Staycationing this year? Try some of these Southeast Texas destinations

Staying home for the summer doesn't have to be boring. There are plenty of daytrip options in the area.

With the rising costs of fuel and food putting a squeeze on families’ budgets, many people are rethinking their vacation plans and opting for staycations close to home. Libraries offer summer reading programs with an abundance of activities for young children and teens, so be sure to check with the library in your community. If you are looking for more staycation and weekend activities and hope to avoid the traffic in Houston, Bluebonnet News has compiled a list of some of the top attractions that can be found in Liberty, Polk, Chambers, San Jacinto, East Montgomery and Jefferson counties.

LIBERTY COUNTY

  • Texan Theater – Before multi-screen theaters, movie-goers flocked to single-screen theaters like the Texan Theater in Cleveland. Many of these historic theaters have been lost to time, but no so in Cleveland where the thriving Texan Theater offers new release movies each week. With cheaper ticket and snack prices, and historic ambiance, the Texan Theater is a great place to catch the latest blockbuster movies. Recent releases included Jurassic World: Dominion and Top Gun: Maverick. Ticket prices are $6 for ages 12 to 64, $3 for ages 3 through 11, and $3 for ages 65 and older. Matinee showtimes are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 2 p.m.; non-matinee showtimes are Friday, Saturday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 7 p.m.; and Sunday at 4 p.m. For more information, call 281-592-6464. The theater is located at 102 E. Houston St., Cleveland.
The historic Texan Theater, located at 102 E. Houston St. in Cleveland, was once called the Texas Theater. The theater first opened around 1933 and was owned by John G. Long of Bay City, Texas. Today, it is owned by Clint and Dana Pendleton.
  • Sam Houston Center – The museum is open from 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. In addition to the Sam Houston Center, the grounds of the Center feature historic buildings and homes including the Price Daniel home, the former home of the late Texas Governor Price Daniel of Liberty. The Price Daniel House, as well as the Norman House built in Liberty in 1883, are open for tours if scheduled two weeks in advance. The Rotary Building will be open by request. The Gillard-Duncan Home and the former St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which are part of the grounds, are closed at this time. The Sam Houston Center holds a wealth of historic artifacts from the 10-county region it serves. It also houses a museum that features a timeline from prehistoric through modern times. Mammoth and mastodon teeth, as well as arrow points/heads, that were collected from the area, original documents and artifacts from every time era are on display in the museum. The boiler from the Mary Conley Riverboat can be seen from the main building. The boiler was salvaged from the Trinity River where the riverboat sank in 1873. The Sam Houston Center is located at 650 FM 1011, Liberty, and can be reached by phone at 936-336-8821. The Sam Houston Center is part of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
The Sam Houston Center is located on FM 1011 in Liberty. (Photo courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives)
  • Cleveland Historical Museum – If you are interested in the history of Cleveland, you will find a lot of it compiled in collections at Cleveland Historical Museum, located at 203 E. Booth St., next to Cleveland Fire Station. Old photographs, newspapers, documents, memorabilia, furniture, and other items make up the exhibits. The museum is open on Fridays and Saturdays only from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Entry is free. Call 281-659-2200 for more information.
  • Champion Lake (part of the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge) – This 800-acre lake is a paradise for birdwatchers and nature-lovers. The lake is a large cypress swamp that is ideal for fishing, hiking, birding, and boating activities. The park is open every day of the week from sunrise to sunset. If you go, here are some musts: Stay hydrated, bring plenty of water and wearing closed-toe shoes as you may encounter snakes and other wildlife. The lake is located on CR 417 in Dayton, off FM 1409. Look for the signs as you travel along these roadways.
  • Knobby Knees Hiking Trail (also part of the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge) – Inside Liberty Municipal Park is a connection to a roughly eight-mile hiking trail that ventures as far as the Trinity River. Currently, with the dry weather conditions, this trail is dry and accessible in all areas. However, if you go, please be sure to take a friend and plenty of water. Cell phone reception is sketchy in some areas of the trail, so you might not be able to call for help if needed. There are no bathroom facilities along the trail, so come prepared.
  • Old School Museum – A two-room schoolhouse that once served students in Dayton is now home to a museum at 111 W. Houston St., Dayton. The museum features historic photos, artifacts, and other items of interest. Hours are Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Entry is free.
  • Colbert-Rosenwald School Museum – Located on the grounds of Colbert Elementary, 231 Colbert St., in Dayton, the Colbert-Rosenwald School Museum preserves the history of the black community of Dayton. The Colbert-Rosenwald School was previously known as the Dayton Colored School. It was renamed in 1935 to honor Annie E. Colbert, a black schoolteacher who taught there. The museum features artifacts, photos and documents and is open on the first and third Saturdays of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Colbert Tigers had festive purple and gold uniforms for their school band and sports teams. Some of the items are on display at the Annie E. Colbert-Rosenwald School Museum in Dayton.
  • Faux Real Trade Days – While it is only held one weekend per month, Faux Real Trade Days is fun for the entire family. More than 300 vendors offer a wide variety of items from antiques, clothing, knives, toys, yard art and food items. Admission and parking are free. The next Trade Days will be on the weekend of June 24-26 at the TVE Fairgrounds in Liberty. For more information, follow Faux Real Trade Days on Facebook.  
  • Moth Night Out – Moth Night Out is an annual event that is all about moths. This year’s event will be held on July 23, 9 p.m., at Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge Office on FM 1011. Bring mosquito spray and dress appropriately for the weather. Bring a camera if you want to take pictures. This is a free, kid-friendly event.
Stuart Marcus zooms in on moths that were lured to lighted white sheets for Moth Night Out at the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge in Liberty as Texas Country Reporter Bob Phillips and wife, Kelli, look on.
  • 105 Motor Speedway – If you are a fan of car racing, there are shows nearly every Saturday night in Cleveland. Located at 1288 Fostoria Road, 105 Motor Speedway is where you can watch dirt racetrack racing while enjoying hot dogs and other events sold at the concession stand. Admission is $15 for ages 13 through 64, $10 for kids 5-12 and seniors 65 and older. Kids under 4 are free. Coolers are permitted for an additional $10 (no glass). If you go, consider taking along ear protection as the cars are loud and the action is close to the bleacher seating.

