Don’t let its population of under 3,000 people fool you! There are dozens of historical and photo-worthy things to do in Jefferson, TX.
For your sake, we’re keeping it to just the top 14, complete with helpful tips and tricks like ticket costs and opening hours to help you make the most of each of these tourist destinations.
A small dot on the map just 30 minutes from the Louisiana border, Jefferson is the quintessential Texas town and the perfect setting for a weekend getaway–full of picturesque streets, cozy restaurants, and enough history to keep any visitor occupied for weeks.
14 Fun Things to Do in Jefferson, TX
Dreaming of small town wonders and America the way it used to be?
Look no further than this pre-Civil War East Texas town. Up ahead are historical buildings, outdoor art installations, and everything else you’ll want to see when you visit Jefferson, TX.
1. Admire Honey Bees at Work on the Port Jefferson History and Nature Center Trail
Adorable, buzzing bees are hard at work in Jefferson, and you can see some of the little guys hanging out on their honeycombs at the area’s nature center.
Yet, that’s just one of the features of this quaint but certainly well-equipped outdoor destination.
You can also head out on the rest of the trail, which runs for just over 1 mile of easy walking through dense forests and alongside quiet rivers.
Throughout that, there are educational markers that will let you in on fascinating bits of local history and native plant life.
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the park’s art installations, from a life-sized metal stagecoach statue to Bigfoot himself.
Port Jefferson is free and open to the public from sunrise to sunset.
2. Watch History Come to Life at the Jefferson Playhouse
You don’t even need a historically-themed play to take you back in time at this theater–the building does it all on its own!
The Jefferson Playhouse’s Greek Revival-style architecture dates back to a time when the humble town was (believe it or not) one of the biggest cities in all of Texas.
It was first built in 1866 as one of the region’s earliest Catholic convents and schools and served as a Jewish synagogue.
Now, the interiors are full of plush, red chairs and a wooden stage where the locals proudly put on small events. And if you happen to visit in early May, you can witness one of the town’s oldest running traditions.
For a staggering 66 years, the tiny theater has been putting on a performance of the “Diamond Bessie Murrder Trial,” a captivating drama based on true events that played out in Jefferson in the late 1800s.
Read next: 33 Best Things to Do in Texas
3. Visit One of the Last Civil-War Relics of Its Kind
At first glance, this brick building is unassuming. It sits in a small stand of woods not far from the Big Cypress Bayou, only accessible by railway or riverboat tour.
But the Jefferson Ordnance Magazine is a priceless piece of American history that has all but disappeared throughout the rest of the country.
It was built in 1863 as part of a network of sites that aided in the transportation of ammunition during the Civil War. Historians suspect it is the last intact Confederate powder magazine in Texas.
Locals are quite proud of this site, and thanks to careful preservation measures, more than 90% of the structure is still original.
To see it for yourself, hop aboard the Historic Jefferson Railway or take the Turning Basin Riverboat Tour.
4. Snap a Photo of Jefferson’s 200-Year History at the Golden Era Mural
Looking for an Instagram-worthy way to remember all the history packed into this one tiny town?
The Golden Era mural is an iconic tribute to Jefferson’s two centuries’ worth of historical figures, events, and battles that shaped the town into what it is today.
The mural can be found on the side of the Haywood House, an impressive two-story structure built in 1868 that served as a grand hotel, personal residence, and museum throughout its lifetime.
Today, it has been converted into a restaurant and cocktail bar! Stop by and enjoy a drink to break up a busy day of sightseeing.
5. Light Up the Night at America’s Last Train Trestle Bridge
Many of the things to see in Jefferson just can’t be witnessed anywhere else, and the Howe Truss Bridge is one of them!
Relatively easy to build and maintain, the Howe Truss style of the bridge was widespread throughout the 1800s and finally fell out of fashion when iron became the preferred construction material.
This particular architectural rarity dates back to 1897!
Although it has put on some rust since then, the integrity of the structure still stands. When you visit, you can almost imagine trains trundling across its tracks, looking out at the sweeping views over Big Cypress Bayou.
Plus, in more recent years, it has received a bit of a modern makeover.
Every evening, the bridge puts on an LED light show, with unique themed versions for holidays like the 4th of July, Halloween, and Christmas.
6. Browse the Shelves at Carnegie Library
Legendary American industrialist and steel billionaire Andrew Carnegie also had quite the soft side. He believed that education was essential and went on a campaign of worldwide library building throughout his life.
In total, Carnegie established an impressive 2,811 free libraries–1,946 of them in the United States, but others as far-flung as Fiji and New Zealand.
Over the years, many have reverted to other uses. However, leave it to Jefferson to preserve the original function of its Carnegie Library, which remains a central part of the community.
In fact, it’s one of only a handful of these institutions still going strong!
Stop by and look for history inside the pages and out, and check their site before you go for events like book signings, readings, and author lectures.
7. Explore the Town’s Most Haunted Spots on the Original Jefferson Ghost Tour
With all those years of history, you must be expecting some properly paranormal things to do in Jefferson, TX.
And boy, does this small town deliver. Jefferson has even earned the title of “the most haunted town in Texas!”
Take to its streets at night and get up close with history in a whole new way.
On the original Jefferson Ghost Walk, a guide will lead you through Jefferson by lamplight and share stories of murder, tragedy, war, and strange paranormal encounters.
