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7 Things to Love about Port Arthur, TX

Wherever I May Roam Blog logo: MainLogo Wherever I May Roam Blog 9/15/2022 Wherever I May Roam Blog

Port Arthur is a coastal city 100 miles east of Houston and home to the largest oil refinery in Texas. Petroleum is a vital industry, and the culture is based around black gold. Port Arthur has beaches, serene waterways, noteworthy museums, and some of the best birding trails in the world. Here are seven things I love about Port Arthur, Texas, that will enhance your visit.

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1. Museum of the Gulf Coast

Visit the most popular tourist attraction in town, the Museum of the Gulf Coast, for treasures and exhibits covering Port Arthur’s oil-entangled history, its famous residents, and town history. They also have a great Texas Navy maritime exhibit.

An exciting part of the museum is the tribute to Port Arthur’s residents. Would you have guessed that nearly 200 are featured in the displays? These included George Jones, “The Big Bopper,” Jimmy Johnson (head coach of the Dallas Cowboys and two-time Super Bowl winner), and Bum Phillips (head coach of the Houston Oilers/Saints), to name a few. They even have an Academy Award for your viewing pleasure.

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The Museum of the Gulf Coast’s Snell Gallery features a lovely selection of antique glassware from around the world and interesting furniture. Robert Rauschenberg, a world-renowned painter and graphic artist, also has a gallery at the museum he helped create.

Legendary singer Janis Joplin, who was and still is one of the most influential artists and considered the “Queen of Rock,” is from Port Arthur. Two of her biggest songs, “Piece of My Heart” and “Me and Bobby McGee,” earned the soulful singer #1 on the Billboard charts and a place in her fans’ hearts, many of who travel internationally to Port Arthur to see the attractions. You can see her childhood home still standing in Port Arthur at 4330 32nd Street.

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2. A Gorgeous Mansion

The Pompeiian Villa, an early 1900’s home built by Isaac Elwood, the barbed wire king, will cost you just $4 to tour. It is well worth it. Elwood sent architects to Italy to research the style of elaborate home he wanted, and this villa replicated just that. The Pompeiian Villa, in a lovely shade of pink, is filled with ornate antiques and beautiful decorations. I had a docent, Monteel, who offered great stories about the grand home purchased by the Port Arthur Historical Society in 1973. Ask her about her connection with Janis Joplin if that interests you.

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3. Exotic Gardens

One of the unique things to see in Port Arthur is the Buu Mon Buddhist Temple’s gardens. The lush landscape is adorned with towering bamboo, koi ponds, lotus, rose gardens, and many fragrant blooms. Expect the monks to lead you through the temple and meditation areas if you take the tour. The giant seven-foot-tall golden Buddha statue is terrific! The photo-ops at Buu Mon are more than impressive.

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It may come as a shocker to see a massive Buddhist attraction in Port Arthur. The story is that the Vietnamese landed in Port Arthur in the early 1970s to work shrimping jobs. They have made it their home since. Port Arthur weaves a lovely blend of cultures.

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4. Beaches and Parks

Another Port Arthur Treasure is Sea Rim State Park. Did you know that there are beaches here? Located on the Gulf of Mexico, you can enjoy the sand, paddling, swimming, fishing, and other outdoor attractions. Sea Rim is also a camping destination with five miles of uncrowded beaches. You can even drive on the beach like at Ormond Beach, Florida. Or, you may prefer to hike the Gambusia Nature Trail and take in the scenery. 

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Port Arthur is notorious for magnificent birds and is well-known as a top birder’s paradise around the country. Be on the lookout for brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, terns, laughing gulls, and black skimmers at Sea Rim State Park. Watch for gators, coyotes, and wild boars in the marshy areas.

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5. Excellent Restaurants

Port Arthur has delicious dining options, including Tex-Mex, casual, fine dining, mom and pops, plus kolache shops, a Texas staple. My favorites are Tia Juanita’s, Rodair Bar & Grille, Saltgrass, Reel Cajun Seafood, and Rancho Grande. For coffee and pastries, Rao’s Bakery cannot be beaten. They also make fabulous King Cakes. 

