Insider tips on what to do in Port Aransas
You want the inside skinny on Port Aransas fun this holiday?
If you haven’t visited our town much, following are some insider tips that will make your Spring Break an entertaining one.
The Spring Breaker’s dozen:
The fun starts before you even get into town proper. When you’re on the ferry, be on the lookout for dolphins in the ship channel. (By the way, they are Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, not porpoises. The Port Aransas area is home to dozens of them at any given time of year.) If you see a passing ship, keep an eye on its bow, because dolphins like to surf the wave that’s pushed ahead of the vessel.
Within a couple of blocks of the ferry landing, you can stop by the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce-Tourist Bureau, 403 W. Cotter Ave. The folks there have an encyclopedic knowledge of the hotels, motels, restaurants and shops in town, plus lots more. The chamber was a major sponsor of a recent facelift on the foyer at the Civic Center, 710 W. Avenue A. A ribbon-cutting will be conducted at 4:30 p.m. Friday, March 12, at the foyer, where a group of brand-new displays called Discover Port Aransas! tell the stories behind Port Aransas organizations and attractions. (See story, this issue.)
Of course, you’re probably heading for the shore. Port Aransas has miles of beaches that offer a wide range of activities. Beverages are allowed in plastic and aluminum containers on the beach, but please leave glass at home. And remember that buying the beach parking sticker that’s legally required for your car will funnel more money toward work that keeps the beach clean and well-maintained. Purchase the $12 sticker at beach rental businesses or at convenience stores and other businesses around town.
If you go looking for seashells, look for a sand dollar – a treasure that has religious overtones. According to legend, the five slits in the shell symbolize the five wounds in the body of Jesus Christ. The design in the middle can be interpreted as an Easter lily, and if you break the shell open, you’ll find five shell pieces shaped like doves.
You can camp at Port Aransas beaches. There’s a fee at I.B. Magee Park, where there are amenities, and there’s no fee on the city beaches, where there are portable restrooms and outdoor showers, but no other amenities. Tip: Campfires are legal, but they legally must remain confined to a three-by-three-foot area.
Once you’ve got the logs blazing, sit around it sing “That’s my Island,” the official Port Aransas city song, penned by the late Patsy Jones. (Listen to the song on the South Jetty’s Web site, www,portasouthjetty.com.)
If you want to slow down your living,
or if you just want to get away,
there’s a little strip of sand down in Texas,
where they say the fish bite every day.
That’s my island,
home of a different kind of sand.
Where the dolphins and the seagulls …
guide the ferryboat to land;
That’s my island.
Once you’ve been there then you’ll know
you’ll never want to leave her,
my island in the Gulf of Mexico
A lot of tourists have stayed on my island
It doesn’t take long to get sand in your veins
‘Cause there’s just something about Port Aransas
That will make a total stranger claim …
That’s my island
On a different kind of sand,
where the dolphins and seagulls …
guide the ferryboats to land
That’s my island.
Once you’ve been there, then you’ll know…
you’ll never want to leave her …
my island in the Gulf of Mexico
If the surf is up, you might want to try your hand at riding a few waves. Surfboards can be rented at surf shops in town, and instructors can be hired for lessons. Tip: If you’re a beginner, get yourself the longest board possible. It will float you better. Historical fact: Several men and women from this part of Texas have won national championships in surf contests over the years.While you’re at the beach, fishing pos- sibilities include surf fishing, the south jetty and Horace Caldwell Pier, where you can catch whiting and gafftop this time of year.
Speaking of fishing, you also could try three other piers in the city: Ancel Brundrett Pier at the north end of Station Street; J.P Luby Pier at Roberts Point Park or the pier at the Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie’s Pasture. (Keep reading for more information about the preserve.) Or you might try bay fishing or offshore fishing. Numerous charter services and fishing guides are available for hire in Port Aransas. Speckled trout and redfish are showing up in the bays, while kingfish, vermilion snapper and some blackfin tuna and shark are biting offshore this time of year.
Once you’re ready for some shopping and eating, you’ll find that most shops and restaurants in Port Aransas line Alister Street, but some pretty cool businesses also can be found along Avenue G, State Hwy. 361, Cut-off Road, Beach Street, Cotter Avenue and in the area of town known to locals as “The Flats,” on the waterfront at the north end of town.
Port Aransas is a community full of art and history. One of the newest attractions in town is the Port Aransas Museum, at Brundrett and Alister streets. In addition to displaying many historic photos, the museum has the historic Lydia Ann Lighthouse lens. Confederate soldiers removed the lens and buried it in a marsh after failing in an attempt to blow up the lighthouse, which still stands today, on Lydia Ann Channel. Removal of the lens deprived the Union of a guiding light through what then was a dangerous channel. The museum’s phone number is (361) 749-3800.
At the Art Center for the Islands, 323 N. Alister St., a lot of cool art is on display, and the place also is offering a Spring Break Youth Art Camp for kids in grades three through five, Monday through Friday, March 15-19. Call (361) 749-7334 for details.
The beach is cool, but our city parks are nothing to sneeze at, either. Scenically nestled between Dennis Dreyer Municipal Marina and the Corpus Christi Ship Channel, Roberts Point Park features a fishing pier, jetties, picnic pavilions, a soccer field, a playground, basketball courts and more. At Port Aransas Community Park, located off Ross Avenue, a brand-new skate park is scheduled to open with a ribbon cutting at noon on Saturday, March 20. Port Aransas Community Park also includes a heated pool, hike-and-bike trails and much more. Speaking of walking trails, another brand-new feature in town is the Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie’s Pasture, which is criss-crossed by boardwalks and walking trails.
If you like birding, flit on over to the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, near the end of Ross Street. Be on the lookout for the pink-hued roseate spoonbill, the official city bird of Port Aransas. You also might get lucky and spot a resident alligator. Other birding spots include the Wetlands Park Birding Site off State Hwy. 361 and the Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond Birding Center off Cut-off Road near Avenue C.
The nightlife is rollicking here. Nightclubs cater to every taste, whether we’re talking intimate watering holes or larger dance clubs. Live and recorded music will get your dancing. Hey, you’re on vacation! Kick up your heels!
Local restaurants hit on all taste buds. Barbecue, Mexican fare, Cajun and, of course, fresh seafood are in abundance. Gulf of Mexico seafood includes red snapper and amberjack. Some eateries will even cook the fish you caught that very day in Port Aransas waters.
Kayaks can be rented locally. The little boats are great for checking out local waterways, up close and personal. (Watch out for ship traffic, though!) You could visit uninhabited San Jose Island and pretend you’re a castaway. Or you could paddle by the privately owned Lydia Ann Lighthouse, an historic structure on Lydia Ann Channel.
Drop by the University of Texas Marine Science Institute Visitors Center, where features include local sea life on display in aquariums, and the Wetlands Education Center, a man-made 3.6-acre salt marsh where reading displays help visitors identify the center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The phone number there is (361) 749-6832. The Wetlands Education Center is open for self-guided tours throughout daylight hours every day. The facility features guided tours at 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Whew. For a small town, there sure is a lot to do here. But if this Spring Breaker’s Dozen isn’t enough for you, check out the South Jetty Spring Visitors’ Guide, a free publication available at stores all over town, or check it out online at www. portasouthjetty.com. Click on the icon at the upper left side of the page.