Explore Port Aransas’ nature and wildlife this summer

Stephanie Robalino

Soft sand and warm gulf water draws countless tourists to Port Aransas every summer. Conservation efforts made by the city allow visitors to enjoy clean, well-maintained beaches that are teeming with coastal wildlife. 

“As far as accessibility and quality of water and sand go, Port Aransas is the greatest beach in Texas,” said Ann Bracher Vaughan, president and CEO of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce.

With a variety of possibilities for how to spend your lazy days in the sun, the island offers an environment that emphasizes preserving the area’s natural habitats and native species. 

“Nature tourism is definitely a big draw for us,” said Sheri Henneberger, communications manager for the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce. “We’re a fun family beach town, and we strive to protect the environment we enjoy as well.” 

Port Aransas’ conservation efforts allows abundant opportunities to observe diverse wildlife, hike in state parks, or simply spend some time sunbathing on miles of pristine coastland. Here are a few spots worth checking out when you’re looking to take some time off.

Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center 

Birding aficionados come to the island from all over the world to see a variety of Coastal Bend nesting species including the roseate spoonbills, reddish egrets, least grebes, black-bellied whistling ducks and many others. Situated in the Central Flyway, Port Aransas is a base for hundreds of native and migrating species. There are more than 1,500 acres of natural bird watching sites, complete with boardwalks, hiking trails and observatories.

“We have enhanced and preserved many of our natural areas with regard to bird watching,” Vaughan said. “City leaders have been instrumental in preserving natural areas for people to enjoy.”

The Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center is just one of the several nature preserves on the island. A nearly mile-long boardwalk allows tourists to view birds from an up close proximity. Not only are visitors able to observe birds in their natural habitats, but there can also be sightings of the center’s resident American alligators.

San Jose Island 

Boasting 21 miles of pristine Texas coastline, San Jose Island is just a short ferry ride away from Port Aransas. The beaches of this uninhabited island are open to visitors, but closed to vehicles, which allows for a largely untainted environment perfect for swimming, surfing and camping. Located in an area known as the “Fishing Capital of Texas,” some of the best fishing around takes place from the rocky edges of the North Jetty, where anglers can find speckled trout, redfish, flounder and more all up for grabs.  

Mustang Island State Park 

Mustang Island State Park allows visitors vast opportunities for bay fishing, kayaking, birding, golfing, hiking, camping and more. The state park encompasses a whole barrier island ecosystem, containing dunes, coastal grasslands and marshes, which allows ample chances to see wildlife and enjoy impressive vantage points to bird-watch. The park is also a popular place to camp, with electrical hookups available and onshore tent camping
is permitted. 

The University of Texas Marine Science Institute 

Situated on a 3.5-acre salt marsh surrounded by dunes, the Wetlands Education Center at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute serves as an educational resource for visitors. While UT scientists and students research marine life on the grounds, visitors can explore the marsh area and learn about local plant and animal species. The public is invited to participate in seasonal walking tours to learn about the importance of the preservation of wetlands.