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Tia Juanita’s is where I ate on my first visit, fell in love with the food, and have dreamed of ever since. Luckily, I got to revisit a few weeks ago. The atmosphere is fun and funky, and the food is off the hook delicious. I highly recommend the Blackened Shrimp and Crab Bread Bowl, so creamy and yummy, but the oyster and taco selections are very appealing, too. Ordering an adult libation is only fitting here. The margaritas are heavenly, but the 190 Octane is a crowd-pleaser.

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Rodair Bar & Grill is a bit off the beaten path, but it is worth the drive. This place gets the local’s vote due to an exceptional menu with mouth-watering dishes. The Fried Green Tomatoes are a game-changer, and the Red Beans and Rice are as good as New Orleans. A unique dish is the Cajun Fried Ribs, a big seller—St. Louis pork ribs, breaded and fried—mmm, mmm, good.  Rodair’s country-west setting and decor appeal to the eye, and they often have live music. 

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Saltgrass Steakhouse is a local chain restaurant with your classic steakhouse dishes. The steaks are pretty darned impressive, and the luscious Mac and cheese is a toothsome side dish that is so good you may want to make it your main entree. My daughter loved the cheese fries, made with chunky potato pieces rather than fries. They come fully loaded with bacon, cheese, green onions, and a side of tangy Ranch on the side.

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Enjoy a great lunch or dinner at Reel Cajun Seafood Restaurant and Bar. Though the menu is enormous and lists every kind of seafood you can imagine, there are also lunch-priced items to save a few dollars. The Grilled Chicken Dinner paired with cajun creamed corn and green beans is a perfect choice. Homemade goat cheese sauce over the chicken really elevated this late to another level. If you haven’t tried cajun corn, it is so spicy, unique, and yummy. Save room for one of Reel Cajun’s honkin’ big desserts. 

At Rancho Grande, start with creamy White Queso, warm tortilla chips, and salsa. The Chicken Fajita Flautas and Quesadillas are both good choices.

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6. Robert Rauschenberg Gallery

It is said that Robert Rauschenberg’s early works helped bring forth the pop art movement. Robert was an idol to pop icon Andy Warhol and also a sculptor, printer, performance artist, and photographer. One of his most famous works is entitled Signs, which he designed to “remind us of love, terror, violence of the last ten years and the danger lies in forgetting”.

Fun Fact: Rauschenberg’s art was used on the Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues album cover, which won a Grammy in 1984 for Best Album Package.

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7. Great Birding Trail

If you are into birding, there is nowhere better to sharpen your skills than Port Arthur. If you aren’t, give it a go and see what you think. There are plenty of places to admire hundreds of birds along the Great Coastal Birding Trail. Spring and fall migrations bring many beautiful creatures to the Texas Gulf Coast, offering a peaceful place to rest and relax. Sabine Woods is one of the most internationally recognized parks.

There have been 285 species notated at the McFadden National Wildlife Refuge, plus a host of ducks and geese. A few easy to recognize birds include snowy and great egrets, heron, white ibis, and the cute little American coot. Ones to get to know include indigo bunting, the belted kingfisher, nighthawks, and osprey.

To spot some white pelicans and loons, we rode over to Pleasure Island, bordered by the Intracoastal canal. There are some amazing photo-ops there, birds or no birds.

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Where to Stay in Port Arthur

The TownePlace Suites is in a convenient part of Port Arthur and showcases all of the desirable features from Marriott Hotels that you would expect: a stylish lobby, swimming pool, and gym, plus a functional room with plenty of space. Wi-Fi and parking were included in our stay and a tasty hot breakfast buffet.

Rooms have either King or two Queen beds, attractive bed linens, a table with chairs, a kitchen, and a sitting area. There are plenty of plug-ins and lights–great for working. The sink area is outside the bathroom, making it more convenient for two people to share a room. Finally, the TownePlace Suites staff is exceptionally friendly and attentive.

Thanks for the Port Arthur CVB for hosting my first visit. As with all of my posts, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.

Check out our other Texas articles:

Terlingua: Visiting a Texas Ghost Town

10 Fun Things To Do in College Station

4 Days in Big Bend

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