Texas Travel

City Spotlight: Kingsville

By Chet Garner 5.4.20

Oftentimes when people think of iconic Texas, they’re imagining longhorns, cattle, and wide-open spaces. Nothing paints that picture better than the King Ranch, the sprawling 825,000-acre ranch right outside the little town of Kingsville.

In fact, Kingsville was founded in 1904 as a result of the rapidly expanding King Ranch, so wrapping your head around the massive ranch is important to understanding the town and its way of life.

To put it one way, if you love the Texas lifestyle, then Kingsville is a trip for you.

King of the Ranches

Founded in the 1800s, the King Ranch is the largest ranch in Texas, larger than both the state of Rhode Island and the European country of Luxembourg. There is a rich history behind its immense size, and the ranch owners are happy to open up their front gates for interested tourists. They offer guided bus tours so you can see the cattle operations firsthand, as well as where they raise their award-winning horses and thoroughbreds.

If you’re interested in the history of the ranch, head to downtown Kingsville to visit the King Ranch Museum. You get to see a lot of neat artifacts here, like old-school trucks and ranching equipment — plus you get a peek at the King family’s legacy. You’ll learn all kinds of neat things, like how the ranch got started and how it got to be the size it is today.

Another offering on the ranch property (and one that’s less talked about) is their in-depth bird-watching tour. The birders at King Ranch are really passionate about what they do — and their enthusiasm is contagious. When you’re out on the property with them, you’ll probably see 100 different bird species: hawks, raptors, ospreys, eagles, and all other kinds of vibrant, colorful birds. For anyone with a budding interest in birding, King Ranch is the place to start.

Lastly, anyone who is familiar with ranching in Texas will likely be familiar with the King Ranch brand of ranch equipment. Check out the King Ranch Saddle Shop and watch these experts craft the same saddles and equipment that they use on the King Ranch. They’ve also got an amazing selection of leather bags, wallets, saddles, chaps, boots, and anything else you can make with leather. Even if you’re not a rancher yourself, it’s a terrific experience just watching what they do.

Todd White

Kingsville Food Is King

Every time I drive through Kingsville, I stop at Harrel’s Kingsville Pharmacy. It’s a legit operating pharmacy, but I love it for its old-school restaurant vibes. There’s a functioning old-fashioned soda fountain you can sit at while you enjoy a classic cheeseburger, a chocolate milkshake, or some superb beef enchiladas.

Another delicious but unexpected stop to make is at Spice Station Indian Cuisine. It’s run by an Indian family, and it’s one of the most pleasant surprises in all of South Texas. To anyone who might be timid about spice, start with the Spice Station’s tikka masala — but everything I had at their lunch buffet was tremendous.

Kingsville is right by the Gulf Coast, so if you drive about 30 miles south of Kingsville, you can make it to King’s Inn just in time for dinner. Because it’s right on the bay, King’s Inn offers some truly fresh catch, which is part of what makes it one of the most historic seafood joints in Texas. In fact, it’s been known for its fresh fish since the 1930s, and they still operate like they did when they opened. First of all, there’s no real menu; you just tell them how many pounds of shrimp, fried oysters, or flounder you want. They prepare it for you and serve everything up with an avocado salad and the best homemade tartar sauce you’ve ever had.

For all the variety of foods that Kingsville has to offer, there’s only one thing you can’t order in town: King Ranch Casserole. Turns out, this classic Texas casserole has absolutely nothing to do with King Ranch. It makes sense: The casserole is made with chicken, not beef — and that’s what Kingsville ranchers are all about.

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