Friday, December 5, 2014

Texas Coastline Roadtrip


I usually start planning my family's annual roadtrip style vacation about 6 months in advance.  But in 2014, for various reasons, I didn't start planning it until about a month before the vacation.  We didn't know that my husband's vacation time would be in November until about August, and then it wasn't until early in October that we decided where to go.  We figured we had the best chance of having good weather on our November vacation if we headed south to the Texas Coastline.  

With less than a month to plan our trip I started scouring my free copies of the Texas State Travel Guide and Map.  I made lists of the places I wanted to visit.  I visited websites for the places that sounded interesting. I made more lists of the places that fit our limited budget.  I reserved five campsites and one hotel room.  And I hoped for good weather.  

I worried that our vacation would suffer from the limited amount of time I spent planning it.  Instead it turned out to be our best vacation ever - and that is saying a lot. 

We traveled a total of 1441 miles over 7 days.  I don't have an exact total amount of money that we spent on our vacation, but I know it was under $1,000 including food and gas.   Oh and we had our four children ages 4 and under along for the fun.  

If you are looking for ideas of fun and inexpensive things to do and see along the Texas Coastline, then this post is for you.  I've written a post about each of the locations we visited.  Click on the name of the place to be taken to the post with all the details. 

Port Isabel/South Padre Island Area
Places we visited

Port Isabel Light House
This is the only historical lighthouse in Texas that is open to the public. It is only 50 feet tall and stands on a small knoll. Despite it's small size it is a charming place to visit.









Port Isabel Park Center RV Park and Campground
This RV park has as grassy area set aside for people who like to camp in tents instead of trailers. The park is located a less than a mile from the historic area of Port Isabel, and is a short drive from South Padre Island.





South Padre Island Beaches
South Padre Island beaches are famous for their white sands and clear blue ocean water. What's not so well known is that most of the beaches are free. The beaches that do charge an entrance fee are only $5.00. If you are looking for an inexpensive vacation destination it really doesn't get any better than a trip to the beach.




Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site - Brownsville
This grassy prairie is where the first battle of the US-Mexican War was fought in May of 1846. Today you can walk along interpretive trails and view the location of various parts of the battle.







Places we could have visited if we had more time
(Click on the link and then scroll down to the "Places Nearby" section.)

Port Isabel Historical Museum - Port Isabel
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge - North of Port Isabel
Ilsa Blanca Park - South Padre Island

Corpus Christi Area
Places we visited
Corpus Christi Harbor Bridge
This bridge rises to a height of 243 feet above the shipping channel of Corpus Christi. The clearance under the bridge is 138 feet. There are a total of six lanes of traffic that cross the bridge. If you are brave you can cross the bridge using the pedestrian walkway that is squeezed in alongside the guard rail.




North Beach
The North Beach area of Corpus Christi is a small section of land between the Corpus Christi Shipping Channel and Nueces Bay. It is connected to Downtown Corpus Christi by the Harbor Bridge. Waves from Corpus Christi Bay wash onto the seaweed free beach. Picnic tables are anchored in the coarse sand. A sidewalk runs the length of the two mile long beach and connects restaurants, hotels, vacation homes, and stores to landmarks like the USS Lexington Aircraft Carrier and the Texas State Aquarium.

Mustang Island State Park
Mustang Island is one of the barrier islands between Corpus Christi and the Gulf of Mexico. The beach at this state park is a haven for visitors who want to see the undisturbed version of the Texas Coastline without driving too far from civilization.





Port Aransis Ferry
Texas Highway 361 uses an unusual feature to connect Port Aransas to the mainland. Ferry boats that can hold up to 20 vehicles work to carry passengers across the Corpus Christ Channel. The short ride across the channel is provided for free. It's a fun way to enjoy a ride on the water without paying any money.





Places we could have visited if we had more time
(Click on the link and then scroll down to the "Places Nearby" section.)

USS Lexington Aircraft Carrier
McGee Beach
Cole Park
Corpus Christi Navel Air Station and Corpus Christi Army Depot
Port Aransas Beach

Rockport Area
Places we visited

Goose Island State Park
Unlike the most of the other beaches in Texas, the beaches around Rockport, Texas have rocky shores. Goose Island State Park is situated on one of these rocky shores. It doesn't have a swimming beach, but instead has a very long fishing pier. Away from the shore there are many coastal live oak trees that provide ample shade. The most famous live oak, The Big Tree, grows about a mile from the main part of the state park. The Big Tree has been growing for over 1000 years.

Places we could have visited if we had more time
(Click on the link and then scroll down to the "Places Nearby" section.)

Texas Maritime Museum

Houston Area
Places we visited:

Brazos Bend State Park
Brazos Bend State Park is less than an hour away from busy downtown Houston, Texas, but it feels like it's a whole different world. The park's 5000 acres are home to wildlife such as many species of deer and birds as well as alligators who roam free through some areas of the park. In addition to the animals, the park is full of large Live Oak Trees practically dripping with Spanish Moss.


