One Tank Trip: Jefferson, TX offers tourists history, romance and mystery


As we enjoy the last few months of summer, many of us find ourselves realizing we either haven’t taken our summer vacation yet, whether from lack of time or money (or both), or we want one more getaway before the kids go back to school and the fall weather hits.

Enter the “one-tank trip” idea.

It’s the perfect answer to getting away without going too far and without breaking your budget. East Texas is full of little towns and areas you can escape to on one tank of gas. Jefferson and its surrounding area, including Caddo Lake, is one of our favorite summer destinations.

Timeless. Historical. Romantic. Haunting. All of these words describe Jefferson and that’s barely scratching the surface. Walking the streets of Jefferson is like taking a step back in time to a bustling riverport set in the 19th century. When it was founded is up for debate – some place it as 1836, others say the early 1840s – either way, Jefferson has a rich and diverse history that appeals to travelers to this day.

It was once one of the largest and most significant riverports in Texas, with a level of prosperity that lent it the name “The Golden Era.” It became a boomtown in the mid-1900s with a genteel, southern charm and populated with an eclectic mix of successful, wealthy families, opportunists, settlers and immigrants looking for a better life.

The historical buildings with New Orleans-style facades, wrought-iron balconies and French Quarter vibe that once saw this era come to life now house restaurants, antique shops, boutiques, hotels and more.

Jefferson is not only considered the “Queen of the Bayou” thanks to its riverport status and close proximity to the Big Cypress Bayou, it’s also considered the Bed and Breakfast Capital of Texas. A quick Google search counts at least 16, if not more, bed and breakfasts in this area. Each one has its own charm and most are within walking distance of Historic Downtown Jefferson. And we can’t talk about Jefferson without mentioning another claim to fame as one of the most haunted towns in Texas.


Speaking of bed and breakfasts, if you plan to stay overnight or for a few days, The Steamboat Inn and Old Mulberry Inn & Cottages are two great options. The Steamboat Inn, set in a historical building that was remodeled, painted and landscaped earlier this year, is located only 1.5 blocks from downtown. They have a relaxed, upscale environment; cater to groups and families; are pet-friendly; and serve an excellent daily breakfast, which is cooked to order and plated on china. Their large porch area has plenty of rockers and porch swings for a relaxing time.

Old Mulberry Inn is a large, Greek Revival-style home offering modern amenities with vintage accents. It’s nestled in a park-like estate with two adjoining cottages that offer even more tranquility and luxurious accommodations. The inn’s name comes from having the oldest mulberry tree in Jefferson on the property, which is situated on more than an acre and only a few blocks from downtown. They serve breakfast daily and encourage you to sit back on one of their porch swings and take in the peaceful atmosphere.

Several other places worth staying at are the Excelsior House Hotel, built in 1858 and the oldest hotel in continuous operation in Texas; the Jefferson Hotel, equal parts timeless with a southern charm and modern-day feel with a private bathroom and cable TV; and the Delta Street Inn, a 1920s prairie-style house, recently restored and offering cozy accommodations and modern amenities.


When it comes to what to eat in Jefferson and the surrounding area, there are so many great options it’s hard to pick just one. In the heart of historic downtown Jefferson, there’s Auntie Skinner’s Riverboat Club, a favorite of locals and travelers alike. Set in a historic building constructed in 1866 and still retaining its original look and feel, Auntie Skinner’s menu varies with everything from appetizers and entrées to sandwiches, steaks and burgers. They have live entertainment and a bar, too.

Just down the way from Auntie Skinner’s you’ll find Whistle Stop Diner & Venue. They have a diverse menu with something for everyone, all at a price to feed the entire family. Whistle Stop offers daily specials, plus Burger Night, Steak Saturday and their not-to-miss homemade cream pies.

Craving a juicy burger? The Hamburger Store is the place to go. The restaurant has been a Jefferson tradition for more than 50 years and touts their Jefferson Ghost Burger™ as their trademark burger. Made with ghost pepper cheese, the Ghost Burger capitalizes on the town’s ghostly history and fame. The Hamburger Store has been featured in Southern Living and Texas Highways Magazine, and named in Texas Monthly’s list of Top 50 Hamburgers in the State.

Just because you’re staying in Jefferson doesn’t mean you have to only eat in Jefferson. Take a short, scenic drive to Caddo Lake, the state’s only natural lake, and dine on tasty seafood at RiverBend Restaurant. This family friendly restaurant is also family-owned and operated. They’re located right on the water with panoramic views of the Big Cypress River on Caddo Lake. RiverBend delights its customers time and again with their tasty hand-cut steaks, catfish and seafood, which is made to order.

