texan town.

Explore nature, dive into the food scene, and learn about a town steeped in history. Here are our favorite things to do in Beaumont, Texas.

Learn About the Past

On January 10, 1901, oil was discovered in Beaumont at Spindletop Hill. The oil well being drilled at Spindletop erupted in a great gusher, ushering in a new era of drilling in Texas. Thousands of barrels of oil flowed before the well could be capped, and today at the Spindletop/Gladys City Boomtown Museum, visitors can watch a recreation of the gusher (water is used), which blows for 2 minutes at a time. At the Texas Energy Museum, the story of Texas oil is further explained. Exhibits discuss how oil and gas is produced and the history of oil production, while talking mannequins retell their stories of life during early drilling days. For a look into historical architecture, head to the McFaddin-Ward House Museum, a Beaux-Arts Colonial style home dating to 1906. The home includes original furnishings, gardens, and a carriage house that guests can tour. The McFaddin family lived here for 75 years and was known as a wealthy family in town, having made their money from cattle, milling and rice farming, trapping, real estate, and the oil discovery at Spindletop. (Mr. McFaddin owned part interest in the land where the oil struck.)

Stop for a Treat at Rao's Bakery

A Beaumont must is indulging in a sweet treat at Rao's Bakery. Rao's opened in 1941 and quickly became known for its Italian cream cakes, cookies, and cream puffs. Today, Rao's has five locations across Southeast Texas, but Beaumont has the original location on Calder Avenue. If you're in Beaumont during Mardi Gras season, stop in for a king cake—a New Orleans Mardi Gras traditional pastry made with cinnamon, icing, and Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. Other tasty pastries and desserts include croissants, cinnamon rolls, scones, pies, cheesecakes, and breads.

See Swamp Life

Natural surroundings in Beaumont include bayous, swamps, coastal wetlands, and towering cypress trees. At Gator Country, the largest alligator and adventure park in Southeast Texas, more than 450 American alligators, crocodiles, and a variety of reptiles and mammals reside. This is the only sanctuary for nuisance alligators in Texas, and visitors have the chance to wade with the alligators, see an alligator feeding show, hold a live alligator, and interact with other animals including lizards, snakes, and tortoises. Gator Country also offers swamp boat tours that discuss the importance of the area's bayous and showcase wildlife along the ride. Neches River Adventures also offers public boat tours along the Neches River for wildlife viewing.

Dive into the Arts Scene

Famous stars such as Janis Joplin, G.W. Bailey, George Jones, and Robert Rauschenberg have all called Southeast Texas home, making Beaumont and the surrounding area a mecca for artists of all mediums. The Art Museum of Southeast Texas is a great place to see exhibitions focusing on 19th through 21st century American fine art and American folk art, and lots of regional artists are featured. The permanent collection here consists of about 1,700 objects, including paintings, textiles, sculptures, photos, drawings, and more. Over 430 artists are represented in the permanent collection. For live theater, the Beaumont Community Players puts on numerous shows a year, including a children's program. If you're looking to get some steps in while hunting for artwork, the Beaumont Mural Guide leads you to vibrant murals all over town, including pieces of Frida Kahlo, Janis Joplin, and musician Barbara Lynn.

Go Birding

Over 250 bird species stop through Beaumont yearly, including the fabulously pink roseate spoonbills, red-winged blackbirds, pelicans, egrets, and more. See various species on their migratory paths at Cattail Marsh Scenic Wetlands and Boardwalk, where 900 acres of wetlands provide an oasis for wildlife. There is a boardwalk here for birding, plus two covered platforms, and an education center to learn about Beaumont's ecosystem. Cattail Marsh also has 8-plus miles of levee roads for hiking and biking, jogging, horseback riding, and wildlife photography. About 30 minutes north of town, the Big Thicket National Preserve encompasses more than 108,000 acres, and is recognized by the American Bird Conservancy as a Globally Important Bird Area. two migratory bird flyways exist within the preserve, making birding here a must-do. To get kids involved, download the Beaumont Birdie Passport and let them hunt for colorful birds throughout town at specially designated bird houses. Once they have 10 stamps in the passport, turn it over to the Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau for a plush Beaumont Birdie.

Paddle Through the Bayou

Beaumont is surrounded by water, including many bayous, and lakes, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, Neches River, and the Sabine Causeway, making a kayak or canoe adventure a no-brainer. The Cooks Lake to Scatterman Paddling Trail is a 4.8-mile loop trail that flows through moss-covered cypress sloughs in Big Thicket National Preserve to Scatterman Lake and back to the Neches River. Paddlers can take their time exploring through Cook's Lake and Scatterman Lake and can even spot turtles, alligators, river otters, herons, owls, and many more critters along the way. Village Creek State Park, just 14 minutes north of Beaumont in the Big Thicket National Preserve, offers the Village Creek Paddling Trail, a 21-mile trail with multiple access points plus sandy beaches, sandbars, and an abundance of wildlife.

Savor the Cajun Food Trail

Beaumont's proximity to Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico means it's a prime destination for Cajun cuisine and seafood. To experience all the Cajun food you can handle, tackle the Cajun Food Trail, a mobile passport program where you can earn prizes for dining at participating restaurants. Jambalaya, crawfish, etoufee, boudin, gumbo, and more are found along the way. Floyd's Cajun Seafood and Steakhouse is a favorite stop on the trail, as they have more than 70 years of combined Cajun food expertise, and locals also love stops such as the Crazy Cajun, Ralph and Kacoo's, and Rock'n Crab Seafood Boil and Bar.

Indulge in the Flavors of Southeast Texas

Let's not forget that we're still in Texas here, which means Beaumont is also home to loads of non-Cajun restaurants serving Tex-Mex, Mexican, modern American, Asian, and more. The Tex-Mex and Mexican food scene here is huge. Tia Juanita's Fish Camp's "Mexicajun" menu items are a fun collaboration of Mexican classics with Cajun twists, like boudin quesadillas and seafood nachos. Carmela's Mexican Restaurant is famous for its queso and sizzling fajitas, while Tacos La Bamba creates traditional Mexican street tacos and tortas. For a sweet Mexican treat, La Real Michoacana serves homemade ice cream and Mexican desserts such as mangonadas (mango sorbet with chamoy, red sauce, and chili powder) and fresas con crema (strawberries with yogurt and cream). For a memorable new-American brunch, head to J. Wilson's for shrimp and grits or the crab cake benedict. Sweet Basil, a Vietnamese noodle house, serves delectable banh mi sandwiches, bao buns, and oodles of noodle dishes.

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