Beachable Reaches: 5 Perennial Gulf Coast Go-tos

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As Texans, we’re pretty used to having our own everything here (except perhaps for a sane state government). It allows us to continue mythologizing ourselves into true rugged individuals, the only state that really has it all. Mountains? Check out the Chisos or the Davis. Forests? Dig the Davy Crockett National Forest or the Big Thicket National Preserve or pretty much everything north and east of Houston. Lakes and rivers? Too numerous to mention. Plus, our state park game is on point – we’ve got Big Bend, a national park in the southwest that’s bigger than Rhode Island for cryin’ out loud. Even the deserts are gorgeous here (shout out to Marfa, reppin’ the Chihuahuan).

One thing Texas has that not every state can claim is a coastline. And not just any coastline; one that’s 367 miles long and boasts temperate waters and mild surfs. Here in the city, as a rainy and comparatively cool late-spring/early-summer transitions into the full onslaught of the sun’s fury, it’s not a bit odd that we find ourselves daydreaming of that coastline with increasing frequency. If, like us, you’re considering making a break for the Texas coast this season, here are our top five, sure-thing destinations (listed in order from north to south, so you can calibrate for desired length of trek). With any of these five, though they may not sate your obscurity-obsessed hipster side, you can set your sails with peace of mind, knowing that you’re getting the quintessential Texas beach experience. 

Galveston

Galveston Island, along with Galveston Bay and environs, is just a quick hour away from Houston, making it perhaps the least rural of the five coastal destinations covered here. Still, Galveston boasts more than 30 miles of open (and mildly trashed on occasion) beaches, though most will require a small entrance/parking fee. Especially for those with kids, Galveston has the added bonus of its own Schlitterbahn Waterpark, a merciful option if you tire of cleaning up mountains of mucky sand after beach trips. A favorite attraction, perhaps the attraction in Galveston, is the Seawall, topped with an impressive 10.3-mile sidewalk that runs adjacent to Seawall Boulevard, a shopping, sightseeing, walking and biking hub.

What/where to eat/drink: The Seawall features many options in terms of bars and restaurants, including longtime favorite The Spot, for burgers and seafood, and Miller’s Seawall Grill, for a more specifically coastal vibe and fare. What’s nearby: Satisfy your rustic/natural desires with less than an hour’s drive to Brazoria National Wildlife Reserve for wildlife watching, hiking, hunting, fishing and a chance at some sweet photography.  

Rockport

With a smattering of independent shops and boutiques (located mostly downtown), plenty of great dining options, the often pristine Rockport Beach Park, and beachy dive bars aplenty, Rockport, considered one of the more romantic spots on the Texas Gulf Coast, is always popular. For those who love walking and gazing, aimlessly in awe at the ocean’s expanse, the 1,500-foot jetty pier at the end of Rockport Harbor is ideal, especially when it’s lit up at night. For a break from the sun, check out the Texas Maritime Museum and the Rockport Center for the Arts, and get yourself some culture to counteract the numbing effects of heat fatigue.

What/where to eat/drink: Celebrated Rockport eatery Glow is the best place to go in town for fine dining. The joint does a great job preparing seasonal local seafood and Texas game in a rustic yet refined environment. They’ve got a great wine list and other booze to boot. What’s nearby: For a taste of nautical adventure, hit up one of the many tour companies, like Whooping Crane Tours, for fishing or sightseeing out on Copano Bay or in the bird-filled shallows around the Rockport-Fulton area.


Corpus Christi
 

Say what you will, but for many the best reason to go to Corpus Christi is to go on a Selena pilgrimage. The birthplace of the Queen of Tejano, Corpus Christi is still home to much of Selena’s family and boasts the Selena Museum, where you can see and weep over all manner of artifacts from her too-short life and career. Pro tip: don’t hang out too long in the area around the museum. From there, you can head to the impressive Seawall Boardwalk and check out the Mirador de La Flor, a statue/memorial area dedicated to Selena. Also in Corpus, aside from most things you’d expect in a city of over 300,000 people and most of the typical beach-y activities, check out the surprisingly rad (inside and out) Art Museum of South Texas.

What/where to eat/drink: The original Whataburger is in Corpus Christi (just sayin’). Andy’s Kitchen and Snoopy’s Pier are other local favorites that you can’t get down the street from your house in San Anto. What’s nearby: Check out the U.S.S. Lexington and Mustang Island State Park.

Port Aransas 

Port A, as it’s called by those who love it, is perhaps the most complete destination on this list. The laid-back, quirky/hippie vibe of the place belies the extremely good fishing and water sports that the area also offers. With kitschy beach-styled shopping aplenty, a grocery store that always has beers on special (Family Center IGA), huge stretches of relatively clean and uncrowded beaches, and a multitude of solid dining options, Port Aransas has something for everyone: including but not limited to surfing, fishing, sea kayaking, birding, and visiting the free University of Texas’ Marine Science Institute aquarium. While many visitors to Port A choose to stay awhile and rent condos or houses, through lodging rental establishments like Beachcomber, there are substantial hotel options available as well, though often not as close to the water.

What/where to eat/drink: Port A Pizzeria has nursed many hungover beachgoers back to life with its serene slices. Shells, while not as laid-back as the rest of the island, offers perhaps the best upscale dining in town. Avery’s Kitchen, which you’ll see shortly after you get off the ferry, is your best bet for casual local fare, including amazing seafood options, sandwiches, a breakfast buffet, and the best shrimp omelet you’ll ever eat. They’re also BYOB. Speaking of drinking … You’ll want to visit the island’s answer to Beer n’ All, a decidedly over-the-top walk-up booze dispensary with surprisingly great bloody marys.

What’s nearby: When staying in Port A, Corpus Christi is just 45 minutes away and, with its comparatively big-city feel, makes for a nice change of pace if you tire (how could you?) of sleepy island life.


South Padre Island

This particular destination is easily the best known spot on the Gulf Coast. For a long while now, the place has had a reputation as one of the top party beaches in the country (see: MTV Spring Break). And though you can get your party on with particular ease in South Padre, that’s not all there is to it, especially if you’re not there during Spring Break. Most importantly, South Padre offers the most pristine beaches in Texas; sprawling, dune-laden, soft and clean. It’s also worth noting that Isla Blanca Park is a top surfing destination in Texas and a swell spot to hang out, even if you aren’t into hanging ten. The only downside to South Padre, aside from it being the farthest drive from SA, is the comparative costliness of the lodging (and everything else).

What/where to eat/drink: Blackbeard’s, a South Padre institution for more than 35 years, is the best place in town to get seafood prepared just about any way you can imagine it. Clayton’s Beach Bar and Padre Island Brewing Company are just a few great options out of many for wetting your whistle. What’s nearby: Mexico anyone?


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