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Time and Again, Port Aransas Hits the Spot

Port Aransas

Decades of beach trips prove that even a hurricane can’t mess up a good thing

The back and forth started in April: could five families find one summer weekend to gather at the Texas coast? The idea was to set aside time when waking hours could be spent in sandy bathing suits, a scrum of children would be able to mostly entertain themselves and a smattering of adults would have the chance to sit on a porch catching up over blender margaritas.

port aransas travel austin
Four Austin families, in total 8 adults and 9 children, gathered for a weekend spent together at the beach. Photograph by Aaron Pinkston.

By May things were looking bleak – homes big enough for our group were already booked and we had yet to find a weekend where everyone’s schedules aligned. There was talk of throwing in the towel and just regrouping in the fall. Then miraculously on May 15, the by-then-confusing text chain was moved to email: a house in Port Aransas had been located! Big enough for our whole group and it even included a bunk room for the kids. Yes, it was only available Saturday through Monday and yes, only four of the five families could swing those dates but knowing full well that perfect is the enemy of good, we salvaged the trip and booked our “Five Bedroom with Gulf Views.

My own memories of the Texas Coast will forever be linked to my maternal grandparents, Nanna and Papo, and their love of Rockport, Texas. They taught my mom, and then us three grandkids, the joy of a full day spent making drip castles (perfectly suited to Texas’ hard-packed sand), crabbing off the dock, and devouring the gumbo at local favorite Charlotte Plummer’s. During those trips we would almost always take the ferry over to Port Aransas and spend the day with family friends who had their own similar but slightly different summer traditions.

port aransas travel austin
Williams in Rockport, TX circa 1994, with her two siblings.
Photograph courtesy of Margaret Williams.

As those early trips moved to the teen years, I imagine my parents knew that sleepy Rockport was, at least temporarily, losing its hold on me. When they surprised me and some friends with a birthday weekend in Port Aransas I was elated. It poured the whole weekend but that was entirely beside the point – we gossiped, held our baby oil at the ready in case of parting clouds and felt just a smidge grown up. A year or so later I was once again back at Port A, this time as the guest of a good friend’s family. My friend and I couldn’t believe our good fortune – a whole weekend left (mostly) unsupervised at the very cool Port Royal Resort (Tiered pools! Virgin daiquiris!) This was the life.

port aransas travel austin
Photograph courtesy of Margaret Williams.

And that’s where, until recently, my Texas coast story trails off. A year or so after that last trip, I moved out of state for college. Four years later, I moved again, this time to New York City for what would become a 10-year stint. Since returning to Austin in 2015 with my husband and kids, each summer I meant to insist on a trip to the coast, but for no good reason it kept getting put off.

Then, last fall, Harvey showed up. I, along with everyone else, watched horrified as the coast was decimated. Among many questions, I wondered if Port Aransas would still be Port A. Would we all be able to visit just a quick nine months later? Would the locals and homeowners even want us summer interlopers showing up after all they had been through?

I am happy to report a resounding YES.

port aransas travel austin
Photograph by Aaron Pinkston.

While the Port A of my youth consisted mainly of a group of high-rise hotels and smaller inns just off the main thoroughfare, a whole new world of home rentals has sprung up over the past 10-plus years led by the ever-popular Cinnamon Shore and the more recently developed Palmilla Beach Resort. Southern but modern homes are laid out in a neighborhood setting where kids and grownups alike can easily hop back and forth between the house, beach, and pool by foot, bike or, this being Texas, golf cart.

palmilla port aransas travel austin
Photograph courtesy of Palmilla Beach Resort.

Thankfully, along with the growth, development, and now re-building, Port Aransas’ character and charm as a low-key beach spot remain essentially the same. Families still line up outside Destination Beach & Surf to have their picture taken in the famous shark’s mouth, salty fishermen still post up at the Horace Caldwell Fishing Pier patiently waiting for a big catch, and trucks cruising the beach still blast George Strait’s classics.

port aransas travel austin
I.B. Magee Beach at dusk.
Photograph by Aaron Pinkston.

As we drove over the Corpus Christi Bay and then turned onto Mustang Island, my kid’s excitement was palpable. Little by little our friends arrived and as the weekend unfolded, I was so thankful we had persisted with our plans. Kids played and generally ran wild, bedtimes were pushed back for the little ones so they could sneak in a sunset pool visit, and, for the adults, those margaritas and porch talks came to fruition. The next morning we settled early at the beach – boogie boards, hermit crabs, sand castles, and bike rides marked the day – and after lots of sand, sun, and chlorine, we threw on mostly dry clothes and headed to I.B. Magee Beach for a shrimp boil and s’mores. We were all tired (the good kind) and happy as the sun dipped down. The adults around the bonfire and the kids, nets at the ready, convinced they were about to stumble upon a colony of crabs. This was the life.

Where to Stay

port aransas travel austin
Photograph courtesy of Palmilla Beach Resort.

Palmilla Beach Resort & Golf Community

A family friendly community of homes ranging in size from cozy to sprawling. Amenities include private beach access, centrally located pool, 18-hole golf course, and the Black Marlin Bar & Grill.

Cinnamon Shore

Beachfront community with a relaxing and welcoming feel. Home rentals often have a 2-5 night minimum stay. Amenities include fishing, horseback riding, surfing and parasailing, to name a few.

Tarpon Inn

A Port Aransas classic, first built in 1886!

Port Royal Resort

Beachside resort with an all-inclusive feel due to its pools, water slides, swim-up tiki bars and tennis courts.

What to Eat

port aransas travel austin
Photograph by Aaron Pinkston.

Rollin’ Tide Boil Co.

They do it all – bonfire and chair set-up, cooking and cleaning – and you enjoy a classic shrimp boil followed by s’mores. All boils located at I.B. Magee Beach. Email or call in advance to reserve for your group.

Irie’s Island Food

No matter who you talk to, they all recommend Irie’s! Delicious homemade food in a relaxed atmosphere.

Phoenix Restaurant

Arguably the best fine dining in Port Aransas. Open in a new location post-Hurricane Harvey.

La Playa Mexican Grille

A favorite for locals and visitors due to their delicious Tex-Mex classics. Perfect for dining in or taking out for a large group.

Black Marlin Restaurant

Fresh seafood cuisine plus spot-on cocktails. Located within Palmilla Beach Resort.

What to Do

port aransas texas aquarium travel
Photograph courtesy of the Texas State Aquarium.

Visit the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi: a family favorite only a 40-50 minute drive away.

Learn to surf, with Texas Surf Camps, located in Port Aransas, Corpus Christi and Galveston.

Go shelling at San Jose Island. Tickets for the five-minute boat ride can be purchased at Fisherman’s Wharf Marina. As the island is privately owned and protected, there are no amenities on site. Best to bring a cooler packed with water and food. And, of course, a bag for all those shells you plan to take back.