NASA Rocket Park at the Johnson Space Center
Rocket Park is a stop on the Johnson Space Center Tour in Houston, Texas, but it is also available to the public for free. The park contains a Mercury-Redstone rocket, the Little Joe II rocket, as well as some other large equipment from the 1960's space program. The most amazing thing on display is an actual Saturn V Rocket which is housed inside a giant climate controlled building.



Battleship Texas State Historic Site
The USS Texas is a very rare battleship. She is the only surviving ship that served in both World War I and World War II. She is also the only Dreadnought style battleship that has been preserved. When she was commissioned in 1914 she was the most advanced weapon in the world. Now she serves as a reminder of the technology and the people who used it to help defend our country.



San Jacinto Battlefield
Texas declared independence from Mexico in March of 1836. In April of that year the decisive Battle of San Jacinto was fought on what is now the outskirts of Houston. The Texans won the battle and secured freedom. 100 years later the State of Texas built a monument and a museum on the battleground as a memorial to the battle. A visit to this site will help anyone gain a greater understanding of Texas history.


Fred Hartman (Baytown) Bridge
This double suspension bridge spans the Houston Shipping Channel to connect Highway 146 between LaPorte and Baytown. The diamond shaped towers rise to a height of 440 feet, and support the six lanes of traffic 178 feet above the water.






Places we could have visited if we had more time
(Click on the link and then scroll down to the "Places Nearby" section.)

Houston Museum District
Sylvan Beach Park
Houston Port Authority Boat Tour
This free boat ride takes you on an hour long tour of the Houston Port Authority.   The tour will take you past large shipping vessels, and give you an understanding of how important shipping is when it comes to imports and exports.




Galveston Area
Places we visited:

Galveston Island State Park
Galveston Island is the closest island to the city of Houston. The island is a popular place to get away from the routines of city life. There are numerous ways to relax, but perhaps the best way is to visit one of the island's many beaches. Galveston Island State Park has beautiful natural beaches that are homes to many plants and animals. The park spans from the bay side with its calmer waters to the beach side where you can play in the waves of the Gulf of Mexico.


Stewart Beach 
Galveston Island is known for its relaxed beach atmosphere. Large waves from the Gulf of Mexico crash onto the sandy shore tempting you to stop and stay a while. One of the most accessible beaches on the island is Stewart Beach. This large beach has plenty of amenities including restrooms, showers, and beach umbrella rentals. There are also trained life guards on duty. The sand along the shore is kept seaweed free so there is ample room to stretch out on a blanket and enjoy your day at the beach.


Texas Seaport Museum 
Located near the Galveston Cruise Terminal, the Texas Seaport Museum preserves a time when people sailed out of Galveston Harbor on much smaller ships. Inside the museum you can view displays of items that were used 100 years ago when Galveston was a bustling port for shipping cotton. Outside the museum you can take a self guided tour of the Tall Ship Elissa - one of the oldest sailing vessels left in the world. As you walk the decks of the ship you can imagine what life would have been like for the sailors who called the ship home.

Harbor Tours

The Texas Seaport Museum provides tours of Galveston Harbor aboard the Seagull II. These hour long tours are an excellent way to see dolphins swimming in the water as well as learn more about the Galveston Harbor.








Galveston Ferry
The channel between Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula is too large to build a bridge across. The Texas Department of Transportation uses ferries as a cost effective way to connect State Highway 87 across the channel. These ferry rides are free and can hold up to 20 cars. The ride across the channel takes about 20 minutes which allows you enough time to get out of your car and take a stroll around the ferry. Chances are you'll even see dolphins while you are crossing the channel.

Fort Travis Seashore Park (on the Bolivar Peninsula)
These days Fort Travis Seashore Park is a nice place for a picnic. But years ago this was the site of military fortifications that insured our country was ready to defend against attacks. These gun batteries are still intact, and are on display alongside the picnic tables and barbecue grills.





Places we could have visited if we had more time

(Click on the link and then scroll down to the "Places Nearby" section.)

Galveston Mansions and Historical Places
East Beach and Seawall Urban Beach
OceanStar Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum
Seawolf Park

One thing that helped us save money on this vacation was to buy a Texas State Park Pass for only $70.00.  I added up all the entry fees for the state parks we planned on visiting.   The cost would have been $66 for my husband and I (our kids would have free admission because they were under the age of 12.)  I decided that the park pass was a good idea because not only would it grant us entry to all the state parks that we wanted to visit on this trip, but we could use it all year long to visit other state parks.  Visit this link for all the details about obtaining your own Texas State Park Pass.

Here is a map that roughly shows our route.  You can click on it and zoom in to see the details.

 

I hope this list helps you as you plan your next adventure!

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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?

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