There’s something about Port Aransas that calls for slumming. If you haven’t planned in advance and secured a vacation rental (vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/usa/texas/gulf-coast/port-aransas), which is definitely your best bet (especially if you’re going with a group), consider succumbing to the divey allure of a seaside cottage with a Xanadu-worthy paint job. During the high season, rooms at A Laughing Horse Lodge (503 E. Avenue G, (361) 749-5513, alaughinghorselodge.com) start at $105. It’s nothing fancy, but who needs a tricked-out shower head when you’re barefoot walking distance from the beach? Not nearly as cute, but “comfortable and clean” according to its website (or the “worst place to stay” according to the first review that pops up when you Google it), the Rock Cottages (known fondly by some as the “Crotch Rottages”) are perfectly fine for a trashy weekend with a broke-ass friend ($39-$159 per night, $7-$10 extra for pets, 603 E. Avenue G, (361) 749-6360, rock-cottages.com). It’s always worth calling to see if there’s been a last-minute cancellation at the gorgeously charming Tarpon Inn (200 E. Cotter, (361) 749-5555, thetarponinn.com, rooms start at $99). Even if you plan in advance, it can be hard to secure a room here, but so worth the trouble. It’s the coolest place in town to laze around in a porch rocker, and it’s spitting distance from cheap eats (it doesn’t look like much, but Bufatso’s Pizza is a surprisingly good seafood alternative: 717 Tarpon St., (361)-749-4500), finer dining with a killer view (Virginia’s on the Bay: 815 Trout St., (361) 749-4088), and the best dive bar in town (Shorty’s Place: 821 E. Cotter, (361) 749-8077). Unless you’re shopping for shells (the Sea Shell Shoppe is well worth the drive to Rockport, and a great source for Tillandsia (air plants): 120 North Austin St., (361) 729-6325) or tacky souvenirs — spend your cash on a nice dinner. Two places you shouldn’t miss: La Playa Mexican Grille (hands-down the best margaritas in town; 222 Beach Street, (361) 749-0022) and Shells Pasta & Seafood (hands-down the best food in town; 522 Avenue G, (361) 749-7621), where — if you’re lucky — you might catch a glimpse of the adorable Cynomys ludovicianus (Black-tailed Prairie Dog) that occasionally emerges from the little grassy knoll in front of the restaurant. •
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