Setting: Port Aransas caps the north end of Mustang Island on Texas' Gulf Coast. The harbor marks the entrance to the shipping channel that leads to Corpus Christi, less than 30 miles southwest. It's a three-hour drive to San Antonio, and about four hours to Houston or Austin.
Attractions: This small tourist town remains relatively undeveloped compared with much of the Gulf Coast. It offers 18 miles of fine sand beaches, good public schools, a low crime rate, a spirited arts scene, and great dining.
Drawbacks: Living here may mean traveling to Corpus Christi to work or shop. Hurricane season lasts from June through November. College revelers flood in for spring break.
Housing: Homes are being built south along the shipping channel or in "canal communities" along artificial waterways. While condos dominate the Gulf side, new cottage-style developments are under construction. Single-family homes fill most off-the-water locations, though no spot is more than a few blocks from shore. Beachfront homes start at $700,000. For the same price, you can buy a stucco-and-tile three-bedroom home in an older beachside and canal community such as Island Moorings. A three-bedroom house that's close to the beach goes for about $275,000. The average Port Aransas house costs $313,000.
Your next-door neighbors: A yacht surveyor, a geophysicist who commutes to Corpus Christi, a retired fire department captain from Chicago, a couple who own and operate a local restaurant, and several part-time residents from Austin, San Antonio, and the Midwest.
How you'd spend your free time: Enjoying the beach. Surfing near the Horace Caldwell Pier. Fishing off the jetties or out in the Gulf itself. Shelling on uninhabited St. Joe Island. Birding almost anytime.
(published July 2006)