Towards the end of last month, I headed down to Corpus Christi, Texas for a few days with my sister, and I was reminded why the beach at Mustang Island State Park is my favorite in the US. Some places may have bluer water, or hipper beach towns, or more exotic locales, but if I could only go to one beach for the rest of my life, it would be Mustang Island.
Yes, I’m biased. For many people, myself included, you get a special connection with the beach you grow up going to year after year. Growing up, my family would pack up the family minivan to visit our cousins in Corpus Christi. I was so jealous that they got to grow up at the beach, and they knew how to surf and fish and snorkel before they could get a learner’s permit. For the past ten years, I watched my friends and coworkers in Philly swoon about their weekends at the Jersey shore, and I could appreciate their emotions, but I never fell in love with the Jersey shore. When I wanted a beach escape, I’d either head south to the Outer Banks of North Carolina or book a trip some where out of the country. But every beach I’ve ever gone to has lacked something element that makes Mustang Island so wonderful.
Driving on the Beach
Driving on the beach is really fun! There’s nothing better than going with the windows (or convertible top) down, wind in your hair, the smell of the salt, blasting tunes while the waves fly past outside.
Other perks of being able to drive right to the water: no lugging your stuff through blocks of hot sand while your calves burn, full access to car radio at all times, and being able to climb in to get out of the sun for a minute if you didn’t bring any shade. This means you can bring surfboards, boogie boards, fishing equipment, etc. easily and feel no guilt if you decide not to use them.
Growing up, we used this to full advantage and would camp out on the beach without having to worry about bringing all the gear. Some of my favorite memories from my childhood include waking up in a tent on the beach with the sun rising over the water.
In my experience, the waves on the Gulf Coast are more lolling and gentle than their ocean counterparts. On some east coast shores, the waves slap into your knees hard, making getting past them difficult. Alternatively, the waves near the edge of the water slam you down and make it hard to get in and out. Here they are typically much more sloping and gentle, making it easier to get out to the second sandbar. I have spent hours diving down in five-six foot water to grab sand dollars and medium sized seashells from under the sand.
Perfectly Cool Water Temperatures
Face it, sometimes you get to the seaside and the water is just too dang cold. You go in an inch at a time, trying to acclimate. Sometimes you jump in all at once, to get it over with. But here, the water is a perfect temperature, like putting on a cooler skin. This makes it a great place to swim when it’s hot, but it’s pleasant even if it’s windier or cloudier than normal. I’ve been there swimming in March all the way through September. Of course, there are weather patterns or times of year when it’s chilly, but it has many months of great swimming weather.
Rock beaches are pretty, but they aren’t as much fun to swim on without water shoes. Here, the sand is soft and easy on your feet. Unless there’s seaweed on the beach, it’s a clean walk from your car to the water.
It’s common to see dolphins on the ferry to the island or playing out in the waves. On this trip, my uncle took us out in his boat, and we saw a dozen dolphins. Some were playing and doing flips, while others were swimming around and checking out our boat. We even saw a mama and baby dolphin come right up to us!
The Texas coast stretches for 367 miles, and there are quite a few places Texans love to go. This keeps Port Aransas, the main city on the island, relatively chill. On this trip, my sister and I had about 20 feet of beach ourselves during the middle of the week. On weekends, the beaches do get more crowded, but nothing like some of the public beaches I’ve seen in Malibu or Jersey. This keeps the restaurants lively but not overwhelmingly full with reasonable wait times. The island is more developed than it was twenty years ago, but it isn’t overwhelmed with non-Texans. The shell and surf shops turn the kitsch up to eleven, but those are both fun and avoidable.
The ferry to get there is free. You can get a beach pass to a public beach in Port Aransas for $12 for a car for the whole year. Dinner at local restaurants that have fresh seafood can be under $20 (under $15 if you order right). You can get a lot out of your time there without spending too much. We stayed with family, so we didn’t have to worry about this. In the past, we’ve also rented beach condos or vacation rentals from HomeAway. Looking at Airbnb, I’m seeing lots of cute rentals in the $100 per night range, which would make this $20/$30 dollar a night for a group of friends.
Yes, I’m biased because I have three decades of family memories here, but no matter how beautiful or exotic a beach is, it always is missing some element that makes Mustang Island such a great place to visit. I know I will continue to see beautiful places, but I will also be glad to return here from time to time along the way.