Families on the beach at Port Aransas. | Alamy Stock Photo
Port Aransas is a fun, funky spot where visitors can relax and feel right at home. On any given trip to this barrier-island town, which is five minutes from the coast by ferry, you might see pickups with Alaska plates, cowboys on the shore with boots and Stetsons, and families with fishing poles and beach pails. But there’s more to Port A than 18 uninterrupted miles of beaches for beachcombing, swimming, and fishing. The town has plenty of seafaring history, artists, natural wonders, and great places to eat. –Casey Kelly-Barton
Start your visit with a lesson in Texas maritime history at Farley Boat Works. From 1915 to the mid-1970s, the Farley family built distinctive watercraft here, including tarpon boats. Reopened in 2011 as a museum, the building features vintage boats and outboard motors, a 60-foot scow schooner now under construction, and workshop space for boat-building hobbyists and students. 716 W. Avenue C. 361-816-9789; portaransasmuseum.org.
Roughly half a mile away, the Port Aransas Art Center has paintings, sculptures, drawings, tiles, jewelry, and glass creations by Coastal Bend artists. Check the website for classes, camps, and details on the annual Artfest. 104 N. Alister Street. 361-749-7334; portaransasartcenter.org.
You can’t go to Port A and not hit the beach. Stake out a spot on the sand at I.B. Magee Beach Park between Caldwell Pier and the South Jetty. Want to mingle with a smaller crowd? Buy a $12 beach-parking permit at any convenience store or gas station and park south of the pier.
Watch the ships go by at Roberts Point Park on the Aransas Pass Ship Channel between the ferry landing and harbor. Take in the view from the observation tower and look for bottlenose dolphins in the channel. 301 JC Barr Boulevard. 361-749-4111; cityofportaransas.org/roberts_point_park.cfm.
From Fisherman’s Wharf, take an hour-long, no-frills Jetty Boat Dolphin Cruise in Lydia Ann Channel to its namesake lighthouse and the Aransas Pass Ship Channel. 900 Tarpon Street. 361-749-5448; fishermanswharfporta.com/port-aransas-dolphin-watch.
The Port Aransas location of the Coastal Bend CoffeeWaves java chain serves hot and iced coffee and tea drinks, snacks, and about 18 flavors of gelato. To fuel your day on the beach, order a smoothie or the breakfast croissant with ham, egg, and cheese. Relax in a leather club chair, catch the breeze on the porch, or drive through. 1007 Texas 361. 361-749-0825; coffeewaves.com.
Locals and visitors alike love the electic menu at Irie’s Island Food because it includes such varied items as beignets, crab spring rolls, curried coconut shrimp tacos, and half-pound burgers. Dine in or carry out. 503 N. Alister Street. 361-749-2310; iriesislandfood.com.
Top photo: Homes near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. | Gabbro / Alamy Stock Photo