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Birding, fishing, and hanging out on the beach are the top outdoor pursuits here.

Birding/Wildlife Viewing -- The Brazosport area has three national wildlife refuges and many more publicly and privately held nature preserves. Of the national refuges, the most developed is the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, which covers 43,388 acres and was established to protect coastal wetlands for migratory birds and other wildlife. The Information Center, located near the entrance to the refuge, has interpretive panels on what you want to watch for, and a boardwalk outside the Information Center leads across wetlands, where you may spot an alligator. The boardwalk provides access to the .6-mile Big Slough Birding Trail. The refuge also has a 2-mile hiking and biking trail that follows an abandoned railway line and provides views across a terrain of prairie, where you might see more than a dozen species of sparrows, white-tailed hawks, and white-tailed kites. In addition, there's a 7-mile driving tour with access to several observation decks. The refuge, which also allows fishing and hunting, is open September through May daily from 8am to 4pm, and during the summer it's open the same hours the first weekend of each month and intermittently during the week. Admission is free. To get to the refuge, take FM 523 north from Freeport or south from Angleton to C.R. 227, which you follow 1 3/4 miles northeast to the refuge entrance. For additional information, contact the refuge at tel. 409/849-7771 or visit http://southwest.fws.gov.

In the community of Quintana Beach the Neo-Tropical Bird Sanctuary is located on Lamar Street across from the Quintana Beach Town Hall (tel. 979/233-0848), where you can get a bird checklist and other information. This small wooded preserve is open 24 hours a day with free admission. It's a hot spot for viewing migrant birds that follow the Brazos River to the coast.

Fishing -- This area offers excellent fishing for grouper, ling, amberjack, and red snapper -- the state record 36.1-pound red snapper was caught in 1995 off the Freeport coast. Anglers can choose from about a dozen charter fishing boats, most based in Freeport Harbor, such as Underwater Expeditions, 1010 S. 2nd St. (tel. 979/233-1811; www.underwaterexpeditions.com), which offers 12-hour deep-sea fishing trips at $150 per adult weekends, $125 weekdays. Longer trips and exclusive charters are available. There are numerous places for shore, beach, pier, and jetty fishing, including Quintana and Surfside beaches, and a number of public boat ramps -- check with one of the visitor bureaus for locations.

Fun on the Beach -- The beaches here are far from pristine; they tend to be rocky, and the sand is more brown than white. Even so, it's still fun to dig your toes into the cool sand, walk along the shore, build a sand castle, watch the freighters and shorebirds, and look for seashells among the stones. Driving is permitted on most beaches here, except for the pedestrian-only beach at Quintana Beach County Park, 5th Street, in the community of Quintana (tel. 800/872-7578 or 979/233-1461; www.brazoria-county.com/parks/quintana). The park has a campground, good bird-watching, a playground, horseshoe pits, and a picnic area, and charges a $6 per vehicle day-use fee.

Texas's Most Deserted Beach

Heading down the coast toward Corpus Christi, you come to Matagorda Bay, one of the least developed areas of the coast, with lots of small fishing towns and farming communities. This region has its charm, and life here is really laid-back. Protecting the coast is Matagorda Island, a 38-mile-long strip of land covering almost 44,000 acres. It's mostly federal and state land set aside as a wildlife refuge. Aside from a small state park with camping areas and a historic lighthouse, there is little development. But there are plenty of beaches, pristine and deserted, on which you will see no motorized vehicles; they are prohibited. You can swim, hike, ride a bike (if you brought one), do some bird-watching (more than 300 species of birds have been spotted here, including the whooping crane), or look for shells. Fishing is also popular. Many locals fish in the surf here.

But if you decide to visit the island, you'll have to bring your own water and food; none can be purchased on the island. Primitive campsites at the state park cost $6 per night (up to four people). An outdoor cold-water rinse is available near the boat docks. The state used to operate a passenger ferry (tel. 361/983-2215) to the island from the town of Port O'Connor, but for the past couple of years, it's been inoperative. You might want to call and see if it's running again. Another option is to hire a boat at Port O'Connor. For more information contact Matagorda Island State Park and Wildlife Management Area (tel. 979/244-6804; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/matagisl/matagisl.htm).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.