A step into Southeast Texas is a draw away from what outsiders may consider the typical Texan landscape.
Texas is just too vast in size to be subjected to one stereotype. The greenery, the swamp, the heat, the blues, the sea, and the mixture of Western, Southern, and Cajun/ Creole traditions characterize this landscape. This antithesis of urban and rural life offers variety and cultural uniqueness for any individual traveling through this portion of the Lone Star State.
Water is a part of daily life in Southeast Texas, where extensive networks of rivers, creeks, and bayous make their way into the Gulf of Mexico. Houston, also known by locals as the Bayou City, is where one can ride their boat from the downtown area out into the ocean, due to its extensive waterway network. Most of the land is extremely flat, seldom reaching above 50 ft., and some swamps canvass areas near the Sabine River along the Texas/ Louisiana border. Farther north and away from the coast, the landscape is characterized by dense pine tree forests, often used by the timber industry.
Southeast Texas is most often divided into the following three geographical sub-regions:
The Golden Triangle
This is the eastern-most area of the region in which the cities of Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange form a triangle. The “golden” in the title refers to the wealth produced by the thriving oil industry that dominates the three cities and all in between.
The Big Thicket
The Big Thicket is an area of dense forest north of Beaumont and is the beginning of the Piney Woods. This area is made up of many small towns and has almost no urbanization whatsoever.
The western portion of Southeast Texas is Galveston Bay where a large estuary feeds into the Gulf of Mexico. This is the most heavily urbanized area with Houston, Galveston, and many smaller cities lying along or near the bay shores. The Port of Houston, one of the largest ports in the world, connects to the gulf through Galveston Bay.
The cultural landscape within the region varies. If traveling through the Houston metropolitan area, one will encounter a mixture of cultures as well as several ethnic enclaves. Houston is often noted as one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the country with Mexican, European, Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Pakistani, Nigerian, Mediterranean cultures contributing their influences.
Farther east near the Louisiana border, Cajun and Creole influences begin to make themselves known. This is most noticeable within the Golden Triangle, where many Cajuns immigrated in the early 20th century during the oil boom and with them brought their spicy cuisine and Zydeco music. Southeast Texas is also many times referred to as the western edge of the Deep South, and Southern traditions and mannerisms still stand strong, especially in the Big Thicket area.
The largest city in Texas and the fourth-largest city in the United States, Houston is a major cultural and economic center for Southeast Texas and the Southern portion of the country.
Galveston is located on Galveston Island and is part of the Houston metropolitan area. It is a tourist center for residents and visitors in the region and was the site of the famous Hurricane of 1900.
Western point of the Golden Triangle, Beaumont is a major industrial center of the Gulf Coast.
Natural Attractions to Visit
Big Thicket National Preserve
The Big Thicket National Preserve is filled with forests, swamps, and rivers. Visitors are able to hunt, canoe, fish, and backpack.
Sabine Lake is a saltwater estuary that forms part of the Texas/ Louisiana border and feeds into the Sabine River flowing out into the Gulf of Mexico. This location is a very popular fishing destination
McFaddin and Texas Point National Wildlife Refuges
These refuges are freshwater and saltwater marshes that lies along the coast just west of the Louisiana border. This is a prime spot for waterfowl hunting.
The diversity of the types of food that can be found is dependent on which portion of Southeast Texas one visits. While Houston has contained just about every type of cuisine that can be imagined, other cities and towns have a less eclectic selection. Despite this comparison, any visitor is sure to run into the following food nearby no matter where they are within the Southeast Texas region.
This Texas tradition involves slow-cooking meat over and charcoal or wood fire. Mesquite is commonly used within this region as well as the rest of Texas.
Being within close proximity to Louisiana, Southeast Texas absorbed many Cajun and Creole residents along with their cooking traditions.
Southeast Texas, as well as East Texas, is often referred to as the western edge of the Deep South, containing the comfort foods that are associated with that culture.
Things to Do
- Fish for catfish, crabs, and crawfish in the many lakes, estuaries, bayous, and beaches.
- Hunt alligator within designated areas.
- Visit the Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange, TX.
- Attend one or more of the many summer crawfish festivals within the region.
- Spend the day on the beach in Galveston Bay.
- Go camping and/or hiking within the forests of the Big Thicket.
- Attend Free Press Summer Fest (an all-day music festival) in Houston.
- Visit historic plantations that predate the Civil War.