How do you spend a single day exploring one of the largest cities in the United States? Simple, you pick one part and stick to it. I decided to spend my day exploring “Bay Area Houston,” part of the southeast Houston area nestled against the waters of Galveston Bay.
In summer, the Gulf of Mexico turns a vibrant blue-green at South Padre Island. On the shoreline, squealing children splash each other alongside hand-holding couples, and surfers tug their boards out to catch a wave.
I’ve always loved Galveston, and now I have a local connection. My boyfriend’s grandmother, Alba Collins, grew up in a tiny house underneath the island’s first wooden rollercoaster in the 1930s. And we visit her every so often, spending sunny, summer weekends soaking our toes in the Gulf waters as we listen to her stories about Galveston in earlier days.
Living within minutes of Galveston gives our family easy beach access, so until recently I’ve neglected to show my children the rest of the Texas coast. I decide to remedy this shortcoming with a trip to Corpus Christi, where the kids—Caleb (8), Madi (5), and Esther (1)— and I find far more family fun than just playing on the beach.
Childhood summer vacations spent on the sand at Port Aransas passed far too quickly. Even though my sisters and I would collapse from exhaustion at the end of long, hot days romping in the waves, we’d nevertheless complain mightily when Mom knew we’d had too much sun and insisted we go inside the screened-in porch of our beach cottage to play Monopoly.
When a friend of mine in Houston bought a getaway house in Bacliff, on the western shore of Galveston Bay a few years ago, I scratched my head in puzzlement. If you want an escape, I asked him, why not seek out a place in the Hill Country? Why not a cabin in the cool New Mexico mountains?
In the 19th Century, tragedies washed over Galveston as regularly as the tides: deadly fires, yellow-fever epidemics, and hurricanes. Anecdotally, this legacy of destruction left Galveston one of the nation’s most haunted cities. Even for travelers without a taste for the macabre, the wide range of said-to-be-haunted sites offers a fascinating glimpse into Galveston’s colorful past. In fact, I’ve come to the Island to learn more about local history, largely by looking for ghosts.
Texas is well known for its large concentrations of birds, butterflies, Mexican free-tailed bats, and more, and a lot of travelers come to see them. Spring and fall bird migrations are phenomenal, with great birding spectacles occurring throughout the state. Most notable are the migrations of warblers and shorebirds and the great congregations of waterfowl and raptors. But a wildlife spectacle in miniature has captured the fascination of many people who ordinarily would not consider themselves birdwatchers. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird delivers an economic punch to a community on the central Texas coast in an otherwise ordinarily slow tourist season and also brings pleasure and delight to thousands of people who show up to watch.
Driving east on Interstate 10 from Houston, you might not realize that a vast, verdant coastal prairie—replete with throngs of wildlife, birds, and history—quietly beckons just off the concrete. Do yourself a favor and pull off I-10 at Wallisville (halfway between Houston and Beaumont) and visit Wallisville Heritage Park, a living history museum that offers an intriguing portal into the rich realm of Chambers County.
I’ve long been a fan of small-town Fourth of July celebrations. There’s a sense of community and camaraderie, plus plenty of elbow room. Food and music reflect local tastes and customs. Parking is usually plentiful and free—not a small consideration to us big-city dwellers.
Until the mid-1990s, the unpretentious, somewhat funky community of Kemah (pop. 1,200-plus) slumbered along year-to-year, storm-to-storm, on the west shore of Galveston Bay.
Legend holds that, centuries ago, as Spanish sailors explored an inlet of Matagorda Bay, they beheld a mirage of three palaces, shimmering on the shore. The mariners named the inlet for their New World apparition, and Tres Palacios Bay it remains today. Early in this century, when a bayside town sprang up, postal authorities lopped off two palaces and left the burg to prosper as Palacios.