Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
Port Aransas makes a great weekend getaway, no matter the size of or age range of your group. Though families are most likely to make Port Aransas their coastal playground, an active nightlife and the draw of the ocean make it great for young adults, as well. Of course, most folks are visiting for the beach, but this charming coastal town is full of hidden treasures.
Drive straight through from Houston to arrive in Port Aransas in just less than four hours along the US-59 route (that also includes a brief drive along US-77 and TX-35, then TX-361 to Aransas Pass). Once at Aransas Pass, the ferry ride to Port Aransas is part of the fun of exploring the area, and a great way to catch sight of some of the area’s dolphins.
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After a morning of driving, you’ll start to get excited about your destination as your weekend starts with the (free) Port Aransas Ferry. After you’ve journeyed the quarter-mile ferry ride into Port Aransas (and hopefully caught sight of a dolphin…or seven along the way), start with lunch at one of the first businesses that you’ll run after your exit: Fins Grill & Icehouse. There, you’ll find beautiful harbor views and a menu that includes seafood and burgers, as well as their famous onion rings. After you’ve eaten your fill, head to find your accommodations and get settled in. If your accommodations come with a golf cart, head out for a quick spin to get the lay of the land.
This first afternoon is a good time to take a low key walk along the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center Boardwalk to enjoy some of the area’s flora and fauna as the boardwalk stretches over freshwater wetlands. Dine at Bluewater Cowboy to enjoy a lively atmosphere and great food, including an extensive sushi menu. It’s a popular spot, so be prepared for a little bit of a wait (don’t worry, you can enjoy a drink while you wait). Wind up at Bernie’s Beach House where you can “drink like a pirate and dance like a mermaid,” as well as play pool and poker if you are feeling ambitious.
Start this day off as early as possible—not only so you can fit a plethora of activity in, but also so you can pick out a great spot at the beach. One of the big draws of Port Aransas Beach is that you can actually drive on the beach and then park right at the ocean for tailgating and daytime fun (be sure to purchase a permit if parking between markers 0-62). Since it’s going to be a long day, start it off at Coffee Waves for your morning brew or an invigorating Chai Frap (frozen chai). If you feel like treating yourself early in the morning, they also have a wide selection of house-made gelato. Breakfast tacos to-go are a casual, yet tasty way to maximize your beach time, and you can’t go wrong getting them from either Cancun Mexican Restaurant (it even has a drive-thru window) or San Juan Taqueria.
After coffee and tacos, the beach day is all yours. Spend your time hanging out in the sand and surf, grab your binoculars and watch for dolphins and lots of seabirds, go parasailing, or just relax. For lunch, shuffle over to Stingray’s Taphouse & Grill if you’re in the mood for a classic, fun sports bar that just happens to have a bunch of Corvettes hanging from the ceiling, or Irie’s Island Food with well-priced, casual island food that is great for on-the-go if you want to take it back to the beach.
For the afternoon, if you’ve maxed out on beach lounging, consider renting a paddleboard or an electric bike, or taking a sandcastle-building lesson. As the sun sets, there’s no need to drag yourself away from the beach to enjoy a real dining treat: Rollin Tide Boil will bring dinner to you! This unique dining option brings chairs, ambiance, and a boiling pot straight to you so that you can have your own Low-Country Shrimp Boil right on the beach. After dinner, hang out and enjoy your bonfire, or mosey back to your accommodations.
Start your last day off early by renting a beach buggy to putter around in for the day. Take that buggy and drive straight to Coach’s Island Grill for a hearty, delicious breakfast with massive pancakes and breakfast tacos that need three hands to eat. After breakfast, cruise around the island for the rest of the day (don’t forget to take a break to check out of your accommodations). Be sure to check out some of the delightful hand-painted signs that adorn many local businesses, and get a bit of shopping done at some of these small, local shops. Stop into Winton’s Island Candy for sweet treats including caramel so gooey and delicious you have to eat it with a spoon. Choose your own adventure for lunch (or Lelo’s Island Tiki Bar and Grille is fun) at one of the many great eateries in town before hitting the road back to Houston.
WHERE TO STAY
When it comes to lodging in Port Aransas, most options are geared toward families trying to get the most vacation bang for their buck. Silver Sands Vacation Rentals offers a variety of housing options, including lots of choices for private luxury, especially great for larger families or groups. Most of their housing options also come with a golf cart included, allowing you to ditch your car in favor of a more island experience. For those traveling as a couple or small family and looking for a unique experience, Camp Coyoacan is a little campground with tent cabins and yurts, creating an affordable boutique experience. For something a bit more historic and quiet (it’s an unplugged inn, no TV or phone), Tarpon Inn, built in 1886, is a favorite among returning travelers, and it may just be a little haunted. For a truly memorable and affordable treat, beach camping is allowed in Port Aransas.
WHEN TO GO
As with any beach destination, if you want to get in the water, you’ll want to visit during the warmer months, but of course that means fighting the crowds who are also on summer break. If you don’t care as much about swimming, we’d recommend going during the off-season (not the summer) when it’s quieter. If you don’t mind the crowds, Texas Sand Fest in late spring is a huge draw for those interested in seeing the beautiful sand sculptures that are created along the beach.