Is anything better than a summer morning at the beach? Step out to the balcony, and have a look at the scenery. See that long sweep of shore. The first beachcombers are already out, way down there in the distance. Take a deep breath of salt air. Listen to the soothing roll of the surf and the boisterous sound of seagulls calling. You can't wait to feel the cool sand under your feet.
If you love the beach, set your course for Corpus Christi and Port Aransas this weekend. There's a sandbox full of fun things to do: Watch the dolphins at the Texas State Aquarium. Shop for cool crafts. Dine on seafood fresh off the boat. When you're ready to relax, the beach is only moments away. Here's a way to plan your stay.
Sand, Shopping, and Seafood On Friday
Get here early, and start the morning with breakfast on the beach. Order tortillas filled with eggs and sausage at The Pier House at Horace Caldwell Pier in Port Aransas; (361) 749-2031. On the fourth Friday of the month, join local expert Sharon Schafer on a free beach walk sponsored by the Port Aransas Parks & Recreation department. The hour-long jaunt starts at 9 a.m on the pier.
If you want to stay on the beach, book a room at family-friendly Port Royal Ocean Resort Condominiums on Mustang Island. Kids love the 500-foot-long pool, one of the biggest in Texas. A three-night stay is required in the summer. Rates for a one bedroom start at $255;1-800-242-1034 or www.port-royal.com. For a less expensive place to hang your beach towel, the Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort on Padre Island is a good bet. Rates begin at $139 on weekends; (361) 949-8041 or 1-888-949-8041.
Spend the afternoon sightseeing in Port Aransas. To hold your shells, pick up a straw beach bag imported from Mexico for $9 at Cita Resort Interiors, and check out the other gifts and furnishings in the 7,000-square-foot store; (361) 749-2711. Join the locals dockside for refreshments and music at The Back Porch bar, a sort of open-air Cheers co-owned by the mayor.
Have dinner at a popular waterfront eatery, Trout Street Bar & Grill; (361) 749-7800. Start with a half-pound of fresh Gulf shrimp cooked in a spicy New Orleans boil ($9.95). Treat yourself to one of the tastiest servings of Alaska king crab legs you'll find this side of Seattle ($19.95 for a half-pound). If you feel like splurging, reserve a table at Beulah's for specialties such as lump crab cakes and bacon-wrapped tuna fillet; (361) 749-4888. Then head across the street, and take a look inside the lobby of the historic Tarpon Inn to see fish scales signed by anglers through the years, including one autographed by Franklin Roosevelt. FDR, an avid fisherman, visited when he was President.
Sea Life on Saturday
Sleep in this morning; you'll need your energy for the busy day ahead. After taking a relaxing walk on the beach, have fish and chips ($7.25) for lunch at Snoopy's Pier on South Padre Island Drive; (361) 949-8815. Then head into Corpus Christi to see some of the sights. Spend the afternoon touring the Texas State Aquarium and the World War II aircraft carrier, USS Lexington. The aquarium has a big new Dolphin Bay exhibit for shows and educational programs.
Pick up shrimp fresh off the boat at Peoples Street marina for a feast to cook later, or have dinner at Water Street Oyster Bar; (361) 881-9448. It's a popular place, crowded and about as loud as a grade school cafeteria but fun. Try the signature Texas pecan-crusted oysters ($8.99) and the mesquite planked salmon ($15.99).
Leave in time to make the 45-minute-long drive through Portland, Ingleside, and Aransas Pass to catch a starlight ride on the free ferry back to Port Aransas. Some friendly dolphins may escort you. They often ride the waves off the stern of the car ferry crossing the channel. It takes about 10 minutes to cross, and the ferry operates 24 hours a day. Usually there's a bit of a waiting line on weekends, but it grows shorter in the evenings. It's a relaxing finish to a busy day.
Ride Into Sunday
Start the morning Texas style with a horseback ride on the beach. The wild horses that gave Mustang Island its name are long gone, but you can still find some trusty steeds here. Mustang Riding Stables starts saddling up mounts early. Hour-long rides go out from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost is $25 adults, $20 ages 12 and under; (361) 749-5055.
Summer days on the beach are too nice to waste indoors. Before it's time to head home, have a meal in the open air on the waterfront at Virginia's On the Bay in Port Aransas; (361) 749-4088. Savor the grilled tiger shrimp ($18.95). The four huge flavorful shrimp are cooked to perfection and come with a fluffy baked potato and salad. Teenagers have a word for moments like this: sweet. Spend a weekend on the Gulf Coast, and you'll find yourself wishing that Monday would never come.
For more information: Corpus Christi Convention & Visitors Bureau: 1-800-766-2322 or www.corpuschristicvb.com. Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce Tourist & Convention Bureau: 1-800-452-6278 or www.portaransas.org.
This article is from the June 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.