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35 miles NE of Corpus Christi; 182 miles SW of Houston; 161 miles SE of San Antonio

Rockport and its sister town, Fulton, are on the other side of the bay from Corpus, on the mainland coast facing out toward San Jose Island, which encloses Aransas Bay. The two towns have a combined population of 9,000. Rockport has more character than its neighbor and has become an art town, with resident artists, galleries, and the Rockport Art Center. The old downtown area is small and charming, with shops, galleries, and restaurants. But Rockport isn't in danger of becoming a fancy place; it's comfortable and feels lived in. Old-style motel courts, still the most common lodging option here, are testament to a time not so long ago when Rockport was a summer retreat for Texans looking for a quiet, economical place to enjoy the water. That's changing. A modern subdivision marina community has developed between the two towns, a Wal-Mart is going up, and a Holiday Inn Express has opened.

This part of the coast is particularly lovely. Notable are the many windswept oak trees, which are a favorite subject for artists and have become emblematic of the area. Of course, water is everywhere. A large protected wetlands area to the north, the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, is the winter home to the only natural colony of whooping cranes in the world. But this is only one of several natural areas in the region. Birding and fishing are two of the major draws. But if a beach is what you're looking for, the best are out on the barrier islands described in the next two main sections.