For those fortunate enough not to live among the industrial areas of the Texas Gulf Coast, the landscape of refineries and their intricate tangle of pipes, their forests of cooling towers and stacks, and their fields of tanks are as exotic as the Zanzibar coast. If you find this sort of thing intriguing, you can take a free boat ride on the M/V Sam Houston, which tours the upper 7 miles of the deep water channel. The boat dates from the 1950s and has a lovely cabin trimmed in mahogany as well as fore and aft observation decks. I hail from Houston but rarely have the opportunity to see the ship channel up close, and I enjoyed this trip. You should probably make reservations well in advance during the summer months, when it is quite popular, though I'm told that the ship channel is best seen in cooler weather, when there is no risk of bad smells. The trip takes a total of 90 minutes, during which you will most likely see large container ships, tall grain elevators, tugs, and barges. If, after the trip, you want to see more of the channel, you can drive to the San Jacinto Battlefield, where the Battleship Texas is on display.