Straddling its very own bay on the Gulf Coast of southern Texas, the city of Corpus Christi began life as humble outpost in the midst of no man’s land between the continental United States and Mexico to the south.
Battles were fought and won on its peripheries, while Corpus itself grew and grew into one of the largest ports in the United States, shipping oodles of agricultural goods and oil out into the water channels of the Mexican Gulf. Today, the spot is famed for its untouched beaches and the reserves of Padre Island (the largest of their kind on the planet), while a truly multicultural vibe means everyone form Tex-Mex-eating Hispanic folk to long-haired surfers meet between the microbreweries and seaside shrimp stalls.
Add to that some pretty awesome museums, like the Texan Aquarium and USS Lexington, pirate history and oodles of great nature parks, and Corpus Christi becomes a top choice for travelers hitting the Lone Star State!
1. Enjoy the delights of the Padre Island National Seashore
Arching its way down from the shorelines of Corpus Christi city to the borderlands with Mexico in the south, the Padre Island National Seashore stretches a whopping 70 miles along the Gulf, making it one of the largest swathes of untouched barrier island on the globe!
Complete with undulating dunes of grass-topped sand, virgin beaches, and shifting hills of sand bars, the protected area rarely fails to draw a gasp.
Not only is it located right on the Central Flyway for migratory birds, playing host to everything from brown pelicans to piping plovers, but it’s also one of the top spots to help with conservation efforts to save the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle!
2. Crack out the windsurf on the waters of the Laguna Madre
Bounded to the west by the undeveloped wilds of the Padre Island National Seashore, this colossal hypersaline lagoon runs for more than 100 miles along the Texan coast.
Famed for its booming shrimping industries and the ceaseless trade winds that blow in from the Caribbean and Sargasso seas, the waters of the Laguna Madre have become a veritable magnet for windsurfers and kiteboarders.
Oodles of outfitters are now based in Corpus Christi itself, while others man the shorelines of Padre Island, offering lessons and rentals to travelers eager to conquer the whitecaps of the shallow lagoon.
3. Discover the Gulf’s biodiversity at the Texas State Aquarium
The Texas State Aquarium comes packed with marine life and underwater animals that reflect the sheer biodiversity of the Gulf of Mexico.
The not-for-profit institution itself boasts pride-of-place on the harborside of Corpus Christi, sat in the shadow of the great Harbor Bridge and complete with a whopping six hectares of exhibition space.
Highlights of a tour through the TSA include the colossal tanks of Dolphin Bay, home to two elegant Atlantic bottlenoses, the disconcerting Floating Phantoms show, with jellyfish and stingers plucked from the waters of the Mexican Gulf, and Stingray Lagoon, where visitors are invited to touch the pods of rays as they weave below the waters.
4. Traverse the Corpus Christi Harbor Bridge
Spanning the harbor waters that connect the Port of Corpus Christi to the City of Corpus Christi, this steel through-arch bridge oozes with authentic southern styles.
Built in the late 1950s in the same manner as the great bridges on the Mississippi, the phenomenal feat of engineering currently transports as many as 30,000 cars per day.
People don’t come here to gawp at the joins and welding though. They come to see the famous LED light shows that bloom on the structure each night.
Made of more than 10,000 individual light emitting diodes, the performance sees the bridge go from red to blue to green. It’s particularly great on July fourth, when the harbor glows in the US red, white and blue.
5. Planes, guns and military records on the USS Lexington
The great warrior of the Pacific Theatre and a ship that’s nothing short of legendary in the annals of US military history, The Blue Ghost – as this colossal aircraft carrier docked in the waters of Corpus Christi Bay is affectionately known – is now one of the city’s most recognisable National Historic Landmarks.
Converted into a huge military museum after retiring as a training vessel in 1991, the behemoth now draws in huge crowds of visitors to its decks and bridge, the interior combat rooms and barracks.
Tours are truly immersive experiences, offering everything from high-definition films about the Lexington’s impressive battling life to hands-on games and trips through the engine depths to boot!
6. See home-grown Texan artists at the Art Museum of South Texas
Located just on the water’s edge, right in the heart of downtown Corpus Christi, this cutting-edge art museum houses a sprawling permanent collection of more than 1,500 artworks and sculpture.
The overarching focus is on the creative output of Texas, the American Deep South and Mexico, while there are also significant displays dedicated to the Lone Star State’s own Dorothy Hood – a modernist famed for her mythical portraiture and Munch-esque sketches.
The touring exhibitions are both varied and eclectic, showcasing the likes of Texan landscape impressionism and maritime photography.
7. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge: whooping cranes and wonderful nature
Just over an hour’s drive north out of Corpus Christi central is where travelers will discover the vast and untapped wildernesses of the Aransas National Refuge.
