Matagorda: The Secret's Out
Midway between Galveston and Corpus Christi, right where the Colorado River meets the sea, Matagorda County lies at a curious confluence of nature and history that goes back nearly 500 years, and it just seems to get better with time.
A perfect weekend getaway for Houston, San Antonio and Austin, it's surprising how many have never made the drive. Which is too bad, because they're missing out on spectacular beaches, abundant wildlife, great food, fascinating museums, fishing to die for and down-home folks who are ready to make them feel right at home.
Indeed, nature and education are what Matagorda County does best. But it's also a great place for indulgence, with fine dining and finger-licking barbecue, fresh-caught seafood overlooking the harbor and home cooking that will make you think of Grandma's kitchen. It's also a great place to take your cooler and your lawn chair and kick back to watch the waves roll in.
Bay City is a good place to start your adventure, as it's the county seat and it's right on the way to the beach. But unless you're in a hurry to hit the surf, take a little time to enjoy what this colorful town has to offer.
You're still a half-hour from the coast - the town's founders named it for nearby Bay Prairie, not Matagorda Bay. Nowadays there's not much prairie to see here either, but there's a charming downtown with a historic courthouse, a lively renovated town square and creative boutiques and cafes.
The Matagorda County Museum will fill you in on the history of the place, with a fascinating display on the region's original inhabitants - the fierce Karankawa tribe - and a stunning bronze cannon, the centerpiece of an exhibit detailing the excavation of LaSalle's ship, La Belle. Just down the road, the lovingly tended Matagorda County Birding Nature Center on the Colorado River combines the best of a botanical garden with a wild nature preserve to produce some of the best birding around.
Head on down Highway 60 to Matagorda, one of Stephen F. Austin's original three colonies. But be sure and stop at Karankawa Village to have a gourmet coffee drink and browse the collections at Cattails, an upscale mercantile store, and ask for a taste from proprietor Sue Milberger's designer wine label, Chateau Bubba. You can even choose to rent a finely appointed, themed room here at The Lodge, with its outdoor living rooms and fireplaces.
While in Matagorda, you can stock up on beach and fishing supplies at Stanley's or head into the tiny downtown for a sumptuous meal at Spoonbill's, the destination restaurant that everyone's talking about. Alternatively, set your sights on Matagorda Harbor for seaside dining and live entertainment at The Waterfront.
You can also opt to spend the night at the Stanley-Fisher House, a beautifully restored historic mansion that is now a bed and breakfast. Or if it's the great outdoors you prefer, you can park your RV overlooking the sea or set up your tent right on the beach at the Matagorda Bay Nature Park.
Sargent, Palacios and Blessing
Beautiful seaside villages await your discovery along the water's edge to the east and to the west. On the eastern shore of the county and at the gateway to the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, there's charming Sargent, nestled along Caney Creek and just minutes from the Intracoastal Waterway and one of three public beaches in Matagorda County. Anglers, take note: you'll want to prepare yourself for some record-breaking fish over here.
On the west side of the county there's Palacios, the second largest city in Matagorda County. Although it is known as the "Shrimp Capital of Texas", there's much more to this charming historic town, not the least of which is the City by the Sea Museum and the rambling old Luther House hotel. Take a leisurely walk or a brisk jog along the 3-mile paved seawall walkway that traces the shoreline or just kick back and catch a romantic sunset as the shrimp boats return with their daily catch.
Head inland from Palacios to Blessing to sample the country buffet at the historic Blessing Hotel. If you're a golfer, you may want to make time to play a few rounds at the Rio Colorado golf course before heading back into town to complete your tour with some hearty Texas fare at A&A Barbecue or K-2 Steakhouse.
One thing's for certain, you won't have time to get bored - because whichever direction you head in Matagorda County, you're bound to run into an adventure.