There are few fishing widows in San Antonio, but it’s not because the men here don’t love to fish. It’s just that the wives love to ride along when their husbands head to Rockport-Fulton, two picturesque bayside villages on the Texas Gulf Coast. Why? Because Rockport-Fulton, pretty little sister cities two-and-a-half hours from San Antonio, offer opportunities for shopping, dining, bird- and wildlife-viewing, clean beaches, affordable vacation rentals and more — all just an easy after-work-on-Friday drive away. While other beach towns have smelly fish camps where men may stay, Rockport-Fulton offers condos, cabins, bayside houses with boat slips, bars, bistros, Gulf views, sunsets and more, so they’re not your average fishing towns.

If both men and women love Rockport-Fulton, both fish and fowl find it favorable, too. Not only is the area home to some of the best fishing in Texas, it’s also known as a sanctuary for birds. In fact, Rockport is the perfect place to view the migration of rare and endangered whooping cranes and tiny hummingbirds. “Rockport-Fulton is home to more than 500 different species that migrate through the area on a year-round basis,” according to Diane Probst, president and CEO of the Rockport-Fulton Area Chamber of Commerce. Goose Island State Park, a 321.4-acre Texas state park surrounded by the St. Charles and Aransas Bays and across Copano Bay from Fulton, is also known for “The Big Tree,” an enormous 1,000-plus-year-old coastal live oak, as much as for its wildlife. The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is not far from Rockport, too, and nature enthusiasts enjoy coming to this area to observe the natural habitat of migratory birds and vanishing native wildlife of coastal Texas. Over 75,000 visitors tour the refuge via land or boat each year. But along with the lure of beautiful birds and fabulous fishing, the Rockport-Fulton area offers much more.

“Rockport is a really wonderful community, and we tend to draw interesting and talented people. It is something of an artists’ colony, and we’re home to many art galleries, along with the Rockport Center for the Arts,” says local innkeeper Mike Sargent. In fact, Rockport-Fulton was named one of the top 10 art colonies in the United States in the April 2008 issue of Coastal Living magazine. “With the galleries, festivals, birding, fishing and great seafood, it’s just a wonderful place to be, and we’re so glad to be a part of Rockport,” says Sargent, who is the innkeeper and general manager of Hoopes’ House, a tranquil bed and breakfast inn at Rockport that he and his wife, Paula, have run since November of 1999. The Hoopes’ House, a historic Queen Anne mansion, sits just across from Rockport Beach and the Texas Maritime Museum on the harbor. Visitors sometimes call it “The Big Yellow House,” and it’s a favorite

stay for fishermen and their wives, for the innkeepers offer guests a hearty homemade breakfast each morning. Built in the early 1800s, the Hoopes’ House is on the National Register of Historic Places. But perhaps the most popular house in town is the Fulton Mansion, built between 1874 and 1877, which today stands as an architectural landmark and museum open to the public through the Texas Historical Commission. With guided tours Wednesday through Sunday, the mansion overlooks Aransas Bay. Bougainvillea is in bloom this time of year throughout the area, and the bright fuchsia blossoms line picket fences around homes and along blue waterways near Key Allegro, a popular Fulton-area neighborhood on the bay. Such lush vegetation may be one of the draws for the hummingbirds that pass through the area each September during their migration. Rockport celebrates their return with its annual Hummer/Bird Celebration, hosted by the Rockport-Fulton Area Chamber of Commerce. Hummingbirds gather along the Texas Gulf Coast near Rockport, Corpus Christi and other area cities in September. When they have put on a store of fat and when conditions are right, they begin leaving, a few birds at a time, streaming across the Gulf on their way to the Yucatan Peninsula. “More than 50 percent of our guests say they come to Rockport to see the birds, especially the endangered whooping cranes and their migrating flock each spring and fall,” says Sargent. Bird-watchers can explore the shorelines and nearby islands in search of great blue heron, tricolor heron, great egrets, snowy egrets, roseate spoonbills, brown pelicans, black-necked stilts, rails, ibis, curfew, sandpipers, gulls, wood storks and terns — just some of the many birds you can see in the Rockport-Fulton area, more than 175 of which are endangered species. While September is a big birdwatching month, May and June are also important on the Rockport-Fulton calendar, for the Rockport Festival of Wines is held in late May at the Texas Maritime Museum and features two days of wine tasting, entertainment, cooking demonstrations and more. An educational Kids Fishing Clinic is offered in May, too, at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Another big event each year is May Fest at the Fulton Mansion, with Celtic music, a box lunch auction, an oldfashioned hat contest, a May Pole dance, a pie-eating contest, the coronation of the May King and Queen and even donkey-cart rides. There’s also an all-woman fishing tournament called Babes on the Bay in May. On the Fourth of July, the Patriotic Boat Parade begins at noon in Little Bay, and fireworks light the night at Rockport Beach Park after dark. That same weekend, the Rockport Art Festival features two days of juried fine art events, featuring pottery, watercolor paintings and woodcarvings. Later, in September, the Fiesta en la Playa (“party on the beach”) takes place with two nights of Tejano concerts, mariachi bands, an arts and crafts fair and delicious local cuisine. In October, the weather is right for the Seafair outdoor celebration of the sea over the Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 10-12. Of course, great food is never scarce along the Texas Gulf Coast. Rockport-Fulton is home to fresh seafood and fine dining, with beloved traditional local restaurants like Charlotte Plummer’s in Fulton, The Boiling Pot across the street with its beachy flip-flop and bathing suit fare and Hemingway’s Bar and Grill in Rockport. If a “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and a cold drink call you at the end of a long day on the bay, stop at Pop’s on Goose Island. For fishing enthusiasts, professional guides are available for all-day deep-sea and fly-fishing outings. Fishing tournaments are offered on various weekends throughout the year. Rockport Beach is perfect for family fun, as well, so bring the kids. In fact, the beach is Blue Wave certified by the Clean Beaches Council, a not-for-profit organization devoted to helping the public identify the nation’s cleanest, safest and most environmentally well-managed beaches. Kids also will love the new aquarium at Rockport Harbor, featuring Bay and Gulf marine life, activities for the youth, marine artifacts, shell collections and free literature. Visit the aquarium from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Monday. Best of all, admission is free!

If dolphin-watching cruises, bird-watching, fishing, shopping, great food and fun-in-the-sun are all part of your ideal weekend getaway, head to Rockport-Fulton — Texas fishermen’s idea of heaven on earth. Wives welcome.

Author: Janis Turk