North Texas families who have visited Port Aransas for generations know it's the secret to getting on island time without leaving the Lone Star State. The Gulf Coast destination (located about 40 miles north of Corpus Christi) is one of Texas’ friendliest small towns and home to plenty of salty characters. Life moves purposely slower here, just how the locals like it. So visitors shouldn't be in a rush, either.
If a family vacation to Port A is in the plans this summer, don’t miss these nine family-friendly must-do’s, both on and off the beach. Some are newer but most are time-honored. All ensure a perfect island getaway for all ages.
Rent a golf cart
From the side streets to the shorelines, golf carts are as common as cars and trucks in Port A. “Beach cart” is a more accurate term because these colorful open-air vehicles — which typically seat four to six passengers — are made for cruising the sand. Renting one is a must for young families; simply taking a ride can provide for endless entertainment. Many come equipped with blue tooth speakers for blaring favorite tunes, and even hidden coolers for keeping beverages cold. For those seeking for extra beach cart flair, try Sly Customs. The rental company is popular for their hot rod, classic, and custom beach carts, as well as their breakfast crepes and rolled ice cream.
Take a sandcastle lesson
Level up your sandcastle game with just one guided lesson by Mark Landrum, also known as The Sandcastle Guy. Landrum lives on the island and has been sand-sculpting for more than 20 years, providing not only lessons but professional sand sculptures for events, photos, family gatherings, and corporate functions. Participants as young as 3 to 4 years old will learn how water plays a role in compacting sand, how sand “pancakes” can build bridges, and how a plastic fork can create intricate detail, but even teens and adults will be enthralled. Landrum provides everything needed and will even meet participants at their preferred beach location. Rates start at $55 for a 30 to 45-minute lesson for small groups with children 7 years old and under.
Embark on a pirate ship cruise
Set sail on the Red Dragon along the Lydia Ann Channel with a crew of comical pirates as tour guides. Little scallywags can become official pirates during this entertaining two-hour cruise. Kids will learn sword fighting and treasure hunting while spotting a few dolphins and dancing along the way. At the end of the cruise, children are presented with a certificate commemorating official pirate status. A plus for parents, the Red Dragon is also equipped with a full bar. Summer rates are $50 for adults and $40 for children 3-12.
Hammer crab legs at The Crazy Cajun
No trip to Port A is complete without dinner at The Crazy Cajun. The family-friendly restaurant has fed locals and tourists for 35 years, and the hometown pride is strong as evidenced by the community memorabilia on the walls. Atop white butcher paper, servers dump hot shrimp boil with all the fixings straight on the table to guests’ delight. Tiny wooden hammers are provided to pound those cumbersome but buttery crab legs, making dinnertime entertaining for all. Bring the whole gang but arrive early — seating is first-come, first served. Order a pitcher of beer and the crawfish when it’s in season.
Stuff your face at Pizzeria Port A
There’s something about this all-you-can-eat pizza buffet that’s irresistible to those on island time. Maybe it’s the coconut iced tea, the cinnamon-sugar dessert pizza, or the incredible ease of dining — simply pay at the counter, grab a plate, and get to eating. Pizzas come out quick and hot, from jalapeño-pepperoni to pineapple-ham. Large parties are easily accommodated with plentiful seating, beer can be sold by the pitcher, and the kids are always happy with the complimentary soft serve. Order off the menu for specialty items like calzones and pastas. Open every day from 11 am-10 pm.
Get shaved ice at Bron’s
This popular island pit stop serves up both kid-friendly and adult shaved ice spiked with spirits. But don’t miss Bron’s Backyard, an outdoor entertainment area behind the snow cone stand offering ping-pong, yard games, swing chairs, a full bar, and live music. The casual spot is an easy destination for islanders of all ages, whether coming from dinner or straight off the sandy beach. Newly opened is Bron’s Bar & Grill, serving a full menu featuring coconut shrimp, lobster rolls, beach tacos, and quesadillas. Bron’s also doubles as a beach cart rental shop.
Paint memories at Fire It! Ceramics
Need some respite from the outdoor elements? Spend some time at this ceramic painting studio, where guests of all ages can choose from hundreds of paintable pieces, from frames and figurines to garden art and dinnerware. Simply arrive and select your piece, which range from $1 to $150. Then pick out your paints and brushes, find an open seat, and have fun getting creative. When your masterpiece is finished, the studio will fire it to seal in the shiny colors. Note that the firing step takes a day or two to complete, so plan to visit the studio early in your trip and pick up your pieces before departing the island. Pieces may also be shipped for an additional fee.
Take a glow-in-the-dark kayak tour
This one’s an escape for Mom and Dad — or all "adult children" at least 18 years old. Row after-hours in a glow-in-the-dark kayak with Glow Row, a new nighttime kayaking guide service. The company services popular destinations along the Gulf Coast, and currently makes a stop in Port Aransas on Thursday nights. There are two launch times — 8 pm and 10:30 pm — and the one-mile route lasts about an hour to an hour-and-a-half. The completely clear kayaks allow for cool nighttime views of underwater creatures. Participants can choose from one of seven glow colors to create their own vibe. Rates start at $39.99 per person and kayaks launch from the Lighthouse Lakes area just before the ferries to Port Aransas.
Be a kid in a candy store
Family owned and operated by Port A locals, Winton’s Island Candy draws visitors of all ages for its nostalgic candies and fresh-made fudge cut by the square. Upon entry, guests are surrounded by bins of sweet treats, from chocolates to sour gummies, all sold by weight. Note that Winton’s is cash-only, but there’s a convenient ATM located in the back of the store.