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Written by Texas Highways

A pier on the coast in Rockport

Along the Texas coast, telltale signs of past storms endure in the occasional skeletal remains of piers jutting into the Gulf and bays.

Kids running on the beach on St. Jo

When Hurricane Harvey struck last summer, it made landfall on San José Island, a coastal retreat where U.S. presidents have come to fish and fundraise, and everything but a broad and empty beach is owned by a family of billionaires.

 Mattress Mack illustration

Jim McIngvale moved to Houston in 1981 with $5,000 and a dream to build a furniture empire. Within a few years, the founder of Gallery Furniture had become a local household name as “Mattress Mack,” the pitchman featured in the retailer’s zany low-budget commercials.

Chet Garner on the beach on North Padre Island

Few know that the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world is just beyond Corpus Christi. And while its southern counterpart may get more attention, North Padre Island provides the perfect mix of fun and middle-of-nowhere abandon. I followed the sun in search of a little bit of both.

Coastal Comeback

We’ve been tested time and again, from despotism to depressions, oil busts to dust bowls—and now by Hurricane Harvey. But as in past trials, Texans have found a way to turn obstacles into opportunity and seize the chance for renewal. Consider Lee Roy Hoskins, owner of Port Aransas’ venerable Tarpon Inn, who labored for months to rebuild after the hurricane. “We had a lot of things we needed to work on anyway,” Hoskins says with a smile.

Illustration of destinations along the Texas Coast

The Texas Gulf Coast, where the North American continent descends into the Gulf of Mexico’s salty waters, harbors a steamy mix of marshes, bays, beaches, and ocean. Over the years, scientific institutions and conservation groups gravitated to this rich environment to establish laboratories, preserves, rescues, and aquariums dedicated to studying and protecting its diversity of life. We know most travelers escape to the coast to while away time on the beach, but we also know that such experiences take on greater meaning with a little educational insight. Here we’ve put together a science-by-the-sea road trip—a syllabus for discovering the most scintillating of salty facts.

ROCKPORT RISING

Checking into The Inn at Fulton Harbor near Rockport, a cheerful blond woman has brought a basket of cookies to share with the other guests. She turns to me and my husband, who are in line behind her, and offers some to us. Cut in the shape of Texas, each cookie is iced in bright blue and artfully emblazoned with white letters that spell “Rockport Strong.”

The Show must go on

Harvey struck when Houston’s world-class arts scene was gearing up for a new season, devastating venues and upending plans. But creativity and courage go hand in hand: “This city came together in a way I’ve never seen,” says Eileen J. Morris, artistic director of the Ensemble Theatre.

AN IMMOVABLE FEAST

Ask Houstonians what they love about their city, and they’re bound to bring up its first-rate dining scene. Houston’s culinary offerings have been strong for a while but never more so than in recent years, with high-profile restaurants capturing attention on a national stage and the number of eateries in the Houston metro area swelling to a record of more than 12,000 featuring cuisines from about 75 countries.

Texas Highways Special Report: Port Aransas

Anticipation grows as you roll down the window and drive onto the Port Aransas ferry to cross the narrow channel to Mustang Island. Salty air invades the senses, and sunrays glint on the shifting waters where dolphins play. As you disembark into the heart of this historic fishing town, brown pelicans skim the water for dinner or perch on weathered piers. Fishing boats rock gently in the harbor, rigged for their work in nearby bays or the open ocean.

A busy taproom at 8th Wonder Brewing

On a mercifully cool Friday evening in the acre-size backyard of Houston’s 8th Wonder Brewery, the post-workweek crowd streams in, ready to cut loose.

Outside entrance to GLOW

When evacuees Karey and David Swartwout returned to Rockport in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, they assumed their old boathouse-turned-restaurant would be part of the devastation they’d been watching on TV. Driving down Broadway for the first time post-Harvey was “very disorienting,” Karey said, “because so many landmarks and buildings were just gone.” She took a deep breath when the car reached the 1800 block and then exhaled in relief when, at the end of the long driveway, she saw a magnificent GLOW: Their little seafood restaurant was still standing. The costly wall reinforcement materials required to pass code before opening in 2011 turned out to be well worth the red tape. The restaurant was back in business as soon as power was restored a couple of weeks later.

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