If you’re looking to relax, unwind and breathe in some salty sea air but aren’t wanting to book flights or embark on a cross-country road trip, look no further than the Texas Coast. Affectionately known as the “Third Coast,” this state’s expansive shoreline stretches more than 350 miles along the Gulf of Mexico and is dotted with sweeping dunes, quaint beach towns, coastal cities and sleepy fishing villages. Here are five family-friendly Texas Coast adventures awaiting your crew in the charming coastal destinations of Rockport, Port Aransas and Corpus Christi.
Relax on Rockport Beach
If you’ve got little ones in tow or you’re just after a low-key day filled with sand, sea and sun, Rockport Beach is a dream. This meticulously maintained mile-long stretch of sand is calmer, cleaner and shallower than the other beaches that line the Texas Coast, making it ideal for kids and a stress-free experience for the grownups supervising them. Texas’ first Blue Wave Beach features picnic cabanas, restrooms, piers and playgrounds, and on our trip last month, all of the kids in our group ranging in age from toddlers to teens spent six solid hours building sandcastles, splashing in the waves and playing football on the beach. For a cool sweet treat, grab a snow cone from Coastal Breeze Shaved Ice, which has been serving up refreshing treats to beachgoers for more than 17 years.
RELATED: Relax and Relish the Coastal Charms of Rockport
Cruise to the birds and dolphins
When you’re not enjoying Rockport’s two favorite pastimes –– fishing and beaching –– play a game of “I Spy” from the sea by soaking in sights of whooping cranes or dolphins on a cruise with Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures. During the winter and early spring months, you can catch glimpses of endangered whooping cranes –– the rarest of all cranes and among the oldest living bird species on earth –– as they feast on blue crabs in the brackish marshes of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The best time of year to see the only natural wild flock of whooping cranes, which fly 2,500 miles from Wood Buffalo National Park to their wintering grounds on the Texas Coast at Aransas Refuge, is from December to February, with Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures operating its popular whooping crane tours from November through early April. Once the whooping cranes have left for the season, Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures pivots to an array of other tours including summer dolphin watching cruises, spring rookery tours and evening sunset cruises along the calm waters surrounding San Jose Island.
RELATED: Spying rare birds and coastal beauty
Become a pirate in Port Aransas
Calling all landlubbers: If your crew is looking for some swashbuckling seafaring thrills on the Texas Coast, climb aboard the Red Dragon Pirate Cruises. Sailing atop the waters of the Lydia Ann Channel in Port Aransas, the Red Dragon’s team of pirates will keep the whole crew entertained with everything from sword fighting and treasure hunting to water pistol shooting and swabbing the deck throughout the two-hour sea adventure. While the pirate show is definitely geared to the young lads and lassies on board, it’s truly entertaining for all ages. Any adult craving some grog can belly up to the Slurp N Burp Pub, serving cocktails, beer, wine and aptly named shots like the Soggy Mop and Cannon Blast. We were most impressed with how interactive and engaging the pirate crew was throughout the entire cruise, and at the end, all of the kids on the ship received certificates dubbing them official pirates.
Play in Port A
Stick around after your pirate adventure to stay and play in Port A. Port Aransas is a charming and colorful Texas Coast destination boasting 18 breathtaking miles of uninterrupted public shoreline and a small-town, laid-back vibe with a population of less than 5,000 and streets filled with just as many golf carts as cars. Pack a picnic and plenty of sunscreen and spend the day soaking in the sunshine, strolling the beach, splashing in the waves and building sandcastles. After you’ve had all of the beach thrills you can handle, head to one of the many souvenir shops selling everything from shells and swimsuits to t-shirts and hermit crabs, pop into Winston’s Island Candy for homemade fudge and old-fashioned candies, or feast on mouthwatering chef-driven coastal cuisine like chargrilled oysters, blackened red snapper or southern fried shrimp served with house fries and hush puppies at Tortuga’s Saltwater Grill.
Visit Texas’ largest aquarium
Corpus Christi, wrapping endless shores, nature, history and culture into one convenient coastal package, is worthy of its own vacation or even a day trip from nearby Port Aransas or Rockport. As the eighth largest city in Texas, Corpus Christi brims with top-notch museums and attractions, but if you’re visiting with kids, don’t miss a visit to the Texas State Aquarium –– the largest Aquarium in Texas that serves as home to more than 4,000 animals. At this Texas Coast treasure, guests can marvel at graceful sea turtles, watch dolphins show off tricks (come early for the dolphin shows), and feed live stingrays while learning conservation-themed facts. The museum is closed on Mondays, and you should check the schedule for daily presentation times before you go. Find more and purchase tickets at www.texasstateaquarium.org.
If You Go
Less than 200 miles and three hours separates Austin from Rockport –– we like to take the lesser-trafficked route cutting through the tiny Texas towns of Karnes City, Kenedy, Beeville and Sinton.
Corpus Christi is an easy-breezy 3 hours and 15 minutes from Austin. Simply take Highway I-35 South to Highway I-37 South and, before you know it, you’re at the beach.
In Rockport, Miss Kitty’s Fishing Getaways offers a multitude of vacation rental homes spanning cozy coastal cottages to bayfront villas ideal for large families or groups. Kontiki Beach Resort features condos in a gated waterfront property featuring well-lit fishing piers, a pool, tennis courts and a boat ramp. For boutique bayside lodging where elegant rooms come with ocean views and a complimentary grab-and-go breakfast, stay at the Lighthouse Inn at Aransas Bay.
In Corpus Christi, the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel is situated directly on the bay and offers affordable rates along with ocean views.