Lifes a Beach
By Randy Cosby
Published: Sep/Oct 2000
A slight tweaking of James Carvilles famed campaign slogan comes in handy when summing up the appeal of Corpus Christi as a travel destination.
Its the beach, stupid.
The powdery beaches are seemingly endless along 113 miles of Padre Island and another 30-mile-plus expanse on adjacent Mustang Island. Wonderfully washed by waves rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico, these barrier islands shelter Corpus Christi Bay and help make the city nestled along the shore of the bay the nations sixth largest port.
Corpus Christi has a beach of its own, with several nearby hotels, but few beaches will compare with the 80-mile-long Padre Island National Seashore, located at the end of Park Road 22, less than a half hour drive from downtown.
The largest undeveloped barrier island in the continental United States, the park is open year-round for swimming, beachcombing, camping at primitive sites, surfing, fishing, hiking or simply sunning on the beach. Wind surfing in Laguna Madre, on the bay side of the island, is another popular pastime. A per-vehicle entrance fee of $10 a week or $20 a year allows parking on the beach where available, although most parking is a short walk away from the beach.
A visitor center with daylight hours onlythe park is open 24 hour--is on one of the most pristine stretches of beach. It has showers, restrooms, a convenience store and an information center with interesting exhibits explaining the local habitat.
Beachside parking is the order of the day farther north on Mustang Island near Port Aransas, where oceanfront hotels and condominiums offer a full range of accommodations, and several restaurants offer a choice of cuisine.
Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas has a fishing pier, picnic areas and a splendid view of the ship channel where dolphins sometimes can be seen chasing ships and ferries. The area also is on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, and a mini-aquarium at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute explores mysteries of the sea and explains research projects.
The best explanation of the sea and its inhabitants, however, can be found at the Texas State Aquarium, located just north of downtown Corpus Christi on Corpus Christi Beach, which is a short hop over the port via the Harbor Bridge, Texas second tallest.
Open daily year-round, the official state aquarium has more than 250 species of animals and plants native to the Gulf of Mexico, including endangered sea turtles, river otters, sharks and stingrays. "Jellies: Floating Platforms" is a magnificent exhibit exploring different types of these eerie and surreal creatures, while the Flower Gardens Coral Reef shows the explosion of color present in this underwater habitat.
History comes alive right next door at the U.S.S. Lexington, an aircraft carrier which was responsible for destroying more than 500 enemy aircraft and numerous enemy ships during World War II. Known as the "Blue Ghost" because she was erroneously reported sunk by the Japanese several times during the war, the huge vessel is an eerily prominent part of the shoreline at night thanks to the blue lights that illuminate it. Staffed by volunteers eager to explain the ships history and workings, it is a fascinating maze of passageways and rooms, and contains more than 19 historic aircraft, informative multi-media presentations andan entertaining flight simulator.
Local history, as well exhibits ranging from "The Reptiles of South Texas" to "Shipwreck," an award-winning story about a 1554 shipwreck, are examined at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science & History located downtown.
Fine art buffs have a couple of great choices. The Asian Cultures Museum displays works from several Asian countries, including a large collection of Japanese art; and The Art Museum of South Texas features an eclectic collection with a strong emphasis on Hispanic and local artists
If not the Harbor Bridge, the citys most prominent features are the downtown seawall and promenade, and the Corpus Christi Marina (three piers referred to by locals as the T-heads because of their shapes). Visitors rollerblade and stroll along the seawall, which also has Mirador del Flor, a statute and pavilion dedicated to the late Tejano singing star Selena, who was a Corpus Christi native.
The T-heads are a major marina for fishing and pleasure craft, and good places to catch a boat tour of the bayfront and port, or a fishing charter in the bay. They also are home to two seafood restaurants, The Lighthouse and Landrys Seafood House. At Landrys, AAA members save 10 percent on food and non-alcoholic beverages. When available, visitors also can buy shrimp right off the fishing boats that dock at the marina.
A number of other restaurants and bars can be found within several blocks of the T-heads in the downtown bayfront district, or farther south in the city, where several malls also provide shopping and services of every stripe. Snoopys Pier is a great place for affordable seafood in a casual setting with plenty of outside seating. Its located at 13313 South Padre Island Drive, which locals call "the SPID."
Two of the best views of the bay and its traffic are from the pavilion at Cargo Dock One in the Port of Corpus Christi, west of downtown, and from a lookout in 43-acre Cole Park, south of downtown. The park, with playground and hiking paths, is on Ocean Drive, a scenic, seven-mile roadway lined with stately homes and a continuous great view of the bay.
When time permits, or if showers clear the beaches, the Corpus Christi Greyhound Race Track is an excellent, air-conditioned alternative offering matinee and evening cards. There also are several golf courses around the bay, all within an hour of downtown.
Gardeners wont want to miss the Corpus Christi Botanical Garden, a 180-acre tract located along Oso Creek. The garden has an Orchid House, collections of exotic Plumeria, a shaded Bird and Butterfly Trail, a Wetlands Trail, a Sensory Garden, covered picnic sites near a Childrens Garden and a playground. A waterside observation tower also is a great vantage point for birders watching avian traffic along the coastal birding trail.
The decision on a hotel depends on the principal impetus for the trip. If the main idea is simply to soak up sun while gazing at the gulf, a hotel or condo with a magnificent view on Padre Island or Mustang Island, perhaps near Port Aransas, is a good bet. But if the goal is to fully explore the area, a bayfront hotel downtown or on Corpus Christi Beach--also offering great views--are excellent bases of operations because many restaurants and bars are within walking distance and all beaches in the area are only a short drive away.
There also are a number of parks providing beachside camping for tents and RVs.
The best way to check hotel and campsite selection, rates and availability is by visiting the Corpus Christi Convention and Visitor Bureau Web site at http://www.corpuschristi-tx-cvb.org. The comprehensive and updated Web site also is an excellent place to research the available attractions, as well as their operating hours and cost, and to have questions answered via e-mail
Printed materials also can be obtained through the mail by calling the bureau toll-free at 1-800-766-2322.
Randy Cosby is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.