Sunday, May 31, 2009

Vacationing in Rockport-Fulton

Just got back from our weekend trip to Rockport-Fulton. We haven't gone on vacation since last October's trip to Comfort, and we were looking for a low-key getaway. I wanted to go to the coast, as it's been literally years since I've seen the ocean.

Also, I was looking to recapture this feeling, alluded to in some of my favorite childhood novels:
"Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realise that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer."
--The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

"But at last it was June. At last school was over and summer, huge as an ocean, leay before them. 'September is forever away!' sang Portia, sitting on her suitcase to shut it. 'Forever and ever and ever away!'"
-- Return to Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright

"They leaned their arms on the window sill and looked at the world; so changed, so beautiful, in this strange light. The water lapped and purred against the rocks, and the breeze that cooled their faces smelled of honeysuckle and salt marshes. 'Now it's going to be Saturday every day all summer long,' said Randy, and yawned a wide, happy, peaceful yawn."
--The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
It's harder to pick a beach in Texas than you might suppose. If you google something like "best beaches in texas," every site you find will inform you that although people don't often think of Texas as a beach destination, it has over [enter large number here] miles of coast. So, the articles say, it's obvious that Texas must have some good beaches. For example, it has Galveston, Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, and South Padre. Or, as other sites will point out, it has Corpus Christi, South Padre, Port Aransas, and Galveston. Or perhaps you might want to try Port Aransas, South Padre, Galveston, or Corpus Christi.


We were, in fact, looking to avoid densely packed beaches, hoards of teenagers, hoards of any kind, and tchotchke shops every 2 yards. Which more or less rules out G, CC, PA, and SP.

My template for a successful beach is (of course) Grand Isle, Louisiana, which has never been able to support any great richness of tchotchkes and is never terribly crowded (except during the Tarpon Rodeo). The sand isn't especially white, the water isn't especially blue, and the beach isn't particularly clean, but you know what it is? It's sincere. There are real shrimp boats plying the waters and selling their wares at the real docks, real oil rigs on the horizons, and most of the people on the beach work on one or the other. Creosote and tar are significant components of the bouquet of Grand Isle. And, of course, seafood--all kinds, in all stages of seafoodly existence, from still kicking to boiling to a heap of bones and shells bleaching in the sun. I had been expounding on this subject to Matt (perhaps at great length?) and he happened shortly after to mention someone's sincerity--"And by 'sincere,'" he added, "I don't mean 'grungy.'"

Fair enough. I suppose it's possible to be shellacked, airbrushed, highlighted, and glossy and still be sincere. I guess. But in beach communities there seems to be an implicit tendency toward a kind of indiscriminate, utterly phoney pan-coastal pseudo-culture. Everyone seems to want to signify that you're at the beach by selling/naming things after pirates, Maine lobstermen, sanddollars, and striped lighthouses, regardless of the relevance or otherwise of those cultural manifestations to whatever stretch of coast is under consideration. I mean, fishermen in the Gulf don't wear yellow slickers, fer crying out loud. If they did, they'd be parboiled in their own sweat in less than an hour. And exactly what pirates ever visited Port Aransas, I'd like to know? Nor did I ever find any sanddollars on the beach there. And striped lighthouses are rather thin on the ground in Texas (I was just at a maritime museum this morning that had an exhibit on lighthouses in Texas--there may be all of two striped ones in the whole state.) And then you go to a restaurant to eat some fresh-from-the-ocean seafood
and they serve you a plate of fried cod.

Not sincere

Unfortunately, googling "most sincere beach in texas" gets you exactly bupkes, so we had to go by guesswork and inference. Thus Rockport-Fulton. It's not as sincere as Grand Isle, of course. Like so many seaside communities, it's been tainted by its own financial success. There were bandanas for sale sporting the skull and crossbones and the request "Show me your booty." But the area is actually a little short on beaches and long on fishing piers. It serves people who pretty much just want to fish. Period. Whereas, about 30 minutes up the road, Port Aransas has something like an 18-mile long beach. R-F is fortunate enough to be overshadowed by its glossier big sister.

One of the many fishing piers in Fulton

We stayed in a "bungalow," which in this context means a little 1-room cabin, did some running about in the mornings, had a good long siesta punctuated by lunch, and emerged in the evenings for dinner and walking. Pretty restful. I brought a stack of books longer than my forearm, and our bungalow was armed with cable and air conditioning, so were were able to siesta in style. (A most civilized tradition, the siesta. When, oh when will it become standard practice in the working world?)

