Texas Tropical Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program


Port Isabel boat
Port Isabel boat


Our seafaring heritage is a long one, from the first wooden vessels launched by Spain and France that arrived on our shores to the massive oil tankers that ply our deepwater channels today. Along the way, our Texas mariners endured shipwrecks and hurricanes while our seafaring industries developed and prospered. Seafaring along the Texas coast was once characterized by shallow ports of call, steamships, and trade. Early ports such as Port Isabel, Port O'Connor's Matagorda Island, and Port Lavaca's Halfmoon Reef still boast historic lighthouses that are open to the public and now guide landlubbers through vicarious seafaring adventures.

Before the mid-1800s, Galveston and Valesco, Mexico served as the Gulf's primary seaports and trade for Texas consisted principally of the delivery of goods between Galveston and New Orleans. Ninety-three steamships were among the total 326 vessels that docked in Galveston during 1855, shipping Texas cotton to New Orleans for international passage to Britain. Today, due to the development of our deep-water ports like Houston and Corpus Christi and the dredging of the intracoastal waterway, tonnage of goods shipped-not number of boats-is the measurement of the day. Texas ports contribute a significant portion of the over two billion tons shipped from the U.S. each year, a ponder-worthy fact for our next day off at the beach.


The Texas Tropical Trail region can boast one feature unique in all of Texas-the longest island in the state's coastal island chain. In fact, the 130-mile stretch of Padre Island makes it the longest sandy beach in the country. That's a lot of room for building sandcastles! Early Texans, however, were more the seaport-building types, utilizing the natural protection offered by the state's barrier islands to establish ports of call for shipping products across the Gulf of Mexico. Port Aransas, Corpus Christi, Port Isabel, and Brownsville-coastal cities and towns in the Tropical region that offer a lot of seaside leisure-all serve a thriving international shipping industry as well. Things weren't always quite so swell, however, during the fledgling days of our portside history. Pirates, colonial armies, and hostile locals, along with their attendant troubles, made surviving along the beach a bit of a challenge. Not so today when, during certain times of the year, you might get a piece of America's longest beach all to yourself.

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