Mustang Island, Texas, may soon become—dare we say it?—a luxury travel destination.
Story and photos by Niki Jones
After 12 years in Texas, I can say I finally think like a Texan (a great thing since thinking like a New Yorker was exhausting). When considering a beach vacation, I’ll admit I rarely consider heading down to the Texas coast, even though I’ve been a number of times. Instead, when I think of the beach, Mexico pops into my mind, and I’ll wager a good number of Central Texans have the same idea. It isn’t that we aren’t proud of our 350-plus miles of coastline; it’s just that I don’t equate the Texas shore with luxe amenities or next-level cuisine, which is what I seek in a vacation.
But that all seems to be changing.
My travel partner and I headed south from Austin on a Tuesday morning and a slightly less than four-hour drive later, arrived at the ferry landing, where there was a 45-minute wait. Once aboard, we crossed the Corpus Christi channel in less than 10 minutes. The ferry, which is free, isn’t the only way to get to Mustang Island from Aransas Pass; you can also enter on the south end of the island via the causeway.
We celebrated our arrival on the island with ice cream at Desserted Island, a quirky pink shack with an eclectic mix of décor and plenty of seating, both inside and out. One Blue Bell cone later, we were ready to head down to Cinnamon Shore, where we were booked for the next two nights.
Cinnamon Shore is a 300-home beachfront community of homes and condos, half of which are in the rental pool. As soon as we pulled onto the property, we felt the vibe of a small-town, neighborly community. Large homes—some accommodating as many as 16 people—are mixed in with small condominiums, so there is something for everyone. Family is a major focus at Cinnamon Shore, There are great large lawns where volleyball games are played and movies are shown, a stocked pond to fish (The folks at the poolside café will even throw your catch on their grill!) and large fire pits with ample seating for s’mores nights.
One thing that sets Cinnamon Shore apart from other properties is its list of (for-a-fee) amenities. Golf carts are available to rent if you don’t feel like walking to the beach. Call the front desk to request chairs and an umbrella to accompany you to the beach the next day, and they’ll be set up by 8:30 a.m., adorned with your name scrawled on an adorable chalkboard. Do you feel like a bonfire? The staff is happy to build you one, and you can even upgrade to include an ooey, gooey s’mores package. Are you in the mood to bike around the neighborhood on a beach cruiser? No problem! Cinnamon Shore has got you covered.
Our first night, we were excited to check out the local fare and headed back toward town to try the popular Irie’s Island Food. Though the eatery is open until 9 p.m., when we arrived at 7 p.m., we were disappointed by the sign stating Irie’s was sold out of eats and closed for the day. A quick check of Yelp led us to Roosevelt’s at the beautiful and historic Tarpon Inn, and we were quite happy to dig into the Roosevelt’s Trio appetizer, as well as a wedge salad and Parmesan-crusted flounder, and were pleased with the friendly and attentive service.
The next morning, we strolled down to the beckoning beach, where a pair of cute cinnamon-colored lounge chairs and a giant umbrella awaited us on the pristine sand. (Cinnamon Shore ensures its stretch of beach is meticulously groomed each day.) We spent most of the day lounging and playing in clear, cool water, save for an hour or so at the Cinnamon Shore pool, where we recharged with burgers, tacos and margaritas.
Exhausted from a full day’s sun, we were more than happy we had to travel only about 60 yards to dinner that night, as we had reservations at Lisabella’s Bistro and Bar, Cinnamon Shore’s airy onsite restaurant featuring coastal cuisine. After dinner, we headed back to our balcony and watched the sun set over the bay.
On our final morning, we wanted to try one last time to get some authentic, no-frills breakfast, so we drove toward town to Frankie’s Kitchen only to again be disappointed by a sign announcing the restaurant was closed all week due to illness. Bummer!
A cute place next to the ice-cream shop had caught our eye that first day on the island though, so we headed over to Eat’s, where Executive Chef and Owner Billy Joe Wilson welcomed us and told us all about his home-style meals. It was hard to choose from the menu of innovative comfort food, but we settled on avocado toast with heirloom tomatoes and feta cheese, and a pork chop with eggs, both of which were absolutely phenomenal.
Our short experience on Mustang Island seemed to show us signs everywhere that the old businesses that operated on island time were being phased out in favor of newer, modern businesses. The dawn of 2015 brought the opening of Mustang Island’s Palmilla Beach Resort and Golf Club, a 222-acre luxury property of vacation rentals and a pristine 18-hole golf course.
The advent of Airbnb and other vacation-rental companies has clearly brought competition to the vacation-rental market. The adorable but ramshackle cabins of the past just don’t seem to be cutting it, and visitors to the Texas coast now expect a higher level of service and accommodations. Case in point: While we personally didn’t start our trip to Mustang Island with an expectation of innovative dishes and top-notch amenities, we got awfully comfortable with it all pretty quickly.
Ready to begin our journey back to Austin, we got in the car, stuffed and happy, this time traveling to the south end of Mustang Island past beautiful Mustang Island State Park, over the causeway and onto South Padre Island, where we had one last stop: JB’s German Bakery. We loaded up on authentic, homemade brötchen—a German bread—as well as strudel and cookies to bring back home. Full disclosure: Most of those goodies didn’t even make it past San Antonio!