Texas Travel

City Spotlight: Palacios

By Chet Garner 2.23.23

Palacios is one of the many forgotten-but-wonderful coastal towns in South Texas. It’s on the Tres Palacios Bay, smack in between the busy harbor towns of Port Aransas and Galveston. Palacios makes for the perfect daytrip if you’re a fan of salty air, seafood, and fishing.

Before I get any further, you’ve got to know how to say “Palacios.” Like most things in Texas, the name has been Tex-ified — it’s pronounced “pull-ashes.” If you say it like “puh-la-see-ose” (which is technically the correct pronunciation), the folks in town will have no idea what you’re talking about.

A Historical Treasure Trove

The Tres Palacios Bay is an inland bay on the Matagorda Bay. Palacios was founded in the early 1990s, but it boomed in the 1920s after Camp Hulen opened as a giant training base for the Texas National Guard. Palacios served the base (and the thousands of people on it) up through World War II. You can learn all about that history at the City by the Sea Museum, which is right downtown. The museum is also your go-to spot to learn about the most significant thing that’s happened in Palacios in recent history: the excavation of the La Belle.

If you’re not familiar with the story of the La Belle, here’s the condensed version. The La Belle was a 17th-century French ship that set out to find the mouth of the Mississippi, but it instead ended up shipwrecked at the bottom of Matagorda Bay. When the ship was finally found in 1995, Palacios became the base of operation for its excavation. Archaeologists built an enormous, $1.5 million cofferdam around it to see what was inside. They dredged up all kinds of cool stuff: treasure, tools, cannons. In fact, they found more artifacts on the La Belle than the world had from that era of French history previously.

If you want to see the actual ship, it’s on display at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. But you can see some of the artifacts they found at the City by the Sea Museum right here in Palacios. You can also take a ride out onto the Tres Palacios Bay in La Petite Belle, a half-scale version of the ship in its glory days. Hitch a ride on board at night, and you’ll get to watch the cannons shoot fireworks.

The Shrimp Capital of Texas

Palacios is known as the Shrimp Capital of Texas, and that’s because it is essentially the base of operations for the entire Texas shrimping industry. Just cruise through the marina, and you’ll see more than 400 boats in its port unloading tons of shrimp. (And just imagine the smell there!) So, of course, Palacios is one of the best places to get fresh seafood — especially shrimp.

An interesting fact about the Palacios shrimping industry is that it’s largely composed of Vietnamese families who moved there in the 1970s. So, the best restaurants in town are these awesome culinary blends of Texas and Vietnamese seafood. I’ve got two favorite spots you need to try.

The Point: It’s half fishing-and-bait shop and half homemade Vietnamese and Mexican food. They do an amazing job with all the Vietnamese classics like pho, banh mi, and egg rolls — but they also serve up a mean Mexican breakfast menu, complete with huevos rancheros, migas, and breakfast tacos.

Tran’s Restaurant: The Tran family actually own and operate their own shrimping boat, so you’re guaranteed fresh seafood here. They serve up Vietnamese-style shrimp, boiled with the head still on and rubbed down with all kinds of killer spices. If you’re there in the right season, they serve crawfish the same way. And if you’re not in the mood for seafood, they have other Asian food staples, too.

Another Treasure Trove — of Fish! 

Palacios has an entire seawall that’s awesome for bayside hikes and jogs, but the piers are most popular for fishing. Don’t forget to bring your pole because the fishing experience here is tremendous. I’m telling you — you’re almost guaranteed to catch something. There are enormous (and I mean enormous) black drum and sand trout in the bay, and boy, are they hungry. I literally could have filled up my entire truck bed with the sand trout I caught if I felt like keeping them. I’ve never seen anything like it — but that’s Palacios for you!

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