But this isn’t your standard kitschy, jump-scare kind of tour. The legends draw from real town history, so you can view it as an educational experience as well as a terrifying one!
The tour runs every Friday and Saturday starting at 8 PM. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for kids 12 and under.
8. Step Inside the Luxury Train Car of a Railroad Baron
All aboard the Atalanta! Named for the Greek Goddess of Speed, this retired train car captures a fascinating tale from the Texas history books.
Jefferson has a tricky past with American railroad tycoon (and one of the richest men of the late 19th century), Jay Gould.
Recognized as a major Robber baron of the Gilded Age, Gould was infamous for his less-than-moral business practices and the terrible treatment of his workers.
When he wanted to run his railroad through Jefferson, the city rejected his bid, and Gould claimed that it would be the end of Jefferson.
Now, the Atalanta remains parked in the very town Gould decried.
Within the 88-foot-long train car, guests can explore four staterooms, as well as a lounge, dining room, kitchen, butler’s pantry, and even its very own ballroom.
The train is open for viewing from 10:00 AM-3:00 PM daily. Tickets are just $5 per person, and tour guides are available upon request if you visit the Excelsior House Hotel next door.
9. Peek Into Jefferson’s Past at the Historical Museum
The whole town is one big living museum. Still, a visit to the official Historical Museum is nonetheless a super rewarding addition to any itinerary of things to do in Jefferson, TX.
Housed in an 1888 building that was once a Federal CourtHouse and U.S. Post Office, the museum features four stories worth of priceless pieces.
Admire Civil War artifacts, rare china, antique weapons, Caddo Indian relics, and even some of Sam Houston’s original papers.
Learn more about the development of the steamboat and the railroad in the region, and peek into the lives of both Jefferson’s richest and the working class.
The museum is open daily from 9:30 AM-4:30 PM, and tickets cost $7 for adults, $4 for teenagers, and $3 for kids aged 6-12.
10. Get Swept Off Your Feet at a “Gone With the Wind” Museum
What to do in Jefferson when you need a break from all the history? Well, you could explore a more fictional past, like that of the classic novel and film “Gone With the Wind.”
Oddly enough, Jefferson has a whole museum dedicated to this theme, showcasing the private collection of town resident Bobbie Hardy.
Hardy spent decades acquiring themed collectibles, from movie posters to costume reproductions to an autograph by Clark Gable himself.
The collection also features over 100 editions of the novel from all around the world, including a rare signed first edition of the book.
The museum is open Monday-Wednesday during regular business hours and Thursday-Saturday by appointment only. Tickets cost $3 for adults or $1 for kids 12 and under.
11. Sip On 5-Cent Coffee at the Jefferson General Store
Take a walk on the lighter side of history–away from the facts and figures–at the oh-so-adorable Jefferson General Store.
Built in the 1860s, it opened first as a hardware store. But not long after, it was converted to the purpose it still serves today!
Step inside and discover a colorful world of soda fountains, antiques, and an old-style candy bar.
You can purchase a 5-cent coffee, put a nickel into the jukebox, play a game of checkers, and stock up on all the Texas and Jefferson-themed souvenirs you could dream of.
The hours can easily slip away as you browse row after row of homemade goodies and enjoy the old-fashioned atmosphere.
12. Ride the Historic Jefferson Railway
There are certain things to do in Jefferson, TX, that just have to make an appearance on every travelers’ itinerary, and the Historic Jefferson Railway is one of them.
Trundle along the Big Cypress Bayou and through thick piny forests on a restored vintage Plymouth locomotive (nicknamed “The Critter”), exploring notable historical sites along the way.
Some of the must-see spots? The location of the first artificial gas plant in the state of Texas, an old sawmill, and blast furnace ruins, as well as the gunpowder magazine we mentioned earlier!
The whole ride takes around 40 minutes. Trains depart every Saturday at 12:30 and 2:30 PM, and tickets cost $12 per person.
13. Spend the Night in a Cozy 19th-Century Home
Jefferson wears many hats, and one of them is the “Bed and Breakfast Capital of East Texas.”
There are so many gorgeous, historical stays up for grabs that it can be hard to choose, but the Azalea Inn is on a level of its own.
Elegant, charming, and located in the heart of the Historic District, it’s the perfect place to really immerse yourself in local culture.
There are five rooms to choose from, each with its own unique decorations.
Azalea also offers a few cozy common areas, like their quaint courtyard out back and a parlor that practically demands you to sit down and enjoy a good book.
The innkeepers are happy to help you arrange sightseeing plans, tours, and add-on packages if you’re traveling for a special occasion.
14. Explore the World’s Coolest Salt and Pepper Collection at the Museum of Measurement and Time
This is certainly one of the weirder things to do in Jefferson, TX, but it is an activity beloved by locals and tourists alike.
The Museum of Measurement and Time is an eclectic, one-of-a-kind institution born thanks to the imagination of long-time Jefferson residents, Johnny and Edith Ingram.
Johnny once worked as a Professional Engineer and Land Surveyor, and many old tools are still on display.
But the elderly couple loves all things weird and wonderful, from rare items to the most mundane.
Explore their collection of more than 500 clocks made between 1700-1900, vintage maps dating back to the 1800s, old computer systems, and (of course) over 1,500 salt and pepper shakers.
The museum is open Thursday-Saturday from 10:00 AM-5:00 PM and Sundays 1:00-5:00 PM. It’s free!