A land of brackish river ways and hypersaline lagoon waters, rolling swamplands and endless marshes, this protected swathe of southern Texas is home to oodles of migratory birds.
And between the flocks of herons and spoonbills, there are also gators and bobcats to wonder at, all hiding in the dense thickets of oak boughs and hammocks.
During the summer there’s a visitor center open for business too, offering insight into the winding trails and wildlife that abound in the surrounds.
8. Discover oodles of curiosities at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History
Another of the must-see institutions set along the harborside district in downtown Corpus Christi, the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History has been showcasing some of Texas’ weirdest and most wonderful artifacts for more than 50 years.
The various aspects of the permanent collection are suitably eclectic, living up to the dual focus of the space as a whole.
The science side comes complete with explorations of the Nanoverse (things that are really, really small), palaeontology and agriculture, while the history side of things finds its zenith with the restored shipwreck of the San Esteban – a Spanish galleon laden with gold from the New World that beached on the edge of Padre Island in the 16th century.
9. Enjoy the hops of the seaside at Lazy Beach Brewing
A simple, no-frills local microbrewery without any of that corporate edge or fancy sales gab, Lazy Beach Brewing is the prime spot for handcrafted beers in Corpus Christi.
While its tipples can be found in craft shops and bars right across the city, the top place for tasting is most definitely at the tap room on Bichon Drive.
Here, brews like the much-loved Beach in Wheat rub shoulders with German-style Bocks and the eponymous Corpus Christi beer, while a medley of food trucks outside provides the culinary accompaniment to a night on the pint.
There are also occasional seasonal beers on the menu, along with regular collaborations with other Texan microbrews.
10. Catch a game at Whataburger Field
Laying claim to the largest bronze statue of a baseball player anywhere in the US (a pretty much uncontested effigy known as For the Love of the Game that can be seen standing out the front of the stadium), Whataburger Field can often be heard roaring with the chants of more than 5,000 local baseball fans.
They come to watch the city’s minor league baseball maestros, the Corpus Christi Hooks, hitting their home runs and speedy deliveries.
There are beautiful views from the stadium too, which stands in a fine location on the edge of the Corpus Christi Harbor, commanding panoramas over the iconic city bridge and the USS Lexington.
11. Sample real Gulf seafood at Snoopy’s Pier
Home-grown and grassroots Snoopy’s Pier was born in the 1980s, when local Corpus Christi fisherman Ernie Butler decided to switch from catching seafood from the Gulf to cooking it up for hungry locals and travelers alike.
The menu was forged from the recommendations of family members and fishing pals; a fact that shines through in its earthy and enticing simplicity.
There are sprawling platters of fried oysters and fried Texan shrimps, boiled shrimp and classic fish and chips to name just some of the staples.
Patrons can also expect fantastic broadside views of the evening sunset over the Laguna Madre to boot!
12. Discover your inner pirate at Blackbeard’s On the Beach
Shiver those timbers and prepare to meet the ghosts of Corpus Christi’s pirating past with a trip to Blackbeard’s On the Beach.
Hailed as one of the most haunted eateries in the city, this swashbuckling old dive on the edge of North Beach churns out all-American grub in an immersive and indelibly fun setting.
Buffalo wings and seashell salads, peeled shrimp and seared tuna, Mexican-inspired quesos, popcorn shrimp and blackened chicken sarnies all meet on the menu, while Czech beers and USA homebrews kick-off the drinks in style.
Oh, and there’s also an adjoining rock bar where classic Eagles paraphernalia mixes with vintage Clapton as the backing track!
13. Wander the South Texas Botanical Gardens
The South Texas Botanic Gardens can be found spread out over a whopping 180 acres of land on the southern side of Corpus Christi.
A medley of colourful hibiscus and hummingbirds, the site comes punctuated with the pretty outlines of decades-old pavilions.
There are several indoor greenhouses and flora exhibitions, ranging from the arid gardens, showcasing the spikey cacti of Texas and abroad, to the winding shrub nature path, weaving deep into the mesquite groves where wild deer share the woods with bobcats.
In short: this one’s a fine place for a relaxing stroll away from the city or the salt-washed Texan coast.
14. From buccaneers to sports fishing at the Texas Maritime Museum
Located on the very edge of the Laguna Madre north out of Corpus Christi, the Texas Maritime Museum chronicles the intimate connection between this south Texan city and the ocean that encompasses it.
The LaSalle Odyssey exhibition (or at least the one eighth of it that’s held here) reveals the stories behind the French and Spanish explorations in the region before European settlement, while the Allure of Fishing deals with the rise and rise of sports fishing on Corpus Christi’s Gulf islands and shorelines.
In all, it’s a great way to get that fix of local history and knowledge!