The Texas Coast, three ways

Sponsored by Lexus of Austin

Enjoy the best of Port Aransas, Rockport and Corpus Christi.

If starting your day strolling along a sandy strip in the early morning’s melon glow and ending it as a fiery sun sinks into an endless sea sounds dreamy, it’s time to take a trip to the Texas Coast. The state’s expansive shoreline, stretching more than 350 miles along the Gulf of Mexico, is dotted with sweeping dunes, quaint beach towns, coastal cities and sleepy fishing villages. Relax, unwind and take a deep breath of salty sea air at these three coastal charms.

Port Aransas

Whether it’s an early morning beach run, afternoon sandcastle construction with your sandy-faced children or soaking in a spectacular sunset next to your partner, there is no better place to restore and reconnect than at the water’s edge. While Port Aransas may be tiny — it has a population of 3,500 and inhabits just 8 miles of Mustang Island — the little beach town packs big fun. Golfers, art-lovers, birdwatchers, beach bums and just about everyone in between can find their happy place in this quintessential Texas beach town. Spend lazy days beach strolling, shelling, sandcastle building and wave splashing. Take beach activities up a notch by trying out windsurfing, kite boarding, parasailing, kayaking or cruising along in a beach buggy. After you’ve packed enough sand between your toes, shower off and head into town for shopping and dining. Dozens of beach-inspired boutiques and souvenir shops line the streets, and laid-back seafood restaurants are scattered along the waterfront. Known as the “Fishing Capital of Texas,” aspiring anglers can cast a line off one of four public fishing piers or hire a private charter for a memorable off-shore excursion. Nature-lovers will be in heaven with the abundance of easily-accessible wetlands and inlets here — the 1,200-acre Port Aransas Nature Preserve is an important habitat for shorebirds and endangered species; the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center is a haven for herons, egrets and a variety of wetland species; and the UTSMI Wetlands Education Center invites guests to explore a 3.5-acre salt marsh along its extensive boardwalk system. Just 14 miles south of town, explore the barrier island ecosystem’s dunes, coastal grasslands and marshes at Mustang Island State Park.

Savor the slow life in Rockport. (Mauri Elbel/For American-Statesman)

Rockport

This once-sleepy fishing village has been a favorite Texas coastal retreat since the 1800s, but in recent years Rockport has garnered a following among those seeking a laid-back escape and has experienced a real estate boom as a result. Numerous piers, bait shops and seaside eateries hugging the town’s shoreline give its favorite pastime away: fishing. Purchase a fishing license and saltwater stamp and load a bait bucket with live shrimp before experiencing the thrill of reeling in flounder, speckled trout, redfish and black drum. Or try out crabbing, an acquired love requiring little skill and ample patience. Dedicated anglers can arrange a day on the sea with an expert — Rockport is home to dozens of saltwater fishing guides who will lead you to where the big fish play. There’s nothing like reeling in your limit and cooking up a seafood feast, but if you’re not keen on spending your vacation in the kitchen, a handful of local restaurants let you bring in your catch and cook it however you like. While time passes slowly in Rockport, there’s no shortage of ways to fill the hours. Marvel at some of the most brilliant sunrises and sunsets in Texas, tour the rotating exhibits at the Rockport Center for the Arts, browse local shops lining downtown Rockport’s Austin Street or hit the man-made Rockport Beach, a mile-long strip of sand on Aransas Bay that’s known for its knee-deep calm waters. It’s worth the short drive to check out Goose Island State Park, located 10 miles northeast of Rockport, where you can camp, picnic, boat and enjoy nature.

Port Royal features an impressive strand of connected lagoon-style pools. (Mauri Elbel/For American-Statesman)

Corpus Christi

As the eighth largest city in Texas, Corpus Christi brims with top-notch museums and attractions that provide its 8 million annual visitors with plenty of options beyond the sand and sea. Don’t miss some of the city’s central attractions, like the Texas State Aquarium, where you can find educational exhibits of exotic fish, mammals, birds and sharks. Here guests can marvel at graceful sea turtles, watch dolphins show off tricks and touch live stingrays and sharks while learning conservation-themed facts. Other North Beach draws are at arm’s reach. Explore 100,000 square feet and 11 decks of history aboard the USS Lexington, a World War II-vintage aircraft carrier turned museum, or check out more than a dozen venues tucked into Corpus Christi’s urban SEA District, the 300-acre sports, entertainment and art district that spans several city blocks with landmark attractions such as the Art Museum of South Texas and The Museum of Science and History. Baseball fans can watch the Corpus Christi Hooks bat against rival teams at Whataburger Field and then have fun cooling off — it’s attached to a waterpark. Make a trip out to Padre Island National Seashore for beach-combing, windsurfing, birding and witnessing the critically-endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchling releases during the nesting season from April to mid-July.

Insider Tips

• Rockport Beach is a mile-long strip of sand on Aransas Bay with clear, shallow water — it’s perfect for little ones because they can wade out far while remaining knee-deep in calm water.
• Some of the best things on the Texas Coast are completely free. Stroll the seawalls and jetties, sunbathe, splash, shell and build sandcastles on the beach without denting your budget.
• Driving along the 18-mile stretch of public access beach in Port Aransas is free, but you will need to purchase a $12 annual beach parking permit to park.
• Arriving and departing Port Aransas is fun on the free Port Aransas Ferry. Drive your vehicle right onto the vessel and enjoy sailing across the channel, where you can often catch glimpses of dolphins jumping out from the waves. Just be aware of long lines during busy times and weekends.

Where to stay

• Port Royal Ocean Resort. 6317 TX-361, Port Aransas. 361-749-5011, port-royal.com.
• Cinnamon Shore. 5009 TX-361, Port Aransas. 888-893-0658, cinnamonshore.com.
• Omni Corpus Christi Hotel. 900 N. Shoreline Blvd, Corpus Christi. 361-887-1600, omnihotels.com.

Where to eat

• Brewster Street Ice House. 1724 N. Tancahua St., Corpus Christi. 361-884-2739, brewsterstreet.net.
• Moondog Seaside Eatery. 100 N. Casterline Drive, Fulton. 361-729-6200.
• Virginia’s on the Bay. 815 Trout St., Port Aransas. 361-749-4088, virginiasportaransas.com.

What to see

For more ideas on things to do and see, visit:
portaransas.org
rockport-fulton.org
visitcorpuschristitx.org

Photo by Brittany Walters