HARDIN COUNTY

  • The Museum of Hardin County – Located at 830 S. Maple St. in Kountze, Texas, the Museum of Hardin County features exhibits and photos related to the early history of Hardin County. The museum is operated by the Hardin County Historical Society and is open on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon, or by appointment. For more information, call 409-246-8434.
  • Ice House Museum and Cultural Center – Located at 828 Earnest Ave., in Silsbee, Texas, the Ice House Museum and Cultural Center has a rotating collection of exhibits and just opened a new flatboat exhibit. For more information on tickets and hours, call 409-385-2444.
  • Village Creek State Park – Ten miles north of Beaumont in the Piney Woods of East Texas is the 1,090-acre Village Creek State Park, a sand-bottomed tributary of the Neches River. Operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife, the park offers camping, picnicking, fishing, hiking, mountain bike and geocaching. Entrance fees are $4 for ages 13 and older and free for children 12 and under. Kayak and canoe rentals are available through local outfitters. For more information, go online to https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/village-creek.
  • Big Thicket Visitor Center – If you are interested in learning more about the 113,114-acre Big Thicket National Preserve of Texas, the place to start is the Big Thicket Visitor Center in Kountze. Pick up maps, learn more about what the park offers and stroll through exhibits. Several trailheads begin nearby, including the Kirby Nature Trail, which is located 2.6 miles east of the Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is located at 6044 FM 420, Kountze, and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The park is pet-friendly, so bring along your leashed dogs. Admission is free. For more information, call 409-951-6700.

