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Texas beach escape: 5 ideas for fun while social distancing in Port Aransas

Kristin Finan
Take the Jetty Boat in Port Aransas to St. Jo Island for a calm and beautiful beach experience.

There is something enchanting about Port Aransas.

This Texas beach town with a population under 5,000 has been the site of countless firsts for me — first trip I took with my now-husband, first place our daughters dipped their toes in the ocean, and first place I witnessed the devastating impact and unshakable resiliency of a community as it rallied after Hurricane Harvey to stay #portastrong.

In August, eager for a change of pace, my family made a 48-hour trip to Port A for some socially distanced fun. If you’re looking for a late-summer getaway or interested in doing some “road-schooling” while the kids are learning virtually from home, here are some ideas.

Build a (really good) sandcastle

Port Aransas loves its sandcastles — its beloved annual Texas SandFest sculpture competition draws visitors from across the world — and a definite highlight of this trip was getting our own sandcastle lesson with Mark Landrum, who is famous around town for being “the Port Aransas Sandcastle Guy.” We met Landrum on the beach adjacent to Cinnamon Shore, the vacation rental property where we were staying and where he teaches several times a week; lessons are included as part of your stay. Landrum, whose beach space was well appointed with large buckets, shovels and carving tools, told us we had picked a great day to learn to build, as it was, coincidentally, National Sandcastle and Sculpture Day. Over the course of our 45-minute lesson, Landrum, who has been sand sculpting since 1999, walked us through the steps of building a proper castle, including the importance of stacking your sand like pancakes. The result? A towering, Rapunzel-worthy creation unlike anything we’d ever created before.

Information: sandrum.com

Head to the island

No trip to Port Aransas is complete without a visit to San Jose Island, aka St. Jo, a 21-mile-long uninhabited island where the beaches are pristine, the crowds are sparse and the shelling is top-notch. The Jetty Boat passenger ferry runs from Fisherman's Wharf in Port Aransas to the island and back numerous times a day; it’s about a 10-minute ride, and there’s a good chance you’ll spy a dolphin or two. During our recent trip, we had the Jetty Boat to ourselves on the ride over and, once we arrived, we were able to settle onto a long stretch of beach where we saw only two other families over the course of the morning. The excursion was made even sweeter when we found four sand dollars, something we consider lucky in our family. Be aware that there are no bathrooms or businesses on the island; bring a cooler stocked with snacks and drinks.

Information: 900 N. Tarpon; 800-605-5448; fishermanswharfporta.com/jetty-boat

RELATED: Ideas for social distancing in Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Hit the road

Since we were limiting our in-person interactions and sticking primarily to outdoor activities on this trip, we thoroughly enjoyed our tour of Port Aransas via golf cart, which we rented from Life in Paradise. While the kids were overjoyed by the idea of being on the golf cart itself, I enjoyed the opportunity to cruise past some of my favorite Port A spots, from the Gaff pirate bar and the “Greetings From Port Aransas” mural at Sly Customs to Roberts Point Park and Fisherman’s Wharf. Just be aware that you can’t drive a golf cart down Highway 361. Prefer two wheels? Island Motor Bikes offers fun beach cruisers and will deliver them to your hotel.

Information: lifeinparadise.net/golf-cart-rentals; islandmotorbikes.com

Create a personalized souvenir

If you’ve got a crafty group, don’t miss a chance to stop by Fire It Ceramics to create a personalized souvenir to take home. The sprawling facility offers plenty of room for social distancing — there was only one other family there when we went — and features paint-your-own pottery options ranging from sharks and mermaids to skateboards and holiday decor. My kids, ranging in age from 5-11, lingered over the multitude of object and color options and all ended up delighted with the results. Note: Your creations will need to be fired overnight, so plan your visit early in your trip to ensure you’ll have time to pick up your pieces.

Information: 611 S. Alister St., fireitceramics.com

Drop a line

Port Aransas is known for its fishing and offers a variety of opportunities, ranging from the public jetty to offshore charters. Fisherman’s Wharf arranges inshore fishing via private guide as well as offshore party boat trips that start at a length of five hours. Trips vary depending on the season; call ahead or check the website for details.

Information: fishermanswharfporta.com

IF YOU GO

Port Aransas is located about three and a half hours from Austin.

STAY:

Cinnamon Shore is located directly on the beach and offers beautifully appointed vacation rentals that include access to pools, on-site restaurants and activities such as live music, movie nights and sandcastle lessons. I loved the beachy decor of our rental unit, the Ocean Pearl; the kids loved its bunk beds. cinnamonshore.com

EAT:

Seafood & Spaghetti Works: delicious Italian dishes as well as seafood and steak. seafoodandspaghettiworks.webs.com

Virginia’s on the Bay: open-air restaurant serving seafood and American favorites with gorgeous views of the bay. 361-749-4088

Fins: waterfront favorite featuring burgers and seafood. finsgrillandicehouse.com

Learn more at portaransas.org.

The view of boats from Virginia's on the Bay at sunset in Port Aransas.