Summer definitely means it’s time for some fun in the sun for you and your dogs; for us, that translates into a beach vacation. We usually take our beach vacations during “shoulder season,” the months just before and after peak summer season, when rates — and temperatures — are lower and crowds are lighter. We recently returned from a vacation in Port Aransas, Texas, one of our favorite getaway destinations, with our dogs Irie and Tiki. The island town, perched on Mustang Island, is home to just 3,500 residents but is a favorite vacation destination on the Gulf Coast.
Day One: Packing Up After a quick rescheduling due to storms the week before, vacation time finally arrived. April showers, especially when they result in thunderstorms and flooding rains, aren’t welcome (especially by thunderphobic dogs like our Irie) so we rebooked for the last week in April. The week of storms brought with it a late-season cold front, so we had to redo our packing plans as well. One thing that didn’t change was our dogs’ travel packing list, which included car harnesses; extra leashes; doggie sunscreen; a copy of their immunization records as well as our vet’s contact information; a memory foam bed for the car; their food and treats for the week; an extra tag with our cell numbers; and a plush toy for each.
PRO TIP #1: Know the cancellation and change fee policy of your accommodation. We were lucky in that we could reschedule our stay for just $35 if we did it in advance. If we’d waited on the weather forecast and cancelled the day we were scheduled to leave, we’d have been charged the value of a one-night stay.
Day Two: Driving Day We live in central Texas, so the drive to the beach is just over four hours if we drive non-stop. Since we were working on a revision of one of our guidebooks, we had some stops planned along the way; regardless, we always make two stops to give all of us a break. State parks are some of our favorite stops with Irie and Tiki, so we stopped for a late lunch at Goliad State Park and Historic Site in the town of Goliad. The park is home to an 18th century Spanish-Colonial mission and a large picnic area. Just down the road, we stopped at the Presidio La Bahía, a fort that played a major role in the Texas Revolution. From Goliad, we made the final push on to the coast. In Aransas Pass, we hit the causeway that took us on the final stretch to Mustang Island, location of Port Aransas. The last stop is one that really makes you feel like you’re headed to an island: We boarded the free car ferry for the island. The ride takes just minutes and soon the ferry’s horn was replaced by the sound of gulls, and we were at our destination!
Pro Tip #2: Plan to stop with your dogs every few hours; if you need to make a restroom stop, so do they. (And if you’re traveling with a puppy or senior dog, you may need to stop even more often.) As always, be prepared with waste bags. It’s not only polite; it’s also the law in many locations.
Day Three: Dog-Friendly Accommodations We chose A Laughing Horse Lodge as our home base for our vacation; we’ve stayed at this dog-friendly collection of cottages several times in the past. Irie and Tiki love this place (although rescheduling meant that we couldn’t get the same cottage we stayed in last time — so they tried to go in there every time we walked past it!). The cottage was just a few blocks from the beach, so we walked down early the next morning, the first of many trips to the beach. The previous week’s rain was still standing in some areas, and the weather was unusually brisk, so we spent only a portion of the day at the beach.
Pro Tip #3: Determine if your chosen accommodation is dog welcoming or just dog accepting. Our accommodations offered many extras especially for dog lovers — a self-serve dog bath, a dog ID tag with the hotel address and phone number, dog beach towels, dog waste bags and more.
Day Four: Beach Fun With warmer weather and lighter winds, we headed to the beach for a day of fun. First stop: the Port Aransas beach, just blocks from our cottage. Cars can park on the beach (with a $12 parking permit that can be obtained at any island convenience store), but the pedestrian area is separated by pylons from the cars, making it nice for dog walking on the beach. Dogs are required to be leashed and, of course, all messes must be picked up. That afternoon, we headed a few miles away to Mustang Island State Park, another dog-friendly (leashed) beach. Irie and Tiki played in the waves and indulged in their favorite sand fun: rolling.
Pro Tip #4: Watch your dog to make sure he doesn’t drink salt water; be sure to carry a collapsible water bowl and fresh water to offer frequently. At the end of your swimming session, try to wash your dog off with fresh water to prevent any skin irritations as well.
Day Five: Restaurant Dining Irie and Tiki love to go to patio restaurants, and fortunately, Port Aransas has numerous restaurants that welcome dogs. Although our cottage had kitchen facilities, we went out to dinner several evenings. After a day of sightseeing in nearby Corpus Christi, we returned and headed to the most convenient dining spot: Shells Restaurant, directly across the street from our cottage. Irie and Tiki loved walking to dinner; afterwards, we went back to the cottage and got in our car for the five-minute drive to Roberts Point Park to watch the sunset and see the dolphins playing in the ship channel.
Pro Tip #5: Before a restaurant meal, feed and walk your dog. Bring a portable water container to the restaurant and, if possible, opt for an out of the way table.
Day Six: Souvenir Shopping It wouldn’t be a beach vacation without a stop at one of the many souvenir stores on the island. Port Aransas is home to some wildly decorated stores, featuring entrances of open-mouthed whales and sharks, lighthouses and giant seahorses. After stopping at several stores for photo opportunities, we headed to the Palace, a dog-friendly souvenir store that welcomes all sizes of four-legged visitors to shop for beach towels, toys and shells, among other items.
Pro Tip #6: As with dining, try to shop during off-peak times with your dog. Keep your dog on a short leash, especially near breakable exhibits — and don’t trust your dog with your credit card!
Day Seven: The Drive Home As with so many vacations, the only problem with this one was that it was too short! For our last morning in Port Aransas, we packed up a breakfast picnic and headed back to the park at Horace Caldwell Pier to watch the surfers, then to the nearby jetty to watch the anglers and the many pelicans. After a quick trip on the ferry, we were homeward bound, this time through the oil country, farther west than our route that brought us to the beach. Irie and Tiki were soon napping in the back of the car as we drove, finally stopping for a late lunch in the town of Seguin for a picnic in Max Starcke Park. Although disappointed that they couldn’t get into the flooded Guadalupe River, Irie and Tiki enjoyed a picnic and a long walk before we returned to the car for the last stretch back home. We all had a great time on our beach vacation, and brought home many wonderful memories. Until next time, Port A!
Pro Tip #7: Plan some fun stops on your drive home to extend your vacation, and try to return home on a different route than you traveled on arrival.
Not sure where to go on vacation with your dog? Check out Paris and John’s recommendations here.