I often joke that Texas feels like another country (hey, it used to be, who remembers that?) and as such they do things a little differently out there. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Baytown was full of surprises. A place for experiential travelers to check some unique items off their bucket list, this waterfront city is a literal treasure trove of attractions from annual grape stomps to legal drag racing. Here are just a few of the highlights to look out for:
Make it a Scavenger Hunt
An easy 30-minute drive from Houston, Baytown often gets lumped in with the other suburbs, but the area actually has historical significance as the deciding battle in the Texas Revolution. And while their legacy is important, Baytown is fully updated with the times. In fact, a city-run tourism app makes it easy for visitors to uncover hidden gems with self-guided scavenger hunts, a fresh new way to travel. And everything’s more fun when games and prizes are involved, right?
Art-venture is an interactive photo tour of the murals and sculptures around Baytown with corresponding trivia questions. Two of the not to miss stops in the Ace District (Arts, Culture and Entertainment) are the highly Instagrammable Umbrella Alley and the Art League, which updates its displays monthly-ish. Part museum, part classroom, and part event space, they feature both local artists and student work inside with an exterior adorned with famous paintings reimagined like Dali and his cat and Mona Lisa in mountains.
They are also huge on geocaching, with a multi-day, citywide geo-tour that’ll take you around Baytown hunting for caches based on GPS coordinates. If you weren’t specifically looking for the little trinkets and logbooks, you’d never know these treasures were hidden in plain sight!
Meet the Locals
The Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Education and Recreation Center is part science lab part touch-tank aquarium populated with inhabitants collected from the local bays and estuaries. Home to creepy crawlies like snakes, bugs, and bats, they host a number of summer camps and field trips teaching the community about all the native species through taxidermy, fishing, and other programs. Also open to the public; you don’t want to miss the un-bee-lievable indoor/ outdoor beehive, feeding the baby gators, and the opportunity to have a Britney moment with the snakes (although truthfully the bearded dragon was much cooler).
Take Advantage of the Landscape
Part of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, Baytown is situated on the Houston ship channel and home to lovely scenery and residents. The Fred Hartman Bridge is the longest cable-stayed bridge in Texas and highly photogenic at sunset by O’Neals. When you’re ready to explore, fishing and crabbing are popular pastimes, but you can also watch the shrimp boats pull in their daily haul from the marina as the seabirds greedily wait for their cut.
The Baytown Nature Center is surrounded by three bays and used to be a residential subdivision before being destroyed by the hurricane. After years of planning and redevelopment, the peninsula was completely restored as a recreated marshland. There are now wildlife walks, butterfly gardens, fishing piers, and nature trails for all to enjoy.
Fill Up on Authentic Cuisine
Thanks to a variety of ethnic influences, southeast Texas has no shortage of mouthwatering restaurant options. For authentic breakfast burritos, head to D&D Grocery (formerly C&D, but the owner remarried lol). Despite both a name and location change following a fire people still manage to find them, proving how deep the cult following goes. An assembly line process, you load up homemade flour tortillas with whatever ingredients you want off a chalkboard (without so much as prices or translations). Just know the messier the better and Mexican eggs, potatoes, and chorizo are always fan favorites.
The Cuban Café is another great lunch spot with juicy ropa vieja rice and bean plates and guava and cream cheese empanadas for dessert. If sushi’s your jam, Wazabi has some seriously creative rolls with ingredients like blue cheese and coconut coating proving as flavorful as it is unexpected. The artful presentation of their hybrid eel, miso, and spicy mustard sauce is a thing of dreams and best paired with the deep-fried tuna nachos.
When you need a sweet treat, Sabor of Mexico has elaborate frozen creations from homemade popsicles to horchatas and mangonadas. Their crazy ice cream is as colorful as it is tasty with flavors like pine nut (that could oddly pass as cotton candy) and Mexican vanilla for a Tahitian twist.
Get A True Texas Education
You know the saying – everything’s bigger in Texas and locals have certain quirks (okay, obsessions) they go all out for. Whataburger is the Southern equivalent of In-N-Out with massive burgers that actually require two-hands to hold. Baytown is the perfect place to try the local delicacy (just make sure you get the secret sauce, the spicy ketchup).
For another mind-blowing experience, Buc-ee’s is a massive Texas convenience store chain that is oddly unknown outside of the Lonestar State but somewhere locals will drive hours out of the way to visit. Part restaurant, part gift shop, part gas station, and 100% roadside attraction, the stores are dizzyingly large and completely overwhelming. They tons of branded apparel (in case you need beaver print underwear) and signature products from the jerky bar (get the Hill Country garlic blend) to homemade fudge, BBQ and their own snack blends like the highly coveted Beaver Nuggets (caramel corn puffs).
And if you know anything about Texas, you know they love showing off their tricked-out vehicles (the larger the better). Every Friday night, Legal Street Racing is the nighttime to-do at the Houston Raceway. Home to one of the fastest drag strips in America, anyone can come get an adrenaline rush. People travel from all over the country to spin their tires and get their kicks on the sticky concrete.
Content Produced in Partnership with Lauren Monitz, with The Down Lo.