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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The Austin Police Department is investigating a suspicious death near Waterloo Park on Thursday night.
At the intersection of 12th and Red River streets, police received multiple calls at around 8:40 p.m. about a man covered in blood running in the roadway. Police say the man had potentially been stabbed. Austin-Travis County EMS transported the injured man to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
No suspect is in custody at this time, and police did not reveal any suspect information in a late-night media briefing.
APD is asking anyone with information on this incident to contact Crime Stoppers at 512-472-TIPS or the homicide tip line at 512-477-3588.
Police said this was the second homicide incident they responded to in less than 24 hours.
By Samuel Stark
Those of us who have braved the journey to find parking on South Congress Avenue during peak hours know it is not for the faint of heart.
You might be circling, searching for an open spot for what feels like hours. Euphoria fills your spirit when you think you have finally found that perfect spot. But almost as quickly as your optimism ascended, it dissipates as you realize there is an almost inconceivably small car scooched all the way up to the curb. Your journey continues.
The Transportation Department is aware of the parking challenges in the area and is ready to take some steps based on recommendations that came from a study of the parking in the South Congress District, coordinated by the Downtown Austin Alliance.
“(South Congress is) experiencing the issues that happen when you grow businesses within a district: Everybody wants to go there,” Jason Redfern, division manager at the Transportation Department, told the Monitor. “And now we have to employ those tools to better manage all the parking and interest within that district,” he added.
The South Congress District parking study was split into two phases. Phase one aimed to diagnose the problems through data collection and analysis, and phase two laid out strategies to mitigate them.
The study found that many cars stay parked in the South Congress District, particularly on South Congress Avenue, for extended periods, sometimes beyond eight hours. Further, for the drivers who are violating parking rules, there is limited enforcement due in part to a lack of resources to fund enforcers.
Also, of the 5,400 parking spaces they tallied in the area, nearly 40 percent of the spots available at peak hours go underutilized, while spots on South Congress Avenue stay filled.
One of the study recommendations the Transportation Department is currently going forward with is the establishment of South Congress District as a Parking and Transportation Management District, a defined area that would benefit from the addition of parking meters. If a PTMD is approved in this area, 51 percent of the revenue collected from the parking meters would go to funding transportation-related projects within the district, Redfern said. See the proposed South Congress PTMD boundary here.
These parking districts already exist in the Austin area, including one on the east side.
“We’ve leveraged dollars (from) the East Austin area (PTMD) to help finish an intersection improvement project where they’re going to put in ADA-compliant ramps,” Redfern said.
Though eventually the Transportation Department will put meters into the South Congress District if the PTMD is approved, Redfern said they want to ensure other issues, such as simplifying and standardizing residential permit parking, are in place before they add them.
The parking study found that currently in the South Congress District there are 13 different types of residential parking permits, which have varying restrictions. The study authors point out that these different types of permits are “confusing” and suggest that this contributes to the underutilization of available spots, including for employees of South Congress establishments, outside of South Congress Avenue.
Before the PTMD strategy in the South Congress District is adopted, the plans will be presented before the Urban Transportation Commission and the Mobility Committee. The plan will then be presented to City Council, which will vote on it later this year, Redfern said.
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