Weekend Getaway

Houston to Clear Lake

Gulf Coast
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October 2019
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By
Ellen
Honey

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.

DAY 1: Houston, TX

Houston to Baytown 25 NM

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.

Art Car Parade | Houston Coastline | Marinalife

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.

DAY 2: Baytown

Baytown to Seabrook 13 NM

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.

Armand Bayou Nature Center | Houston Coastline | Marinalife

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.

DAY 3: Seabrook

Seabrook to Kemah .5 NM

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.

NASA's Space Center Houston | Houston Coastline | Marinalife

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.

Seabrook Marina & Shipyard | Houston Coastline | Marinalife

Transients are welcome at Seabrook Marina & Shipyard, which has 650+ slips to 125 feet, including multihull and catamaran slips. Its repair facility can handle boats to 80 feet.

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.

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Day 3: Newport

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Bannisters Wharf - weekened warrior - marinalife
Bannisters Wharf, Newport | Greg Burke

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Islamorada | romrodinka on Canvas

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Day 2: Duck KeyIslamorada to Duck Key 21 NM

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Day 3: Key WestDuck Key to Key West 52 NM

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Buccaneer Island, Ocean Reef Club | Ocean Reef Club

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Day 1: Solomons Island

Just a sliver of land measuring a mile and a half long, and in some spots it's just the width of a single road, yet Solomons is alive with eateries, shops, a tiki bar, marinas, a scenic sculpture garden and a world-class museum.

Drum Point Lighthouse - weekend warrior - marinalife
Drum Point Lighthouse at Calvert Marine Museum | Wikimedia Commons

Local residents seeking to preserve the maritime heritage of the area began the Calvert Marine Museum as a community project in 1970. It has evolved into a research museum, renowned for local history exploration while actively looking toward challenges of the future, especially environmental issues. Maritime history, estuarine biology and paleontology are brought to life through hands-on experiences. More than 500 artifacts include a 28-foot three-log canoe, a tobacco press and boats from Solomons' long-gone shipyards and oyster industry.

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Several marinas on Back Creek include the resort-style Solomons Harbor Marina close to the town's center, and the larger, 246-slip Spring Cove Marina that offers a courtesy shuttle to restaurants and shops.

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Solomons Island to St. Mary's City 36 NM

"Where's the city?" is a frequent question from arriving tourists who haven't yet realized they are standing on the archaeological site of Maryland's first capital. Tours of replica buildings bring that era back to life. Trails along this historic exhibit on the St. Mary's River wind past a replica of the Dove (one of the ships that carried Catholic settlers), the Godiah Spray Plantation and a fully excavated 17th century building at St. John's Site.

St. Clements Island - weekend warrior - marinalife
St. Clements Island | Susan Elnicki Wade

After a 90-year search, a fort-like formation the size of a football field was recently uncovered. Ground-penetrating radar scans revealed a brick cellar guardhouse and dwellings -- possibly Native American -- within the walls. Native communities in the area can be traced back 10,000 years, and a quartzite arrow dating back 4,500 years was unearthed.

Eating options are limited but tasty. Tiny Enso Kitchen has amazing breakfast sandwiches and lunch salads, but its fame comes from scrumptious bread and pastries. Although it's located in a gas station, St. James Deli & Spirits is known for excellent take-out pizza and subs.

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Day 3: Coltons Point

St. Mary's City to Coltons Point 26 NM

Off-season, the pace of life in this peaceful little community on the Potomac is lower than the speed limit. That all changes as warm weather tourists arrive at St. Clement's Island Museum to learn about the 1634 arrival of two ships, the Ark and Dove, whose English passengers sought to establish a new colony based on religious tolerance.

Bald eagle in flight - weekend warrior - marinalife
Bald Eagle in Flight | Frank Cone

A half-mile offshore is the 62-acre St. Clement's Island state park and federal nature preserve. A towering white cross marks where the first Catholic mass was held in the new colony. The park includes a hiking trail, beach, picnic pavilion, and fishing and hunting grounds.

In 1967, local preservation groups organized the annual Blessing of the Fleet, a time-honored traditional benediction for the boats and the St. Mary's County watermen. The event also raises awareness about the island's future, currently one-tenth its original size due to rising sea levels.

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