Just east of Houston, where sandy soil meets swampy waters, there’s a town that thrives in the humid breezes of Southeast Texas.
Contact the Baytown Tourism Office at 281/420-5343.
Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper® travel show on PBS; www.the daytripper.com.
While Interstate 10 moves millions through this community every year, many never venture past the access roads. So with an eye toward adventure and mosquito spray in hand, I took off to find the true bayou essence of Baytown.
8:30 a.m.: In the heart of Baytown, among empty storefronts on Texas Avenue, I found Cork Grinders, a local coffee and wine bar housed in a renovated theater that’s leading the charge to rejuvenate downtown. It was packed with everyone from families eating breakfast [now offered only on Saturdays] to refinery workers having a post-shift beer. I grabbed a cup of coffee and set off for more Baytown surprises.
9:30 a.m.: On the next block, I discovered the Portrait of a Warrior Memorial Art Gallery and met Ken “The Dauber” Pridgeon Sr., who has taken on the mission of painting every soldier from Texas killed in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every inch of wall space was filled with a different painting and a story of a brave soldier who sacrificed his or her life for our country. I left humbled, impressed, and thankful.
10:30 a.m.: Attracted by a sign with a giant pair of antlers, I stopped by the Trophy Barber Shop, which must be the most unusual barber shop in Texas. Founded by an avid sportsman, the walls are covered with trophies of exotic animals from across the globe. Luckily, I was in need of a cut, so I grabbed a chair beneath the canopy of deer antlers as I listened to the locals chat about life in Baytown.
12:00 p.m.: I headed to Rooster’s Steakhouse, a Baytown institution for some 40 years. When I found out they grind their own burger meat, I knew my order for lunch. My cheeseburger arrived thick and juicy, but tastiest of all was the friendly southern charm … and the pie. Yes, definitely the pie.
1:00 p.m.: Ready to learn about the namesake “bay,” I visited the Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Education Center. Packed with hands-on exhibits, the center teaches the value of keeping the bay healthy and tells about all the critters that call it home. I touched some crabs, held a snake, and ultimately left with a new appreciation for bay life.
3:00 p.m.: Eager to spend time near the water, I drove to the Baytown Nature Center. Surrounded by three bays, the park was full of folks enjoying the natural world, from fishing to hiking and kayaking. Prepared to catch some crabs, I tied a piece of string to some raw chicken and threw my line from the pier. For the next few hours, I pulled in one blue crab after another. Across the bay I could see the towering San Jacinto Monument, which would have to wait for another day trip.
6:00 p.m.: After throwing back my crabs, I was hungry for some good seafood and headed to local soul food and Cajun restaurant Sav-Fer Da Flavor. I ordered shrimp and fish with a side of greens and cornbread. Aiyee, it was good.
7:30 p.m.: As it was a Friday night, I made my way across town to the Royal Purple Raceway. This quarter-mile drag strip hosts legal street races that are open to anyone with the horsepower and chutzpah to give it a shot. Wondering what it’s like to redline my ride, I paid my entry fee and got in line among the muscle cars.
My time came and I pulled up to the starting line, revving the engine with anticipation. I got the green light and within seconds was left in the dust of a super-charged hot rod. However, even the bitter taste of defeat couldn’t overpower the sweetness of a day well-spent in Baytown. So whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.