Looking at Seabrook, Texas, from the water, you see rows of wooden houses on stilts―some of them quite grand―plus marinas, seafood restaurants, and a whole lot of boats.
From the two main highways through town, Seabrook appears to be a place of small shops and strip malls.
Each view tells part of the story. But to reach the real heart of the town, you must venture into the residential neighborhoods. There, you'll find America's suburban dream: well-kept brick houses, mostly new, often with boats in the driveways. You're never far from water. And you're never far from a park full of children―or a hiking/biking trail full of adults.
"It's a very family-oriented community," says real estate agent Carla Wade, a resident. "The bulk of the neighborhoods are mainly suburban-type subdivisions."
Seabrook sits quietly along Galveston Bay just a few miles southeast of Houston. That sprawling, hustling metropolis plays a big part in the lives of most Seabrook residents. They shop there, attend ball games, visit museums, enjoy concerts and other cultural activities, even work there.
But as a place to live, they prefer Seabrook. Fishing and boating seem to be universal recreations. Children attend the highly rated Clear Creek Independent School District. You can start the day with sunrise over Galveston Bay and end it with sunset over Clear Lake, an arm of the bay harboring some impressive boats.
Jack Fryday, mayor of Seabrook, sums up his town's appeal quite simply: "It's a good neighborhood to live in, and it's close to a lot of stuff."
Before its incorporation in 1961, Seabrook had been a fishing village and a weekend retreat for Houstonians. Growth since then has been tightly controlled through zoning. Nearly all commercial development is restricted to the business corridors along NASA Road 1 and state Highway 146, plus an arts-and-antiques area just off 146 known as Old Seabrook.
"In the 1960s, a lot of NASA people built here," says Mayor Fryday. "They were very influential in local government, and very protective of their neighborhoods."
NASA employees from the nearby Johnson Space Center still make up a sizable chunk of the area population, though Fryday (who used to be one of them) estimates the numbers are down from 85 percent in 1966 to 10 to 15 percent today. Seabrook does remain predominantly white collar.
Boating is the local obsession. The Clear Lake area claims to be the third-largest boating center in the United States. Seabrook has three major marinas with 1,250 slips, and the Lakewood Yacht Club has made at least one top-10 ranking among America's yacht clubs.
In the evening, you can sit on the deck of Sundance Grill and watch the parade of yachts, cabin cruisers, and simple runabouts heading back to their moorings on Clear Lake. Dawdling over a glass of wine and an excellent crawfish bisque, listening to the breeze rustle palm fronds, watching the falling sun paint the water a blazing red-orange, you can't imagine living anywhere else.