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Texas Gulf Coast (Corpus Christi, Galveston, Padre Island)

Great Destination:

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • The Texas oil industry started with the 1901 strike at the Spindletop oilfield at Beaumont.
  • Galveston’s first known European settler was a pirate, Jean Laffite, who started a colony in 1817.
  • Padre Island boasts the world’s longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island (70 miles).
  • After its deadly 1900 hurricane, Galveston raised the city level by eight feet, and 17 feet at the Seawall.
  • Padre Island is really two islands because the manmade Port Mansfield Channel split it in two.

Of beaches and birds

The Texas Gulf Coast extends for more than 600 miles from the state’s borders with Louisiana and Mexico. Most of that length comes with paper-thin barrier islands and their miles of sandy beaches.

The city of Galveston sits on Galveston Island. A 1900 hurricane destroyed one-third of the city and killed 6,000, nearly one in six residents, America’s deadliest natural disaster. Fast-forward to a late-20th century revitalization, which included a restored historic district — and a revived Mardi Gras.

Padre Island, the longest island at 113 miles, reaches north from the Mexican border to a point across the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway from Corpus Christi on the mainland. Padre Island National Seashore occupies much of the island while, at its southern end, the town of South Padre Island is a popular resort.

Corpus Christi is the other coastal city, besides Galveston, offering entertainment, festivals, restaurants and shops to supplement a visitor’s purely outdoor pursuits.

The coast’s beaches go hand in hand with a raft of diversions for the holiday maker, ranging from beachcombing and sunbathing to a full menu of water sports for the most active of travelers.

This particular beach scene is also known for its wildlife — in particular, birds and sea turtles for watching and fish for catching. Eight national wildlife refuges supplement the national seashore with protected places for the animals, especially birds.

Birding spots dot the coast, but more than 380 species of birds have been found at the national seashore, representing nearly half all species documented in North America. Further, the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail extends for 2,110 miles.

All five Gulf of Mexico sea turtle species have been seen to nest on Padre Island, and there are opportunities to watch hatchlings make their first entry into the Gulf of Mexico from the island.

As for fishing, anglers have their choice, from tossing their line at a beach or off a pier, to fishing from a kayak or from a vessel considerably larger and motorized. The more serious have countless options for entering fishing tournaments, including the Deep Sea Roundup and the State of Texas Anglers’ Rodeo.

Things to do for Venturers

  • If an ambitious birder, build a trip around part or all of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. It is America’s longest at 2,110 miles and encompasses 310 birding sites.
  • Warm up in winter: Attend Mardi Gras! Galveston.
  • Go mad over your options for water sports: jet skiing, kiteboarding, kite surfing, parasailing, sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing. Or, try flyboarding at Corpus Christi or South Padre Island — jets of water propel you and the board you stand on into the air.
  • Also at Corpus Christi or South Padre Island, go horseback riding on the beaches. Camp on the beaches up and down the coast, too.
  • Or party on the beach. Galveston offers East Beach from March to mid-November. Equipped with a boardwalk, concert stage and outdoor bar for one of the few beaches allowing alcohol, it’s known for its concerts, festivals and annual sandcastle competition — and there is room for bird-watching and fishing, too.
  • Try kayak fishing in Corpus Christi. If adept or lucky, consider competing in the Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament in late summer.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Concentrate your bird-watching to a specific area, such as the Padre Island National Seashore or even around one of the cities. Corpus Christi calls itself “the birdiest city in America.” In Galveston, pick up a guide to the best birding sites around the island.
  • Sign on for a deep-sea fishing excursion at Corpus Christi, Galveston or South Padre Island.
  • At Padre Island National Seashore, watch newly hatched sea turtles make their way into the Gulf of Mexico. Ditto, in South Padre Island. Also, visitors to the beaches are urged to report sightings of stranded turtles at (956) 761-4511 in South Padre Island.
  • In Corpus Christi, walk the decks of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, which in World War II sank or destroyed 300,000 tons of enemy cargo in the Pacific theater.
  • Stroll from gallery to gallery during one of Galveston’s ArtWalks, held every six to eight weeks. And, attend theater at Island ETC, the city’s only professional repertory theater company. Or, make that a performance at the 1894 Grand, the city’s historic opera house.
  • Tour the 825,000-acre King Ranch, part of which abuts the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Larger than Rhode Island, it has 2,000-plus miles of fencing. Entry is at Kingsville. In the spring, attend the rodeo in Corpus Christi, too.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Attend the Whooping Crane Festival in February in Port Aransas. A migrating flock of the endangered cranes returns to Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Austwell each winter.
  • License in hand, fish from the pier at Galveston’s Pelican Island. Or, take pier fishing further by competing in one of the occasional tournaments at Corpus Christi’s Red Dot Pier, Oso Pier or the JFK Causeway.
  • Relax as you wish: Play golf, lie on the beach, book a massage, eat fresh-caught seafood. Or, to the latter option, find a restaurant to prepare a meal from fish you have caught.
  • Take a dolphin watching sightseeing cruise. Also, on South Padre Island, enjoy interactive sessions with dolphins and other aquatic wildlife at the Dolphin and Nature Research Center.
  • Walk Galveston’s 70-block Historic Downtown Strand District, then head to the Texas Seaport Museum and board the 1877 tall ship Elissa. To enrich the history lesson, add the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum.
  • For the complete story of Galveston’s devastating 1900 hurricane, see the film, “The Great Storm,” shown daily at Pier 21 Theatre in the city’s Strand neighborhood.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Texas Tourism at www.traveltex.com