A Port Aransas Vacation

beachSince Lisa posted about her Outer Banks vacation on Friday, I decided that today I would talk a little about Port Aransas, Texas.  We just got back from a five night trip to this wonderful little island and I have to say that for the first time in years, I was not ready to come home at the end of our vacation.  Ian even whined on the way home that he wanted to stay and swim for five more nights!

Port Aransas is a little town on Mustang Island about 45 minutes west of Corpus Christi, off the west coast of Texas.  Surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico, this little island is a gem.  It is not a high tourist area, even in the middle of summer.  While there are a lot of families clearly vacationing on the island, there is never a problem with traffic or loud and boisterous groups. It’s just a nice, easy place to be with no chain restaurants and a lot of really nice local people.

We spent most of our time in Port Aransas on the beach or in the pool.  Unlike Galveston (where we go quite often for day trips to the beach), the water in Port Aransas is clear, has less seaweed, and the sand is finer.  There are also fewer people on the beach.  We had our choice of places to set up.  Another one of the beautiful things about Port A is that you can just drive right up to your spot.  We literally set our EZ-Up shelter up right by the car.  It’s perfect when you have small children and a ton of stuff to take to the beach.  The water along the shoreline was also very shallow, allowing even our 10 month old to play and crawl around safely in the water.

We parked right by our shelter.

We parked right by our shelter.

This was the second year we went to Port Aransas and our favorite restaurant there has become Castaways.  I had the stuffed flounder, which was amazing, and Ian very graciously helped me eat it.  Colin chose the blackened tuna sandwich and rates it among his top three tuna experiences.  This is saying a lot given that he tries tuna steaks anytime he has the opportunity.  There were also plenty of fried options if that’s your thing.  The hushpuppies were incredible.  Another important thing for us is that Castaways is very family friendly.  We didn’t feel as if we were too loud or too troublesome, even with a three year old and a ten month old in tow.  We also ate at Shell’s Pasta and Seafood.  We had read enough reviews to know that the place was small (only nine tables) and somewhat pricey, but we decided to try it out anyway.  The food was just “meh” and the place was not at all family friendly.  They had only a booster seat for the baby; no high chairs.  The only kid option they offered was spaghetti.  My linguine pesto just tasted like noodles with olive oil and Colin’s shrimp and crabcakes were okay, but nothing to rave over.  It worked for us, but we were extremely underwhelmed.  We won’t be going back, especially not with children.

Winton’s Candy Company is another must-do on the island.  If you have a sweet tooth, this place is a dream and has ANYTHING you could ever want.  Their creamy fudge and caramels are enough to keep me going back, but they also have any type of sweet treat you could ever want.  We all love going through and picking out our favorite candies.  This small, family owned company is very well known and takes online orders to ship anywhere in the country.  It’s a can’t miss and it’s just fun to go in and look around at all of the different offerings.

This is only a small part of the selection at Winton's.

This is only a small part of the selection at Winton’s.

Another favorite outing in Port Aransas is the dolphin tour.  We didn’t have the opportunity to go this year, but last year it was amazing. We just went to Woody’s Sports Center to buy our tickets and left from there.  We were able to see a lot of dolphins, as well as St. Jo Island and the lighthouse there.  The crew was great and the captain went out of his way to find the dolphins and get close to them.  Even at 2 ½, Ian had a great time.  It’s a great outing if you are looking for something to do besides the beach.

Last year's dolphin tour.

Last year’s dolphin tour.

This year, we had one rainy day and decided to drive to Corpus Christi to check out the Texas State Aquarium.  It was a 45 minute drive, but it was so worth it!  This aquarium is by no means the largest I’ve been to, but it was interactive and fun.  Aside from the normal sea creatures that you would expect to see at an aquarium, they had a lot more to offer.  The Stingray Lagoon houses more than 30 stingrays and we were able to pet them.  They also allow visitors to feed them several times a day, but we weren’t there at the right time.  There is also a dolphin show, where we were able to see the dolphins with their trainers.  It was like Sea World on a much smaller scale, but it was awesome and a very pleasant surprise.  The aquarium also has a wetscape where kids can play on a playground with water shooting up and fountains everywhere.  It was a lot of fun and a great place to go with small children.  It had something for everyone.  As another bonus, the aquarium participates in the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Reciprocal Admissions Program.  Because we are members of the Houston Zoo, our tickets were all half price, so the four of us got in for only $26.

aquariumOverall, I have to say that Port Aransas has become one of my favorite places to travel.  I don’t know how they’ve managed to avoid the touristy trappings that usually come with such a great beach, but I’m glad they have.  It is a very relaxing and peaceful place that is very family focused.  I left feeling renewed and extremely happy to have gotten to spend so much family time with Colin and the boys.  If you live anywhere near, you can’t go wrong planning a vacation to Port Aransas!

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From the Bluegrass to the Lone Star State

txOne of my first posts here on Three Ladies and Their Babies was about my awesome home state of Kentucky and how much it has to offer. I have spent a lot of time over the past year and a half missing “home”, but it hit me like a brick last weekend that not only am I enjoying Colin’s job and our new way of life here in Texas, but I am truly starting to enjoy being here. For the longest time, I lamented the fact that even though the house we live in felt like home, I just didn’t feel at home here in Houston. Lately, however, this has started to change. It has been a slow progression and it certainly didn’t help that I was pregnant during my first summer here (100 degrees with 100% humidity is not how you want to spend the day when you’re hugely pregnant AND have a two year old), but slowly, Houston has become home to me. In celebration of this newfound realization, I decided to make a list of the things I’ve found that I love about Texas.