SAN JACINTO COUNTY

  • Old Jail Museum – Coldspring, Texas, is home to the Old Jail Museum at 200 Slade St. The museum was created in the old county jail that dates back to 1887 and has since been restored. Inside the jail are other relics from the turn-of-the-century. Tours are available for free (donations accepted) on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  After you have viewed the historic jail, be sure to walk around the town square in downtown Coldspring where you can browse in shops and have lunch. Your visit should also include a stop at the San Jacinto County Courthouse (see information below). For more information, call 936-653-2009.
  • Sam Houston National Forest/Double Lake Recreation Area – The Sam Houston National Forest is one of four national forests in Texas. Located on 163,037 acres that stretch from Walker, Montgomery and San Jacinto counties, the Sam Houston National Forest features the 128-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail. In addition to hiking, the recreation area, which was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, offers camping, fishing, swimming and picnicking. The day use fee is $7 per vehicle per day. Double Lake Recreation Area is located on FM 2025, just a few miles west of SH 150 in the Coldspring area.
  • Wolf Creek Park – Located on Lake Livingston, Wolf Creek Park in Coldspring is perfect for families looking for a getaway in a tranquil environment. RV sites and tent sites with electricity are available for rent. The day-use fee is $5 per person and is valid until dark on the day it is issued. To check availability, call the park office at 936-653-4312.  
  • San Jacinto County Courthouse – The SJC Courthouse is more than a beautiful building with a rich history; it is a showcase for local photos and artifacts. While county business is handled on the top two floors of the building, the basement is a treasure trove of local history. No permission is needed to stop by and see the items during regular business house from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. An elevator provides access from the main floor. The courthouse is located at 1 SH 150, Coldspring.  

POLK COUNTY

  • Lake Livingston State Park –Lake Livingston, one of the largest manmade lakes in the state of Texas, has a 635-acre park on 300 State Park Road 65 in Livingston. The park has family-friendly activities of swimming, fishing, boating, hiking, birding, camping, biking, picnicking, and geocaching. Camping options range from tent and RV sites, and screened shelters for rent. There are playgrounds, a lookout tower, fishing pier and a park store. The entrance fee is $6 per day for adults and free for children 12 and under.
  • Polk County Museum – Offering 8-10 temporary exhibits per year, the Polk County Museum, located at 514 Mill St. in Livingston, is a wonderful place to learn more of the history pertaining to Texas, Polk County and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. One current exhibit that will be on display through July 1 is an art exhibit with the Livingston Art League. Starting on the second week of July and through August, there will be an exhibit on Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan, an American aviator who picked up the nickname after he famously flew from New York to Dublin, Ireland, in 1938, after his transatlantic flight plans were denied by aviation authorities. After landing in Dublin, Corrigan said he lost his direction in the clouds after his compass malfunctioned, but his story wasn’t believed, prompting his aviator license to be suspended. The city of Corrigan, Texas, is named for Douglas Corrigan’s grandfather, Pat Corrigan, who was a railroad conductor of the first train that traveled through the area. In September, the museum will recognize Hispanic Heritage Month. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday, and the second and fourth Saturday of each month, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  It is free to the public. The museum is under the direction of Betsy Deiterman.
Members of the Livingston Art League have their work on display through July 1 at the Polk County Museum in Livingston.
  • W.T. Carter Engine #5 – In Livingston, located next to the city’s public library, is a static history display managed by the Polk County Heritage Society that features the W.T. Carter Engine #5, the Jonas Davis Cabin and the Victorian House. While the buildings are not open to the public, they are free to view from the exterior.
  • Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas – One of the most-picturesque lakes in all of Polk County is Lake Tombigbee, located on the grounds of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas’ reservation off of SH 190 between Livingston and Woodville. The 26-acre lake is fully-stocked for fishing with RV sites with full hookups, primitive and luxury tent sites, and cabins available for rent. For parents traveling without children, the Reservation also is home to Naskila Gaming, a Tribe-operated casino that features electronic bingo machines. For more information on Lake Tombigbee, go online to https://www.alabama-coushatta.com/tourism-hospitality/lake-tombigbee-campground/. For information on Naskila Gaming, go online to https://www.naskila.com/.
  • Johnson’s Rock Shop – Most children at one time in their life have had an interest in rocks and gemstones. Even if you think you have outgrown a love of rocks, it will be rekindled after visiting Johnson’s Rock Shop outside of Livingston. The shop features stones, gems and minerals from all around the world, some of which are used for carving and jewelry making items sold in the gift shop, and one of the largest petrified paleo palm trees in existence. The complex of 10 separate buildings is set up like a country village, and people can take a leisurely stroll at their own pace through them all, admiring the variety of rocks in each. Items are available for sale in nearly every building, including the popular bathtub of gemstones where children can fill up a bag of stones for just a few bucks. Johnson’s Rock Shop also has a museum and music room. The business was founded by the late Otis and Margie Johnson and is now operated by their children. The hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed on Sunday. The shop also is closed every February to allow the Johnson family to attend the international market and replenish their supplies. There is no cost to visit. Purchases at the gift shop are available by cash or check only (no credit/debit card payments). If you go, bring your own snacks and drinks as only bottles of water are sold in the gift shop. If you are traveling from a distance, call first as this is a family-owned and operated businesses and emergencies occasionally arise. The shop is located off SH 190 in the Indian Springs Lake Estates subdivision. Once you turn east into the subdivision, take the first left and then look for small yellow signs that will direct you. For information, call 936-653-4438. If you are driving through Livingston on your way to the rock shop, be sure to stop by the Courthouse Whistle Stop Café where an actual buffalo head is mounted on a wall inside the café.