Fulton Beach Bungalow #8

The largest drawback was that it was a long way to drive to do a lot of nothing, however enjoyable that nothing is. Also, we didn't really know what we were doing or where we were going, so there was some flailing about and guesswork that impeded our ability to do nothing with maximum efficiency. Also, there were jellyfish at the Rockport Beach this morning in the deep area past the sandbars--I think that's unusual, but it was definitely a downer. And the number of restaurants is limited, with none that we tried being really stellar.

Still, the fuss was minimum, the famous oaks were weirder and more interesting than expected, the pace was slow, the bungalow was comfortable, and the beaches--most importantly--were fairly thinly populated, at least at the hour my pallid complexion allows me to be on the beach--around 8am. If we were into fishing, were would probably have been even more delighted, as there are plenty of marinas and boat launches. The bungalow village even has a little special parking for boats.

The famous(ish) contorted oaks of Fulton

Stuff I'd Recommend:
  • The Maritime Museum--has actual stuff from one of LaSalle's ships! The narratives are a bit discontinuous and sometimes presented without context, but there was a lot of interesting material covering--at least lightly--most of the nautical history of post-Anglo Texas. Pretty good production values. The bookstore/giftshop is modest (nothing like the Newport News, VA, Maritime Museum, the memory of whose two-story bookshop still makes me drool slightly. We bought a Navy recruitment poster ("I wish I were a man! I'd join the NAVY!"), Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Piracy, Sexuality, and Masculine Identity--not as titillating as it sounds--and The Virginia Adventure: Roanoke to James Towne: An Archaeological and Historical Odyssey--every bit as scholarly as it sounds, but quite interesting.) Admission: $4
  • The Rockport Beach Park (on non-jellyfish days)--clean, spacious, not overly crowded (in the morning, at least) with incredibly long shallows, suitable for small children.
  • The art gallery/jewelry shop downtown where the proprietor puts any pieces that don't sell within two weeks at a really steep discount--I got a long jasper chip necklace and a golden jade chip necklace for $6 apiece!
  • The Fulton Beach Bungalows (no kids allowed)--quiet area, pleasantly funky-kitschy aesthetic, nice oaks, attractive rooms. Our bungalow (#8) has both a front and a back back porch. However, the coffeemaker doesn't actually come with any coffee--that was a distinct letdown. You will also need to bring your own sugar and cream. If swimming is your main activity, you may also want to consider whether the lower price is worth not being in walking distance of a beach. For some people, it may be worth the extra ooftish to lodge somewhere closer to downtown. A good choice for fisherfolk. Rate: $130/night

Fulton Beach Bungalow #8 interior
  • Strolling the marinas, which lodge both modest yachts and working shrimp trawlers. Cost: $ø
A great big heron on a shrimp trawler
  • The 1000+ year old Lamar oak on the other side of Copano Bay. Big old gnarly thing. Cost: $ø
"The Big Tree" in Lamar

Stuff We Missed:
The Rockport aquarium.
The Latitude ##, ## gallery and restaurant
The Fulton Mansion
Fishing of any description
Birdwatching tours
Wildlife preserves

Stuff That Was Okay-ish:
  • Alice Faye's on the Bay - fried fresh seafood--breadcrumb batter--not a ton of flavor, but pleasantly crispy. Not bad.
  • Charlotte Plummers - Odd calimari--Matt posited that it might have been "kalimari" with a "K." Crab stuffing that was all bread, no crab, ceviche that was pico de gallo with some chopped shrimp dumped in (not bad, just nothing special). Meh.

Stuff That Was Bad:

  • The mosquitos--big, hungry, numerous
  • The Boiling Pot--Hooters for seafood. Recently pubescent high schoolers are offered up in tight tees ("What's hot?" written across the breasts) and short-shorts for the delectation of the clientele. Loud music of a variety Matt calls "frat-boy blues." The waitresses tie bibs around your neck without warning. Slightly over-cooked shrimp, oddly bologna-like sausage, and rock crabs (bleh) instead of blue crabs (yum!). Melted margarine for dipping the crab.

Relatively sincere beach bling--there are actual pelicans at Rockport-Fulton. Also, I think it's kind of cute.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails