Monday, May 26, 2014

Matagorda, TX Beach Trip

My family loves the beach.  We normally go to Port Aransas, which is a fun beach town, but doesn't have quite the budget-fishing-village vibe of the beach house Ben's family had on Bolivar Penisula before Hurricane Ike swept it away.  After a "coast people" conversation with one of the guys that works at Stuffed Cajun Deli, I asked "so where do you go from Austin for a cheap and easy beach trip?"  His answer:  Matagorda.  So we did our research and made our reservations and this weekend we drove down.

The trip from Austin is about 3 1/2 hours, a full hour less than it takes us to get to Aransas.  It's a tiny town, with about 4 restaurants, 3 gift shoppes, a seafood market and a convenience store with some groceries.  (We picked up supplies in Bay City at a very nice HEB -- but it's 30-40 minutes from the beach.) 

The history is interesting -- Matagorda was settled to protect colonists coming to Stephen F. Austin's original colony, there are historical markers all over town, and we noticed a Episcopal church claiming to be the (Episcopalian) "mother church of Texas."

The geography is also interesting.  Matagorda is where the Colorado River runs into the Gulf of Mexico, so in addition to the ocean and wetlands, there's a lot of river recreation.  We stayed at a beach condo but there were lots of houses lining the river for people with boats and a love of fishing.

The river was actually what saved our trip.  The Texas coast is experiencing a crazy influx of sargasso seaweed on shore right now.  So when we went to the beach, there was 10 yards or more of solid red seaweed two feet high between us and the ocean.  Our neighbors down the beach had brought a shovel and were shovelling a path through the seaweed -- it took them about 40 minutes of work -- but they were kind enough to let our group use it to get to the ocean to swim.  (And the ocean was full of seaweed, too.)  I didn't actually swim, but sat and built sand castles and read magazines in the sun.

[side note:  According to the Texas A&M Galveston Sargassum Early Advisory System:
Public use of these beaches can be severely restricted by the periodic mass landings of the free-floating algae Sargassum, commonly referred to as Seaweed. These Sargassum episodes often occur with little or no warning. They can last for weeks at a time, usually during the prime tourist season.  So I don't hold the seaweed against Matagorda.]

If that had been the sum total of our beach experience, I would have been very disappointed.  (And since this was our first time at Matagorda, we all wondered if it was like this all the time.  Ben even went so far as to ask how long it would take to drive to Port Aransas!  Both of us were worried about the impression our guests and Texas beach newbie friends were getting.) Luckily, the Lower Colorado River Authority had a park right where the river met the ocean that had both sand and no seaweed.  We spent our second morning there and finally had the beach experience we wanted.  (Without waves, but that was OK too.)

We stayed at perhaps the only condo complex at the beach itself -- Bahia de Matagorda #9.  The complex was very nice -- a large pool with a very 1980s swim up bar with in-pool bar stools (and a large sign saying "no glass, no eating or drinking in the pool").  I wouldn't think a pool is a requisite for a beach trip, but our last 4 have had a pool, and it makes coming in from the beach much easier.  You shower off in the outside shower on the way to the pool, then use the pool to cool off after a hot time at the beach.  The pool was actually on an "island" surrounded by a lagoon -- the lagoon added a nice atmosphere, and we saw some another guest kayaking in the lagoon.  (And a big surprise -- the big girls watched a turtle dive into the pool as we got there this morning -- nets were fetched to get it out, but it was an exciting 15 minutes!)

We mostly cooked in the condo, but we did get dinner out one night at Riverbend Restaurant & Tavern.  The large signs warning that the kitchen can take 40+ minutes to get food out once they get busy were a bit disconcerting, but we arrived at 5:15 and had a food in reasonable time.  The food was good for what it was -- fresh, fried seafood.  My french fry aficionado says the fries were boring.  They had fried okra as an appetizer, which was a surprising hit with the kiddos, even if it was just a vehicle for batter, salt, and ranch dressing.

The moms sneaked out to grab fancy coffee at Cattails once we had everyone settled on the beach.  The coffee was a surprise -- good lattes and mochas in a charming gift shoppe/wine bar/coffee bar attached to a surpisingly upscale Karankawa Village Lodge.

I alluding to wanting a "cheap and easy" beach trip, and this one was definitely more affordable than Port Aransas.  We spent $225/night for a 3 bedroom condo that easily accommodated two families.  That's hard to beat!

Will we be back?  I suspect we will, but the seaweed was enough of a damper (ahem!) to color our experience (even though that wasn't unique to Matagorda, but to our trip time) that we may try someplace else before we make it back.