Drive along main street in the tiny Texan town of Port Aransas and you will pass faded billboards with surfers on them, funky swimsuit-and-souvenir shops and cute local restaurants. Port A, as locals call it, is a beach town through and through.
Located on the north end of Mustang Island on the Texas Gulf Coast, the economy of Port A relies almost entirely on tourists who visit the town while experiencing the island’s golden sandy beaches, great surfing and phenomenal offshore fishing.
It’s no surprise that when the BP drilling accident occurred in Gulf of Mexico Coast waters in April, residents of the town were worried about their future. Fortunately, the coastline along Mustang Island hasn’t seen any ill effects from the devastating oil spill to date. The biggest challenge for Port Aransas and other beach towns along the Texas Gulf Coast is getting the word out to travellers that the beaches are clean and they are still open for business.
“We received a lot of phone calls wondering about our beaches and coastline, but we haven’t experienced any ill effects from this disaster nor do we expect to see any,” said Ann Vaughan, executive director of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce. “People get the idea that the entire Gulf Coast is covered in oil, but Texas has more than 600 miles (1,000 km) of coastline that is basically untouched.”
The currents and prevailing winds have carried the oil slick north of the Texas coast to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida in the biggest disaster to ever touch the Gulf Coast. “I feel very sorry for the people of Alabama and the other states that have been affected,” Vaughan admitted. “It’s hard to predict the effect on fisheries and the gulf as a whole, because the situation is still evolving, but there are currently thousands of miles of coastline that are unaffected by this tragedy.”
Of all the spots along the Texas Gulf Coast where you could enjoy a beach vacation, Port Aransas is one of the most charming. You’ll be hard pressed to find a chain restaurant in the town and the broad sandy beaches of Mustang Island seem even more pristine because of the lack of big city-style development.
You can expect a warm Texas welcome from the locals, but don’t be surprised if they make one small request. The people of Port A would like to spread the word to other potential visitors to the Gulf of Mexico that on Mustang Island, the coast is clear.
Once inhabited by grazing herds of wild horses that were originally introduced by Spanish settlers, Mustang Island is the world’s longest barrier island. The island stretches from Corpus Christi to Port Aransas on the north end. Mustang Island State Park encompasses the entire southern third of the island. The island has 29 km of beaches.
Planning a Visit to Port Aransas
What to do:
• Cruise around island style: You can rent a beach buggy or a bike and go for a beach cruise. Port Aransas is one of three places in the U.S. where you can drive on the beach — as long as you stay behind the wooden posts that are located about 15 metres from the water’s edge. You can rent a buggy at Cars & Carts (www.txbeachcarrentals.com) or Nautical Wheelers (www.nauticalwheelers.net).
• Golf: Designed by Arnold Palmer, Newport Dunes is a Scottish links-style golf course that opened in September 2008 (www.newportdunesgolf.com). Golf Digest selected Newport Dunes as one of America’s best new courses on 2009.
• Surfing: If you would like to learn how to surf, there are several companies in town that can help (www.texassurfcamps.com or thirdcoastkitesurfing.com)
• Beaches: With 29 km of beaches on Mustang Island, there are plenty of great beaches to explore, from I.B. Magee Beach Park in Port Aransas to the pristine beaches of Mustang Island State Park. If you want to have a look at the main beach, check out this beach cam: www.thedunescondos.com/cam.cfm
• Aransas National Wildlife Refuge: Situated on 115,000 acres, each winter the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is home to the world’s largest wild flock of endangered whooping cranes. (www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/aransas/). There is a walking and running loop and a visitor’s centre onsite.
• Fishing and dolphin tours: Port Aransas is known as the fishing capital of Texas and it’s common to catch your limit of redfish, flounder, black drum and trout in local waters. There are several companies that can take you on fishing charters and boating tours. For fishing, we checked out Scat Cat Charters (www.wharfcat.com) and experienced a dolphin watch tour aboard the Island Queen (www.dolphonwatchnaturetours.com).
• Texas State Aquarium and USS Lexington: Located in Corpus Christi, the Texas State Aquarium (www.texasstateaquarium.org) makes a great day trip from Port Aransas. You can also visit the USS Lexington (www.usslexington.com) and see a Second World War aircraft carrier up close.
Where to eat
You’d be hard pressed to find a McDonald’s or a Burger King in Port Aransas, but there are plenty of great local restaurants to enjoy. After a day of fishing, most of the local restaurants are more than happy to cook up your catch of the day just the way you like it. Here’s a few that we really liked:
• Bundy’s: This is a great lunch spot that serves up the best chicken salad sandwiches on the island. They also have wonderful homemade desserts and baked goods (www.bundysporta.com).
• The Crazy Cajun: Food at the crazy Cajun is served right on the table and while you don’t need plates, you’ll definitely need napkins. The specialty is crab.
• Lisabella’s: For a romantic evening out, you can’t beat Lisabella’s. The food and atmosphere are great. Reservations are essential.
• Seafood and Spaghetti Works: This is a nice little steak and pasta place with a funky gift shop and clothing store attached.
• Wild Horse Saloon & Grill: This little bar makes the best burgers in town and is famous for their Jack Daniels and Coke burger. You may want to try an order of fried pickles with your burgers. If you’re a non-smoker, ask for a seat outside on the deck (www.wildhorsesaloonand grill.com).
Where to stay
Port Aransas is a great family vacation spot and there are plenty of condominium-style rooms for rent near the town. We stayed at the Dunes (www.dunescondos.com) and the Port Royal Ocean Resort and Condo Centre (www.port-royal.com). The Dunes Resort is located near the pier of the main beach area in Port Aransas. Port Royal is a bit further away from town, but has an amazing pool area, which was a big hit with our kids. Rates start at around $275 per night during the summer months, but there are summer deals currently available that offer a substantial savings.
For more information about visiting Port Aransas, go to the official Port Aransas tourism website at www.portaransas.org or call 1-800-45-COAST. For more information about visiting Texas or any of the Gulf Coast towns and cities, visit the Texas Tourism website at traveltex.com. You can get a free packet containing the Texas State Travel Guide, a Texas Accommodations Guide and an official state travel map online or by calling 1-800-888-TEX (839).
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.