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Rockport or Port O'Connor? GC residents find lots to like about both nearby getaway locations

By Trysta Eakin
Sept. 24, 2010 at 4:24 a.m.


Fun facts about....

Port O'Connor

Originally a fishing settlement called Alligator Head, the town finally got its name after ranch owner Thomas O'Connor in 1912.

In the early 1900s, excursion trains used to bring an estimated 10,000 tourists to Port O'Connor every summer.

Port O'Connor is fishing tournament central in South Texas, with events such as ABC Texas Mid Coast Fishing Tournament and Poco Bueno.

Source: Port O'Connor Chamber of Commerce

Fun facts about...

Rockport

Located in one of the smallest Texas counties, Aransas County, Rockport was founded in 1867.

The land on which Aransas County is located was originally owned by Mexico. Colonists signed a declaration of independence from Mexico in 1835.

More than 61,500 visitors tour the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge via land or boat annually.

Source: Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce

Double Take

Heilker's thoughts on Port O'Connor

Favorite memory: It would be between me and my wife at Strikers (restaurant) in 1967 and catching my 700-pound winning fish with my fishing team on "Mechanical Man" in 2005 at Poco Bueno.

Favorite thing to do there: Chase the fish, of course.

Advice for potential beach-home buyers: Buy the house you want and will get the most out of without being concerned about the investment part of it.

Taylor's thoughts on Rockport:

Favorite memory: The time spent with my family there. Nothing in particular, just growing up as a kid there.

Favorite thing to do there: I like to wade fish for trout and redfish.

Advice for potential beach-home buyers: I'd recommend that people buy and vacation in Rockport. If you live in Victoria, it's really easy to get to Rockport, but you feel like you're a long way from home. And there's something for everyone here.

Lucky Golden Crescent residents may choose from two popular beach-front getaways.

Some GCers talk about being either "Rockport people" or "Port O'Connor people." You can't go wrong either way, but what's the difference?

Port O'Connor

Known for its fishing tournaments, beautiful wildlife and laid-back atmosphere, Port O'Connor is the place to be for Victoria residents Ben and Gay Heilker.

Owning a gorgeous three-story house at the Las Palmas marina, the Heilkers spend their work week operating their company, Victoria Air Conditioning, and their weekends unwinding at the bay town on both land and sea, taking full advantage of the fishing tournament circuits with their 53.7-foot Bertram Yacht, better known as "Mechanical Man" in these parts.

While Ben is out bringing home the bacon, or 700-pound tournament-winning blue marlin, if you will, Gay, a Port O'Connor native, takes advantage of the peace and quiet while entertaining friends on shore.

"We don't have the shopping or social infrastructure that Rockport does, so people like to come here to kick back and relax," she said. "We come down and have our friends over. We cook on the weekends. That's what we like to do."

Meeting in the small fishing community while Ben was stationed at the Matagorda Island Air Force Base in 1966, the two have watched the 100-year-old town morph into the tourist community it is today. The base is now a nature reserve and state park; the once-thriving shrimping business is in decline; and sports and recreational fishing have become the primary industry. The bay is now dotted with hundreds of boats, rather than dozens, in the summertime.

Along with a boom in tourism, Ben said the area has experienced growth in housing development, with large bay houses cropping up all over town to accommodate those who, like the Heilkers, are interested in relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the Gulf.

According to the Port O'Connor Chamber of Commerce, the unincorporated village also offers duck and geese hunting, birding with 37 species of waterfowl, songbirds and shorebirds, shelling for 400 different species of mollusk and swimming and beach activities on Matagorda Island.

As for which of the two coastal communities might be better than the other, Ben said the two would be hard to compare. "People that go to Port O'Connor are focused more on fishing; those that go to Rockport want more of the shopping and socializing."

Rockport

What seemed like an uninhabited town to a young Tommy Taylor 20 years ago is now a port bustling with shopping, fishing, boating and birding.

An Atzenhoffer automobile sales manager, Tommy and his wife, Spring, keep their boat in Rockport and maintain the family beach home of 60 years, visiting at least twice a month.

"Just the proximity to Victoria draws us down there," Taylor said. "It feels like a mini-vacation every time."

Whether you're lounging at the city beach, out in the bay fishing, shopping in the quaint downtown area, or trying to catch a peek at the 265 whooping cranes that call the Aransas Wildlife Refuge home in the winter, Rockport promises a weekend filled with fun and relaxation.

An artist colony founded in the late 1800s, Rockport is also home to more than 300 artists, according to the town's Chamber of Commerce. With 15 art galleries, the coastal community offers a diverse social network, something Taylor said his wife, who owns Foxcroft Stationers in Victoria, enjoys about their weekend home.

"I go primarily for the fishing - redfish and trout. She likes to socialize," he said. "We have a lot of friends who go to Rockport, too, so we'll go out for dinner and drinks."

Their favorite place, he said, would have to be MoonDog Seaside Eatery, on Casterline Drive, off the water.

"The grouper sandwich is killer. You've got to try it with the spicy ranch, though."

Comparing Rockport to Port O'Connor, though, would be like comparing apples to oranges.

"It's a personal decision. It depends on what you're looking for," Tommy said. "(The towns) each have their own charm and different things they offer."

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