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Enhanced Editorial

Shores of the Lone Star State
Flock to the Texas coast and find out why it draws visitors of both the human and avian varieties.

South Padre IslandTexas enjoys a larger-than-life reputation in public perception. It is not surprising, considering the state’s size, history and attitude. Because of its prominence, everyone thinks they know Texas—be it a place for cowboys, football, national parks or multiculturalism—but looking just a bit deeper uncovers many unexpected experiences.

The best place to start exploring would be along the Gulf of Mexico at the locales where birds and people—both locals and visitors—gather in large numbers.

On the Water’s Edge

Texas meets the Gulf across hundreds of miles of beaches and barrier islands. And the pleasant weather and warm Gulf waters attract tourists from the world over. The draw is obvious up and down the shoreline, but some of the highlights include these must-see places.

GullsOn Galveston Island, visitors enjoy the sandy paradise of 32 miles of beaches, including the premier family beach at Stewart Beach Park. During the summer season, the park sponsors activities such as sandcastle competitions and volleyball tournaments. Umbrellas and chairs are available for rent for those who would prefer to relax and soak up the sun. Galveston is also known for introducing tourists to the island by way of cruise ships. Major cruise lines sail to and from the city, letting vacationers tour the island before or after their four-, five- or seven-day voyages. Just one block from the cruise ship terminals is the Historic Downtown District, where visitors can enjoy the unique shops, restaurants and galleries that cover 36 blocks.

Port Aransas has the honor of being the only established town on the 18-mile-long Mustang Island. Its barrier island setting has made Port Aransas the port of call for anyone seeking a secluded getaway, a fishing adventure or a back-to-nature experience. Known as Texas’ fishing capital, Port Aransas and Mustang Island provide just about every setting for soaking a line. Anglers can fish from a pier or the surf. Or they can hear the call of the deep Gulf, which beckons with the chance to take on big game. Charters and guides are available, as are marina slips for those who want to go it alone. Some of the fish common in these waters are redfish, flounder, mackerel, tarpon, sailfish and marlin. Successful fishers can have their fish cooked up just the way they like it at a local eatery and enjoy the fruits of their expeditions.

Texas State AquariumCorpus Christi neighbors the world’s largest barrier island, Padre Island. The city also benefits from sunny skies almost all year-round, and it attracts with sites such as the Texas State Aquarium, where more than 300 species are displayed in various exhibits. Among the exhibits are Tortuga Cay, which lets guests view seas turtles from above and below the water, and Living Shores, which is an interactive experience with animals such as hermit crabs. Another Corpus Christi must is the USS Lexington, the World War II aircraft carrier named for its predecessor sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Lexington served longer than any other carrier in the history of naval aviation, and it shares with visitors the sensation of being aboard a world-class warship through a flight simulator, theater and virtual battle stations.

South Padre IslandMany vacationers know of South Padre Island as a place for some relaxing fun in the sun, and they are right—South Padre is replete with opportunities to lounge by the pool, watch one-of-a-kind sunsets, see dolphins or shop the day away. But South Padre is also a place for active vacationers—they can windsurf, Jet Ski, play golf, tennis and more. In addition, this area—so filled with diversions—surprises with peaceful solitude on North Padre Island and the Padre Island National Seashore. The seashore protects the longest undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world—meaning those who take the time can see ever-changing dunes, delicate tidal flats, expanses of grassland and 70 miles of beaches. Visitors can enjoy an abundance of activities, such as saltwater fishing, beachcombing, watching sea turtle hatchling releases and birding.

Birds of a Feather

Rio Grande Valley birdsProtected places such as Padre Island National Seashore are what keep migratory birds coming back to coastal Texas. So does the fact that Texas sits astride the confluence of three major flyways. In all, more than 625 species of birds have been documented in the Lone Star State.

As always, seeing is believing—that’s why there are the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trails, a collection of hotspots, pullouts and destinations that will get visitors near the state’s winged travelers. Divided into three areas, the trails stretch from the Louisiana border all the way to Mexico. They take birders into urban areas with safe stopovers for tired birds, and into the sticks to see birds found only in east Texas. Basically, where there is habitat, there is a trail that gets enthusiasts into it or near it.

World Birding CenterThere are more birding areas in Texas, complete with accompanying trails, but nothing denotes Texas’ role as an international birding sensation as the World Birding Center. It focuses on protecting habitat along the Rio Grande, which has long been recognized at an ultra-important migratory bird corridor.

The center is marked by nine sites that stretch westward from South Padre Island. The terrain covers more than 10,000 acres and changes from arid to verdant—bringing different bird sightings with every shift in cover.

For more information about a coastal Texas vacation or a Texas birding excursion, visit TravelTex.com.

For travel-planning assistance, visit AAA.com/travel.

Jul/Aug 2010 Issue

This Enhanced Editorial was paid for by a promotional fee from an advertiser.

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