The Undisturbed Treasure: San José Island


An American barrier island on the Texas Gulf Coast is called San José Island, also known as Saint Joseph Island. 5 miles (8.0 km) in width and 21 miles (34 km) long. The island is generally oriented northeast-southwest, with Mesquite Bay to the north, Aransas Bay to the west, and the Gulf of Mexico to the east and south. Aransas Pass, which should not be mistaken with the city of Aransas Pass on the mainland, is located at the southernmost point of the island. Mustang Island and Port Aransas are located beyond Aransas Pass. Jetties that stretch into the Gulf from both Mustang Island and San José Island defend Aransas Pass. Previously, Cedar Bayou separated the northernmost portion of the island from Matagorda Island. No longer does Cedar Bayou freely flow between the two islands.

A Brief History

Lt. Chandler of the USS Alabama walked ashore on San Jose Island on July 26, 1845, and hoisted the first American flag to fly over Texas territory atop a sand dune. The Third Infantry created the Aransas minor military settlement. A ferry connected the island with the mainland, and a stagecoach service carried people, cargo, and mail to the settlement. There are no evident remnants of the Union Army’s attack on the town of Aransas during the American Civil War, which resulted in the removal of animals from the island. The only settlement on the island vanished after the war, and it was transformed into a posh hunting and fishing resort.

Sid W. Richardson, a Texas oilman, bought it and turned it into his own private island. On it, he spent a lot of money building an opulent hunting lodge, to which eminent business people and politicians, such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, were invited.

Hurricane Harvey

A satellite image of Hurricane Harvey near the coast of Texas at peak intensity late on August 25, 2017.

Hurricane Harvey slammed San Jose Island and Rockport, Texas, on Aug. 25, 2017. The slow-moving storm poured 40 inches of rain in four days and blew 130 mph, surpassing records. 17,000 people were rescued from floodwaters. Before Harvey, Rockport had 9,223 tax-paying properties: after, only 1,002.

Housing and business losses totaled $812 million for the county. The town suffered $500 million in property damage and $100 million in tourism revenue. Nursing homes, post offices, government buildings, churches, and marinas were damaged or destroyed. The destruction caused 107 deaths.

Many motels and houses are still boarded up five years later. On San Jose Island, enormous shipping barges that washed ashore after the hurricane are rotting hundreds of feet inland. Most inexpensive housing was destroyed and hasn’t been rebuilt, creating a labor shortage.

If you are visiting Port Aransas for the first time, it is best to get a visitor’s guide as you venture into the numerous options for your wonderful escapade. Since San Jose Island is just minutes away from the docking areas of Port Aransas, be aware of the information below before taking the quick tour.

A trip to San Jose Island in Port Aransas requires some planning.

A view of Rockport, Texas, on August 28, 2017, after Hurricane Harvey

  1. Fisherman’s Wharf in Port Aransas is where you can board a boat that will take you to the island. Tickets are $6 for youngsters and $12 for adults.
  2. When you are making plans for your trip, you have the flexibility to choose from multiple departures and return times each day. Once you arrive on the island, you will be able to spend at least two hours there before the ferry comes back to pick you up; however, you are free to stay longer if you wish.
  3. Spectacular birding, fishing, crabbing, searching for seashells and sand dollars, and of course, lounging on the beach are some of the activities that can be enjoyed on San Jose Island.
  4. Because the island is privately owned and must be respected as such, visitors are not allowed above the vegetation line; this means that visitors must always remain on the beach.
  5. Pull carts are available for rent at Fisherman’s Wharf so that you can bring all of your belongings over to the island with you.
  6. If you are going on a trip with a young child, you might want to skip the stroller and opt instead for a baby carrier backpack, or a wagon made of sturdy materials.
  7. Because there are no restrooms on the island, you will need to make appropriate preparations.
  8. Put some food and drinks, including water bottles, in a portable cooler, and bring it along with you along with everything else you’ll need. To reiterate, there are no buildings, facilities, or shelters of any kind anywhere on the island.
  9. Sandals, water shoes, or flip-flops are appropriate footwear to wear. It is important to exercise caution because debris and other items can wash ashore from the ocean.
  10. Bring your own beach umbrella and chairs with you to the beach. It is fine for you to keep any seashells or sand dollars that you come across. Bring a bucket with you because there is a good chance, you’ll need it! Leave no trace. Always make sure to pack out everything you bring in. You are to leave the island in the same condition that you found it in.

Some Fun Activities at the Island

1. Shelling

Picking seashells on the beach of San Jose Island is an enjoyable activity for your kids. 

The beaches on San Jose Island are perfect for swimming, surfing, beachcombing, and shelling because they are uninhabited. Finding, observing, and gathering shells from the beach is known as shelling. On the shoreline of San Jose Island, tourists have discovered seashells, sand dollars, lightning whelks, shark eyes, angel wings, starfish, and many other kinds of shells. When you go, don’t forget to bring a bucket because visitors are allowed to gather seashells. Since you never know what can wash up from the ocean, it’s crucial to wear sandals, water shoes, or flip-flops when exploring the beach.

2. Fishing 

The warm waters off the coast of San José are home to over 600 species of fish, including Texas-sized catches that are fishermen’s favorites. You can spend the day relaxing and casting your line from the jetties or you can live it up on one of the chartered trips that leave from Port Aransas.

It is recommended that you ferry back to Port Arkansas after spending the day taking in the natural beauty of San José Island so that you can go shopping, eat, and explore further the island life in the bay of Port Aransas which is the ideal location for further activities in the surrounding area because it offers a wide variety of comfortable lodging options, including quaint cottages, standard hotel rooms, spacious condominiums, and private beach homes. Indulge in some deliciously authentic coastal cuisine at one of the many unique restaurants in the area that welcomes families.

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