Nearly the entire Texas coastline along the Gulf of Mexico is made up of long, narrow barrier islands with amazing stretches of inviting, unspoiled beaches, and action-packed communities featuring fine food, plenty of nightlife, and even extreme sports.
The history of the Texas coastline centers around Galveston; its protected bay has attracted sailors of all sorts for centuries. It became a base for the pirate Louis-Michel Aury in 1816, but he was soon double-crossed and replaced by Jean Lafitte. Lafitte developed a colony that he named Campeche and operated a small pirate fleet out of the port until 1821. That’s when the United States Navy ran him off, helping the newly liberated Mexican government officially establish The Port of Galveston. Mexican rule was short lived however, as The Republic of Texas broke away in 1836 and used Galveston as their major naval base. It was even briefly the capital of the new republic, but when Texas joined the Union the U.S. Navy took over this important strategic spot.
Along with its pirating past, Galveston has preserved many of the island's Victorian buildings and homes in the Strand Historic District. The district is also home to several museums and hosts the annual Mardi Gras celebration, the biggest in Texas.
Hurricanes have had a major impact on the island - the storm of 1900 still ranks as America's deadliest natural disaster. After the devastation ten miles of seawall was built to protect the city, and subsequent storm damage — while significant — has been much less catastrophic. The crashing waves, soaring birds, and spectacular views of the gulf make for a fantastic walk along the wall.
This is the “real” Texas coast, off-the-beaten-path, rough-and-rugged, and full of food, fun, and sun. A good part of the island is a State Park, so the shoreline is undeveloped and free from the hustle and bustle of the tourist areas. The hard-packed beaches are so solid that cars and RVs can share the beach with fisher-people and seaside frolickers. Bicycles can ride right along the water's edge, even in the water at times.
For a real treat, plan your escape in March when the weather is phenomenal and the nearby town of Fulton comes alive for the Annual Oysterfest. Here the streets are literally paved with oyster shells. But oyster lovers don't have to miss out during the rest of the year, pick any water-side restaurant; there are plenty of the fresh delicacies to go around.
Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge
For untouched, unmatched, and protected natural beauty, Matagorda is the place. The island supports at least nineteen threatened or endangered species, plus white-tailed deer, alligators and numerous migratory birds. Take the ferry over for fantastic hiking, biking, fishing, birding, picnicking, or primitive camping. Be sure to check out the lighthouse on the north end of the island that dates back to before the Civil War.
North & South Padre Island
These two islands were actually one big one before the Port Mansfield Channel split Padre Island in two. In fact it had been the world's longest barrier island, spanning over one hundred miles, and the second largest island in the contiguous United States.
Now South Padre Island is home to the pristine Padre Island National Seashore, yet offers almost every water-related activity imaginable. Whether it’s soaring through the air parasailing or kite surfing, or diving, either in the sky or under the sea, every adventurous spirit can find excitement. With so much to explore, who knows, maybe some pirate treasure is still waiting to be discovered.
Where would you start your Texas adventure?