Sand in their Boots

Texas boasts 600 miles of
delightful beaches perfect for winter getaways.
By Patricia Treacy

Resort communities are strung along the Gulf Coast of Texas like pearls on silken thread. This area remains a favorite winter getaway for anyone seeking fairer weather. The activity pickings are as wide as the sandy beaches, so pack up the car or van and sample a winter getaway, Texas style.

Water recreation and sports

Six hundred miles of beach stretch from Port Arthur, in the southeastern tip of the state where Texas touches Louisiana, to Brownsville, near the Mexican border.

“The most important part of Texas beaches is the fact that they’re all open,” said Mike Gonzalez, president and chief executive officer of the Brownsville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Anybody anytime can go on any beach.”

About 20 miles east on state Route 4 from Brownsville is Boca Chica Beach, an undeveloped area of wetlands, sand dunes and a wildlife refuge. There are no paved streets in Boca Chica, but visitors can drive their car on the beach.

Also nearby is South Padre Island, a popular winter resort. Chartered boats transport fishermen who catch red snapper, tarpon and blue marlin.

“The temperature averages about 75 degrees all winter,” says Gonzalez. “We have only about 10 days below 40 degrees.”

Bird-watching

If you drive the 500-mile Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail from Brownsville to Port Arthur, you’ll pass about 300 sites for bird-watching.

Port Aransas, on the northern tip of Mustang Island near Corpus Christi, is home to four bird-watching sites and a 3,700-acre state park. Mustang Island probably began life as a submerged sand bar about 4,500 years ago. Jean LaFitte and his band of pirates spent time on the island in the 1820s. Today, horses’ hooves stir the white sand when equestrians mount up at the riding stables.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is the winter home of the whooping crane. Visitors will whoop it up during the celebration of the cranes in Port Aransas, Feb. 25–27, 2005. The festivities will include boat trips and organized birding tours.

Birds swoop, soar and nest in the Rio Grande Valley, a tropical birder’s paradise because of its location on the convergence of two major flyways. Laguna Atascosa stretches 45,000 acres along the coast. At Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, you can stroll or take a tram tour through a moss-draped woodland.

Harlingen is midway between the two refuges, while McAllen, to the west, offers easy access to Reynosa, Mexico, where you can watch a matador match wits with a bull.
Take in the sites

Also in Harlingen, visit a cluster of historic sites at the Rio Grande Valley Museum, including: the city’s founding father’s home built in 1904, the city’s first hospital from 1925 and the Paso Real Stagecoach Inn built during the Civil War. The greyhounds run at the city’s racetrack November through April.

Many visitors stop at the Veterans Hall of Fame and the Iwo Jima Memorial at the Marine Military Academy. The memorial is the original working model prepared by the sculptor, Dr. de Weldon, for the casting of the bronze monument in Washington, D.C.

Sabine Pass Battleground State Park and Historic Site in Port Arthur reopened in April after a $2 million facelift. The site was a fort in 1863 when Lt. Dick Dowling and 46 Confederates used six cannons to thwart the U.S. Navy’s attempt to invade Texas.

Singing and dancing

Ida May Schmich of St. Louis, Mo., drives down to the Rio Grande Valley every winter, beckoned by the chant of the square dance caller. She swings in the Square Dance Jamboree held in February at the McAllen Civic Center Convention Hall. This year’s event attracted some 1,400 people who danced from 10 a.m. until midnight. McAllen calls itself the Square Dance Capital of the World.

“I square dance every night and four or five mornings a week,” said Schmich, 88. “In the afternoons, I go to musicians’ jam sessions and play the rhythm bones with the band.”

Schmich rents a mobile home in Pharr and in her spare time, she watches parasailing and kites. And she walks the fishing piers on the beach.

For other music lovers, Port Arthur has museums with exhibits of native rock ‘n’ roll legend Janis Joplin and country music singer Tex Ritter.

Urban excitement

Corpus Christi, the largest coastal city in Texas, has sites and sounds of urban America. The city’s downtown has fine restaurants serving fresh seafood and Texas barbecue along South Padre Island Drive. Live music from country, rock and symphony to jazz and blues can be heard at downtown nightclubs and performing centers.

Colorful sails glide in and out of the marina on Corpus Christi Bay and shrimp boats come in with the daily catch.

Tour the USS Lexington, a Navy aircraft carrier that retired in 1991 after 50 years of service. Near the Lexington is the Texas State Aquarium. At the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History, see the remains of three Spanish treasure ships that ran aground on Padre Island in 1554. The South Texas Institute for the Arts has a collection of 550 objects, and the Asian Cultures Museum is one of five similar museums in the country.
A jaunt to the beaches of Texas where there’s plenty to see and do will surely be a welcome respite from winter’s chill.

Pat Treacy is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.


Above: Sunrise on the beach in Corpus Christi along the gulf coast of Texas. Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau photo

Below: Two Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, Sundance and Kimo, delight visitors to Dolphin Bay at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi. Texas State Aquarium photo



Before You Go

For more information, contact:

• Texas Economic Development Tourism Division, 1-800-452-9292 or www.TravelTex.com;

• Brownsville Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-626-2639 or online at www.brownsville.org;

• Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-766-BEACH (800-766-2322) or www.corpuschristicvb.com;

• Harlingen Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-531-7346 or www.harlingen.com/visitors;

• McAllen Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-877-622-5536 or www.mcallen.org;

• Port Aransas, 1-800-45-COAST (1-800-452-6278) or www.portaransas.org;

• Port Arthur, 1-800-235-7822 or www.portarthurtexas.com;

• South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-SOPADRE (800-767-2373) or www.sopadre.com.

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