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Written by Texas Highways

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.

A pile of barbecued crab on a table

Barbecued crab, a coastal delicacy born in a tiny corner of Southeast Texas, is tender, juicy, and laced with spice. This misnamed meal isn’t barbecue, though, which I realized some years ago when my friend Carolyn invited me home from college to visit her family in Beaumont, promising we’d eat something not found anywhere else.

Outside store front of Galveston's Star Drug

Customers once came to the Star Drug Store for their medicinal needs, but today they come for a different kind of pick-me-up: meals and merchandise. For more than a century, the Star has been a fixture in Galveston’s historic downtown. A glowing neon-lit Coca-Cola sign shines like a beacon above its sidewalk awning on 23rd Street, a few blocks south of the Strand, the island’s main commercial artery. This vintage porcelain sign, which dates from the late 1940s, is said to be one of the last of its kind.

Outside the Laredo Water Museum

What do I look like?” my 5-year-old daughter, Ana, asked when she emerged from her bedroom dressed in blue stretch pants and a sparkly violet T-shirt. I shrugged my shoulders, and she crinkled her brow in disapproval at her father’s lack of with-it-ness. “I’m a water droplet!” she proclaimed. “Now let’s go to the water museum.” 

Horseback riding on the beach

I get my first clear view of South Padre Island from the summit of the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway. At 85 feet above Laguna Madre, the bridge reveals the island stretching majestically on a north-south line, like a thin ribbon of sand floating in a cobalt sea.

Sunset in Rockport

Our annual Coastal Issue is different than the one we had in mind when we began planning it last summer. The impact of Hurricane Harvey on coastal communities was so severe it left many people uncertain about the coming tourism season. In many of these small towns, tourism is the primary industry and vital to their recovery. We quickly realized one way we could help: spreading the word that beloved destinations like Port Aransas and Rockport-Fulton are ready for visitors.

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