Wednesday, May 03, 2006

TEXAS by the Sea

The Gulf Coast attracts nature lovers, fishing enthusiasts, and history hounds

Bending 367 miles from the Louisiana border near Galveston to South Padre Island. The Texas Gulf Coast is a semitropical stretch of dune-backed beaches and barrier islands that have been attracting visitors since the seafaring conquistador Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda first stepped ashore on Padre Island back in 1519.

While the region is quite naturally a paradise for anglers, boaters, bird-watchers. and sunbathers, there's a surprising diversity of attractions sure to appeal to visitors of all ages and interests. So let's review some of the best things to see and do on a Gulf Coast vacation, from Galveston--just a short hop south of Houston--to the "tropical tip" of Texas at South Padre Island and Brownsville.

Galveston. Although proudly boasting 32 miles of broad white-sand beaches and a bounty of that fresh, tasty seafood that has made the Gulf Coast region famous, it is historic architecture that stands out as the most notable feature in this island city of some 60,000 people. More than 550 structures have been designated as historical landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places, harking back to the 19th century when this seaport was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Texas.

Galveston's golden age came to a tragic end on September 8, 1900, when a massive hurricane devastated the island, destroying more than a third of the city and killing 6,000 people. The storm still ranks as the deadliest natural disaster in the nation's history and renders all the more amazing the city's remaining treasure trove of magnificent, mostly Victorian buildings.

The Strand National Historic Landmark District, formerly known as the "Wall Street of the Southwest," stretches along the city's waterfront and is now home to more than 100 shops, restaurants, museums, and art galleries. Two neighborhoods are also designated--the East End Historic District and the Silk Stocking District--and collectively there are 16 historic homes and buildings open for tours. Among them, mansions such as Ashton Villa, Bishop's Palace, and Moody Mansion offer visitors a revealing glimpse of Galveston's gilded past.

by Dave G. Houser