Shop handmade: County kicks off first Artisan Beach Fest

By Alana Hernandez, Valley Morning Star

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — While sporting long-sleeves and jackets, couples and groups of winter visitors strolled around the area while a variety of upbeat Spanish songs were played and an alluring aroma of tacos filled the air.

The Cameron County Parks and Recreation Department, along with AARM Business Group, kicked off its four-day Artisan Beach Festival Thursday at Isla Blanca Park’s Sandpiper Pavilion and Beachfront Boardwalk.

From handmade goods such as jewelry, toys and apparel to homemade snacks and candy, the festival showcases work from several artisans from Mexico and Texas.

Raul Pena, an artisan vendor from Michoacan, Mexico, had a variety of items such as Mexican wooden toys, baskets and notebooks.

He said he’s been selling artisan items for close to 10 years.

“I like being at this festival,” Pena said. “It’s the first day and my sales have been good.”

The festival also features Mexican cuisine from different vendors and has live music.

According to Cameron County Parks Director Joe E. Vega, this event is new for Isla Blanca Park.

He said AARM Business Group promoter Jorge Garcia approached the department with the idea.

“He liked all of the new improvements we’ve made in the park,” Vega said. “We’ve done over $20 million in beachside improvements at Isla Blanca Park.”

Vega said some of those improvements include new pavilions, a beachfront boardwalk, an amphitheater and parking improvements.

“He fell in love with the improvements and said it would be a great place and time to bring artisans from Mexico to showcase handmade goods,” Vega said. “He said it would be something nice to showcase to our winter visitors and visitors from the Rio Grande Valley.”

Cloudless skies allowed the sun to give warmth to attendees and helped offset Thursday’s chilly breeze.

More than 50 people from around the U.S. attended the festival during its first day.

Illinois residents Jessica Munos and her husband attended the festival Thursday with their friends.

Jessica said this is her and her husband’s first time visiting the Island.

After hearing how much their friends have enjoyed visiting the Island these past four years, the couple decided to join them.

“We’ve been here for about three weeks so far,” Jessica said. “We’ve already booked for next year.”

Jessica bought flavored peanuts and other traditional Mexican food from different vendors at the festival.

“We all liked it,” Jessica said. “It’s very nice out here and I love the music. It would be well worth coming out.”

The festival will continue today through Sunday, Feb. 9 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

There is a $12 park entry fee per vehicle that includes parking and access to the festival and beach access amenities at Isla Blanca Park.

“Hopefully, it will be a successful event and will be one of many more to come,” Vega said. “We want to make it a fun event and so our goal is for visitors to come and have a great time.”