I could have grown up to be a beach snob. As a child, I lived in Australia and my primary school took us on overnight trips to exotic locations like Kangaroo Island, where seals lounged lazily in the sand. My childhood family vacations were to amazing beaches in New Zealand and Hawaii. Then, in college, I moved to the south of France and spent time traveling the coast, as far as the beautiful Mediterranean beaches in Greece and Turkey. It’s possible that by comparison, beaches on the Texas Gulf coast would come up short. But there’s a funny thing that happens when you become a parent. You start to see things through your children’s eyes, and their excitement is contagious. That is what happens when I take my four children to Port Aransas. They are delighted by the beach, and that is all it takes for me to love it, too.
Port Aransas is a small town filled with pastel-painted condos, that look like brightly colored Easter eggs lining the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The only town on Mustang Island, Port Aransas is more isolated than the nearby Corpus Christi. It can be reached from the south by bridge, or from the north by ferry. The ferry is free and operates 24-hours a day, seven days a week. It takes approximately four and a half hours to reach Port Aransas from Austin.
My husband and I packed up our kids and headed to Port Aransas the weekend before Memorial Day. We wanted to visit off-season, before the prices, crowds and temperatures skyrocketed. In May, the weather was warm and the water temperature was perfect. The only downside to our visit was the seaweed, which was present in abundance. Apparently the seaweed is usually all washed away by March, but this year it decided to hang around awhile longer. It did smell a bit like dead fish, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t have fun with it!
My husband had the best time building sand castles with our kids. They spent hours making the perfect turrets, moats and islands. When they weren’t constructing buildings out of sand, they were back in our rental condo drawing up plans for the next day’s creations.
I was happy to encourage the kids to play in the sand after I saw a few of these blue Portuguese Man o’ Wars washed up on shore. Yikes! If a Port A trip is in your future, be sure to look up how to treat a sting from one of these guys because the venom is different from that of a jellyfish.
But never fear, even if you read the Man o’ War Wikipedia page and completely freak yourself out, there are plenty of fun options in Port Aransas that do not involve letting your children back in the water. Here are a few activities that we enjoyed:
- Dolphin Watch Nature Tours – see dolphins swim and play alongside your boat! Expensive, but a nice trip.
- Rock Jetty – spot pelicans, whooping cranes, sea turtles, dolphins and fish, while walking along the jetty. Free!
- Winton’s Candy Company – an old fashioned candy shop with everything from edible LEGO bricks to salt water taffy.
- UT Marine Science Institute – free self-guided tours of outdoor exhibits; free indoor exhibits as well, but they are not open on weekends.
- Port “A” Pizzeria – they deliver!
There are several affordable options for staying in Port Aransas. You will save a considerable amount by visiting off-season, so I recommend doing so if it works with your schedule. If you plan to visit during the peak summer dates, book your stay far in advance because rental accommodations fill up quickly. Here are a few places to look into, if you are traveling on a budget:
- The Sandy Turtle – A condo that has two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. The kids’ bedroom sleeps three and comes fully stocked with toys, books, games, and videos! There is also a pool and a playscape on the property. Walk right over the sand dunes and you are on the beach. Rates start at $140/night.
- 301 The Commons – You will feel like you are living in IKEA in this rental condo. It sleeps nine, so this is where we stayed when my parents came to the beach with us two years ago. There is a community pool. It’s a great condo, but it is a few blocks away from the beach. Rates start at $200/night. There is currently a Facebook special where you can stay three nights and get the fourth night free. When we visited the special was stay two nights and get the third free, so we paid $400 for three nights.
- BeachGate – Not Fancy, but clean and affordable. It’s right on the beach. There are hotel rooms and condos available. Hotel rooms start as low as $40 per night during the week in winter and condos start at $90.
We had a great little weekend visit to Port Aransas and found a few nice shells on the beach to bring home. It was a relaxing stay and the whole family enjoyed it – seaweed and all.
Written by Heidi Gollub, founder of FreeFuninAustin.com.