Surfside Beach lies an hour down the coast from Galveston, and it has an entirely different feel—wackier, homier, cheaper … closer to the Freeport refineries. But this little fishing village in Brazoria County has personality in spades, and an authentic feel: Think bait shops, not fudge shops. Many visitors do a big trip to the grocery store, set up in a rental for the week, and never leave (except maybe to hit the convenience store on Bluewater Highway, which only opens when the owners feel like it, or the much more dependable liquor store). Nevertheless, Surfside is actually a great day-trip destination. Head down Highway 288 on a weekday, and you’ll feel like you own the place.
7 a.m.: Fishing at Jetty Park
On the way, stop off at Hook’ers Bait Shop (979-239-3474), which wins out not only for its name, but for being shaped like a boat. Then post up next to the locals, put a line in, and ask what’s been biting lately. There’s plenty of parking here, plus bathroom facilities.
9 a.m.: Sea Center Texas
Or skip the jetties and, on your way in, stop at this aquarium and hatchery in Lake Jackson. Believe it or not, it’s the largest redfish hatchery in the world. This is a great place to teach your kids not only about all the species native to the Gulf Coast, but the importance of our wetlands. They’ll love the touch tank filled with crabs, anemones, and snails.
10:30 a.m.: Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge
This 50-year-old refuge, located on an astonishing 44,000 acres, hosts more than 300 species of birds each year. Take a driving tour, keeping your eyes peeled for herons and roseate spoonbills as you contemplate the eternal landscape. Just remember, gators abound.
Noon: Pier 30
This is a lovely—and quite popular—spot for lunch along the Intercoastal Waterway. Okay, yes, those are refineries in the distance, but just angle your chair away from that and tuck into the fantastic fried seafood platters, boil-and-eat shrimp, and, if you’re not driving, buckets of beer. Bikers love this place; if one chats you up in the bathroom as she fixes her mascara, go with it.
1 p.m.: Beach Time
Surfside’s main attraction, of course, is the beach itself. And it’s beautiful. Pull into the portion that allows driving, east of Highway 332, making sure to pick up a $12 annual pass (police will troll past, so pay up). Then while away the afternoon swimming, playing in the sand, and watching the sailboats—and, fine, oil tankers—drift past. (Bonus: When it’s open, Surfin Rita Daiquiris To-Go hawks frozen drinks, packs of Jello shots, and sno-cones you can tote with you to the beach.)
5 p.m.: Stahlman Park Conference Center
If you’re going to go out to dinner before heading back to Houston—and we suggest you do—make a stop at this facility on Bluewater Highway beforehand. It offers perfectly serviceable showers and bathrooms where you can get cleaned up.
5:30 p.m.: Red Snapper Inn
This is an institution among locals and tourists alike. We suggest going early, especially on weekend evenings, as it always fills up with loyal patrons who keep coming back for both the delicious seafood plates and the surprising Greek dishes like baked shrimp with feta and tomatoes.