CHAMBERS COUNTY

  • Eagle Pointe Recreation Complex – If you are looking for a place to cool off from the summer heat, try the Eagle Pointe Recreation Complex’s wave pool in Mont Belvieu. The wave pool has shaded areas, sand volleyball court, children’s play area, snack bar, life jacket rentals for non-swimmers, free inner tubes for swimmers, lounge chairs, picnic tables, locker rentals and public restrooms. The wave pool is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Aug. 14. For people living within Barbers Hill ISD, the daily entry fee is free for kids 2 and under, $8 for kids 3 to 11, $10 for 12 to 64, and $5 for seniors 65 and older or active military or civil service. For out-of-district guests, the price is free for kids 2 and under, $16 for kids 3 to 11, $20 for ages 12 to 64, and $10 for seniors 65 and older or active military or civil service. Season passes are also available. No pets are allowed. Dive-in movies will be held this summer on July 16 and Aug. 6 (tickets are $5 per person and are limited). Upcoming summer camps for children ages 6-12 are available through the Eagle Pointe Golf Club. The dates are June 28-30, July 12-14, and July 26-28. You can sign up or inquire about the camps in the Golf Pro Shop. For more information, go online to https://www.golfeaglepointe.com/ Eagle Pointe Recreation Complex is located at 2440 Eagle Pointe Drive, Mont Belvieu.
  • Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge – The 34,000-acre Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in Anahuac offers fishing, birding, wildlife watching, auto tours, beach combing, biking, hiking, and boating. The visitor center is located at 4017 FM 563 and the refuge is located at 4318 FM 1985.  There is no fee to visit.
  • Chambers County Museum (previously Wallisville Heritage Museum) – The Chambers County Museum, located off I-10 at Exit 807 in the Wallisville area, currently has displays on oil history, the Hankamer Family and local military history. The museum is also where guests can learn more about Manson Clark who hunted and trapped on Old and Lost River and Native American Sarah Ridge Pix. Pix was the daughter of Cherokee Chief Major Ridge, who took his name “Major” after he fought in the War of 1812. Originally from Georgia, she and her Englishman husband, Charles Sisson Pix, settled in Smith Point in south Chambers County. there is a Native American display on Sarah Ridge Pix. She was native American who ended up in Smith Point, Texas. She was from Georgia. Her father was later killed by his own people following the Trail of Tears Massacre. The Chambers County Museum also has an excellent research library for people who like genealogical research. Upon request, guests can view the Eminence House, which once served as a school and church, and is filled with turn-of-the-century artifacts. Entry is free but donations are welcome. The hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The museum director is Marie Hughes. For more information, go online to https://wallisvillemuseum.com/.
One of the displays in the Chambers County Museum is shown in this photo courtesy of the museum.
  • Larry’s Trade Days – If you like shopping for unique items, be sure to stop by Larry’s Trade Days, located at Exit 829 on I-10 in Winnie. This flea market boasts 500 vendors for markets held on the first weekend after the first Monday of each month. Upcoming markets will be on July 8-10, Aug. 5-7, and Sept. 9-11. For more information, call 409-296-3300.
  • Historic buildings in Anahuac – Anahuac may be the “Alligator Capital of Texas” these days, but it also is known for its rich history. Around the Chambers County Courthouse square are historic buildings and homes, including the Chambers House, located at 202 Cummings St. one block from the Chambers County Courthouse. The Chambers Home is the pre-Civil War home of the late General Thomas Jefferson Chambers, who was murdered in his home in 1865. Chambers was a renowned lawyer and land speculator. Located near the intersection of Washington Ave. and Cummings St. is the Dr. Schilling Medical Office that dates to 1890 when Dr. Nicholas Schilling established a medical practice in an office rather than his home. Neither are open to the public, but both can be viewed outside.
  • Fort Anahuac Park – The Chambers County Historic Commission recently erected the First Stand statues that tell the story of Fort Anahuac. It was the site of the first skirmish in the Battle for Texas, prior to the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. The park is always open for birding, fishing, camping, nature trails, boating. Fort Anahuac Park is located at 1704 S. Main St., Anahuac. For more information, call 409-267-2409.

