Texas has over 300 miles of coastline bordering the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to many stretches of beautiful beach, the Texas Gulf Coast region is home to some of the state's most popular attractions. There are aquariums to visit, historic sites to tour and, of course, some great seafood to enjoy. If you're planning a trip to the Texas coast, consider adding these must-dos to your itinerary.
The "official" aquarium of Texas, the Texas State Aquarium houses hundreds of marine animals and provides educational programs for visitors of all ages. Located in Corpus Christi on the middle of the Texas coast, the Texas State Aquarium attracts over 500,000 visitors each year. You can encounter Dolphins, meet a sloth, and feed the fish with the aquarium's special encounters program. Visitors will enjoy exploring the large aquarium which houses over 460 species and taking in the educational and fun presentations held throughout the day.
Go Aboard the USS Lexington
Following many years of "active duty," the WWII-era USS Lexington "retired" to Corpus Christi. The Lexington now serves as a floating museum and even offers overnight stays. The most popular tour is the Flight Deck experience where you'll get up close to 20 vintage aircraft on loan from the National Museum of Naval Aviation. You’ll also get a look at the anti-aircraft guns and the deck apparatus that helped the landing jets quickly stop on the deck.
Visitors crossing the causeway to Galveston will surely see the pyramids rising on the western side of the island. Those pyramids are just part of magnificent Moody Gardens. With attractions that include several aquariums, an IMAX theater, and even a rainforest, Moody Gardens is a must-see for Galveston visitors.
Home to the 1877 tall ship Elissa, a National Historic Landmark, the Texas Seaport Museum tells the seaborne history of Galveston, which was known as "The Ellis Island of the West" in the 1800s. The Texas Seaport Museum has the nation’s only computerized listing of immigrants to Galveston, Texas and the museum’s immigration exhibit tells the story of immigrants who arrived in the United States via ships docking in Galveston Harbor. Unlike some tall ships of today the Elissa is not a replica, but a historic ship which still is taken out periodically to sail.
See a Lighthouse—and its View
Located in Port Isabel, one of the oldest towns in Texas, the Point Isabel Lighthouse served mariners along the Lower Texas Coast throughout the Civil War and into the 1900s. You can take in the view of South Padre Island and the beaches from the light tower. A number of couples have climbed the 75 winding stairs (including three short ladders) to exchange wedding vows at the top of the tower.
The lighthouse sits on a grassy hill where there are picnic tables and areas to hang out to enjoy the view.
South Padre Island's Sea Turtle, Inc. is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating sea turtles, particularly the endangered Kemp's Ridley. Sea Turtle, Inc. also offers educational tours, giving visitors an up-close look at these magnificent creatures.
Located in Lake Jackson, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Sea Center Texas serves as a marine hatchery, museum, and aquarium all in one and admission is free. There is a boardwalk trail over the outdoor wetlands where you can look for more marine life and birds. In the lobby, there are fiberglass replicas of state record saltwater fishes overhead. The 25 fiberglass mounts include huge fish like blue marlin, tarpon, and large sharks.
A veteran of both World Wars, the Battleship Texas is now moored at the San Jacinto Historical Site, just a short drive from Houston, where it is open for tours to the public. The USS Texas is one of the longest-serving Naval vessels in United States history and is the only surviving vessel to have served in both World War I and World War II. You can tour the Battleship Texas and get a sense of military history during the era of both world wars.
Located in Port Arthur, the Museum of the Gulf Coast traces the history of the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast region from prehistoric times to the present day. At the museum, you'll find a gallery of Robert Rauschenberg's artwork. Rauschenberg was an American painter and graphic artist whose early works contributed to the initiation of the pop art movement. There is also a Music Hall of Fame honoring performers from the region including Janis Joplin.
Check out the Museums of Port Isabel
Located just across the bay from South Padre Island in historic Port Isabel, the museums of Port Isabel celebrate the history of Port Isabel, South Padre Island, and the Lower Laguna Madre area. At the Port Isabel Historical Museum, you'll see exhibits and artifacts from the Mexican-American War through to the current day, including the iconic 1906 fish mural. After the Champion building was constructed, local fisherman and artist, Jose Morales was commissioned to paint a fish mural on the front to promote sport fishing in the area. He painted over 200 images representing the species that can be found in the Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Savor the Seafood
There are seafood eateries all along the Gulf Coast and each town has its special ones. Find out what the fishing boats are bringing in and seek out a restaurant that is featuring that type of seafood.
Some visitor favorites include The Original Oyster House in Gulf Shores, an inland waterfront mainstay serving seafood platters and Cajun specialties like shrimp. Gaido's on Galveston Island is known for its fresh shrimp and pecan pie. For fresh, made-to-order ceviche, the informal Ceviche, Ceviche, on South Padre Island is a favorite with beach-goers.
Visit the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum
In Houston, a museum dedicated to the Buffalo Soldiers, a group of African-Americans who served in the United States military from 1866 to 1951. The museum honors the soldiers through exhibits, events, educational programs, and art.
The nickname “Buffalo Soldiers” was given to African-American soldiers by Cheyenne warriors out of respect for their bravery in combat. In 1866, legislation was adopted to create six African-American Army units. The Buffalo Soldiers were involved in wars including the American Indian Wars through the Korean War. The museum also features African-American military heroes that were not part of the Buffalo Soldiers units.