Mustang Island, a 4-hour trip from Austin, is a beautiful stretch of beach just outside of Port Aransas, Texas. Every year, we book a weekend trip to the island for our family and two others; usually in September, when the weather is still warm but the crowds have dissipated.
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In the past, we had taken a straight highway route from Austin through San Antonio and on through Corpus Christi to the beach. This time, we decided to make part of the trip about the journey: we took the new (FAST) toll road past the Circuit of the Americas, and down through historic towns Goliad, Gonzales, and Refugio. The old mission buildings and court houses along the way were worth the trip, along with the painted pump jacks and farmer’s market of oil town Luling.
Every other mile, it seemed, had a roadside marker to explain some facet of Texas history. As an East Coast-born, Midwest-raised girl, I was not very familiar with Texas’ illustrious history before I moved here in 2008, and I was fascinated by each marker. If you’re a history buff, pick up the book Why Stop?, which includes the text from each historic marker so you can follow along without having to park the car and read each one.
Arriving at Port Aransas Pass, the ferry boats take you and your car straight across for a free and quick trip to the town of Port Aransas, where you’ll find the bulk of the souvenir shops, restaurants, and hotels. The quaint Amelia’s Landing hotel caught my eye, and we might have to stay there next time. It has been our tradition to stay at the Seagull condos on the Mustang Island side, about 10 minutes from Port “A”. The great thing about renting a condo, when traveling with a family, is encompassed by two words: full kitchen. This means that you can bring lunch and breakfast items and easily run up to your room between beach or pool sessions to eat, saving money on restaurants. The Seagull and its sister property, the Sandpiper, are right on the beach, with beautiful views of the sunrise from the balcony windows.
On rainy afternoons or when you’ve had enough sun, peruse one or more of the souvenir shops with huge sculpted shark jaws for the kids to run through and pose for vacation photos. A $10 boogie board provides hours of entertainment. There’s also a fun candy shop in Port A, Winton’s, complete with bins and bins of sugary treats for you and the kids, and the bonus attraction of a live rattlesnake in a cage in the corner nearest the right side of the door. Stay away from the gummies if you don’t want to see the snake.
Seafood is abundant between Port A and Mustang Island, and if you bring a fishing pole and some bait and have a successful catch, you may bring your fish to one of the local restaurants like Fins or Castaways to grill it up for you. If you feel like splurging, have dinner at La Playa on Beach Street. The wait is worth it.
The beach is gorgeous, the service typically Island-time slow but friendly, and the accommodations plentiful. For a quick getaway with history and small-town beauty along the way, head down to Mustang Island and Port Aransas to renew your soul.
KRISTIN SHAW is a freelancer by day, writer by night, a full-time wife of an Austin native, and mother of a mini-Texan. Her favorite things are family, 80s hair bands, classic cars, sports, Italy, and dessert; not necessarily in that order. She’s proud to be a co-producer of the Listen to Your Mother show in Austin. You can reach her via Twitter (@AustinKVS), her blog, Two Cannoli, or on The Huffington Post, where she is a featured blogger.