PORT ISABEL, TEXAS
Just a scant 20 or 30 years ago, Port Isabel was the last waterfront town on the Texas Gulf Coast. There was a poor, two-lane excuse for a causeway across to South Padre Isle (which was nothing but sand dunes), Brownsville was a 25 mile drive across the tidal flats on a road that was generally covered by blowing sand.
My -- how times have changed. Filled with great history and colorful coastal culture, Port Isabel has stepped into the 21st century with a real effort to recapture and preserve the charm of this out-of-the-way destination. And they're doing a good job of it.
Situated picturesquely on the Lower Laguna Madre Bay, the community is full of the colors of the warm Gulf. Tourism banners wave freely in the brisk Gulf breeze, promoting the city's historic "Lighthouse Square", a shopping and eating bonanza just off the waterfront, and the Port Isabel Museum, which offers quality coastal and historical exhibits.
You can still get the feel of an older Texas Gulf coast, for the most part long lost with the encroachment of tourism and development. In Port Isabel, people still acknowledge neighbors and visitors, and there is a charming attitude towards community you can't find much anymore.
A drive through the community's residential areas gives the visitor an unexpected treat, brightly covered trees (some of them with hot pink/orange leaves) and well-kept yards with tropical landscapes.
And there's plenty of history on this peninsula, from the 150 year old lighthouse to tales of pirates gold and the frequent visits from such notorious buccaneers as Jean Laffette. Port Isabel was also a strategic Civil War landmark as foreign supplies earmarked for the Confederacy was often off-loaded here, causing constant interest from both Union and Confederate naval units. Nearby, the last battle of the civil war was fought (and won by the Confederacy), and the site where the last Confederate forces surrendered to the U.S Calvary.
The Texas Gulf shrimping industry, at one time, caused a major boom to Port Isabel's economy. Shrimping is still big business here, in spite of the decline of the U.S. shrimping industry. If you're looking for fresh seafood, look no further.
There are a number of great restaurants and shops in town that deserve your discovery, and don't leave town without visiting the well-operated museum complex on the main highway that slices through town.
Fishing in the Laguna Madre and off shore in warm Gulf waters is some of the best in Texas. Nearby attractions include miles and miles of uncrowded beaches at South Padre Island.