History of Matagorda
Matagorda is the third oldest town in Texas. It was settled by Elias R Wright, one of Stephen F Austin’s surveyors, along with 60 settlers in 1829. Once the county seat and thriving shipping port, Matagorda is now a sleepy fishing village approximately 100 miles southwest of Houston. It is located at the intersection of the Lower Colorado River, the Intercoastal Waterway, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Where is Matagorda?
With a few days to kill between horse shows in Katy, Texas over the Easter holiday, I ventured to the Texas coast. Originally, I thought I’d visit Galveston. But with it being Easter and finally a nice April Spring day, I could only imagine the crowds of people on the beach in a city of 50,000. Instead, I opted for the town of 700 that balloons with tourists in the summer.
I was pleasantly surprised to find such a quiet and natural place on the Texas shores! Matagorda was smaller than I expected. I would advise provisioning before you leave home or in Bay City, 21 miles north. The one, stop-sign town has only one highly priced gas station selling diesel and a Dollar General for groceries.
Of course, there are a handful of restaurants, as well as few shops and outfitters which cater to tourists, but mostly Matagorda’s unspoiled marsh lands and sugary soft beaches are a nature and fishing lovers paradise.
Things to Do in Matagorda
In fact, Matagorda is best known for its commercial and recreational fishing, so it is easy to find bait at Stanley’s General Store which also sells fishing supplies and licenses, beach necessities and a permit to drive on the beach, as well as food.
Grab a rod and set up on the jetty that pokes into the Gulf of Mexico, cast on the shores of the Colorado River, or hire an outfitter and fish Matagorda Bay. Trout, redfish, sheepshead, and black drum are just a few of the species in Matagorda’s waters.
There are several outfitters from which to choose though Matagorda Bay Fishing Team has all 5 star reviews (95) on Google!
Paddle the River
If fishing isn’t your thing, try kayaking. The Matagorda Bay Nature Park, operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority, rents kayaks by the hour.
They will help launch them off their boat dock right into the Colorado River. If you have your own kayak, I highly recommend launching at the East Matagorda Bay Paddlesports Park, which does not allow motorized watercraft.
The calm waterways snake through the wetlands providing excellent fishing, birding and paddling opportunities.
Speaking of birding, there are tons of shorebirds in Matagorda. Herons, pelicans, gulls, anhinga, plovers, and egrets are just a few of the birds Annie and I saw as we strolled the beach. The anhinga dried their wings, the plovers trotted across the tide, and the rest fished, squawked, and glided in the wind.
On my way down to Matagorda I even spotted an Attwater Prairie Chicken which proved elusive during my visit to the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge!
Along with birds there were shells galore on the beach. They are mixed in with driftwood, jellyfish, and some trash, so watch where you step.
Annie and I strolled the beach for a couple of hours each day and hardly came to the end. In fact, Matagorda is home to 23 miles of beach which is accessible by vehicle and 35 additional miles only accessible by boat.
Search for Sea Turtles
While strolling through seashells, I also searched for sea turtles. The iSeaTurtles app lets you track turtles which nest on Matagorda’s beaches between April and August. Researchers are particularly interested in the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.
Watch the Sunset
While I didn’t spot any sea turtles, but I did spy a nice sunrise and sunset. The particularly rainy Texas spring with skies full of storm clouds proved a little challenging, but as with anywhere with little light interference, it is worth looking up at the sky! There are many places to watch the sunset and sunrise from the Matagorda Bay Nature Park as well as several public beach access points.
Check out the Nature Center
The Matagorda Bay Nature Park also features a nature center and gift shop. Check out the shells and fossils, pick up your sunscreen, pic-nick at the park, or rent putters for a game of mini golf.
The 9-hole mini golf course at Matagorda Bay Nature Park is small, but if the kids aren’t into nature, they can at least hit the golf ball. Especially since swimming at the beach in Matagorda is dangerous and not recommended due to the strong riptides.
While I tend to seek out nature on most of my journeys, there is usually always something interesting and historical in every town. For such a sleepy fishing village, Matagorda has a lot of history. It was home to a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and a very important port in the Civil War. Confederacy blockade runners used Matagorda to move goods and bypass Union ships during the Civil War.
Samuel Rhoads Fisher House
Signage around town marks the historical structures and events. A white two-story clapboard house with open porches and a side gabled roof rests on the west side of town. It belonged to Samuel Rhoads Fisher, an early Texas colonist, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, and Secretary of the Republic of Texas Navy. Nearby there is also a historic post office and old bell.
Christ Episcopal Church
The Christ Episcopal Church is the oldest episcopal church in Texas. The original site dates back to 1838, but it was destroyed in one of the many hurricanes which ultimately changed the county seat from Matagorda to Bay City. The current church dates back to 1854 and includes reclaimed items from the first building.
The cemetery may be the most historical piece of Matagorda. It was established as part of Stephen F Austin’s colony in 1829. Those buried in the Matagorda cemetery include the victims of the 1862 yellow fever epidemic; soldiers of the Texas Revolution, War of 1812, and the Civil War; as well as Karankawa Indian victims. The grave sites of Samuel Rhoads Fisher and other Texas patriots are marked with signage.
Check out the Colorado River Locks
Also near town are the Colorado River Locks. Don’t follow the google maps link to watch the boats go through the gravity operated system because you’ll end up at the headquarters where they shoo you away. Instead, follow the road on the south side of the bridge crossing the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway to the dead-end.
While there is no viewing platform like at the Panama Canal, you will get a good view of the locks, though the best is from the top of the bridge. Completed in 1954, the locks join the Intercoastal Waterway with the Colorado River. Over 12,000 tows, 30,000 vessels, and 20 million tons of product pass through these locks every year.
Where to Stay in Matagorda
The dead-end area could be a good place to boondock. I stayed near the bathrooms on a public beach access road as well in the Matagorda Bay Nature Park lot, though during the busy season that might not be welcome.
The nature park also includes hookups, rentable air streams, and cabins coming soon. And as mentioned previously, you may drive onto the beach with a permit. That said, be good at four-wheel driving in the sand so you don’t get stuck!
There are also several places on VRBO.
Where to Eat in Matagorda
I only visited Matagorda for two days, so I didn’t get a chance to eat at all their restaurants, but I did enjoy the friendly service, giant patio, and tasty chicken tacos at Poco Playa Fish Camp.
You can also try Waterfront Restaurant, Coastal Que BBQ, and Stanley’s.
In all, I really enjoyed the quiet, natural vibe of Matagorda in the spring. Next time, I will definitely pack my inflatable kayak and charter a fishing boat for more adventures! ETB
5 thoughts on “Things to Do in Matagorda”
Beth, interesting blog but in the first paragraph it says 1929 – should be 1829?
Yes it should! Thank you for catching my mistake. I will adjust
I honestly thought that was a crocodile lying on the sand!
haha. glad it wasn’t!
Hahaha, great it wasn’t!