On a summer day, there’s nothing better than the ocean. Unless you’re sharing it with a teeming throng of thonged humanity. So this hot season, skip the South Padre scene (unless you’re into that kind of thing) and head for the charming coastal enclave of Rockport. Flanked by Copano and Aransas bays, the fifteen-square-mile town is as cozy as the rooms at the waterfront Lighthouse Inn and the historic Hoopes House. Rockport offers exactly what you’re looking for when you feel the first stirrings of a beach vacation coming on: it’s pedestrian-friendly (multiple shops and restaurants line South Austin Street, the main shopping strip), and the holy trinity of any trip to the coast—clean sand, cool water, and crispy fried seafood—is in full effect. But I recommend organizing a trip to Rockport around another trio of pleasures: nature, art, and history. Read the rest of Andrea Valdez’s account of tracking down that elusive beach weekend of your dreams from our May 2014 issue.
The Rockport Center for the Arts // This gallery in a charming renovated Victorian was founded in the 1890s as a collective for like-minded artists. That sense of community remains: the center not only has contemporary-exhibition rooms but also two front galleries dedicated to works by members. 902 Navigation Circle (361-729-5519)
South Austin Street Galleries // Eclectic pieces fill the several small galleries dotting this main thoroughfare, like the Estelle Stair Gallery, housed in a restored old brick building. South Austin Street.
Big Blue Crab // The finest example of kitschy coastal art in Texas isn’t in a gallery but at the entrance to Rockport Beach Park, where the hermaphroditic Big Blue Crab, a 25-by-27-foot fiberglass sculpture of a male crab with female claws, stands guard. Corner of Seabreeze Drive and East Laurel Street.
Rockport Beach Park // You don’t have to travel far to lounge on the beach. Located right in the middle of town, Rockport Beach Park has all the amenities you’d want—numerous stone picnic benches, grills, a cabana—plus a natural saltwater pool at the north end of the park for something a little different. Stake out a towel-sized spot on this sandy stretch along the Aransas Bay or lay out a picnic at one of the tables set back a little ways from the water. The breezy bay winds make this the ideal locale for windsurfers and kite aficionados alike. 210 Seabreeze Dr.
Latitude 28º02′ Coastal Cuisine & Fine Art // Slurp oysters-on-the-half shell (not noisily; this is a nice restaurant, after all) while sipping on craft cocktails or a Texas red from the extensive wine list. And bring a checkbook: this restaurant doubles as an art gallery where all the pieces are for sale. 105 North Austin (361-727-9009)
Daily Grind // When you walk into this comfortable shop, you’d half expect an episode of Friends to be filming in the corner. Grab a quick Americano to go, or eat a filling lunch of fresh-prepped sandwiches or large servings of quiche. Seat yourself at the bar to eavesdrop on the gals behind the counter as they talk with every patron who stops by. 1104 Wharf (361-790-8745)
The Lighthouse Inn // You don’t have to leave bed to enjoy some of Rockport’s finest views. The waterfront suites in this charming 78-room boutique hotel sidled right along Aransas bay may cost a little more, but the dollars will seem well spent come morning when you see the sun rise, its early morning light glinting off the water, or later in the evening as you gaze out onto the sea while lounging in one of the rocking chairs on your private balcony. And while you can recoup some costs by enjoying a complimentary hot breakfast, there are a number of restaurants—including the Boiling Pot and Cheryl’s By the Bay—within walking distance of the Lighthouse. 200 South Fulton Beach Rd (888-606-3547)
BEFORE YOU GO
Pack your sunscreen and pick up some beach reading—perhaps Connie Hagar: The Life History of a Texas Birdwatcher, the (very) detailed biography of “the wonder woman of birds,” who dedicated her life to monitoring and and researching the avifauna of the Texas coast.