1. BBQ – Growing up, grilling out or barbecuing meant hamburgers and hot dogs to me. Maybe there would be a little chicken, too. And I loved those events. It always meant it was summer, when the days were long and the food was delicious. Here, however, barbecue is a completely different animal. Early last summer, we were invited to a barbecue in our neighborhood. Now I knew that Texans prided themselves on their barbecues, but I had pictures in my head of Memphis style ribs and sausages. Boy was I surprised. And pleasantly so! Having a barbecue here means there’s going to be a lot of meat. There were no hamburgers or hot dogs, but there was most definitely good food: chicken prepared forty different ways (some of it stuffed with cheese…so good), sausages that were REALLY tasty (I never really liked them before), ribs, shrimp, pulled pork, and brisket (Oh my God, the brisket…). I’ve since learned that this is pretty standard fare around here, whether you’re at a BBQ restaurant or in someone’s back yard. And they all know how to do it right. Even those places that are known for only having average barbecue are good. And for someone who has never really been that fond of the meat portion of dinner, let me just say, I am now in love with brisket. Seriously. I can’t say enough about the brisket.

A zillion different types of meat at every BBQ.  Makes my head spin!

A zillion different types of meat at every BBQ. Makes my head spin!

2. Galveston – When we moved here, we knew we were going to be an hour to an hour and a half away from the beach. This excited us. Being landlocked my entire life, the closest beach was at least 11 hours away. We’ve been to Galveston six times since we’ve lived here and I always love going. I’ve heard from some of the locals that it isn’t great because the water isn’t the beautiful blue-green associated with more exotic places, but let me tell you, it’s a beach. It’s warm and there is plenty of sand and sun. Good enough for me! Not to mention, should we ever decide to take a cruise, a number of them leave from Galveston!

3. Port Aransas – Along those same lines, about 3 hours from our house is Port Aransas. This little place is so charming that I almost hate to talk about it for fear that tourists will catch on and ruin it. It’s a great little ocean town that seems to have avoided all of the tourist attractions that usually come with a beach community. Aside from a few large swim and surf shops, it really doesn’t cater that much to tourist traffic. Maybe it’s the fact that it is only accessible by ferry, which in itself is kind of cool. We all loved driving onto the boat and then watching the seagulls and pelicans during the ten minute ride to the island. We were also able to see dolphins on the ferry ride to the island our first day. The locally owned restaurants are spectacular and there’s this great little candy shop that makes you feel like you just stepped back about 60 years. You can also drive and park on the beach, which is really awesome if you have young kids in tow that require a lot of gear for a day on the beach. This place is truly a gem!

Row upon row of candy at Winton's Candy in Port A.

Row upon row of candy at Winton’s Candy in Port A.

4. February and March – I’m going to be honest, the weather here depresses me around Christmas time when it’s still in the low to mid 60’s. My hands should be numb when I’m putting up our Christmas lights. And summer feels like you’re in a boiler. But come February and March, when so many people are just ready for winter to be over, Houston really starts to feel nice. There is no humidity and the temperature in the afternoon gets up into the mid 70’s. It’s perfect weather. It doesn’t last too long before the days get really steamy, but I’ve learned to appreciate it. Which brings me to my next point…

5. Zoo and Other Outdoor Activities – If you love the zoo, the weather is perfect! We have annual passes and with little ones, the zoo is a great way to pass a Saturday morning. With the weather staying relatively warm all year long, there are very few days when going to the zoo is out of the question. Even in the summer, if you go early or late enough in the day, it’s great. We really get our money’s worth out of those passes! The same can be said for going to the park and having picnics. We live three houses down from our neighborhood park and we are there a LOT! At least four days out of the week, Ian asks to go. Luckily, it’s a great way to let him run off some energy and the weather is usually agreeable.

Stare down with a Komodo Dragon in December.

Stare down with a Komodo Dragon in December.

6. Shopping – Outside of the holiday season, I’m not typically a huge shopper. I have to say, though, that a place like Houston offers such a wide array of options that I find myself wanting to shop. Growing up, we had to drive thirty minutes just to get to Wal-Mart. Here, there is literally nothing you could want that you cannot find within an hour drive. Living in a city as large as Houston does sometimes come with its drawbacks (traffic, smog, etc), but it is so nice to have so many amenities nearby!

7. The People – Last, but not least, the people here are really great. I come from an area that is very warm and inviting, where people will invite you into their homes for dinner and ask you to sit on the porch with them for a while afterward. Houstonians are very similar. From the moment we got here I noticed it. In fact, the very first night we stayed in our house, I had to go to Kroger to get some things and I noticed that people were talking to me in the aisles as I was finding my groceries. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the fact that people are willing to chat and be courteous is very nice. The second night we were here, one of my neighbors came by with chocolate chip cookies to welcome us to the neighborhood. Another neighbor was quick to bring dinner one night after I had Declan because she knew that all of our family had gone home and I could probably use a break. We have been welcomed with open arms into our community. From the very beginning, Ian was invited to play with the neighborhood kids and everyone was quick to tell us all of the great local things that we needed to see and do. One friend has even made it her mission to make sure I try all of the great local restaurants, including Bob’s Taco Stand, which was once featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive Ins and Dives!

One of the many amusing sign's at Bob's.

One of the many amusing sign’s at Bob’s.

I’m sure that the longer I’m here, the longer this list is going to get. For now, though, I’m very thankful to be enjoying my new home. It was daunting at first, but it’s a move I’m glad we made and I look forward to raising my family here. I still consider myself a Kentuckian, but it doesn’t feel too bad to hear myself referred to as a Texan anymoren. 🙂