PORT ARANSAS–This is not Hilton Head or Palm Beach, with white tennis shorts and BMWs at the CVS. It’s quintessentially Texas, a beach where F-350s line up at the town’s three stop lights, and kids from Amarillo stare slack-jawed at “the ocean” for the first time.
Now Father’s Day and the 4th of July approach, and a string of 100-degree days lurk ahead in Austin. Here’s our survival guide to Port A.
The average July high in Austin is 95 and in Port Aransas 90.3.
Cars lined up on the beach during Memorial Day weekend. (Rich Oppel)
Driving from Austin, the trip is 200 miles or more. That can take four to five and a half hours, depending on time of day and route. Three strategies:
- Our favorite: Take toll road SH 130 south to Lockhart and take U.S. 183 to Refugio, left on Texas 774 and follow your navigation to Aransas Pass, then left on Texas 361 to the ferry to Port A. Tips: Leave early. Avoid late Thursday or Fridays. Check the Texas DOT website for ferry wait times, which vary from 15 minutes to an hour.
- Second strategy: If the ferry line is long, detour from Bayside south of Refugio to Corpus Christi and come up Mustang Island on highway 361. This adds about 30 miles.
- A no-toll route: Southwest on I-35 to San Antonio, then south-southeast on I-37 into Corpus, north on 361. I-35 can be nerve-racking getting out of Austin and going through San Antonio. I-37 is blissfully boring. About 250 miles.
On the way in, refill your tank at the H-E-B in Aransas Pass, cheaper by a quarter a gallon than any fuel you’ll find on Mustang Island.
Sights and sounds
As you drive through South Texas you will see fields of pump jacks and wind turbines as well as fields of corn and soybean and red brangus ranches. Near the Port A ferry, huge turbine blades made in Europe are stacked high. This is a working port, but it is fast-changing.
- Check VRBO for a condo. The big condos lining the beach (Aransas Princess, The Dunes, Sandpiper, Sea Gull, Mayan Princess and more) have a few pricey rentals left, with a 2-bedroom typically going for $250 to $700 a night.
- Camp on the beach. Buy a $12 annual permit at the IGA or any convenience store, and park between markers 0 and 62. Bring a sturdy tent; it can be windy. A trailer or RV are even better.
- Rent a cottage off the beach. Scores of new stilt houses and multi-family dwellings were built after Hurricane Harvey laid waste to Port A in 2017. Factoid: The average elevation of Port A is 7 feet. Even cheaper than a Port A back-island rental: Find a place off-island in Rockport or Corpus Christi.
Our favorites are the Venetian Hot Plate, Roosevelt’s, Tortuga and Fins. For a cheeseburger, fries and a beer with a Gulf view, the Beach Lodge. There are 60 restaurants on Mustang Island, and the lines are long in the summer. Get there early or late, or order takeout–which is available at many places. Make reservations at the high-end places. Dress is casual. Anyone with shoelaces is way overdressed.
Fun things to do
- Rent a beach cart. They’ll run you up to $150 a day. Port A is one of the few places in Texas where they can be operated by unlicensed drivers 16 and older. Cart rental places outnumber seagulls.
- Cast a fishing line off the South Jetty, and then watch petroleum tankers and cargo ships glide through Aransas Pass, coming from or going to Corpus Christi docks.
- See hundreds of species of birds at the Turnbull Birding Center.
- Eat seafood at Snoopy’s Pier, overlooking Laguna Madre, on South Padre Island Drive 20 miles south of Port A. Afterward, take the kids to Scoopy’s next door for ice cream.
- Ride slowly along the beach and people-watch, or park and stroll or run along the wide strand. Watch the sunrise at Horace Caldwell Pier.
- It’s red snapper season. Take a head boat out of Deep Sea Headquarters for a $125, eight-hour trip 20 to 30 miles out. Limit out with two 16-inch or larger snapper. Great eating.
Port A has gotten expensive since huricane Harvey. Labor costs are skyrocketing because waiters, cleaning people and store attendants can’t find affordable housing on the island. If you haven’t been there in a few years, expect sticker shock.
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Ever had sushi delivered to you on a conveyor belt or tried Ukrainian borsch?
If you're looking for a restaurant that shakes up your dinner, try one of these newly-opened options.
Conveyor belt sushi
For a fun, interactive twist on your typical sushi dinner, head to Kura Revolving Sushi Bar. Upon sitting down, you’ll have a conveyor belt to one side, where you can pluck whichever plate piques your interest, or a screen that allows you to order plates a la carte. You’ll pay by the plate, which tends to be less than a few dollars each, and win prizes if you hit the right milestones.
Korean Egg Toast
Serving all things egg, Egg Bomb opened earlier this month at 808 North Lamar Blvd., taking over the former Ola Poke location. Egg Bomb specializes in Korean egg drop sandwiches, with toppings like cheese, caramelized onions, avocado, salmon and condiments; “Egg Tots,” or fries with eggs and toppings, as well as coffee and sides. You can also find egg toast and squid ink hotdogs at Oh K-Dog.
Tortas at La Plancha
With a desire to fill the torta-shaped whole they saw in Austin’s fare, co-owning couple Mariha Hinojosa and Julian Richmond opened La Plancha, 1701 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, on July 1. The Mexican sandwiches are served on a bolillo bun with toppings including avocado, barbacoa, queso fresco, refried beans, cheese, pickles and salsa. There are other options: Think papas fritas, street corn and mini-churros.
Ukrainian cuisine to-go
You can take your chicken Kyiv to-to at new takeout-only restaurant U-Cuisine, 5610 N. I-35, which opened in mid-June. Ukrainian chefs and owners Alla Shelest and Mariana Shelestiuk said they are trying to bring a taste of their home country amidst a difficult time in history. Try the chicken Kyiv, a dill and parsley-stuffed chicken breast rolled in breadcrumbs; borsch, a burgundy beetroot soup; Holubtsi, beef and pork cabbage rolls; and lviv syrnyk, a chocolatey raisin cheesecake.
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Move-in has started for a new 300-foot tower a few blocks away from the University of Texas at Austin.
Known as Waterloo Tower, the fully leased building totals 229,728 square feet and is located off of the Drag, along 24th Street. The Austin-based developer, LV Collective, says this location offers easy access to West Campus restaurants and shops and connects residents to the UT campus.
With 241 units and 796 beds, residents have perks like Daydreamer Coffee in the lobby and a rooftop amenity level. The rooftop has unobstructed views of downtown Austin and the UT campus, plus private cabana-style seating areas, a hot tub and waterfall edge pool.
The building broke ground in 2020 near the start of the pandemic and was completed ahead of schedule. LV Collective CEO David Kanne noted the particular care to the interiors that ensured the building was "thoughtfully-designed with spaces that capture the vivacity of UT Austin students, as well as provide our residents and guests with an amenity-rich experience designed to accommodate and enrich the college lifestyle.”
The tower came to be through an amendment to the University Neighborhood Overlay in 2019. It allows developers to build more units than are allowed by a site's base zoning if they agree to set aside a portion of units for income-restricted affordable housing. So Waterloo Tower allocated two floors of the 30-story tower to affordable housing.
The architecture of the project was taken on by Austin-based architects BOKA Powell and TBG Partners for landscaping while interiors were carried out by Chelsea Kloss.
Other student developments by LV Collective include West Campus buildings The Ruckus and Moontower.
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