Port Aransas Guide: Where To Stay, Eat and Play

by Heidi Gollub on March 6, 2023 in Travels,

If you haven’t been to Port Aransas in a few years, you might be surprised by all the new rental properties, shops and restaurants that have popped up. There’s even a new golf course. In the years since Hurricane Harvey caused $1 billion in damage, a lot of this coastal Texas town has been rebuilt and it’s looking better than ever. 

What’s So Great About Port Aransas

Port Aransas is on the tip of Mustang Island, a narrow 18-mile barrier island on the Texas Gulf Coast. Accessible by bridge from the south or by a free ferry ride from the north, Port Aransas—Port A for short—has plenty of coastline for you to explore. It’s a nice spot to get away from the city for some birdwatching, beachcombing and stargazing. 

Keepers Port Aransas fishing pier. Photo Courtesy Port Aransas Tourism Bureau.

Mustang Island is For the Birds

If the main reason you go to the beach is for the wildlife, you’re in luck. Mustang Island is a birders’ paradise. 

Bird watching

Grab a caffeinated drink from Coffee Waves and head to Mustang Island State Park for a morning of hiking and birdwatching. There are 400 species of birds to be on the lookout for. 

For birdwatching closer to town, try the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center. The center is home to a variety of bird species, including herons, egrets and spoonbills. You can walk along the boardwalk and watch birds in their natural habitat.

Baby sea turtles on the guided tour of the ARK. Photo Heidi Gollob.

Rescue birds and sea turtles, too

Three times a week, you can take a volunteer-led tour of the Amos Rehabilitation Keep (ARK), on the grounds of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. Here you’ll meet sea turtles, pelicans, owls and raptors that are being cared for at the facility. The resident baby sea turtles are a hit with kids on the tour. 

Beachcombing on San José Island

Another excellent spot to scope for birds and seashells is San José Island, a privately owned island off the coast of Port Aransas. 

Sunset in Port Aransas. Photo Courtesy Port Aransas Tourism Bureau.

Since there is only one way to get to the island—via jetty boat—you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a lot of space to yourself. You can roam the 21 miles of coastline hunting for starfish and sand dollars to your heart’s content.

The trip to San José, or Saint Jo’s as locals call it, is a short trip from Fisherman’s Wharf. Check the boat schedule to determine how long you’ll have to stay before a return boat comes to pick you up. There are no facilities on the island (read: no bathrooms), so plan accordingly. 

Tortuga’s Saltwater Grill. Photo Courtesy Port Aransas Tourism Bureau.

When you get back to civilization, have a sit-down meal at Tortuga’s Saltwater Grill. Try the chargrilled choice of the day. 

Fun for Kids in Port Aransas

Build a Sandcastle like a pro

As soon as you know when you’ll be at the beach, reach out to Mark Landrum, The Port Aransas Sandcastle Guy. He can meet you on the sand to help you and your crew make the castle of your dreams. Mark’s schedule fills up, with people booking his services up to a year in advance, so be sure to contact him early. 

The beach at Port A. Photo Heidi Gollub.

Fire It! Ceramics

For some indoor fun, head to Fire It! Ceramics. Pick an item to paint and get busy designing your personal Port A souvenir. This is a good activity to do early in your trip, since you’ll need to come back the next day to pick up your creation. 

Red Dragon Pirate Cruises

Red Dragon Pirate Cruises is a swashbuckling good time. Young children love the interactive pirate adventure—shooting each other with water guns, hunting for gold coins, sword fighting, dancing and even mopping the deck. There are prizes for kids who participate and souvenir toys you can buy. 

Following the cruise, head next door to Fins Grill and Icehouse for some crispy gulf shrimp by the water. 

Where To Stay in Port Aransas

Palmilla golf course in Port Aransas. Photo Courtesy Port Aransas Tourism Bureau.

Palmilla Beach Resort & Golf Club is a new community in Port Aransas, located just over the sand dunes from the beach. Rent a lovely new two-story casita through Vacasa, and a golf cart from Island Surf Rentals to get around in style. Bring scooters for the kids because there is a lot of ground to cover in this golf course neighborhood. 

For dinner, take a stroll to the Palmilla Beach Resort’s Black Marlin Bar and Grill to enjoy some smoked redfish dip and tender calamari. Make a reservation because this cozy restaurant fills quickly.


Cover Photo Courtesy Port Aransas Tourism Bureau

Heidi Gollub is an editor for USA TODAY Blueprint who lives in Austin. She’s always looking for an excuse to run away to the beach for a few days.