EAST MONTGOMERY COUNTY

  • Big Rivers Water Park – A short drive from Cleveland is the Big Rivers Water Park at 23101 State Highway 242 in New Caney. More than a traditional water park, Big Rivers Water Park offers River Racer chutes where people can race alongside up to five friends; Wild Isle, a floating waterpark and challenge course; Hawk’s Glide, a zip line course; and Eagle Challenge, a ropes and zip line challenge course. For tickets and information, go online to https://bigriverswaterpark.com/#

JEFFERSON COUNTY

  • Gator Country – Home to a former resident of Liberty County – Big Tex, the largest live-removed gator ever captured in Texas. At the time of his capture in 2016, he measured in at 13-feet 8-inches. Being well-fed in captivity at his new home at Gator Country in Beaumont, Big Tex has added three more inches to his length. In addition to Big Tex, the facility has roughly 600 other gators, including Big Al. Gator Country has live feeding shows daily with general admission ticket prices at $14 for children 3 through 12, and $17 for guests age 13 and older. A petting zoo and tortoises provide more activities for children. Gator Country is located at 21159 FM 365, Beaumont. For more information, go online to https://www.gatorrescue.com/
Big Tex (Photo courtesy of Gator Country)

Jefferson County also has several other notable attractions such as the Fire Museum of Texas, Spindletop Museum, Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont Botanical Gardens, Texas Energy Museum, Beaumont Children’s Museum, Edison Museum, Museum of the Gulf Coast, Sea Rim State Park, John Jay French Museum, Tyrrell Park, McFaddin Beach, Babe Didrickson Zaharias Museum, Dutch Windmill Museum, Riverfront Park, Walter Umphrey State Park and Neches River Adventures.

Can you recommend other places in these counties? If so, Bluebonnet News would like to hear from you. Email your suggestion to editor@bluebonnetnews.com.

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