WHEN MY HUSBAND AND I get an itch for some sunshine and Gulf breezes, we usually head to Port Aransas, which is a mere three-and-a-half-hour drive from Austin. We always know we are almost there when we arrive in Rockport, about thirty minutes away from the ferry at Aransas Pass. Although my husband spent many weekends in Rockport during college, I never gave the picturesque town much thought—it was just another blip on the map to our final destination. But after spending some time in Rockport recently, my attitude has changed. The town has plenty to offer, including fine B&B’s, good restaurants, and plenty of places to take in a great view.
Unless you are paying close attention to signage, it is difficult to differentiate between Rockport and the adjacent town, Fulton, because they blur together. Rockport was founded in 1867 by New York’s Morgan Steamship Company as a shipping point for cattle products intended for the eastern seaboard. Fulton, which was developed later, started out as a cattle processing town. One way my husband and I make the distinction is to remember that Fulton has an area along Fulton Beach Road where all the seafood restaurants are located. If you stay on this road, which lines Aransas Bay, you’ll pass the Fulton Harbor Pier, Fulton Harbor, and the Fulton Mansion, which was built in the 1870’s by George Fulton, a cattle baron. The three-story house, which was considered state-of-the-art during its time, featured such luxuries as central heat, gas lights, and flush toilets. The Texas Parks and Wildlife restored the mansion and tours are available. If you keep driving south along Fulton Beach Road, you’ll cross over a bridge—at this point my husband and I say we are in Rockport (and, yes, I think there is a city limits sign after the bridge). Now called Broadway, the street lines what is known as Little Bay or the Ski Basin. During the summers, this area of water is packed with boats and skiers taking advantage of the smooth water. The Ski Basin is a little cove that is bordered by Key Allegro, a swanky residential area, and Rockport Beach. A pass allows boats to get from slips at Key Allegro out to Aransas Bay and beyond.
Near Rockport Beach—bear in mind that the beach isn’t on the Gulf but Aransas Bay—is the Rockport Center for the Arts (supposedly Rockport-Fulton has the highest concentration of artists in the state) and the Texas Maritime Museum, which displays hands-on exhibits and nautical artifacts. The museum building somewhat resembles a lighthouse, only shorter; we could see it looking out the window of our room at the most delightful bed-and-breakfast, Hoopes’ House. The beautiful home, which was built in the 1890’s, has been fully renovated and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There are four tastefully appointed guest rooms in the main house, and four additional rooms have been added in a new wing, which is situated near the swimming pool and hot tub. My husband and I stayed in the Live Oak Room, which features the most wonderful bath—a claw-foot tub, a walk-in shower, and a dressing area. Everything at Hoopes’ House has been well-thought out, from the interior (smart furnishings and linens) to the little things, like homemade brownies waiting for you in the kitchen. My husband was thoroughly impressed. When I told him I had booked a B&B, he got that look on his face that screamed no doilies. Lucky for me, this place turned out to be quite different than your typical bed-and-breakfast.
With lodging to satisfaction—I almost booked another bed-and-breakfast down the road that looked inviting—we were free to do a little sight-seeing. Throughout the year, Rockport-Fulton hosts events like the Fulton Oysterfest, the Rockport Seafair, and the Hummer/Bird Celebration. In fact, this area is a big birding spot. Just north of town is the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. My husband and I had been to the refuge once before, but it was during the summer and packed. This trip was more peaceful. We were the only folks at the observation tower for a good fifteen minutes. As luck would have it, just as we were about to give up on seeing a whooping crane, my husband spotted one. We didn’t see much else on this trip—we arrived around mid-day, when most critters are out of the sun and nesting in trees. On the way back to Rockport, we stopped at Goose Island State Park. The big attraction here is the Big Tree. We were somewhat skeptical as to how large this oak tree really was. I can easily say that we were amazed. Otherwise known as the Goose Island Oak or the Lamar Oak, this tree, which is more than a thousand years old, is thought to have been used as the council tree for the Karankawa Indians—and as a hanging tree at the turn of the century. Just how big is it? Its trunk measures 35 feet in circumference.
Back in town, we toyed with the idea of where to eat. While Fulton has a dozen or so seafood spots, including Charlotte Plummers and Hu-Dat, a Vietnamese-seafood spot owned by the parents of Dallas Cowboys player Dat Nguyen, we decided on a new restaurant called AransaZu, which is owned by Jay Moore, the former chef at Hudson’s on the Bend in Austin. We snacked on delicious shrimp quesadillas while we waited for our entrées to arrive. Excellent duck gumbo and hot-and-crunchy shrimp satisfied our hunger pains. Next we decided to drive around and see what was happening. On Austin Street there are many artisan stores to survey. This is also the area where Hemingway’s, a new upscale restaurant, has opened shop. Basically, Rockport is a sleepy little coastal village that is a great place to just hang out. We decided to do a little of the latter at the marina in Key Allegro. We sat in the sun and enjoyed the view of the harbor, which was filled with docked sailboats (the weather was still a tad chilly). After an hour of relaxing, we toured Key Allegro and looked at the many mansions right on the water. Some of these homes are literally built over the water. Rockport and Fulton are protected from harsh weather by San Jose Island.
We headed back to Hoopes’ House and called it a night. The next morning we were in for a treat—a delicious breakfast downstairs in the main dining room. While we munched on muffins, eggs, and fruit and drank steaming cups of coffee, we chatted with another couple who were staying at the house. They were frequent guests who often made the drive from Houston to get away from the city. We asked them what they usually did while they were in Rockport. They said they spent most of their time riding bikes, reading books, or sitting in the rocking chairs on the porch enjoying the view. Sounds like a very inviting itinerary.