Tour of Houston Ship Channel: A Fascinating Tourist Attraction

Updated on April 2, 2020
Peggy W profile image

I live in Houston, and I have worked as a nurse. My interests include art, traveling, reading, gardening, cooking, and our wonderful pets.

The Houston Ship Channel
The Houston Ship Channel | Source

Houston Ship Channel

Throughout the years, when we have had out of town guests who have never previously been to this part of the country, we typically introduce them to the Houston Ship Channel. It is an engaging tourist attraction.

Our guests walk away from that experience better informed about one of the busiest ports in the nation. They are also amazed at what they can see on that free ninety-minute tour.

The Houston Ship Channel is the busiest port in the United States by the measurement of foreign tonnage. It only ranks second to Louisiana by way of the overall capacity of things shipped in and out of the country.

In the entire world, Houston ranks as the 16th largest port. When one considers that this channel is 50 miles inland from Galveston Bay, it is incredible!

Vessel from which we toured the Houston Ship Channel
Vessel from which we toured the Houston Ship Channel | Source

Allen Brothers

Houston, Texas, may have eventually been developed to what is it is today, but not as rapidly were it not for the efforts of Augustus and John Allen. These brothers came to Galveston, Texas, from New York in the year 1831.

Discovering Buffalo Bayou and the White Oak Bayous that converge in what is now called Houston, these influential people decided that this would be an excellent place to live.

Following the Battle of San Jacinto in which Texas won independence from Mexico, they purchased 6,000 acres in 1836 on the southern banks of Buffalo Bayou. They named the settlement Houston, after a hero of the Battle of San Jacinto, General Sam Houston. Sam Houston would become the first President of the Republic of Texas.

The Allen Brothers started advertising Houston as a great place to live in newspapers of other far-flung cities. The Allen brothers even promoted Houston as a port city. Yes, a ship could navigate the waterways from Galveston to Houston, but indeed not a large boat and not without encountering many obstacles. A valid port city was yet to become a reality.

Houston Ship Channel Photo
Houston Ship Channel Photo | Source

Galveston Hurricane of 1900

Before this deadliest of all-natural disasters to hit the mainland of the United States, Galveston was the biggest city in Texas with a thriving seaport.

When the hurricane, also called the "Storm of the Century," slammed into this city situated on the Gulf of Mexico on September 8, 1900, about twenty percent of all the residents were instantly killed. An estimated 8,000 people were lost that day!

There was no way to possibly take care of that number of bodies other than burning them on piers. It must have been such a horrific experience, and just about every family who had lived there was greatly affected.

The genesis of Houston becoming a port city was furthered along by this disaster of significant proportions. But vital work still needed to be done to make it become a successfully functioning port city.

Lots of activity in the Houston Ship Channel
Lots of activity in the Houston Ship Channel | Source

From the Allen Brothers to Today

Some goods were shipped via the Buffalo Bayou waterway between Galveston and Houston back in 1836. But to have expanded to become the major port city that it is today took much time and effort.

Dredging out Buffalo Bayou as well as the Bay of Galveston was started in earnest to accommodate ever-larger shipping vessels and continues even to this day. According to post information that I have found, the dimensions of the Houston Ship Channel are as follows: 50 miles (80 km) long by 530 feet (160 m) wide by 45 feet (14 m) deep.

Some artificial islands have been created from all that continual dredging to keep the waterways functional. The islands offer shelter to seabirds and other life in the marshlands.

The boat tours are operated by the Port of Houston Authority. Getting to see some of the large cargo vessels that cross the oceans is a real treat.

A running commentary while aboard the air-conditioned boat enlightens one as to historical facts and figures. If you are interested in hearing the history of this region and how all this happened, you will become better informed by taking advantage of these tours. Gazing at ships arriving from all points of the globe is also fascinating.

View from a tour boat in Houston Ship Channel
View from a tour boat in Houston Ship Channel | Source

Dining at the Houston Ship Channel

The first time that I took the Houston Ship Channel tour was many years ago as a part of a group tour. We ended up eating at Shanghai Red's, which overlooked the Turning Basin of the Houston Ship Channel.

The large windows of Brady's Landing (the restaurant next door to the now torn down Shanghai Red's) offer an unobstructed view. Diners can watch international cargo vessels turning around to head out to sea, at the same time, one can savor a bite of lunch or dinner.

Restaurants viewed from the turning basin in Houston Ship Channel
Restaurants viewed from the turning basin in Houston Ship Channel | Source
Large Ships and Barges viewed in the Houston Ship Channel
Large Ships and Barges viewed in the Houston Ship Channel | Source

Ship Channel Icons of Texas History

Also found on the Houston Ship Channel is the San Jacinto Monument. The USS Texas Battleship is also berthed at that site. One can tour both icons of Texas history if extra time is allowed.

Visitors will see smokestacks from petroleum refining companies. They will also view massive cargo ships that cross the oceans to unload many automobiles and other goods. Visiting the Houston Ship Channel as a tourist attraction should be on everyone's to-do list if planning a visit to Houston.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Peggy Woods


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      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        6 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hello Ehren,

        I am so pleased that you enjoyed reading this. Thanks for your comment.

      • skydancer profile image

        Ehren E Grunewald 

        6 weeks ago from New Orleans / NC

        This is fascinating to me as I have Gulf Coast roots and a slight nautical obsession (!!). I really enjoyed reading some of the history of Houston and Galveston during the 19th century. Thanks for posting!

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        7 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Liz,

        I am glad that you have had a similar experience in your part of the world. Those massive ships are really something to view!

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        7 weeks ago from UK

        This reminds me of a day out with friends on the Solent near Southampton UK. It was fascinating to observe the massive cargo ships from a small boat. This sounds like an excellent trip for your visitors.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        8 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi FlourishAnyway,

        Yes, that hurricane in 1900 was devastating to the folks living in Galveston. It was the worst natural disaster in a relatively small locale in U.S. history. Normal ways of coping with it pretty much went out the window so-to-speak.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        8 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Ruby,

        The fact of Houston being 50 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico makes the fact of our being a significant seaport more amazing. We are not right on the coast as you know which would have been easier.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        8 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Manatita,

        The Allen brothers certainly did get Houston off the ground earlier than it may have happened otherwise by their advertising.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image


        8 weeks ago from USA

        I always assumed the waterway was a natural rather than dredged channel. It was sad about burning all of those dead bodies. Sometimes populations just become overwhelmed by a calamity.

      • always exploring profile image

        Ruby Jean Richert 

        8 weeks ago from Southern Illinois

        This was an interesting read about the Houston ship channel. They say that anyplace that has access to water will flourish and Houston has proved that to be true. I liked reading about the first people who settled there.

      • Peggy W profile imageAUTHOR

        Peggy Woods 

        8 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Bill,

        It was a Herculean effort to dredge that far inland to make the Port of Houston what it has become. I am happy to fill in a bit more information about Houston for you and others who come across this post.

      • manatita44 profile image


        8 weeks ago from london

        I find some of the history interesting too. I have not touched on it so far, but you do your best to cover it well. God bless these two brothers who seemed to have been the inspiration for something big.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        8 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        That's a pretty cool history. I had no idea Houston was that large of a port. The amount of work to make that happen would have been Herculean. Man is not to be denied when a goal is in sight.


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