The gulf coast of Texas is a popular place for RVers – and it’s no mystery why. With more than 300 miles of coastline, history, fishing, nice weather, and of course beaches, it’s a fantastic destination year-round. So if Houston is in your travel plans and you want to explore the local area with one tank of gas, we’ve got a great trip itinerary for you.
This trip comes in at just under 300 miles (294 to be exact) and under 6 hours of drive time. You can squish it all in a day, but there are plenty of places to stop and camp along the way to make this a multi-day adventure. You could even use this as a travel guide as you drive your rig from Houston to Padre Island National Seashore (beach camping anyone?). But no matter what you choose, this one tank itinerary will make sure you have plenty to explore!
Start your trip by checking out some of the fantastic things to do in Houston. The city is known for its phenomenal museums, so pick one (or a few) to explore. Visit the Space Center Houston which is home to NASA Mission Control and the International Space Station Mission Control, the Children’s Museum of Houston which is great to explore with kids, or head outside to Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens to wander through the gardens. Be sure to plan an extra day or two exploring the rest of the city, because it’s time to fill up the gas tank and head out of town toward the beach.
The first stop after Houston on this one tank trip is Galveston, located on Galveston Island. This barrier island is about 50 miles to the southeast and is full of things to do. Families will want to head to Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier for the amusement park rides. If you’re a fan of historic architecture, wander down the Strand Historic District for shops, restaurants, and art galleries located inside Victorian era buildings.
For some history stop by the Texas Seaport Museum, Galveston Naval Museum, or follow the self guided Freedom Walk through the town that commemorates Juneteenth, the announcement that all slaves were free which happened in Galveston. Or explore Moody Gardens and the three glass pyramids to wander through the aquarium and botanical garden exhibits.
And of course, there’s 10 miles of gorgeous beaches to relax on the sand and play in the water.
Galveston Island State Park
Before you leave Galveston Island, be sure to stop at the state park for the fantastic beaches and wildlife sightings. Galveston Island State Park is located 12 miles south of Galveston and covers over 2,000 acres of the island. From swimming, boating, fishing, and even surfing, you’ll find plenty to do on the water.
But if staying on land is more your style, the boardwalks and hiking trails will take you all around the park. It’s the perfect place to bird watch, learn about the local plant life, and spend a morning or afternoon outdoors. The park is open seven days a week from sunup to sundown.
Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge
From Galveston Island it’s time to hop back in the car and head out. Learn about wildlife at your next stop at Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is one of several that provide a winter habitat for migratory birds. This means it’s a great spot for birdwatching. Keep your eyes peeled for over 300 species of birds and 90 species of reptiles and amphibians (including alligators!) You can also stop by the Discovery Center at the entrance to Big Slough Recreation Area to grab maps and view the interpretive displays.
The Refuge covers a mix of coastal wetlands including salt and freshwater marshes, ponds, coastal prairies, and bottomland forests. They can all be explored with over 2,100 miles of the trails and footpaths. If you’d rather stay in your car, you can take the Big Slough Auto Route through the park (and it’s also open to bicycles if you want to pedal your way through). If you’d like to fish, saltwater fishing is permitted year-round and boat fishing is available from several lakes and bayous. There’re also a few picnicking spots available to stop for lunch among the natural scenery.
The refuge is open to the public from sunrise to sunset year round and it’s free to enter. Just don’t forget your binoculars!
After exploring the coastal wetlands and watching the birds, it’s time to hit the beach! Head south to Rockport for a visit to this quaint beach town. Spend a few hours at Rockport Beach, where the warm sand and clear shallow waters make it a great beach for families. It’s also notable because this beach is Texas’ first certified Blue Wave Beach by the Clean Beaches Coalition.
However, if the beach isn’t your thing, head to the Rockport Cultural Arts District. Do some shopping, take a stroll around the sculpture garden, and see multiple historic sites. Or stop by the Texas Maritime Museum to learn about Texas’ naval and maritime history. Then it’s time to head to the last stop on our one tank trip from Houston.
There are many great locations nearby that you can easily get to from Rockport, but for this one tank trip we’re ending the adventure from Houston in Corpus Christi, Texas. Like Houston, you’ll have an endless list of activities to choose from.
Stop by the Texas State Aquarium, which is home to hundreds of fish and marine animals. Learn about protecting ocean life and the Aquarium’s efforts to rehabilitate and rescue marine animals, watch the birds soar at the Hawn Wild Flight Theater and marvel at the stingrays, jellyfish, and other sea life in the many exhibits.
Or stop by the USS Lexington, a retired WWII aircraft carrier which is now a museum (and an escape room and a flight simulator and has a 3D movie theater). Take one of the guided tour to lean about “the Blue Ghost” and its history at Pearl Harbor and the WWII battles in the Pacific. And if you haven’t had enough of the beach yet, Corpus Christi has over 100 miles of beachfront for you to enjoy. You can also check out some of the fantastic smaller museums like the Museum of Hispanic Culture, the Texas Surf Museum, the Selena Museum, and the Art Museum of South Texas.
And though we might be pushing empty on the gas gauge at this point, if you want to fill up another tank, head over to Mustang Island State Park, Port Aransas, and South Padre Island National Seashore for more beach adventures.