West Galveston Bay’s Shore-Hugging Towns—La Porte, Seabrook, Kemah, San Leon, and Texas City—offer hidden treasures and unexpected pleasures
By John T. Davis
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?
Galveston Bay has no sugar-white beaches or azure surf. It’s a busy, blue-collar workplace where shrimpers and oystermen ply shallow, murky waters pocked by rusty oil and natural gas platforms and cargo-laden freighters run up and down the Houston Ship Channel in an unceasing procession.
But my amigo pointed out that he could leave his home near Rice University and in 45 minutes, be sitting barefoot with a glass of rum-and-something, looking out at the ever-changing panorama of sky and water and feeling the cares of the day slipping away.
And there is, I came to discover, a certain hardscrabble charm to the stretch of coast on the western edge of Galveston Bay, roughly between La Porte and Texas City. When my friend lost his place to Hurricane Ike in 2008 and chose to rebuild in the same spot, it made perfect sense to me.
Many attractions lie nearby: NASA, the beaches of Galveston, the San Jacinto battlefield, and, of course, the myriad urban temptations of Houston itself. But within the small arc of shore-hugging towns—La Porte, Seabrook, Kemah, San Leon, and Texas City—hidden treasures and small pleasures await.
The massive Port of Houston complex dominates La Porte, a no-nonsense industrial town. The salient features of the skyline are the huge cranes used for loading and unloading cargo containers on ships from a hundred ports of call. The futuristic span of the Fred Hartman Bridge gleams in the distance. Texas history buffs can drive down Bayridge Road and gawk at the hulking, two-story, 1927 Gatsby-esque mansion built for oil executive (and future Texas governor) Ross Sterling, and anglers can launch a boat or wet a line at Sylvan Beach.
Almost obscured by the port facility, the tiny community cemetery of Morgan’s Point contains a plaque with background on “Emily Morgan,” the woman celebrated as “The Yellow Rose of Texas” for supposedly providing a timely romantic distraction to General Santa Anna during the run-up to the Battle of San Jacinto. (The battlefield itself is scarcely a 10K jog from Morgan’s Point and La Porte.)
From the June 2012 issue.