I’ve spent time in Harlingen in the past, but it was always a stop on the way to somewhere else. Each time, I noticed what a cool vibe the town has and I’d promised myself that I would schedule a bit more time to get to know Harlingen better. Last week, I made good on that promise.
Located in the heart of South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, Harligen’s tropical climate and its proximity to the beautiful beaches of South Padre Island make it a great spot for people who love the outdoors and nature. The area is heralded for its incredible bird watching, and in fact, two World Birding Centers are in Harlingen: The Arroyo Colorado at Hugh Ramsey Nature Park, a 55 acre park with nature trails, streams, and a picnic area, and The Harlingen Thicket, a 40 acre tract where you can also see some incredible birds. 400 species have been spotted in Harlingen, including Kingfishers, Warblers, and even the endangered Red-crowned Parrot! Every November, the town really goes to the birds when the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival wings its way into Harlingen.
Fishing, hunting, hiking, and golf are also popular activities in the region, so it’s probably not a surprise that Bass Pro Shops opened up one of their iconic stores here. This ain’t your grandaddy’s hobby shop! It’s a massive indoor recreation center. Besides having the area’s largest selection of outdoor clothing and equipment, the Harlingen store is part museum, part sporting and conservation education center and part entertainment complex. You don’t come here simply to shop — you come to experience their arcade, shooting gallery, 3-D archery range, and the 24,000 gallon aquarium stocked with all kinds of native fish.
So how did I spend my 3-day weekend in Harlingen? I started my mornings with coffee and pastries from Lara’s Bakery (the best pan dulce you’ve ever had!) I had scheduled a bird-watching guide at the Harlingen Thicket, but the weather wasn’t cooperating so I will have to save that for next time. No worries though – I found plenty of things to do on a rainy day.
I visited two fantastic museums: first, the Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum, which has three historical buildings on the grounds to explore, including the original home of Lon C. Hill, Harlingen’s town founder; the Paso Real Stagecoach Inn, and Harlingen’s first hospital; secondly, the Iwo Jima Memorial and Museum, a not-to-be-missed attraction in Harlingen. The main event here is the towering monument which depicts the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima during World War II. It is a beautiful and moving tribute to all who served in our armed forces. The museum is filled with fascinating memorabilia, and an excellent documentary film that is definitely worth seeing.
When the sun did peek out for a few hours one afternoon, I explored downtown Jackson Street, with its palm trees, unique shops, outdoor vendors and galleries. I also enjoyed a few great meals at some excellent restaurants.
All in all, it was a great weekend and I am so glad that Harlingen and I got to know each other better.