Don’t be fooled by the name. State Highway 35 is the antithesis to the behemoth with which it shares a number. Interstate 35 is a white-knuckle fight for highway survival while its country cousin is an easy cruise through green marshes and across bays with intermittent glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico.
Otherwise known as the “Hug-the-Coast” Highway, this 35 predates I-35 by more than 40 years. With only one lane on each side most of the way, it’s a quaint retreat—a throwback to Sunday drives where the journey was the destination.
This slow ride begins south of Houston in West Columbia, the tiny town with the distinction of having been the capital of the Republic of Texas for about three months in 1836. Stop by the state historical marker on the corner of Brazos and Brown streets to learn about Charlie Brown, the former slave who became the largest landowner in Brazoria County and started the county’s first school for African American children.
Although much about Brown’s life is unrecorded and unknown, in 2015 the state legislature passed a resolution honoring the man whose “life and legacy are indeed worthy of tribute.” The Varner-Hogg Plantation, a state historic site just outside of town, tells stories of pioneer days, slavery, and oil.
Back on the road as Route 35 steer you straight toward Matagorda Bay. In the town of Palacios, home to birders and fishermen, stop at The Point. The hybrid convenience store and Vietnamese and Mexican restaurant has become the social hub of the town. You can grab fishing gear, breakfast tacos, and authentic Vietnamese food. Everyone in Palacios ends up at The Point. Road-trippers can dine on world-class pho and spring rolls at the same table where the late chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain once sat, or grab takeout for a picnic on the docks overlooking the bay. If you’re lucky, you might catch the flash of a roseate spoonbill in flight.
Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales.
Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.
Plus, Texas Lakeside is a 5-star RV resort with long concrete pads, multi-purpose clubhouse, fitness center, tropical pool, stocked fishing lake, and gated entrance. The park’s 138 full-service sites include cable TV and high speed Internet.
You can keep on trucking toward Rockport or take a 45-minute side trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine sanctuary overlooking San Antonio Bay attracts more than 400 species of birds and is the winter home of the endangered whooping cranes. Heron Flats, an easy 1.5-mile walking trail, promises glimpses of leggy birds high-stepping through marshes as they seek their supper.
The natural wonders continue 10 miles north of Rockport in Goose Island State Park, where the Big Tree prevails. Scientists have calculated this live oak could be more than 1,000 years old—and it’s so resilient even Hurricane Harvey couldn’t knock it down.
Between Palacios and Rockport, it may be hard to keep your eye on the road. SR-35 crosses over the shimmery Lavaca, San Antonio, and Copano bays, where rivers meet the Gulf of Mexico. The thrill of being surrounded by blue water on all sides may require a photo stop. If you time it right, you can catch a sunset sky of pink and orange swirls at the remains of the Copano Bay Fishing Pier just as you’re cruising into Rockport.
From Rockport, it’s only 28 miles to Portland, where it’s time to say goodbye to this laid-back coastal road as it merges south into the bigger US-181. Sunset Lake Park, with a 2-mile hike-and-bike trail among the wetlands of Nueces Bay is a breezy spot to stretch your legs and enjoy some bird watching. And Sea Breeze RV Park is a friendly spot to enjoy a panoramic view of Corpus Christi Bay with the causeway and city skyline and amazing sunrise and sunset from your 75-foot pull-through site.
The lyrics of country musician Don Williams, who was raised in Portland, suits the bayside scene: “The smell of cape jasmine through the window screen / I can still hear the soft southern winds in the live oak trees.”
Heading toward Corpus, you are thrust back into the rush of multiple lanes and cars in a hurry to get somewhere—a jolt after so many miles of traffic-free driving. The intensity of it brings to mind the other bigger, faster 35. It’s a reminder of just how good you’ve had it on the mellow ride of the coast-hugging highway.
Texas Spoken Friendly
After 7 days of trial and error,
God created Texas on the 8th day.