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Going coastal

Courtesy Galveston Island CVB

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” — Jacques Cousteau

Is there any sight more powerful than the ocean?

When visiting coastal destinations, take every opportunity to soak in not only the scenery but also the delicious smell of salty air, the childlike delight of sandy toes and the poignant history that inevitably goes with a city by the sea.

So take a cruise to see the sights, be awed by our nation’s battleships and killer whales, and hear unforgettable stories from weathered fishermen, hurricane survivors and reclusive artists.
Indeed, get caught in the ocean’s net of wonder forever.

Galveston, Texas
Visitors can take the whole day on attractions at Pier 21 on historic Galveston Island, according to Leah Boyd, public relations manager for the Galveston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The Texas Seaport Museum tells the history of our seaborne commerce and immigration — we have been called ‘The Ellis Island of the West.’ The museum is also home to the 1877 tall ship Elissa, where groups can walk the decks and imagine the days when sailors challenged the world’s oceans,” Boyd said.

At the Pier 21 Theater, the 27-minute film “The Great Storm” documents the worst disaster in Galveston history, the 1900 hurricane that took more than 6,000 lives. Groups can end their day at Pier 21 by taking one of the many harbor tours that offer a narrated history of Galveston.

“Don’t miss time at the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum. It’s an opportunity to learn about offshore drilling, something most of us only see on television. Exhibits and videos are throughout three levels of this refurbished rig,” said Boyd. The museum is located on Pier 19.

Exotic and endangered plants and species from the rain forest and one of the largest aquariums in the country are the stars at Moody Gardens.


Santa Barbara, California

You’re in one of the world’s prime whale-watching grounds in Santa Barbara, with more than two-dozen species present as they follow migratory routes around Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and the San Miguel Islands.

“Condor Cruises will put you in the right place to not only see whales but dolphins, sea lions, seals and otters,” said Alexandra de L’Arbre, communications manager for the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau.

Adventurous groups can join a kayaking tour at the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary, where naturalist-led tours take in highlights such as the largest sea cave in the world.

“You’ll slip inside this natural cathedral and hang with the local sea lions while experiencing the rhythmic breath of the sea,” said de L’Arbre.

More excitement on the water is available on the Double Dolphin, a catamaran that can accommodate large groups.

“They offer coastal cruises, jazz dinner cruises and more,” said de L’Arbre. “I love the sunset cruises — it’s a beautiful time of day when the wildlife is active, and you get a view of the mountains lit up with the setting sun.”


Norfolk, Virginia
The Victory Rover Naval Base Cruise of the Norfolk U.S. Navy base departs from the harborside Nauticus, Norfolk’s science and maritime museum. The narrated cruise on the Elizabeth River and Hampton Roads Harbor offers sights of aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, guided missile cruisers and more.

The Nauticus museum includes the Battleship Wisconsin; active in World War II and Operation Desert Storm, it is one of the largest and last battleships. “Visitors experience a film that gives the ship’s 50-year history by those who served on it,” said Erin Filarecki, media relations manager for VisitNorfolk.

“Today, you can tour the underbelly [and] see the captain’s quarters and the chamber where they gave the orders to launch missiles.”

Departing from Waterside shopping and dining complex in the heart of downtown, the 135-foot, three-masted topsail schooner American Rover offers day and sunset cruises where passengers can lend a hand at the helm or just sit back and enjoy the sights.