Texas' petrochemical industry was born in Beaumont on Jan. 10, 1901 when oil was struck at Spindletop. Today the city makes a fine hub for exploring the parks, museums and attractions of Southeast Texas.
WHERE TO STAY
MCM Eleganté Hotel and Conference Center:Beaumont's only full-service luxury hotel includes a Starbucks kiosk, a day spa, restaurant and separate bar. Rooms are well-appointed and come with Bath & Body Works amenities. Some suites have whirlpool tubs large enough for four. Vitals: Rates start at $109; 2355 Executive Blvd., 409-842-3600;mcmelegatebeaumont.com.
Book Nook Inn: Stacie and David Hearne's bed and breakfast is a deceptively large complex that includes a hot tub, swimming pool with an expansive deck, a movie theater, a fishing pond and four antique-filled guest rooms. Located in nearby Lumberton, the inn provides a good base for exploring the area's natural spaces including the Big Thicket Preserve and Village Creek State Park. Vitals: Rates start at $99; 10405 Cooks Lake, in Lumberton, 409-225-9106; booknookinn.com.
WHAT TO DO
Texas Energy Museum: Visitors can interact with the exhibits as they learn about the formation of crude oil and natural gas, from its microscopic beginnings in prehistoric seas and the rock formations that predict its presence, to the mechanics of oil wells and the products developed in refineries. The exhibit about piloting an oil tanker is particularly interesting; it offers a pilot's view of the Sabine-Neches waterway as the tanker moves 525,000 barrels of crude from Mexico. All the science is on the Beaumont museum's spacious first floor. The second floor tells the story of Spindletop and displays some vintage signs and equipment from major oil companies. Vitals: Admission is $5. 600 Main, 409-833-5100; texasenergymuseum.org.
Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center: This 252-acre garden is home to more than 300 species of plants, as well as a cypress swamp and a heronry. A 1917 Victorian greenhouse filled with orchids, a hanging garden and a children's garden are among the highlights. Don't miss the Discovery Theater, where a film shares the story of the garden founder H.J Lutcher Stark. Vitals: Admission is $6. 2111 West Park, in Orange, 409-670-9113; starkculturalvenues.org.
Museum of the Gulf Coast: This museum really does have something for everyone. Its two floors include natural history dioramas, Texas history, a sports legends gallery, a fine arts gallery devoted to Port Arthur native Robert Rauschenberg and a decorative arts gallery. Arguably, its most important feature is the Music Hall of Fame, which spotlights more than 60 musicians in all genres. Among the museum's music memorabilia are J.P. Richardson's gold records (the Big Bopper, as he was known, died in plane crash alongside Buddy Holly and Richie Valens) and instruments belonging to brothers Edgar and Johnny Winter. Its most famous treasure: blues/rock singer Janis Joplin's psychedelic Porsche. Vitals: Admission is $4. 700 Procter, in Port Arthur, 409-982-7000; museumofthegulfcoast.org.
WHERE TO EAT
The Grill by Arfeen, Smith & Payne: This steakhouse is really three venues: a romantic fine dining room, a see-and-be-seen patio with live music and the Cabana, a clubby bar that's packed during happy hour. The menu doesn't break new ground but dishes such a Parmesan-crusted sea bass and grilled rack of lamb are well-executed. Pricey by Beaumont standards. Vitals: Dinner only. 6680 Calder, 409-866-0039; theaspgrill.com.
Patillo's Bar-B-Q: This laid-back barbecue joint has been serving smoked meats for more than 100 years. The brisket and ribs are terrific, but to eat like a native try the house-made beef sausage and smoked boudin. You can soak up the local color in the dining room or take your barbecue to go and picnic in nearby Tyrrell Park. Vitals: 2775 Washington, 409-833-3156.
DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ...
Taking the family's photo in front of the 24-foot-tall, black-and-white spotted fire hydrant that sits across from the entrance of the Fire Museum of Texas. Built by Disney to promote the re-release of the animated "101 Dalmatians" and dedicated in 1999, it was at the time the world's largest fire hydrant. It's located downtown at 400 Walnut.