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Texas's coast stretches for more than 350 miles between Louisiana and Mexico. It's predominantly flat and sandy, with large bays and skinny barrier islands tripling the amount of shoreline. The sand varies in color from white to light brown, and the water is warm and calm and usually a dull green. It can be cloudy on some days and quite clear on others, especially the farther south you go.

Though the natural features along this coast are fairly uniform, there is one notable difference: rainfall. The eastern and central parts of Texas are much wetter than South Texas. Rivers, bayous, and creeks pour into estuaries and marshy wetlands, creating a fertile habitat that supports a broad range of wildlife. Along this coast are several national wildlife refuges, the most famous being the one at Aransas, which is the winter home of the endangered whooping crane. South of Corpus Christi the land is arid, which makes the water clearer, especially on the protected side of the barrier islands. South Padre Island has more sand dunes than the barrier islands to the north, and water on its sheltered side is extrasalty because evaporation removes water faster than it is added.

In the summer of 2008, Hurricanes Dolly and Ike hit the northern and southern parts of this coast but left untouched the central coast, the area around Corpus Christi. Galveston will need time to recover from the effects of Ike, which caused changes that in some ways might be permanent. South Padre Island did not suffer as much from Dolly, and is almost fully recovered, with the exception of one or two small hotels.

There are many things for visitors to do on the Texas Gulf Coast, including all manner of watersports. Birding and eco-tourism also attract many visitors. And, thanks to its short and mild winters, the Gulf Coast attracts a lot of "winter Texans" who come fleeing the cold in their native states.

The largest cities on this coast are Corpus Christi and Galveston. Both offer the visitor a choice of recreation, lodging, and dining options. Farther south, at the very tip of the state, is the town of South Padre Island, the best-known purely tourist resort in the state. We cover everything from Galveston to South Padre Island, but not the bit of coast between Galveston and Port Arthur, at the Louisiana border (and believe me, nobody considers the Port Arthur coast for its recreational activities).