Port Arthur, Texas, the largest oil refinery in the United States, is best known for its outdoor adventures, whether at the beach, in the woods watching for birds, or on the banks of the Sabine River catching all kinds of fish. Not only that, but its top-notch Cajun cuisine restaurants and live music venues are off the charts in this metropolitan area of southeast Texas. And in case you didn’t know, Port Arthur is the birthplace of legendary rock-and-roll singer Janis Joplin.
The city has deep roots in petrochemical refineries, and on any given day, you can see big red ships coming into the port. And if you watch closely, you may see dolphins swimming alongside them. I did see a fin or two, but that’s all, and it was still awesome.
With its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the Sabine-Neches Waterway, the sport of fishing is almost a daily occurrence for locals and visiting anglers. Birding is also a sport many tourists come to Port Arthur to experience. With its location 90 miles from Houston and a 20-minute drive from Beaumont, it is a wonderful place to come and play and enjoy the rivers and lakes. Whether you’re interested in Texas history, good food, or outdoor fun, Port Arthur has something for everyone.
I was hosted by Port Arthur, Texas. All opinions are my own.
1. Museum Of The Gulf Coast
This is a museum to explore from top to bottom. Don’t be in a hurry because there is so much history and fame in this museum, plus it’s the only museum of its kind in the southeast. Many stories and exhibits of local legends, including singers, actors, and sports legends, are displayed in this museum. I knew them most by name and some only by their faces from watching TV in my younger years.
There is a large permanent exhibit of Janis Joplin, including a replica of her 1965, very colorful Porsche. If you’re a fan, don’t forget your camera to take pictures of the car, a bronze statue of her many faces, and a larger-than-life cutout of her. A brochure about her short life in Port Arthur is available, as she lived for only 27 years.
2. Pleasure Island
Shorebirds, ducks, seagulls, and terns share space with the public on this man-made island overlooking Sabine Lake and Neches River. Pleasure Island is great for all-day fun, with public access to the water, boat ramps, a marina, crabbing, and fishing. The Pleasure Island Boardwalk, just past the marina and condos, is a mile-long walk around Sabine Lake (where I spotted the big red ships and the dolphin).
Pleasure Island pier is a 275-foot pier that extends out on Sabine Lake with a nice gazebo at the end. It’s a great spot for fishing, birdwatching, and picnicking. Don’t forget your fishing pole and your fishing license. And be sure to ask where the fish are biting and find that spot!
Pro Tip: Be sure to check out all the sailboats at the marina.
3. Sea Rim State Park
It’s the only state park I’ve been to in Texas so far (I’m sure there are a few more) where I could put my feet in the gulf waters. With an average temperature of 68 (give or take because it can get quite hot in the area), Sea Rim State Park is one of the best reasons to venture to Port Arthur. Wildlife, hiking trails, and beach access are just a few things you can experience there. If you like the sounds of the water, pitch a tent on the beach. A few animals and birds to look for at the park are sea turtles, hermit crabs, blue crabs, seagulls, pelicans, and alligators… yes, alligators!
If you’re up for it, rent a kayak or canoe and paddle away. Or, you could hire a local guide to take you around on the water. They will no doubt take you places you didn’t know about. There are plenty of outfitters in the area for just that.
4. Sabine Woods
If you’re looking for outdoor adventures and more birds to see, Sabine Woods is a 27-acre bird sanctuary with large oaks on the bank of the Sabine River, which borders Louisiana and Texas. It’s one of the migrant stopovers along the Texas Coast. Year-round, but depending on the time of year, bird watchers come from all around the world to spy warblers, thrushes, orioles, and blue grosbeaks — among many other bird species — as they fly south for the winter.
Pro Tip: Be sure to pack a can of mosquito repellent. I skipped this part because I was told I would benefit best if I wore a netted hat — that scared me a bit!
5. McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge
The McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge is over 58,800 acres of coastal marshlands, bordering the Gulf of Mexico at Sabine Pass. It’s filled with fish and wildlife habitats. Activities such as crabbing, fishing, hunting, and looking for American alligators are key things to do here.
6. Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site
Explore an interpretive pavilion of the notable Civil War battlefield, Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site, as you stroll the beautiful walkways along the Sabine River and learn about Texas’s involvement in the war. It would be an excellent history lesson for kids. It only costs $5 a carload.
7. Clifford Distilling
One-hundred-percent-veteran-owned-and-operated Clifford Distilling is a place to enjoy some downtime, get to know your neighbor, and perhaps opt for a spirit-tasting of their exclusive whiskey and rum. It’s the only local distillery and is relatively new — just over a year old. Its state-of-the-art facility is an eye-catcher inside and out, and the service you’ll get is next-to-none.
Owners Sean and Wendy Clifford are excited to bring their business to Port Arthur, where Wendy is from. They offer fun games, special events, live music, and a great story of Sean’s long family life in the industry. One of the best parts of my visit was when I wrote my dad’s military rank on the United States flag displayed inside, as well as a Texas flag. Anyone can tribute family ranking on the flags; just another thing they offer their guests.
8. Port Arthur Self-Guided Faith Trail
Three noteworthy areas to worship for various faiths are located in proximity to one another in Port Arthur:
- The BUU Mon Buddhist Temple is a large yellow building with a four-tier pagoda tower and a nice outdoor garden (down the street from the distillery on Procter Street).
- A 17-foot-high bronze statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe is set upon rocks and is breathtaking. I was caught up in awe here. It’s located on Sgt. Lucian Adams Drive.
- Queen of Peace Shrine and Gardens is a beautiful outdoor garden featuring a larger-than-life statue of the Virgin Mary. Its location is on 9th Avenue.
There is one more to note in Beaumont. St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica is one of the most attractive houses of worship in the southwestern United States. All of these can be found in the visitor’s guide.
9. Tex Ritter Park
Country music legend Woodward Maurice Ritter, better known as “Tex” Ritter, has a historical park named after him in Nederland (about a 15-minute drive from Port Arthur). Next to the park is the Dutch Windmill Museum, which depicts the life of Dutch settlers displaying artifacts dating back 100 years. It’s all right together, and there is an outdoor area and gazebo behind the museum.
Pro Tip: In case you didn’t know — I didn’t — Tex Ritter was the father of the late actor John Ritter.
10. Port Arthur Restaurants
Tia Juanita’s Fish Camp
There’s no doubt you’ll find great food in Port Arthur. One of my favorite places is Tia Juanita’s Fish Camp. I dined on three delicious tacos (chicken, fish, and shrimp) while listening to live music on a Sunday afternoon. The place is very spacious, with a nice bar and an area to listen up close to live music. On any given day or night, it could get very busy.
Reel Cajun Seafood Restaurant & Bar
I also ate at Reel Cajun Seafood Restaurant & Bar and had some shrimp and grits. That was a great meal. And you never know what’s going on over at the other side of the restaurant. When I was there, there was a major arm wrestling tournament going on. After dinner, I had to step over to see what it was all about.
The Rodair Bar & Grill
The Rodair Bar & Grill is another Cajun restaurant to try out. You can reserve a table online for quicker service. The lines are long but worth it. Catch live music on the weekends.
Several, if not most people, once adults, leave the city to pursue careers. However, I met several Port Arthur natives who never left and are very happy living on the Texas Gulf Coast. They say their favorite place to visit is the Pleasure Island pier.