With three major oil refineries in operation, the coastal city of Port Arthur ’s (population 57,042) economy remains primarily petro-centered. Named for Arthur Stillwell, a Kansas City businessman who brought the railroad to town, this low-key community has been tied to the shipping industry since a navigable canal was dredged in the early 1900s.
Aside from oil and ocean commerce, Port Arthur is known for churning out music stars (Janis Joplin, the Big Bopper, Johnny Winter, and Tex Ritter are area natives) as well as its Cajun food, fishing, and legendary Mardi Gras celebration, drawing tens of thousands of people each February for the festive atmosphere.
Get a grasp on the Golden Triangle’s illustrious history at the Museum of the Gulf Coast (700 Proctor St., 409/982-9614, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 1–5 p.m. Sun., $3.50 adults, $3 seniors, $1.50 students 6–18). Located in a large downtown two-story former bank building, the museum covers a lot of ground. From prehistoric items to Texas Revolution artifacts to modern mementos, the Museum of the Gulf Coast offers a comprehensive representation of cultural events in the region. Be sure to check out the replica of Janis Joplin’s painted psychedelic Porsche.
The Sabine Pass Battleground (409/971-2559, www.thc.state.tx.us ), 12 miles south of town, is worth visiting even if you aren’t a history buff. Recently acquired by the Texas Historical Commission, this 58-acre site tells the story of a fierce Civil War battle where severely outnumbered Confederate troops prevailed over a formidable Union fleet. Interpretive panels and a big bronze statue help portray the conflict, and visitors have access to walking trails and camping facilities overlooking the Sabine Ship Channel.
For a truly unique experience, drop by the Buu Mon Buddhist Temple (2701 Proctor St., 409/982-9319, www.buumon.org ). Established as the first Buddhist center in Beaumont  (an inspiration for the name), the temple building previously served as a Baptist church and later a Vietnamese Catholic church. Where there was once a steeple, a stupa now exists. Instead of a crucifix, a seven-foot-tall gilt-bronze Buddha now rests on the altar. The temple’s annual spring garden tour attracts hundreds of Texans in search of pleasing colors and smells.
Port Arthur  is known across Texas for its excellent seafood and Cajun restaurants. One of the most popular is Esther’s Cajun Seafood & Steaks (7237 Rainbow Ln., 409/962-6268, www.estherscajunseafood.com , $8–27). Located under a large arched bridge and above a gaggle of groggy alligators, Esther’s has become synonymous with quality Gulf Coast  seafood. The spicy gumbo is legendary here, as are the tasty po’ boys (crawfish, shrimp, or catfish), oysters, crawfish étoufée, and red snapper. Esther’s serves alligator, too (no word on the location of its origins) as well as a “famous” bread pudding.
Another favorite Bayou-style eatery is Larry’s French Market and Cajun Cafeteria (3701 Atlantic Hwy., 409/962-3381, www.larrysfrenchmarket.com , $6–17), offering an ideal all-inclusive combo (the Captain’s Platter), featuring fresh and flavorful shrimp, catfish, oysters, barbecue crabs, fried crawfish, seafood gumbo, and Cajun fries. Alternate menu options include the “boiled water critters” (crawfish and crab) served with corn, potatoes, and a dipping sauce, as well as fried critters (alligator, frog legs).
Locals tend to loiter at the traditionally minded and decorated The Schooner (1507 S. Hwy. 69, 409/722-2323, $8–23). Seafood is the main catch here, ranging from fresh filets to fried platters. Popular menu items include the broiled filet of snapper, stuffed crab, and oysters.