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Beaching on the Cheap

Summertime on Mustang Island can be the perfect chance to relax and enjoy the easy life—and keep your budget intact

Signs of life on the beach: The sandcastle offers an opportunity to design, sculpt, and free-associate simul­taneously and in three dimensions. But never leave your sandcastle unattended; its life expectancy will be short (Photo by E. Dan Klepper).

I confess. I am a dreamer. A grasshopper in an anthill world. Each month, as soon as I pay the bills, I take the money left over and go hiking or mountain biking. Maybe go fishing. Or pitch a tent, build a campfire, and cook out. Some folks who know me substitute my sobriquet “grasshopper” with the more definitive “bum.” They can say what they will, but I prefer to live outside.

Bold? Daring? Adventurous? Hardly. It’s cheaper.

And once a year, I spend an idyllic stretch as a very specific kind of bohemian: the Texas Beach Bum.

The Texas Gulf Coast has a lot to offer—more than 360 miles of coastline, seven barrier islands, and more than 3,000 miles of bay-estuary-lagoon shores. All these provide hundreds of satisfying places to anchor your toes in the sand. And Mustang Island, particularly, lures me back year after year. The island and its only town, laid-back Port Aransas, features funky and affordable eateries, reasonably priced campgrounds and rental cottages, and abundant fishing, paddling, biking, and birding opportunities.

Sound intriguing? Then come along, fellow grasshoppers.

I confess. I am a dreamer. A grasshopper in an anthill world. Each month, as soon as I pay the bills, I take the money left over and go hiking or mountain biking. Maybe go fishing. Or pitch a tent, build a campfire, and cook out. Some folks who know me substitute my sobriquet “grasshopper” with the more definitive “bum.” They can say what they will, but I prefer to live outside.

Bold? Daring? Adventurous? Hardly. It’s cheaper.

And once a year, I spend an idyllic stretch as a very specific kind of bohemian: the Texas Beach Bum.

The Texas Gulf Coast has a lot to offer—more than 360 miles of coastline, seven barrier islands, and more than 3,000 miles of bay-estuary-lagoon shores. All these provide hundreds of satisfying places to anchor your toes in the sand. And Mustang Island, particularly, lures me back year after year. The island and its only town, laid-back Port Aransas, features funky and affordable eateries, reasonably priced campgrounds and rental cottages, and abundant fishing, paddling, biking, and birding opportunities.

Sound intriguing? Then come along, fellow grasshoppers.

Start with the main draw: the beach. Mustang Island, a sandy barrier of dunes and lagoons, is only 18 miles long and no more than two miles wide. Most roads lead to the water’s edge, either along the estuaries of Corpus Christi Bay or shin-deep in the Gulf of Mexico. The nearest beach access along the northern end of the island is at I. B. Magee Beach Park. This county park offers RV hookups, a bathhouse, and beach camping. Rates start at $12 a night for tent camping.

Mustang Island State Park occupies the island’s southern end and provides both beach and bay access. On the Gulf side, you’ll find five miles of sand and surf while on the bay side,  you’ll encounter a short channel, called Fish Pass, which makes an easy entry into the kayak-friendly lagoons. Primitive-camping permit fees start at $8 per night.

Elsewhere on the island, RV parks pitch slightly more expensive ways to crash but only a few offer direct access to the beach. The cheapest island overnight is a $12 beach-parking permit (purchase at island retailers) for three days of camping on the beach. Public rest-rooms and cold-water showers are available. Most of the beach along Mustang Island is open to vehicular use, meaning you can drive all of your stuff to a nice spot, park, and enjoy. Just negotiate loose sand carefully, avoid parking in the tide zone, and obey all traffic rules. 

 

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