Enjoy endless summer fun this fall along the Texas Gulf Coast
Head to any Texas beach town this weekend, and you’re likely to see someone you know. Maybe you’ll bump into your Alamo Heights friends at a convenience store, see moms from your kids’ school at the pool, or spot your neighbors driving golf carts on the beach. If it weren’t for the water water everywhere, you’d swear you were still in San Antonio.
Lots of Alamo City locals enjoy the sand and sun fun of the Gulf of Mexico on weekends year-round. After all, Corpus Christi is only a two-hour drive from San Antonio, and it’s only 30 miles farther to Port Aransas on Mustang Island. After Labor Day, condo and vacation rental rates drop, and a Texas Gulf Coast getaway weekend becomes even more family-friendly and affordable. Since South Texas remains warm well into late autumn, anytime is the right time to head to the coast.
“Port A,” as Texans call Port Aransas, is just about everybody’s favorite Texas beach town. Wind-swept and wonderful, with sandal-friendly streets and pastel-colored buildings bleached by the sun, Port Aransas is an adorable little one-horse-town on Mustang Island. Filled with T-shirt shops, folks in flip—flops, seafood markets, candy and donut shops, dolphin cruises, seafood restaurants, hamburger huts, daiquiri bars, family-sized condos and handsome beach homes, it offers much to do and see.
Visitors can enjoy deep sea fishing trips, outings of crabbing and fishing in Aransas Bay, dolphin excursions, sunset cruises and even pirate ship adventures. There are also great wildlife viewing opportunities as well as bird-watching adventures at six sites along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. If you like beachcombing, take a short jetty boat ride to San Jose’s Island (locals like to call it St. Joe’s or St. Joseph’s). There are also 18 miles of undeveloped shoreline for camping along Mustang Island, including sites in Mustang Island State Park.
But don’t worry; you needn’t sleep in the sand to spend the night in Port A. There are budget hotels and vacation rental cabins and condos all over town, including the historic Tarpon Inn with its long rocker-filled front porch within walking distance of the beach. Some visitors like to stay in popular condominiums like Port Royal Ocean Resort & Conference Center or the Dunes Condominiums — lodging that has lured San Antonio locals for years. Other families rent large beach houses sleeping 10 or more. In fact, many Port A condominiums and homes are privately owned by San Antonio locals who rent them to vacationers through VRBO and property management companies guests can find online.
These days Port Aransas is booming with growth, thanks to the development of so many carefully planned coastal communities, with second homesite and vacation rental investment properties like those at Cinnamon Shore, Palmilla Beach Resort, Paradise Pointe, Island Park Estates, the Moorings at Mustang Island and others. Sunflower Beach is also a new high-end development coming soon to Port Aransas, with homesite lots set near the Palmilla golf course. With posh planned communities springing up faster than grass in sand dunes, some predict that in fewer than 10 years Port A will rival the success, size and popularity of some of Florida’s most successful South Walton beach communities, like Seaside, WaterColor and Rosemary Beach.
Cinnamon Shore is one of the most coveted coastal addresses on the Texas Gulf shores. With its Town Center, two pools, three restaurants, two small lakes, fitness room, outdoor fire pit, play area on the Great Lawn, a small outdoor concert venue at Terry’s Place, private boardwalks to the beach and new retail spaces on the horizon, Cinnamon Shore features an idyllic neighborhood setting of pastel-colored, multi-storied $1 million-plus homes. No wonder it was chosen as the site of the 2015 Coastal Living Showhouse, as well as the 2009 Southern Living Idea House. Thanks to such national coverage, Cinnamon Shore is garnering lots of accolades and interest. It’s also the perfect vacation rental place for families, whether they stay in a small condo or fill a three-story mansion.
Not far away, Palmilla Beach Resort & Golf Club also offers attractive homes and homesites, condominiums, restaurants, swimming pools and more—all with the added draw of the Arnold Palmer Signature Links Style Palmilla Beach Golf Course, which has been named “One of the top 10 courses you can play in Texas” by Golfweek Magazine. The Dallas Morning News ranked it Top 3 in the State of Texas (Resorts and Public Courses).
If we don’t see our friends out on the golf course there, we’re sure to find them fishing along a bridge, pier or jetty in nearby Rockport/Fulton. Or maybe we’ll see them enjoying a big shrimp boil feast at The Boiling Pot or having lunch at Charlotte Plummer’s. Rockport and Fulton are two adjacent small towns huddled together on a pretty peninsula between Copano Bay and Aransas Bay, forming one fun family coastal escape destination. Many San Antonio locals own vacation homes there with boat slips set along canals in gated communities like Key Allegro.
While in the area, be sure to take the little ones to Rockport’s small, clean Blue Wave Certified Beach, with its playground facilities for youngsters. Want a nontraditional beach stay? Check into the big yellow Victorian mansion on the corner, Hoope’s House bed-and-breakfast inn, built in the 1890s. If you love history and old houses, be sure to stroll around the grounds of Fulton Mansion State Historic Site, built in 1877, a Texas Historical Commission property. This mansion and small museum is under renovation, but be the first to tour it when it reopens October 24. The Fulton Mansion’s Education and History Center is located behind the mansion with interactive exhibits, a garden and a gift shop.
Many families also love Corpus Christi, not just for the beach but because Corpus (as locals call it for short) is home to family-friendly attractions like the USS Lexington battleship, the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History, the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center, the Art Museum of South Texas, and more. In fact, Corpus Christi is also proud to present a new Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort, which opened this summer with a country club, restaurant and all-new water park experience that boasts the longest interconnected river system of any of Schlitterbahn’s other water parks.
Another wet and wild attraction in Corpus Christi is Hurricane Alley Waterpark, a seasonal family-friendly water park located in the Sports Entertainment and Arts District downtown. And be sure to visit the Texas State Aquarium, which is currently undergoing a $50 million expansion that will double its size. The new addition will be called “Caribbean Journey” and is expected to open in early 2017. Once the expansion is complete, it will be one of the largest aquariums in the country.
Some Texans say their favorite coastal getaway is South Padre Island, home to 34 uninterrupted miles of some of the whitest beaches and bluest waters along the Texas Gulf Coast. Here you can enjoy horseback rides on the beach, play a round of tennis or golf, hike, go bird-watching or climb to the top of the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse. South Padre also is proud to have a large Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort, where families can play in the water all day and head to the beach in the evening. And, of course, there are dolphin cruises, sunset cruises, fishing excursions and more at South Padre.
While you’re there, don’t forget to visit the many restaurants and clubs along the bay known for prime sunset watching spots—places like Louie’s Backyard with its all-you-can-eat prime rib and seafood buffet and fireworks displays every Thursday and Friday night all summer long. Nature, sea creature and animal lovers will also enjoy South Padre Island Dolphin Research & Sea Life Nature Center, as well as Sea Turtle Inc., an entertaining and educational nonprofit attraction run by conservationists with a mission to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured sea turtles.
Sure, it’s a long drive to South Padre (291 miles from San Antonio), but it’s also not far from all the popular shopping spots and restaurants of McAllen, Brownsville and Matamoros. A week at the beach at South Padre is a special treat, and even there—that far away from the Alamo City—you may see someone you know from San Antonio. So next time you head to the coast, remember to behave yourself at the beach: There’s no telling who might be tanning on the towel next to you.
By Janis Turk