Five Fun, Unexpected Things to Do in Beaumont, Texas

Beaumont Texas is a pleasant, slightly quirky little community of 120,000 people tucked away on the Gulf Coast just around the bend about 90 miles from downtown Houston.

And as a result of being so close to the big city, it’s amenities too often get overlooked. But I like the little community. Here are four fun things I’ve learned to appreciate about Beaumont Texas.

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A Really Big Fire Hydrant in Beaumont, Texas

In 1999, when Disney released a remake of the movie “101 Dalmatians,” they created a big Dalmatian-spotted fire hydrant as part of the promotion.

It stands 24 feet tall, weighs 4,500 pounds and can spray 1,500 gallons of water. It is the world’s largest working fire hydrant. There are two taller fire hydrants in the world — one in Manitoba Canada and another in South Carolina — but they don’t work, so Disney wins.

The hydrant was built at Disneyland California and had a good life there. But when Disney was finished with it, more than 300 museums responded to the call to receive the hydrant as a donation. The Fire Museum of Texas, located in little ol’ Beaumont Texas, the Big B, won in grand style.

The World's Biggest Fire Hydrant in Beaumont, Texas.So after you’ve taken your selfies at every angle possible around the fire hydrant and posted all of your big dog/fire hydrant jokes on Facebook or Instagram, then head on in to the museum and learn about the history of fire hydrants. Seriously, there’s an exhibit. Admission is free.

And it’s kind of interesting, but not nearly as much fun as the big Dalmatian-spotted fire hydrant out front. A couple of times a year, the city opens the fire hydrant to let kids play in it. Check the calendar for the next date.

Some things in this world are just too adorable.

This next fun, unexpected thing to do in Beaumont is a tiny little museum.

Museum of the Greatest Female Athlete of All Time

Babe Zaharius Museum in Beaumont Texas.Babe Didrickson Zaharias is recognized as the greatest female athlete of all time. She achieved that title long before Title IX, which opened athletic competitions for women in the 1972, and has held on to it.

A native of Beaumont, Babe was indeed a tomboy. She played every sport imaginable and made up plenty of her own. You name it, Babe did it. Basketball, baseball, bowling, golf, tennis, track and field, scuba diving, and roller skating.

Babe was born in 1911, so the rules and stereotypes about girls in sports in the 1920s and 30s became a problem. Yet, she pushed the limits of what girls and women could or could not do.

In the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, she won three gold medals. Babe and her husband, George Zaharias, almost single-handedly created the LPGA.

A Little Museum for Big Female Athlete

Babe Zaharius Museum in Beaumont TexasThe little museum in Babe’s name in Beaumont holds just a fraction of the medals, trophies, plaques, awards and honors that she received.

But there’s an even better story about what Babe thought women should do or not do. In 1953, when she was 42-years-old, Babe was diagnosed with colon cancer. In the 1950s, nobody talked about cancer.

Except Babe Didrickson Zaharias. She used her global celebrity to talk about cancer, to bring attention to research and to daily life with a colostomy and other effects of the disease. Just as she was in competitions, Babe was strong in the face of cancer and her strength helped millions of people, men and women.

Babe Zaharius book and museum.Unfortunately, Babe was not successful in her fight with cancer. She was gone in 1956 at age 45.

I recommend a book about Babe Didrickson Zaharias by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace. I urge you to get to Beaumont and pay your respect to this remarkable woman at this little museum.

She made life a lot better for a lot of us.

Where to Find the Best Burgers in Beaumont Texas

While we were in Beaumont, we stopped for lunch at Willy Burger.The sign promised that the food was willy, willy good, so how could we resist such a guarantee.

Willy Burgers operates in an Airstream Trailer in Beaumont Texas

Actually, there is no Willy. The owner is Colburn McClelland. He is a guy who takes his burgers seriously, and seriously likes to do things a little differently. When he decided to open a burger joint, he traveled all over the country eating hamburgers and fries and milk shakes and onion rings. He took notes on what he loved about each meal, including the decor at each burger joint.

