I’m often surprised by the number of people I come across who have a generally negative view of the Texas Gulf Coast. Then, I remember that I too once shared these unimpressed sentiments. It wasn’t until I spent time “living the coastal lifestyle” that I fell so hard for this under-represented area of our state. With summer drawing near, I’d like to provide a glimpse of why I love the coast so much in hopes of inspiring a summer trip (or two, or three, etc.).
Things to see:
The Historic Strand (Galveston, TX)
Galveston gets a lot of flak…especially as far as Texas beaches go. I know, I know…it’s water is dirty, the drive is a disaster, and the beaches are covered in sea weed. But, even if you accept all that at face value (which I’m not sure is wise,) there is still more to see. Galveston is a treasure trove of history. The oldtown main street, called “the Strand,” is quite the divergence from typical Galveston stereotypes and expectations. The streets are lined with quaint, historic shops offering a plethora of goods from old-timey candy to restaurants to souvenir shops to coffee shops. The atmosphere seems to hold almost a New Orleans vibe…think classy history with the beach less than a mile away. The charm of the district is only enhanced by brick-lined streets and turn-of-the-century architecture. The history is as rich as the sight-seeing options nearby. While there, don’t forget to take in the Hotel Galvez which was built in 1911 and was instrumental in helping the island tourism rebound following the devastating hurricane of 1900. Live music and tasty seafood are never hard to find.
South Texas Botanical Gardens (Corpus Christi, TX)
If you’re a plant or animal nerd on any level or just love to take in beauty, make a trip to the South Texas Botanical Gardens. The grounds offer an assortment of tropical plants, exotic animals, pristine rose gardens, native plant trails, and more. There is so much to see and so much to learn. They have entire greenhouses devoted to orchids and related plants; these are breathtakingly beautiful. Their collection of critters includes tortoises, parrots, and iguanas. Depending on the season, pollinators can also be on full display. They even offer a college discount for admissions, so be sure to take your id!
Corpus Christi Harbor Lighting
While this doesn’t happen until December (date tbd), this event will always be one of my favorite things. It is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. Take a trip to the marina in Corpus to watch the boats strut by in their full Christmas regalia. Lights of all colors adorn the boats, their sails, and rigging. Each one is unique and all are dazzlingly beautiful. Although there are hundreds of people who attend the event, it is still possible to find a less-crowded vantage point from which to take it in.
Port Aransas in general
If you’ve never been to Port Aransas, you should look into changing that. Port Aransas is the quaintest beach town on the Texas coast in my humble opinion. Especially during off-season, the streets are quiet, yet still bouncing. It has all the typical tourist shops, but also high-quality restaurants and lovely beaches. Everything from the sailor “totem poles” at the Islander to the shark hanging from the porch of Moby Dick’s restaurant adds to the Texas tiki vibe which the town celebrates in laid-back style. Additionally, the sand dunes here are impeccable ecological wonders!
Things to do:
Fish the north jetty (Port Aransas, TX)
Sorry, I’m still stuck on Port Aransas. While you’re there checking out the town, don’t forget to hit the jetty for some grade-A fishing if that’s your thing. Fishing the jetty is exciting because you never know what you’re going to pull in. The jetties are piles of granite rocks that extend out into the ocean and protect the island’s canals. They serve a similar role to artificial reefs, and as such, you can glimpse sea anemones, crabs, and sea urchins in between the rocks. Even if fishing isn’t your thing, taking a walk on the jetty can be a soothing way to watch dolphins and turtles frolic in their natural habitat.
Have a bonfire
Bonfires are tops on the things I miss in my life since moving to College Station. There is nothing like gathering with a group of your friends to build and enjoy a bonfire on the beach. Campfires just have a way to bring people together and create a feeling of closeness. Even in the summer, the warmth of the fires can become appreciated as the windy night air sets in. Bring a volleyball and s’mores for what I consider to be a perfect gathering. Be sure to check on the regulations of the specific beach you’re considering as not all allow fires.
Watch a sunset on the South Texas Coast
Many people seem to think that the sunsets in College Station are as good as they come. I beg to differ. The rich colors that the coastal air produces in combination with the sandy setting puts sunsets on the South Texas Coast at the top of my list. Sitting on a sand dune to watch the sun go down can’t be replaced by any other experience. The consistent sound of the waves reminds us to slow down…to exhale…to take it in.
Kayak the lagoons
Kayaking through the mangrove and heron-ruled lagoons on the coast is like glimpsing into a different world. Kayaking allows us to reach into the corners of the coast less frequented by other humans; to see nature proceeding on its own schedule and its own volition. Back amongst the mangroves, you can see the water birds resting, fishing, and dabbling. The crabs scurry about their empires. Isolated from the open ocean by land, the waves churn more gently. Without paddling very far into the maze of islands and estuaries, you can feel a soothing separation from the pressures and busyness of the rest of the world. It is one of my favorite places to just stop and listen. Listen to the birds talking amongst themselves….to the waves on the tangled mangroves, on the side of your boat…and to the quiet. This is beautiful, refreshing solitude. I would recommend planning your trip a bit using an aerial imagery map (like this one: http://www.stxmaps.com/go/mustang-island-paddling-trail.html
) to ensure that you can find your way back to your vehicle.
Why its overall just a lovely place…
When I began my undergraduate career down by the coast, I never would have expected how quickly and deeply the salt water would start running in my veins. Now, I look forward to the time when I can move back towards the coast. It’s a weird sensation when you start feeling homesick for a place you never thought would feel like home.
The Texas Gulf Coast is filled with diversity of all kinds. Whether your interest is music, wine bars, fishing, history, or just plain relaxation, the coast has something for you. An added bonus is that visiting these locations will support local communities all affected by Harvey. Many of the communities have made great progress at repairing and rebuilding, but there is a long way to go. Help them rebuild while broadening your Texas horizons...visit the Texas Gulf Coast.
Heather is a masters candidate in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.