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This lovely, largely wild barrier island sprawls 29 miles east of Corpus Christi on the state’s southeastern coast, sheltering the city from the Gulf of Mexico. Port Aransas remains its only established town. Semitropical Mustang Island measures 18 miles long and just over two miles across at its widest point. Route 361 connects it to Padre, the world’s longest barrier island, to the south. It’s home to a National Seashore refuge, which protects dunes, sea turtle nests, and tidal flats rich with marine life, as well as a bustling resort community.
Indigenous Karankawa people first dwelled in this area, thriving on seafood, small game, and local plants. The cartographer and conquistador Alonso Álvarez de Pineda mapped the region in 1519. By the mid-19th century, a handful of settlers were farming and ranching there. Mustang draws its name from the wild horses that roamed here for hundreds of years, possibly brought by Spaniards or escaped from shipwrecks. The herds disappeared by the end of the 19th century, but visitors can still ride on the tawny beaches, either with a guide or independently.
Air travelers can arrive at the petite (by Texan standards) Corpus Christi International Airport (CRP), 31 miles west of Mustang Island on the mainland. Going car-free? Catch a bus or rideshare from there to Port Aransas. Other options include hubs in San Antonio (SAT), 176 miles north, and Houston (IAH), 259 miles northeast. Buses also connect both those cities to the island. Drivers zip across Highway 358’s JFK Causeway to reach Mustang or hop the 20-vehicle ferry from Aransas Pass to Port Aransas. Make sure to purchase an island parking permit, good for a year. Alternatively, ride the local bus or rent a beach buggy or golf cart.
Chilly winters give way to warm, pleasant springs, even if the seawater remains cold then. Summer ushers in hotter and more consistent temperatures, though they’re usually attended by intense crowds and higher prices. Aim for fall, when the weather is still pleasant. The Texas Coastal Bend remains the only place to see the world’s last self-sustaining population of wild whooping cranes. A February festival honors the return of these migratory birds, who stand nearly five feet tall and can have wingspans reaching eight feet. They begin arriving in October to winter here, snarfing insects, berries, and blue crabs. Watch the state go big with the country’s largest native-sand sculpture competition in April. Fall brings Beachtoberfest and the Harvest Moon Regatta. And for anyone needing more Mustang in the mix, car buffs host an October outdoor show there.
Texans have big-time pride over this supersized live oak, thought to be a millennia (or maybe two) old, 43 miles north of Mustang Island. The tree has seen Karankawa Indigenous ceremonies, pirates, and all six flags that have flown over the state. Its trunk’s circumference now measures 35 feet and its crown spans 90 feet. The park is also known for hiking, geocaching, and its fishing pier.
Explore some of the state’s best shallow-water fishing areas by kayak. This 20-mile route traces the park’s western shoreline in Corpus Christi Bay, skirting the emerald waters of Shamrock Cove, which can be very good year-round for trout and redfish.
In Port Aransas, this stately early-1900s kit house shelters a collection of community artefacts. The museum also includes an operational workspace for the Farley Boat Works, founded in 1915. These shipwrights produced the first sports fishing vessels designed to catch tarpon. Today visitors can watch skiffs and schooners being built, and connoisseurs can even take boat-building classes.