The big Texas Gulf with its varied attractions and outdoor recreation
looms large as a favorite beach getaway.

By Karen Gibson

Texans like big things, including the 624-mile Gulf Coast. Texas’ sizeable coast also means sizeable fun at this year-round vacation destination. Experience scenic beaches, water sports and fishing. When you’re ready to dust off the sand, explore a wealth of sightseeing, shopping and dining options in the coastal communities.

Top: A day at the beach in Texas. Karen Gibson photo

Above: Brownsville shares a border with Matamoros, Mexico. Jack Lewis/ Texas Tourism photo

Fun in the sun and surf

The promise of sun and warm Gulf water begins its siren call with the first hint of spring. Spring break travelers congregate at the white sand beaches of Padre Island. You can always find someone sunbathing, building sand castles or collecting shells on the beach.

Hardier souls try boogie boarding, parasailing or windsurfing. South Padre is the site for the U.S. Windsurfing competition in early May. The island is also the place to learn a newer water sport–kite boarding. When you tire of the water, stop by the South Padre Visitors Bureau to see one of the largest sand castles in Texas.

Private beaches provide idyllic fun but there’s a cost to enter. Savvy travelers know that plenty of public beaches have no admittance fee and often provide board, chair and umbrella rentals.

If you’re driving through Houston on most weekends, you’ll see a number of cars and pickup trucks pulling boats. Many are heading to nearby Galveston Island where there always seems to be a boat on the horizon. Taking a scenic boat ride or traveling by ferry to the mainland? Watch alongside your boat for dolphins.

Angling adventures

From freshwater lakes with redfish and flounder to marlin and king mackerel in the Gulf, fishing can be as simple as picking up your gear and license and heading to the nearest pier to cast your line.

Check out Brazosport located 50 miles south of Houston at the mouth of the Brazos and San Bernard rivers. The nine-city community offers a large variety of fishing opportunities. Anglers can take advantage of bay or deep-sea fishing.

For the birds

One of the country’s top bird-watching sites, the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail runs from the Louisiana border south to Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen, then heads west to Laredo. Hundreds of species can be spotted along the trail, which includes sites like the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the winter home of the whooping crane.

Padre National Seashore at 130,434 acres is the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world. It’s a perfect location for bird watching. The island also is the most important nesting beach in the United States for the Kemp’s ridley, the world’s most-endangered sea turtle.

The Laguna Madre Nature Trail, known locally as the birding boardwalk, leads visitors through four acres of wetlands. The nearby Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Rio Hondo is a protected wildlife area ideal for birding as well.

Brownsville, at the southern end of the birding trail, has the red-crowned parrot as its official bird, which can be seen roosting on Los Ebanos Street.

See the sights

Texas coastal towns are as different as night and day. The northern coast shares ties with its Louisiana neighbor. In Port Arthur, you’ll find a distinctly Cajun flavor that includes a major Mardi Gras festival. The town celebrates its Hispanic heritage the third weekend in April with the Mercado Days Festival.

At the opposite end of the Texas coast, Brownsville shares fiestas and a national border with nearby Matamoros, Mexico. Stroll across the Rio Grande Bridge into Matamoros for the day. U.S. citizens will need to show a passport or government-issued birth certificate and photo identification at the border.

Tourists may also want to see Pier 21 Theater in Galveston, which shows a short film about pirate Jean Lafitte, one of the city’s first residents. Another well-known name in Galveston is W.L. Moody Jr., whose name graces everything from attractions to a major thoroughfare. The Moody Mansion Museum is one of more than 100 homes and churches located in the East End Historic District. The mansion is one of three showcase homes–Bishop’s Palace and Ashton Villa and Heritage Center–that are open to the public.

Moody Gardens is a smorgasbord of fun. Its Rainforest Pyramid is simply incredible. Watch for the tropical birds, tamarins and sloths that roam free.

The Strand, Galveston’s historic downtown, has a variety of shops and restaurants ready to explore.

Shopping and dining

It’s no surprise that seafood is a staple of the Texas coast, but it’s the variety of ways to prepare it that can astound diners. Dining takes on its regional flavors with Louisiana specialties like shrimp po-boys in the north. Tex-Mex seafood winds its way through South Padre and much of the rest of the coast.

Several eateries, like Sea Ranch Restaurant and Bar in South Padre, have marina locations with seating looking out over the water. In Galveston, the AAA two Diamond Fisherman’s Wharf at Pier 22 and Harborside Drive provides excellent food–the shrimp kisses and scampi are scrumptious. With its top-notch service, don’t be surprised if the manager comes by to check on you.

There are many surprises waiting for travelers to the big Texas coast, a place where mammoth-sized vacation memories are made.

Karen Gibson is a contributor from Norman, Okla.
Mar/Apr 2008 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO
For more information, contact:

• Texas Tourism at (800) 8888-TEX (800-888-8839), www.traveltex.com;

• Brownsville Convention & Visitors Bureau, (800) 626-2639, www.brownsville.org;

• Galveston Island CVB, (888-425-4753), www.galveston.com.

To visit the Texas coast, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. Click here for a list of offices.

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