And we couldn’t talk about places to eat without mentioning Joseph’s Riverport B-B-Que! If you haven’t read our cover story on page 12 already, you’ll quickly discover this barbecue restaurant was recently named to the Texas Monthly Top 50 Barbecue Places in Texas, and with good reason.


Don’t worry about being bored or trying to find things to do when you visit Jefferson. There’s plenty of fun – whether it’s strolling the historic streets; browsing antique stores, clothing boutiques and gift stores; visiting the Jefferson Historic Museum; or taking a fun train ride with the kids on the Historic Jefferson Railway, to name a few.

If you have a love of all things antique, stop in to Brayden & Company, located at the corner of Walnut and Lafayette. They offer more than 8,000 square feet of quality antiques, collectibles, jewelry, and vintage and shabby chic home décor and furniture. This locally owned and operated store offers a high-end, upscale atmosphere with competitively priced merchandise. They even offer world-wide shipping, so if you see something you want and don’t have the space to bring it home, or you want to ship it to a loved one, they can handle it for you.

The Jefferson General Store, open since the 1860s, is another store you won’t want to miss, with its old fashioned soda fountain, rows of penny candies and plethora of souvenirs tucked into every possible corner of the store. Yesteryear Gift Shop & Classy Glitz Boutique has everything from clothing, accessories and collectibles to Christmas items available year round.

Want to get out on the water? Explore the nooks and crannies of nearby beautiful Caddo Lake or take a fun, leisurely bayou boat tour on the Big Cypress River. Billy Carter’s Caddo Guide Service offers you a personalized GO-DEVIL® surface boat touring experience at the lake. Thanks to its flat bottom design and ability to navigate through the shallowest of water this boat can take you places no other boat can go. His personalized tours also include pontoon boat tours for larger groups and night tours by starlight.

Experience the history of the bayou with a one-hour narrated tour in Jefferson with Turning Basin Riverboat Tours. As you take in the scenic views, listen as Captain John Nance and his crew tell the tale of Jefferson’s steamboat history and educate you on the flora and fauna of the bayou.

No visit to Jefferson is complete without a ghost tour or two! Make sure to check out the Historic Jefferson Ghost Walk Tour on Friday and Saturday nights, which has been voted as a TripAdvisor Top 10 Spooky Places to Visit and one of the Top 10 Best Ghost Walk Tours in the country. The Grove, one of the historical and haunted homes in Jefferson, offers a guided tour through Jefferson’s past on Saturdays and by reservation only on Sundays.

Whether it’s your first visit or one of many, pack your bags, load up the kids and fill up your tank for your next “one-tank trip” destination to the historical and charming riverport town of Jefferson.

For more information on where to eat, shop, play and stay in Jefferson visit the following websites: and

To Stay

    The Steamboat Inn

    • 114 N. Marshall St., Jefferson,
    • (903) 708-5969
    • Call for hours, or call or go online to book your reservation.

    Old Mulberry Inn & Cottages

    • 209 E. Jefferson St., Jefferson
    • (903) 665-1945
    • Call for hours, or call or go online to book your reservation.

    Excelsior House Hotel

    • 211 W. Austin St., Jefferson
    • (903) 665-2513
    • Call for hours, or call or go online to book your reservation.

    Jefferson Hotel

    Delta Street Inn

    • 206 E. Delta St., Jefferson
    • (903) 665-2929
    • Call for hours, or call or go online to book your reservation.

To Eat

    Auntie Skinner’s Riverboat Club

    Whistle Stop Diner & Venue

    The Hamburger Store

    • 101 S. Market St., Jefferson
    • (903) 665-8302
    • Mon-Thur 10:30a-8p; Fri-Sat 10:30a-9p; Sun 10:30a-3p

    RiverBend Restaurant

    • 211 PR 2422, Karnack
    • (903) 679-9000
    • Wed-Thu 5-9p; Fri 5-10p; Sat 11a-10p; Sun 12-7p

    Joseph’s Riverport Bar-B-Que

To Do

    Brayden & Company

    Jefferson General Store

    Billy Carter’s Caddo Guide Service Johnson’s Ranch Marina

    Turning Basin Riverboat Tours

    Historic Jefferson Railway

    Jefferson Historic Museum

    • 223 W. Austin St., Jefferson
    • (903) 665-2775
    • Open year round 9:30a-4:30p (excluding New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).