Galveston to Matagorda
A Texas cruise that’s ‘shore’ to please
Written by Ellen HoneyCruising the Texas coastline from Galveston to Matagorda is an adventure in diversity. In just a few hours, you can encounter everything from non-stop entertainment to wildlife refuges, from hectic city life to serene seaside villages, from elegant resorts to bait-shack watering holes, and from world-class offshore angling to simple line fishing off a jetty.
Depending on your cruising speed and your vessel, it can take two to six hours to cruise along the Intracoastal Waterway from Galveston to Brazosport, a community of eight cities. Birders from all over the world travel to Brazosport to spot more than 300 feathered species, and the region claims that it always has “fowl weather.” During the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Day Bird Count, the Brazosport city of Freeport is consistently ranked the number one site in North American for counting the most species of birds. The area is also a favorite of beachcombers—more than 600 kinds of seashells, including the lightning whelk, Texas’s state shell, speckle the 30 miles of sandy coastline.
History abounds in Brazosport, and residents are proud that this is where Texas was first settled, where the first deep-water port was built, and where the Republic of Texas’s first capital was established. A replica of the original capitol building stands in the West Columbia town center. Museums reflect the area’s rich heritage. The Brazosport Museum of Natural Science (400 College Blvd., 979-265-7831, bcfas.org/museum), in the city of Clute, contains a large display of fossils, including dinosaur and mammoth bones.
Folks in Brazosport also know how to have a good time. Just south of the city of Lake Jackson is the mouth of the San Bernard River, one of the few coastal rivers that empties into the gulf rather than a bay system. Boaters like to run up river to the restaurant Dido’s (2922 CR 519, 979-964-3167) to sit on the patio and enjoy the seafood and sunsets. Clute’s annual Great Texas Mosquito Festival (mosquitofestival.com) is a three-day, nationally noted event that celebrates the pesky critter. Participants compete in a mosquito-calling contest to attract the biggest, meanest bloodsuckers around. Hovering over the festival is Willie-Man-Chew, a 26-foot-tall inflatable mosquito with a cowboy hat and a giant stinger. The 2012 happenings take place July 26-28.
There are two excellent marinas on the ICW in Brazosport. The 300-slip Bridge Harbor Yacht Club (979-233- 2101, bbycfreeport.com) has a swim-up pool bar and grill plus a convenience store. Surfside Marina (979-230-9400, surfside-marina.com) is a state-of-the-art facility that caters to the sport-fishing community. The property has a full repairs and service department and competitive fuel prices. Another good dockage option in the area is the deep-water Freeport Municipal Marina (979-236-1221, freeport.tx.us), on the Brazos River. It is the only protected harbor on the Texas Gulf Coast, and during rough weather its guillotine gate is closed so that boats in the harbor don’t feel the effects of the rising water. Floating docks can accommodate transient vessels up to 60 feet.
For a great meal, stop by Freeport’s award-winning On the River (919 W. 2nd St., 979-233-1352, ontheriverrestaurant.com), a steak and seafood restaurant that Texas Monthly magazine dubbed one of the top 40 best small-town cafes in the state. The River Point Restaurant (111 Abner Jackson Pkwy. 979-299-7444, ontheriverrestaurant.com/riverpoint.htm) in Lake Jackson is run by the same crew. Both spots are known for their coleslaw and corn bread. Locals also love the Texas Burrito Factory (218 W. Broad, 979-233-3300, texasburritofactory.com), a gourmet Tex-Mex restaurant in Freeport. The signature dish is the Lil’ Bob, a 12-inch burrito. Call ahead to order the Big Ben burrito, which weighs in at 7 pounds.
The 45-mile trip west on the ICW from Freeport to Matagorda takes about two hours and runs along the San Bernard and Big Boggy National Wildlife Refuges. Matagorda is a laid-back mecca for fishermen and beach lovers. Beyond the customary seashells, beachcombers will find a variety of treasures, including drift- wood, sand dollars, old Spanish coins, petrified bones and fossilized teeth. Shoppers shouldn’t miss Matagorda Harbor House Antiques & Gifts (244 Fisher St., 979-863-7110), stocked with wonderful furnishings, nautical items and whimsical gifts.
Tie up at Matagorda Harbor, ideally located at Mile Marker 440 on the Gulf ICW (979-863-2103, matagordaharbor.com). The on-site Waterfront Restaurant specializes in steaks, seafood and burgers, and it has the only full bar in town, not to mention spectacular views of the harbor.
Explore the ICW from Galveston to Matagorda, you won’t be disappointed. It is a relaxing cruise with an abundance of feathers, fossils, fins and shells, as well as some very pleasant folks eager to offer visitors a warm Texas welcome.