Willy Burgers in Beaumont TexasThen he came back to Beaumont and bought an old Airstream travel trailer. While there are booths and counter stools inside and a few tables on a patio that are perfectly comfortable, the cool kids get to eat in the Airstream.

Willy, aka Colburn, decided that at his burger joint, they would grind the hamburger meat fresh every morning from 100% USDA certified Angus Beef. Then they make the patties by hand, just like mom used to do. If you don’t believe it, stand in the window and watch your burger being made fresh when you order it. No preshaped, cookie-cutter, frozen patties allowed at Willy’s.

Burgers and Onion Rings at Willy Burgers in Beaumont TexasWilly offers 11 kinds of specialty burgers with things like crab meat, catfish and tuna for toppings.The Booty Burger includes a big chunk of fresh boudin on top.

You don’t know what boudin is? That’s a whole ‘nother story from the neighbors over in Louisiana. You can also get a fried egg on your willy burger, or bacon or chili or chili or sauerkraut.

The onion rings, too, are fresh sliced in-house every day. I highly recommend the Parmesan Onion Rings for a yummy few minutes before your heart attack.

Finally, you’ve got to have some dessert, something yummy while you are in Beaumont.

The Best Bakery in Beaumont Texas

Rao's Bakery in Beaumont Texas, known for cupcakes and King CakeRao’s Bakery in Beaumont is a family-owned business that has been a part of all Beaumont celebrations since 1941, creating some fabulous desserts and treats, no matter what the season. There are four locations in Beaumont and another in Houston, but you’ll find the original at the corner of 10th and Calder in Beaumont.

The offerings simply gluttonous. I could live the rest of my life in the display case filled with cupcakes. But Rao’s is really known for their beautifully decorated sugar cookies. And brownies. Don’t forget the lemon bars. And macaroons.

A king cake from Rao's Bakery in Beaumont TexasRao’s has 16 signature cakes, and that doesn’t include the King Cakes made for Mardi Gras. In the month of January, they’ll ship about 8,000 King Cakes to revelers across the U.S.

Rao’s ships all sorts of goodies and care packages. It’s a big part of their business. But a really cool thing they do is offer a kid’s baking camp each summer to teach children of all ages this creative craft and the art of making King cakes.

Jake Tortorice is the owner of Rao's Bakery in Beaumont Texas

Jake Tortorice, Jr. is the owner of Rao’s Bakery, an institution in Beaumont since 1941.

You think if I’m a kid at heart I can participate in one of the summer baking camps?

Rao’s is also open for breakfast and lunch with a great selection of wraps and croissant sandwiches, soups and more. Really, I could live at this place.

But realizing that not possible, I’ve got the order form for Rao’s King Cakes bookmarked on my desktop. It’s a lot easier just to have FedEx bring the party to my house.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Biking with Alligators in Beaumont Texas

Cattail Marsh Welcome sign in Beaumont TexasCertainly the most unexpected thing to do in Beaumont Texas is to head out to the city’s waste water treatment facility and take a bike ride. What makes it that much more engaging is the thousands of alligators that live in Beaumont’s waste water.

Back in the 1990s, Beaumont city leaders turned a 250-acre natural wetland into what has become a 900-acre wetland that serves as a natural filtration system for Beaumont’s waste water. As a result, the residents enjoy lower water bills and fewer chemicals in their water.

Alligators sunning at Cattail Marsh in Beaumont Texas.The wetland, called Cattail Marsh, is a haven for the more than 350 species of birds who fly through this area every year. It’s also really popular with alligators who like to splash around in the water, nap in the mud or sun on the levees that control the 650-acres of water.

Those trails are perfect for people who like to run, walk and bike for a little exercise. And it’s all OK, as long as you give the alligators plenty of space and the right of way.

An alligator can run about 20 mph for a short distance, so here’s hoping you can pedal faster than that. Or for even more fun in Beaumont, climb the observation towers at Cattail Marsh and watch others try to outpace the alligators.

Now that’s a good time in Texas or wherever you might be.