By George Slaughter
PORT ARANSAS—This beach community, located about 200 miles southwest of Katy, has long been a historic site. Spanish explorers discovered the area in 1519 and Karankawa Indians likely lived here before that, according to experts consulted by the Port Aransas Museum.
Yet Port A, as locals call it, is also contemporary, and has made impressive strides towards putting Hurricane Harvey into its history, if not its rearview mirror.
“It was definitely an additional speed bump to get over for us,” Jeff Hentz, Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Bureau president, said. “But we’re not starting over.”
For many visitors, just getting to Port Aransas is an attraction in itself. The popular route is to take Texas 361 southeast from Aransas Pass, and then take the ferry to Mustang Island. The ferry is so popular that at times the wait can take a while.
“It brings you into the out-of-life mood,” Hentz said.
Restaurants and local businesses have reopened, and Hentz said most of the lodging condominiums have been rebuilt. Tourism has continued to grow, with approximately five million visitors expected this year and six million expected next year.
New hotels are being built to accommodate the growth, but not all the growth deals with the vacation industry. Local leaders expect that a new convention center, now under construction, will bring conferences and corporate gatherings to Port Aransas. Hentz said the new facility, which can accommodate gatherings of 500 to 2,000 people, is set to open in 2021.
“There’s a big building spree going on here,” Hentz said.
Those attending such events might be excused for paying attention not to their gathering, but to the nearby beaches. Hentz said the beaches are the top tourist attraction. People can still drive, camp, and enjoy cookouts on the beaches.
“People see it, and they say, ’wow,’” Hentz said.
Fishing and golf are other popular activities here. Hentz said the fishing remained strong after the storm, though some boats needed to be moved from the channel that leads into Corpus Christi Bay.
“We’ve got off the charts fishing here,” Hentz said.
As for golf, the Palmilla Beach Resort & Golf Community have been redesigned after the storm.
Tourist season runs beyond the summer months. The Port Aransas Beachtoberfest is set to run from September 13-October 30. Beachtoberfest features approximately 14-15 weekend events, spread out over eight weeks. The first weekend, September 13-15, features the Fishing for the Fallen Benefit Tournament, along with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Beach Dash 5K.
Other events include the Super Chef Throwdown Event, where top chefs will compete at different local restaurants, and the Harvest Moon Regatta, billed as the largest point-to-point sailing regatta in U.S. costal waters. The event begins in Galveston and ends in Port Aransas.
The Port A Live Music Fest, set for October 4-5, features performances at various local venues.
Hentz said the key attendees for these events are millennials, empty nesters, and groups such as a girls weekend out.
“You wouldn’t know that a hurricane came through,” Hentz said. “We’re running on eight cylinders here.”