History • South Texas
Adults: $7 • Children 6-18: $4 • Family rates available
This 1870s coastal mansion, built in the French Second Empire style with its mansard roof, ornate trim and scenic gardens, sits above Aransas Bay. Once known as Oakhurst, the mansion was originally the home of George and Harriet Fulton, and remains the showpiece of the town named for them. Visitors to the mansion today can learn about George Fulton’s engineering prowess, stroll through gardens inspired by Harriet’s love for flowers and imagine what it would be like to live large in the late 1800s.
Snap a selfie with the mansion in the background.
Splash • South Texas
$5 daily • Kids 12 and under free
With more than five miles of Texas coastline, there’s room for all kinds of summer beach fun at Mustang Island State Park. Swim or splash in the Gulf, try your luck in some of the best shallow-water fishing spots in Texas or bring your canoe or kayak and explore the state park paddling trails.
With the Gulf in the background, snap a selfie from any of the park’s iconic wooden beach picnic shelters.
Wild • South Texas
$3 per vehicle
A premier bird-watching destination, Laguna Atascosa has more recorded bird species — a whopping 417 — than any other national wildlife refuge in the country. The site hosts more than 100,000 shorebirds annually, as well as 45 types of mammals, 44 kinds of reptiles, 130 butterfly varieties and 450 different species of plants. Plan your visit for early morning or late afternoon to avoid the summer heat.
Catch the sunrise or sunset at the ADA-accessible Osprey Overlook, or from the butterfly garden gazebo next to the visitors center.
Quirky • South Texas
Park admission is free • Lighthouse tour: $5 adults; $4 seniors; $3 children
Port Isabel is one of 16 lighthouses along the Texas coast and the only one open to the public. While the grounds are ideal for strolling, the best views of South Padre Island and the Gulf of Mexico are reserved for those willing to climb the 75 winding stairs and three short ladders to reach the top of the tower, 50 feet above the ground.
Snap a selfie in front of the lighthouse, or make the climb and take one from the deck on top.
Regional sponsors: Texas historical commission; Rockport/Fulton; Visit Brownsville
Grand Adventures in State Parks
Even though birds are literally everywhere, birding as an activity sneaks up on you. First, you’re able to name birds by color (the red one, the blue one), then general type (Is that a hawk? Oooh, a vulture!) and the next thing you know you’re trekking down to South Texas in the hopes of spotting a green jay or a roseate spoonbill. With more than 500 species that live in the area or migrate through, it’s a birding hotspot not to be missed.
South Texas state parks are excellent birding destinations, and park staff may be able to help you add to your birding life list.
BENTSEN-RIO GRANDE VALLEY: Birders from across the nation visit Bentsen in search of “Valley specialties” — tropical birds found nowhere else in the United States. Bring your binoculars and look for one of the more than 360 bird species recorded in the park, including the plain chachalaca, great kiskadee, Altamira oriole and Swainson’s and broadwinged hawks.
CHOKE CANYON: The American Birding Association and the Bureau of Reclamation have both recognized Choke Canyon Reservoir as a place of special importance for birds and birders. A morning of birding can yield a great mix of woodland species, waterfowl, waders and raptors. Watch for the green jay, the eastern phoebe and the vermillion flycatcher.
Snap a selfie from inside a state park bird blind or atop an observation tower. Be sure to tag the park in your post, and let us know what bird species you encountered.