Through The (Beach) Sands Of Time: Port Aransas Vacation Homes Through The Years

Port Aransas might be known as one of the biggest Spring Break, summer holiday, and winter getaway destinations in South Texas, but it wasn’t always quite so developed. Now speckled with iconic beachside condominiums and gloriously architectured homes, this small island on the Gulf Coast was once just rural stretches of grass and sand.

In fact, the laid-back (yet steady) buzz of activity in Port Aransas today is a far cry from the vibe even 50 years ago. Once upon a time, swimming, and boating were about the extent of water activities available to tourists. Fast forward to today, and residents and tourists enjoy water sports like windsurfing and kayaking, dancing all night at Bernie’s Beach House, and capping off a day at the beach with good eats at one of Port A’s many popular restaurants.

As a tribute to the evolution and growth of our beloved Port A, we thought we’d take a step back in time and found out what has been drawing crowds to this little town on the edge of Texas year after year.

The 1930s/ 1940s

For decades, Port A was a popular fishing destination. But it wasn’t until the 1930’s that tourists began traveling to Mustang Island for the waves and the sand. When a toll road opened between Aransas Pass and the Port A Ferry Landing, the first true vacationers made their way down from San Antonio, seeking relief from the inland heat in the form of a relaxing coastal breeze.

Accommodations for these early tourists were minimalist and charming. Small cottages (we’re talking 1 bed, 1 bath) were built a few blocks off the coast to ensure quick access to the water without jeopardizing the pristine beaches.

Many of these cottages were simply built from kits purchased from a SEARS catalog. One bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchen, and a sleeping porch (nothing fancy, as most folks spent more time outside than in the cottage).

Image courtesy of Library of Congress

A self-guided walking or driving tour through the older parts of Port A will reveal that many of the mid-century and contemporary homes emulate that vintage cottage style, preserving the classic “beach town” vibe that Port A has always embodied.

The 1950s/ 1960s

Image courtesy of the Port Aransas Museum webpage

By the middle of the century, there was enough tourist traffic in the high season for local South Texans to see real opportunity in the construction of small, efficient vacation homes. Throughout the sandy streets of Port Aransas, quaint beach-style cottages popped up with “For Rent” signs and swanky amenities like…wait for it…electrical refrigerators. In those days, a family of four could rent a 3 bedroom cottage for $100 a month.

Island Retreat, built in 1968.  Image courtesy of Roger PowersClick here for more information on current listings in Island Retreat.

The 1970s

209 S 12th Street $399,000

Amid a tumultuous time of protest, war, and the Beatles breaking up, Port Aransas witnessed its own environmental revolution.

For this quaint little town, the 70’s marked a fundamental change as residents began to actively acknowledge the value and beauty of their natural surroundings. Thus began the effort (that continues today across the Coastal Bend) to protect and preserve the dunes, beaches, and wetlands that make up the island.

Image courtesy of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page

This preservation movement sparked the development of The Port Aransas Nature Preserve At Charlie’s Pasture, a 1000+ acre wildlife sanctuary that would eventually become the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and the beginnings of the Coastal Bend eco-tourism trend.

The 1980s

And then, seemingly just like that, some forgotten genius had the game-changing idea to build condominiums in Port Aransas. Within a decade, Mustang Towers, Mustang Isle Beach Resort Condominiums, Sea Gull Condominiums, Sandpiper Condominiums, Aransas Princess, and many, many more popped up along the Port A shoreline.

Condominiums are, of course, more than just a place to sleep. These communities offered (and still offer) amenities like in-ground pools, fine dining, nearby shopping, and private boardwalks and golf courses…just to name a few.

6275 ST. HWY. 361, #104 $185,000

This shift from the single-story beach cottage to the high-rise condominium forever changed the architectural and cultural landscape of not just Port Aransas, but the entire Coastal Bend, launching the area into the tourist spotlight. Weekends, summer holidays, and the annual spring break student pilgrimage brought thousands of students and families to the island. Furthermore, Port A became a sought-after destination for “Winter Texans.”

Cutting-edge, luxurious, and perfectly situated for beach access and incredible views, these soon-to-be-iconic condos enabled Port A to accommodate higher numbers of tourists. The tourist industry exploded.

The 2000s

215 Beachwalk Drive $699,000

By the turn of the century, eco-tourism was in full flight, and nature lovers and outdoor sportsmen and women flocked to Port A. No longer just a beach haven, the island became known as a nature lover’s paradise and artist’s fountain of inspiration.

Instead of making a single annual trip to the island, vacationers were visiting more often…and staying longer. To accommodate the longer-term vacation trend, the idea of the Port Aransas vacation home expanded to include larger multi-bedroom homes — some with acreage, and some nestled in residential neighborhoods. With ready access to building materials and plenty of coastline, Port A developed a reputation for spacious waterfront homes at affordable prices.

Present Day

Today, Port Aransas continues balancing classic beachside charm with architectural progress. Despite the steady building of condominiums and new homes throughout the years, there remain plenty of empty lots (some of quite substantial acreage) perfect for custom builds.

Port Aransas vacation homes have always been about “location, location, location,” but whereas once they were one-story cottages, many newer vacation homes rise high above the older homes. It is no longer just about location. Now, it’s also about the view. Even when you are not at the beach, you can still relax on your balcony and see clear out to the horizon.

256 Bent Grass Drive $1,195,000

The idyllic coastal community of Cinnamon Shore is a perfect example of the new style of vacation home taking root in Port A. Many homes in this neighborhood boast high ceilings and second or even third story balconies designed with the view in mind. Homeowners and renters enjoy on-site shopping and cafes, fine dining, a live entertainment stage, a pool, a community park, and a fitness center. Varying in price from the mid-$300k’s and up into the millions, Cinnamon Shore homes embody the contemporary affordable and luxury Port Aransas vacation home.

Thinking about Port Aransas for your next vacation home or forever home? Keller Williams is here to help! Check out our list of Coastal Bend communities that need to be on your radar, download our exclusive Buyer’s Guide, speak with a local lender, and contact an agent to help you make your dream home a reality.