Which of these does not belong with the others: a double-decker carousel, a petrochemical refinery, a runaway longhorn, a space center or the country's largest urban wildlife preserve? None of them! Along the 35 miles of Bay Area Houston coastline, they all coexist to create an eclectic tourist hub. Houston City Pass offers nine days of discounted and expedited entrance to attractions in the area.
Houston is easily accessible by land from any town in the bayside region, but captains seeking a unique adventure can cruisethe Houston coastline and Buffalo Bayou, a section of Houston Ship Channel, to the city center. Due to security precautions around petrochemical plants along the route, a special permit is required, and boats are escorted by an armed Coast Guard vessel.
From years as a sprawling oil town, Houston has evolved into the New Capital of Southern Cool with the arts at its core. Museums, theaters, street art and chef creations are flourishing. More than 40 art and cultural powerhouses are scattered within blocks, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Holocaust Museum, Art Car Museum and National Museum of Funeral History.
As a multiethnic city, Houston is a dining dream. Housed on tree-lined streets and strip malls and in food trucks, award-winning chefs plate exceptional dishes from around the world. Sample your way through the Phoenica Market boasting 15,000 items from 50 countries. Sip a brew at Texas' oldest craft beer maker, Saint Arnold Brewing Co. Its labels were designed by renowned graffiti artist Gonzo247, who has also painted four "art cars" for the annual Art Car Parade.
Baytown is located on the north shore of the ship channel, just outside the marine exclusion zone. The towering spire of San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site is clearly visible. Catch the Lynchburg Ferry to the 1836 battle site that expanded U.S. territory by a million square miles. Nearby is the Battleship Texas State Historic Site, which offers onboard experiences such as hard-hat tours to see the inner workings of the last dreadnaught battleship.
The battle fatigued find peace in the 2,500 acres of natural wetlands, forest, prairie and marsh habitats of the Armand Bayou Nature Center, the largest urban wilderness preserve in America. It is home to 370+ species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Stroll through Baytown's arts district, which is peppered with intriguing murals, and shop from local artisans at the Art Center. Anchored by a 1,000-year-old giant oak, Texas Avenue is lined with historic storefronts holding fascinating stories within their walls. Finish the day with a premium wine from Texas-grown grapes at Yepez Vineyard, an adobe-style winery with a vivid Southwest atmosphere.
Slips from 35' to 55' are available at the recently renovated Bayland Marina. Transients are welcome; larger vessels require reservations in advance.
Clear Lake has the most populated boating waters in Texas. Multiple attractions and marinas line its shores, but the interior can be shallow for a larger vessel.
On the north shore is Seabrook, a bird lover's paradise, home to about 300 diverse species. The guide for Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail suggests bird watchers look for pelicans, ospreys, waxwings, warblers, sandpipers, buntings and migrant songbirds.
Birds aren't the only ones in flight here. NASA's Space Center Houston provides an out-of-this-world journey at its "edutainment" complex. Peek at a mock spacecraft, touch an actual moon rock and get a behind-the-scenes tour of human space flight.
More wings and fins are found at local festivals. The Wings Over Houston Air Show at Ellington Field (October 19-20) showcases vintage World War II aircraft alongside modern aviation. Visitors to Keels & Wheels (May 2-3, 2020) moon over 300+ classic cars and boats from around the country.
Post-flight food options vary from fresh seafood markets on Waterfront Drive to Habanero's, a family-owned dive with authentic Mexican-Caribbean flavors, to the Seabrook Waffle Company serving Belgian-style breakfast or dessert waffles and lunch items in a small European café.
Kemah lies on the southern shore of Clear Lake. Get a true Texas experience at League City Butler Longhorn Museum to discover how a few ranchers saved the longhorn, with horns as wide as a man's height, from extinction.
Then head for Kemah Boardwalk, the entertainment center housing waterfront restaurants, amusement rides, summer concerts, fireworks and Salsa Sunday dance lessons. Experience bottom of the sea decor at the Aquarium, where guests dine seated around a 50,000-gallon tank centerpiece, home to fish, sharks and stingrays.
There's a festival for everything here including Cinco de Mayo, crawfish and zydeco, wine, Tejano, Boo on the Boardwalk, and a holiday lighted boat parade. Prior to Fat Tuesday, boats festooned with lights and regalia parade through the Kemah-Seabrook channel for Yachty Gras.
Kemah Boardwalk Marina, located bay side of the south-end base of the Kemah-Seabrook Bridge, has 414 deep-water, floating dock slips with wide-finger piers.