My annual summer vacations to Port Aransas consist of two things: beach-bumming and restaurant-hopping, and I’m not sure which I look forward to more.
I’m at the “coolest honky tonk on the Texas Riviera,” so claims the large, plywood sign outside. Having passed by many times, this is my first visit to the Salty Dog Saloon, a laid-back bar on Port Aransas’ main drag.
We used to call Port Aransas a sleepy fishing village.
Last fall, we asked Texas Highways readers to share their favorite places in the state for our Texas Top-40 Travel Destinations. And share you did—by phone, email, Facebook, and through many amazingly detailed letters. Thousands of TH readers helped to shape the final list, which we will divulge throughout 2014, Texas Highways’ 40th-anniversary year.
If my husband, John, buys a gadget, he’s going to use it. Trust me. All the more if the gadget has to do with the outdoors. When the first GPSr (global position system receiver) device entered our home in 2006, I admit that I eyed the gizmo with skepticism, wondering if it would add to general travel claptrap. But the device won me over the first time we used it as a family. On a chilly December vacation to snowy Minnesota, John proposed an outdoor geocaching treasure hunt along a nature trail near his sister’s home. Of course the adults were game. But, the techno-intrigue even pried my sister-in-law’s teenage boys away from various screens and all-day vacation slumber. Our Texas girls—who don’t exactly cotton to cold weather—hiked for more than an hour deciphering clues on the GPS and uncovering the caches with their cousins.
Every Texas town has its distinctive qualities and attractions—just ask the locals. Given the more than 2,000 small towns that populate this vast state, that makes for a lifetime of worthwhile country drives, courthouse square cafés, and quirky local history museums. That’s why we turned to Texas Highways readers to help identify our state’s “coolest small towns.” We had a blast fielding the nominations, which came in from all across the state. Considering the “small” stipulation, we set a population limit of about 10,000, although that meant some popular nominees weren’t included. We believe these small towns reflect the essence of Texas—from peaceful porch swings to sprawling oak trees, chicken-fried steak, and six-man football—and we invite you to join us as we explore their charms.
A cook-off competitor fries up his best chicken-fried steaks in Lamesa.
The West Texas town of Lamesa, about 60 miles south of Lubbock,serves up its annual Chicken-Fried Steak Festival this weekend in celebration ofÂ the townâ€™s claim as the birthplace of the Texas delicacy. According to local legend, short-order cook James Donald Perkins accidentally made the first dish of its kind in 1911 when he misinterpreted an order for chicken and fried steak at a small restaurant called Ethel's Home Cooking. Instead of making two separate items, he thought the customer wanted a steak battered andÂ fried like a chickenâ€”and what a delicious mistake it turned out to be.
The arrival of summer inspires mixed emotions in Texas. There’s no getting around the heat of our most extreme season, a months-long series of blistering days that test the endurance of even the proudest and most stoic among us. But it’s the high summer temperatures—along with late sunsets, school vacations, and a blessed number of swimming holes—that also make the season special. For generations, Texans have embraced the summer not because it’s inevitable, but rather because it’s packed with opportunities for recreation, travel, and fun. It’s in that resilient spirit that we scoured the state to bring you our list of unbeatable activities to shunt the summertime blues and enjoy your best summer ever.
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.
For the sheer joy of blissful relaxation, I award the Peace Prize to Port Aransas. As much as the town has grown in recent years, there's still plenty of nothing to do. Our annual family trips (often during the uncrowded month of October) consist of delightfully dull Gulfside activities: beachcombing at sunrise, fishing near the ferry landing, devouring palm-sized fried shrimp (The Wharf gets my vote for the Island's best), and watching my kid dig at ocean's edge in the biggest sandbox ever. We always make a point to stop at the Art Center for the Island's gallery (how are we going to squeeze that painting and the boogie boards in the back of the car?). And we somehow never tire of browsing those surf shops fronted by giant shark heads.