A guest post by Julie Rekai Rickerd.
As a journalist who writes about travel and the arts, my assignments are mostly very pleasant but involve a lot of work as well. I was therefore delighted when my son’s wedding was to be in Brownsville, Texas, the southernmost city in Texas, and I was to have a leisurely long-weekend in an area of the state I had never visited. Little did I suspect that Brownsville was so delightful and such a wonderful destination that I am compelled to share my experience there and strongly recommend it as a priority spot to visit.
We flew into the Brownsville and South Padre Island International Airport on United Airlines from Houston on a Thursday afternoon and, thanks to Airbnb, were immediately billeted into the Hicks-Gregg House, one of the many such homes available to rent that are on Brownsville’s Historic Register. Four of us each had our own spacious bedrooms and shared the elegant downstairs, its living and dining rooms, sunroom with a grand piano, and a large fully-equipped kitchen with adjoining laundry facilities. The early 20th century home had a wide front porch with the requisite rocking chairs and stood on a large property filled with mango and pomegranate trees that attracted a wonderful collection of birds such as parrots, green jays, woodpeckers, and egrets, just a few of the 500 species that inhabit the Brownsville area full-time or on a temporary basis. Many of these birds can be seen in the city’s Sabal Palm Bird Sanctuary at various times of the year.
In addition to Airbnb properties, Brownsville has many B&Bs, condominium rentals, resorts, as well as private hotels, and motels and those that represent all the usual American chains.
After a brief rest, off we went to Lola’s Bistro for a superb dinner. Lola’s signature omelets, huge sandwiches and baked goods proved to be so popular that the breakfast and lunch services were expanded to include dinner. We enjoyed a feast of a ceviche appetizer, followed by a choice of chipotle chicken or poached salmon. One of the guests said it was the best salmon he had ever eaten. The array of desserts and pastries was phenomenal.
On Friday, prior to an afternoon wedding rehearsal, we took advantage of our free time to walk to Sam’s Memorial Pool in Dean Porter Park, near the Gladys Porter Zoo. As “Drop-Ins”, Adults pay a mere $2.00, Seniors, $1.50, and Youth from 3-17, $1.00 to enjoy either of the two enormous pools, with special lanes for laps, diving, and a separate pool for children. Wonderfully refreshed, we set out for the wedding rehearsal at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.
Like many of Brownsville’s churches of all denominations, Our Lady of Guadalupe was distractingly beautiful with its painted, coffered ceiling and beautiful stained-glass windows. Following the rehearsal, we headed off to celebrate with excellent margaritas and delicious tacos at the Half Moon Saloon.
Saturday morning, Felix, of the Brownsville Convention & Visitors Bureau arranged a superb cultural walking tour for us of some of the city’s highlights, one of several such themed walking tours available. We started off at the magnificent Museum of Fine Art in which we admired its latest exhibition, “Art of South Texas”, with works that included those of Mark Clark, David Freeman, and Nancy Moyer as well as pieces from the Museum’s permanent collection of art and artifacts. I was particularly taken with a work by Mark Clark that reminded me in style and concept of some of the creations of Hieronymus Bosch. Several of my friends agreed. While we all gazed at the painting, we noticed a gentleman periodically peering at our group from behind a pillar nearby. It was only when the Museum Director invited him to come out to meet us that he left his “hiding place”. Lo and behold, it was the artist, Mark Clark. We were thrilled to meet him and to learn from him directly that yes, he had been inspired in this particular work by Bosch. We could have listened to him for hours but we had so much more left to see.
Being Saturday morning, the weekly 9:00AM – 12 noon Farmers’ Market was in full swing as we crossed Linear Park on our way to the Brownsville Historic Museum, admiring the market’s wares as we walked. The Historic Museum is located in Brownsville’s old Southern Pacific (Rail) Depot, built in 1928, along the lines of Spanish Colonial revival architecture. Its fine exhibits display Brownsville’s social, political, economic, and battle-filled past. Yet another pleasant surprise awaited us there when we discovered a room completely filled with stunning Frederic Remington paintings and sculpture, just a part of an entire private collection that has been donated to the Museum.
We concluded our tour by walking along the US side of the Rio Grande and gazing across to Matamoros, Mexico a mere international bridge away. Felix joined us for an excellent, traditional Mexican lunch of delicious soups, salsas, and entrees with sides of refried beans and rice at the Mi Pueblito restaurant before we scattered to get ready for the wedding. While we had taken one of Brownsville’s fascinating walks, other wedding guests had spent the morning on South Padre Island beaches a mere twenty-five minutes away, breaking only to have lunch at one of the many superb, fresh seafood “shacks” nearby.
The wedding was truly memorable and followed by a sensational reception at the historic Alonso Building, built by Manuel Alonso in 1877. Its lush, forest-like courtyard was a wonderful oasis in which to take a pause between the dinner’s courses.
Everyone was loath to leave Brownsville the next morning; some even decided to stay an extra day. We were all grateful for the help and hospitality we had received from the Brownsville Convention & Visitors Bureau regarding accommodation, what to see and do, and where to have great meals. I was delighted to have discovered a spot in south Texas that would be a perfect venue in which to spend those messy, cold, northern months.
Attention, Snowbirds! Take a good look at Brownsville as an ideal place to spend your winters.
Julie Rekai Rickerd
Brownsville Convention&Visitors Bureau
650 Ruben M. Torres Sr. Blvd.
Brownsville, TX 78520
Tel: (956) 546-3721
Lola’s Bistro Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church
1335 Palm Blvd. 1200 East Lincoln Street
Brownsville, TX 78520 Brownsville, TX
Tel: (956) 542-2200 Tel: (956) 542-4823
Half Moon Saloon
1101 East Adams St.
Brownsville, TX 78520
Tel: (956) 574-9779
3101 Pablo Kisel Blvd.
Brownsville, TX 78526
Historic Alonso Building
510 E. St. Charles St.