10 Top Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Corpus Christi
The city of Corpus Christi, on an inlet to the north of Brownsville, has grown in popularity over the years and is now one of the most visited tourist destinations in Texas. Much of the attraction is due to its beautiful coastal setting, its many miles of beaches, its important conservation areas, and rich flora and fauna. The area was settled after Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Pineda arrived in 1519, the man responsible for giving the pretty tropical bay its Latin name of Corpus Christi (translated literally as the "Body of Christ"). These days, this attractive city is as likely to be called the Texas Riviera, and for good reason: numerous fine hotels and resorts, along with many exciting attractions and events have helped cement Corpus Christi's reputation as a must-visit destination.
See also: Where to Stay in Corpus Christi
1 Padre Island National Seashore
Padre Island, to the south of Corpus Christi, is the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world and stretches some 70 miles from end-to-end. It encompasses 130,000 acres of beach, dunes, and grassland habitats. Thanks to its location along the Central Flyway - a major migratory bird route - it's a birder's paradise, home to 350 different species. Nearly half of all North American migratory bird species can be spotted here at certain times throughout the year. It's also a haven for marine life such as sea turtles, including endangered species reintroduced to the area. Best approached from the Malaquite Visitor Center, it's a wonderful place to visit for a few hours or even as part of an overnight camping trip. Also worth visiting is the stunning five-mile long beach at Mustang Island State Park, a 3,954-acre park south of Port Aransas.
Address: 20420 Park Road 22, Corpus Christi
2 Editor's Pick The Blue Ghost: USS Lexington
Commissioned in 1943 and a major player in the Pacific theater of WWII, the massive aircraft carrier USS Lexington should be part of any visit to Corpus Christi. Now a naval museum, "The Blue Ghost" was so named for her dark blue camouflage and Japanese claims to have sunk her only to have her appear in action elsewhere. Highlights of a tour include numerous vintage aircraft, a close-up look at the command deck and quarters, a huge collection of detailed scale models, simulators and games, and the thrilling Fighter Pilot 3D movie. Guided tours are available, and if you have the stamina, go for the four-hour Hard Hat Tour that takes you into the very bowels of this huge ship.
Address: 914 N. Shoreline Blvd, Corpus Christi
3 The Art Museum of South Texas
One of the newest cultural attractions in Corpus Christi, the Art Museum of South Texas is housed in a splendid modern facility on the city's waterfront. Offering a broad range of exhibitions and educational programs focusing on the region's multicultural heritage, the facility hosts numerous lectures and workshops, along with theatrical and musical performances. Another important art facility is the Art Center of Corpus Christi, home to seven galleries, local artists' studios, along with educational programs and on-site dining.
Address: 1902 N. Shoreline Blvd, Corpus Christi
4 Texas State Aquarium
The Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi provides information and fun displays relating to the rich aquatic life of the Gulf of Mexico. Of particular interest is the Living Shores exhibit with displays relating to Laguna Madre (a body of water in the heart of Corpus Christi) that include seahorse and crab exhibits, along with one of the largest touch pools in Texas. The most popular display is Dolphin Bay, a massive 400,000-gallon exhibit housing Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, complete with an underwater observation area, while the Hawn Wild Flight Theater hosts avian acrobatics from various birds of prey. For younger kids, there's also a fun splash park and a fossil dig site. Also of interest is the Corpus Christi Zoo with its exotic animals and plants and petting zoo.
Address: 2710 N. Shoreline Blvd, Corpus Christi
5 South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center
Consisting of a first-rate Orchid House and a fine hibiscus garden, the South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center is a pleasant way to enjoy nature's colorful floral bounty. Set amid 180-acres, it's also popular for its nature trails where you'll see numerous species of trees and shrubs, along with native grasses, herbs, cacti, and, if you're lucky, wildlife such as deer and coyotes. Another nature park worth a visit is the Hans and Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge with its pier, hiking and biking trails, and picnic areas.
Address: 8545 S. Staples Street, Corpus Christi
6 The Corpus Christi Bay Trail
A great way to see all that this beautiful coastal city has to offer is to take a hike (or bike) along the Corpus Christi Bay Trail. Stretching almost nine miles from end-to-end, this superb trail network takes in many of the city's top attractions, including the Museum of Science and History and the Art Museum of South Texas. Along the way, you'll encounter marinas, concert venues, a university campus, and six parks with great views over the water. It's also a great spot for birdwatchers, with regular sightings of brown pelicans and falcons.
