By Michele Stevens Bernard, TSB Lifestyle Editor
When thinking Texas beaches, most people’s minds wander to the white sands of South Padre Island, or to strolling and enjoying the amusements along the Galveston seawall. While both of these beachfronts share a special place in my heart, as you consider your summer agenda, may I direct your attention to my favorite Lone Star coastal destination?
Port Aransas, with sand so perfectly dig-able, artists from around the world converge annually on this tiny Gulf town to do just that, consistently remains the place my family begs to return to summer after summer after summer.
Located north of Padre Island, Port Aransas with a population of only 3,480 folks, is the only established town on Mustang Island. According to locals, weekends and holidays such as spring break can see the population of this quaint little fishing village swell to well over this number, but personal experience reminds me that for the mid-week vacationer, the small coastal town vibe is your reward for graciously sharing beach space on Saturday and Sunday.
Surrounded by the Corpus Christi Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, the Lydia Ann Ship Channel and the Corpus Christi Ship Channel, by car, Port A is accessed by bridge when approaching from the nearest large city, Corpus Christi. But in my opinion, the most fun way to arrive is by one of the eight ferries that make up the Port Aransas Ferry System. As you drive onto the deck and watch the dolphins play in the channel as you cross, it is easy to picture leaving the work-a-day world behind in Aransas Pass as you approach a much anticipated family vacation on the awaiting shore.
Once in Port Aransas, it doesn’t take long for schedules to slip away. Island time takes over with sea-breeze infused rhythm. Soon, one moves beyond suburban concerns, and closer to more important agendas; sand-castle building, long conversations with the kids while fishing from a pier, beach walking hand-in-hand with a loved one, water lapping feet.
The only schedule my family keeps while visiting Port Aransas is one observed by some of the locals, and frequent visitors. Each evening near sundown, we make our way to the marina to watch the deep sea fishing boats make their way to port. Small crowds gather on the docks to await their arrival and welcome them home. Curiosity builds in anticipation of the first glimpse of the catch of the day. Upon arrival, anglers disembark. As they are greeted by family and friends, the boat crews mount the day’s trophies on specially built racks. Pictures are taken amidst much back-slapping and hand-shaking. Curiosity satisfied, the crowd disperses, some moving into the water-side restaurants, others walking to the nearby park. Congratulations and stories of the one that got away can be heard floating through the marina and back out to sea.
In addition to fishing and beach-time, Port Aransas offers a wealth of family friendly activities. Bird-viewing, kayaking, and hiking for the nature lovers, and skating, wake-boarding, kite-surfing and other water sports for the more adventurous water-lovers. Visiting the University of Texas Marine Science Institute Visitors Center is one of our favorite rainy day activities when in Port A. They offer self-guided tours of Texas coastal habitats, and show fun educational movies Monday through Thursday at 3 p.m. In addition to rainy day fun, those 3 p.m. movies are especially refreshing on extra-hot beach days! Additionally, don’t forget Corpus Christi is right across the bridge, so you really will not run out of things to do.
Over-night accommodations in Port Aransas are a matter of taste. From camping on the beach in a tent or an RV, to hotels and condos to homes for rent, there really is something for everyone. Over the years, my family has stayed in everything from my husband’s favorite fish-camp to a family home rented out for the summer, to a MTV-like party-pad condo, to a Holiday Inn Express across the bridge in Corpus. One thing to know is with the exception of a handful of homes, most accommodations sit back from the beach behind the dunes. If a view of the water is a must, there are a few high-rise condos and hotels that will fit the bill. There are also accommodations that front the marina.
While any time spent at the beach is a good time, for maximum comfort, my recommendation is to visit Port Aransas as early in the summer as possible. If you can get away during the spring, even better —Port A enjoys a subtropical climate with spring and early summer high temps hovering between 80 and 90. Later in the summer the thermometer registers somewhere between 93.2 and Dante’s Inferno around 3 p.m. (See Cool Movie idea above).
My family recently had the opportunity to gather together in Port Aransas to enjoy Sandfest, a professional sandcastle building contest that draws artists and spectators from around the world. For the past 17 years, this three day festival has grown to be known as one of the largest sand sculpting competitions in the world. What started with a couple of ladies helping kids build sandcastles on the beach, the festival now draws over 100,000 visitors while benefitting numerous charities and scholarships. It is truly a sight to behold.
Beginning on Friday with a huge pile of sand, professional artists get to work creating larger than life works of art. By Sunday, their work is done. In addition to the pros, beach sand is piled and sectioned into numerous rows where amateurs compete as well. As the artists sculpt away, spectators are free to observe as they work. Or, if they prefer, they can enjoy live musical entertainment, or shop the myriad of colorful tents lining the beach selling everything from beachwear to cars. The photos used throughout this article are those taken during this event. To learn more about this cool festival or to check out the winning entries, click here.
While it was fun making new memories with our now grown sons, one with fiancée in tow, I think the most fun I had was making our way to the marina at the end of the day. While we were too late to see the catch of the day, we arrived just in time for our sons and soon to be daughter-in-law to take off jogging across the marina to the adjacent park. My engaged son points to an outcropping of rocks jutting into the water. I know he is telling the story about the time we fished there. The trio continue running toward the two-story observation tower that faces the channel. This is where we used to watch dolphins playing in the channel and big ships move in to port and out to sea.
The three bound up the steps to the second story. Instead of looking out across the water, I see them carefully inspecting the wood banister. As I watch them sifting through the decades of accumulated grooved letters and etchings in search of the initials they carved into the wood all those summers ago, I realize why Port Aransas is my favorite Lone Star coastal destination: much like a group of favorite relatives, our favorite family memories live there.