Relax and relish the coastal charms of Rockport

By: Mauri Elbel
March, 2021

Some spots in Texas were made for taking it slow. Whenever I feel the need to press pause on life’s hectic pace, we head to the Texas Coast to relax and unwind in Rockport. This once-sleepy fishing village has been a longtime favorite destination for my family — a tradition that began with my grandparents more than 70 years ago and now spans four generations.

When I think of Rockport, memories crash at me like waves against the silent shore — a steady metronome of nostalgia carrying with it some of the sweetest snapshots of my childhood. Sweltering afternoons spent crabbing off of wooden piers, slowly pulling up freshly-baited lines while my cousin waits patiently on his belly to scoop up a crustacean with a net from the murky waves below. Walking barefoot along shelly shorelines, assaulted by pungent wafts that belong to the sea as my sister and I search for hermit crabs to make into our temporary pets. Seafood dinners, especially scrumptious thanks to bits of buttery crab and flounder and the realization that we caught our own dinner. Dr Peppers, sipped slowly in the late morning heat as the wind slaps hair against our sticky, sun-kissed faces and we wait, swollen with hope, for our red-and-white bobbers to disappear beneath the ripples.

Of course change inevitably accompanies time — I now prefer a cold beer to a soda when fishing on the pier, and that undeniable thrill I once got from reeling in a piggy perch has been replaced with the unbridled joy that comes from watching my kids catch a fish, their little faces awash with anticipation that soon morphs into pride. Still, what I love most about Rockport hasn’t wavered. Like a familiar book, opened again and again, Rockport is the kind of place that grows with you. In this quaint coastal enclave surrounded by Copano and Aransas Bays, the waves whisper to slow down, soak in the simple pleasures and release your stresses with the tide.

Today, this laid-back Gulf Coast retreat charms everyone from anglers and artists to beach-lovers and bird-watchers. If you’re considering a trip to Rockport, I’d recommend starting and ending your day my favorite way: with a sunrise run or stroll along Fulton Beach Road, flanked by rippled Gulf waters on one side and windswept oaks frozen mid-backbend on the other, and at the ocean’s edge with a cocktail in hand as the sun slips behind the sea. Below are some ideas for filling the hours in between.

Sunset views from Fulton Beach Road. Photo by Mauri Elbel

Reel ’em In

The multitude of wooden piers, bait shops and fishing boats hugging Rockport’s shores hint at its favorite pastime: fishing. Many Rockport properties have private piers guests have access to, but there’s also lighted public fishing piers such as the Rockport Beach Piers on the north and south ends of the Rockport Beach waterfront and the South Breakwater Pier at the end of Market Street. Cast your line off of the Rockport Harbor seawall and the shoreline at Little Bay for free, or test out the newly reconstructed Fulton Pier that just reopened mid-January on the Fulton Harbor ($5). Increase your odds for fishing success by hiring a pro — the Coastal Bend area is home to a multitude of saltwater fishing guides ready to take you to where the big fish play. Before crabbing or fishing these coastal waters for everything from speckled trout and redfish to flounder and black drum, remember to purchase a fishing license and saltwater stamp (not needed for those under 17).

Kids will love

Our kids love the Rockport Beach — a meticulously-maintained mile-long stretch that’s calmer, cleaner and more shallow than the other beaches that line the Texas Coast, making it perfect for families with little ones. Texas’ first Blue Wave Beach, featuring picnic cabanas, restrooms, piers and playgrounds, was also voted Texas’ No. 1 Beach by USA Today readers. When you’re not fishing or beaching, have some fun on the water by renting a kayak, paddleboard or booking a Whooping Crane tour or dolphin watching cruise with Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures, which also rents golf carts when you’re ready to roll around on solid ground.

Cousins splashing in the calm, shallow waves of Rockport Beach. Photo by Mauri Elbel

Eat and Drink

No trip to the Texas coast is complete without sampling some seafood. For those wanting to avoid indoor dining during the pandemic, Rockport offers a handful of outdoor dining options and many restaurants are offering take-out. Charlotte Plummer’s, which has taken all dining to its deck and under its outdoor tent, has remained a Rockport staple since the 1970s and still serves up island-famous seafood platters, delicious po’ boys and shrimp gumbo. Dig into crab cakes made with bay shrimp and lump crab, coconut fried shrimp, or bring in your own catch to have it prepared how you like it while watching the boats and birds from the deck of lively Paradise Key Dockside Bar & Grill — it can get crowded so call ahead to get your name on the list. Sushi Luck, the quaint mom and pop Japanese restaurant run by Yuji and Tatsumi Isada, who prepare deliciously fresh sushi, sashimi and authentic Japanese cuisine, is currently open for take-out only. Wait for your sushi order while sipping a cocktail on the cozy, brightly-lit front porch of Glow, which is currently operating with takeout and porch window service. Prepare your own Italian-inspired dinner at home paired with the perfect wine from Italian Cowboy Food and Provisions — this reimagined Italian market’s encyclopedic collection of wines are sourced solely from Italy and they offer private shopping appointments and contactless curbside pickup.

Art, History and Nature

Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Rockport Center for the Arts, housed in a new temporary location (401 S. Austin St.), featuring monthly changing exhibits and a gallery room displaying the talents of local artists (admission is free). Feeling artistically inspired? Shop the handful of art galleries that dot charming South Austin Street — Rockport’s version of a Main Street lined with colorful stores and boutiques. History buffs can explore the Texas Maritime Museum, which recounts the state’s rich maritime history from Spanish exploration to the search for offshore oil and gas, or take a tour back in time at the Fulton Mansion, a 29-room mansion built in the 1870s (due to COVID, tours require advanced reservations). Nature lovers should check out Aransas Pathways, offering adventures in the form of birding, history, hike and bike trails, and kayaking. Head to Goose Island State Park for camping, fishing, hiking and birding — be sure to visit the more than 1,000-year-old Big Tree that measures over 35 feet in circumference while you are there. Make the drive to one of the oldest wildlife refuges and top birding spots in the country, the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge which serves as the winter home of the only wild flock of whooping cranes.

If You Go

Getting there:

Rockport is a 3-hour drive from Austin.

Stay:

Miss Kitty’s Fishing Getaways offers a multitude of vacation rental homes spanning cozy coastal cottages to bayfront villas ideal for large families or groups––relaxed Covid-19 cancellation policies are in place for all 2021 stays. Kontiki Beach Resort features condos in a gated waterfront property featuring well-lit fishing piers, a pool, tennis courts and a boat ramp. For boutique bayside lodging where elegant rooms come with ocean views and a complimentary grab-and-go breakfast, stay at the Lighthouse Inn at Aransas Bay.

Do:

Eat & Drink:

Pro Tip:

Try out crabbing, which requires little skill but ample patience by baiting weighted lines with poultry necks and securing them to the pier. When the line is taut, slowly and steadily pull it toward the pier until the crab is close enough to net. Catch enough and enjoy a free dinner of crab cakes or boiled crab.

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