7 Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
The 70,000-acre Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, along the Texas Gulf coast approximately 50 miles north of Corpus Christi, is another great place to get a nature fix. Established as a winter home for endangered whooping cranes, the refuge is also home to alligators, snakes, and numerous other species of birds living among the area's expansive tidal flats, salt marshes, grasslands, and freshwater ponds. The refuge also boasts easy walking trails, and a scenic one-way road offers easy access and plenty of opportunities to stop and admire the views, including an observation tower with scopes for birders.
Address: 1 Wildlife Circle, Austwell
8 Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History
As much fun for adults as it is for kids, the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History features a variety of exhibits relating to the cultural and natural history of South Texas. Specific attractions worth seeing include shipwreck cargo, a children's area, and local reptile displays. Also of interest is the museum's fine collection of old carriages, displays relating to the culture of the area's native peoples, and a look at the ecology of this vast coastal region. Fun educational programs are also available, including excursions to the surrounding countryside and wildlife sanctuaries.
Address: 1900 N. Chaparral Street, Corpus Christi
9 Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures and Education Center
The Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures and Education Center displays artwork from Far Eastern and Asian cultures including India, China, Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Highlights include displays of richly decorated carved masks, along with rare statues and collections of pottery and porcelain. While you're museum hopping, be sure to visit the rather unusual International Kite Museum, a superb (and unique) collection of Chinese kites including a detailed look at the history of kite making over the past 2,000 years.
Address: 1809 N. Chaparral Street, Corpus Christi
10 Historic Houses: Centennial and Sidbury
Built in 1849, Centennial House (also known as the Britton-Evans House) is the oldest building in Corpus Christi and was also used at one time as a Civil War hospital. Now fully restored and furnished with period antiques and artifacts, this fine old home is open to the public for tours. Another old home of note is Sidbury House. Built in 1893 and the only remaining example of Victorian architecture in Corpus Christi, it's notable for its irregular outlines, large verandas, steep-pitched roofs, and balconies with elaborate woodwork.
Address: 411 N. Upper Broadway, Corpus Christi
Where to Stay in Corpus Christi for Sightseeing
The best place to stay in Corpus Christi is the North Beaches area, where you'll find a long stretch of beautiful sand and one of the city's main attractions, the USS Lexington. Just south over the bridge to downtown is the Texas State Aquarium and the Art Museum of South Texas. Alternatively, another good option further south is the trendy and lively Marina Arts District, with restaurants, shops, and all manner of entertainment options. Below are some highly-rated hotels in convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: The Omni Corpus Christi Hotel is the top luxury hotel in the city and occupies a waterfront location in the Marina Arts District. Rooms come with balconies that look out over Corpus Christi Bay. The Staybridge Suites also has rooms with kitchens, an outdoor pool, and laundry facilities and offers free light meals and beverages Monday through Wednesday. In the same area, and perfect for families or an extended stay, is the Residence Inn. This hotel offers oversize rooms with kitchens and a separate dining area along with an outdoor BBQ area.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The mid-range hotels are predominantly clustered along Highway 358, several miles south of downtown. The new SpringHill Suites, with its outdoor pool, is a good family option, with large rooms that have mini fridges and microwaves. With a saltwater pool, the new Hampton Inn & Suites is in the same area on a quiet side street, steps to a number of chain restaurants and close to a shopping mall. Nearby, the well-priced Fairfield Inn & Suites is close to La Palmera mall and has well-appointed rooms and an outdoor pool.
- Budget Hotels: Ideal for families, the colorful Hotel De Ville in North Beach has lovely views, a beachfront restaurant, and a Ferris Wheel that guests can ride for free. Also in the North Beaches area, the recently renovated Sea Shell Inn Motel is steps to the beach and has basic rooms at a low price.
Day Trips from Corpus Christi
Numerous fun attractions and areas of outstanding natural beauty lie within driving distance of Corpus Christi. One of the most popular drives is to the Rio Grande Valley, near the border with Mexico 130 miles south, where you'll find the Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum (formerly the Rio Grande Valley Museum), which encompasses a collection of historic buildings including the home of the town's founder, the Paso Real Stagecoach Inn, and the town's original hospital, along with collections of historic artifacts, documents, and photos.
Other day trips of note include the short drive north to the small towns of Fulton and Rockport on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. Here, you'll find Fulton Mansion State Historic Park, a three story Victorian mansion built in 1877, and the Rockport Center for the Arts housed in a 19th-century mansion and home to numerous visual and performing arts productions. Rockport is also home to the Texas Maritime Museum with its displays relating to the state's maritime history from Spanish exploration to the modern day quest for offshore oil and gas.