Dubbed Corpus Christi (literally, “the body of Christ”) by the Spanish explorer Alonso Álvarez de Pineda, Corpus (as it’s more commonly known) is one of the largest ports in the United States. By 1914, the city was served by four major railroads, although growth slowed soon after due to the major hurricane of 1919—which destroyed much of the North Beach area—and the Great Depression. However, in the years after World War II, Corpus began to grow rapidly, thanks to the continued development of the port. Today, the city’s coastal setting makes it a prime destination for Texans from all over the state. Here are the top things to do during your visit.
The longest undeveloped barrier island in the world, Padre Island National Seashore is home to more than 70 miles of beaches, coastlines, prairies, and dunes—all brimming with pristine natural beauty and vibrant wildlife. The area is excellent for birdwatching, and is home to the most important nesting beach in the U.S. for the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Visitors can camp along primitive stretches of sand; kayak or windsurf the Laguna Madre lagoon; scuba or surf along the shoreline; and hike or bike the Grassland Nature Trail, which offers a fantastic glimpse of life beyond the beach and behind the dunes. Be sure to stop by the Malaquite Visitor Center upon arrival.
A 162-acre nature preserve in Corpus Christi’s Southside district, the Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve has 4 miles of trails that showcase the local flora and fauna of South Texas (including, most notably, the delicate coastal ecosystems here). The Learning Center is open to visitors, and there are always events happening, from guided nature walks to nature embroidery classes to “Eco-Expert” workshops.
A former military aircraft carrier commissioned in 1943, the 900-foot-long USS Lexington was converted into a naval aviation museum and educational facility in 1992. Visitors can opt for either a guided or self-guided tour of this National Historic Landmark, although if you have the time, the four-hour Hard Hat guided tour is a rich, immersive experience that takes you into the bowels of the ship. You can even book an overnight camping trip aboard the “Blue Ghost” (its WWII nickname), which glows with blue lights every night.
Part of the city’s evolving Oso Creek Greenbelt system, the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center offers an immersive look at the local flora and fauna. This 182-acre oasis has several uniquely designed exhibits, including a hummingbird garden, a rose garden, the 2,600-square-foot screened Butterfly House, and more than 2,000 different types of orchids. Bird lovers should explore the Mary Hope Brennecke Nature Trail and the birder platform on Gator Lake (Corpus Christi has been dubbed the “Birdiest City” in the U.S., after all).
The 8-mile Corpus Christi Bay Trail provides a great opportunity to soak up the local scenery. Stretching from downtown to Oso Bay, the waterfront trail connects many of the city's attractions, including the Art Museum of South Texas and the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Campus. Its concrete surface makes it popular with cyclists and inline skaters, while birders will love trying to spot rare and endangered species like the American peregrine falcon and brown pelican.
Celebrate the Queen of Tejano Music at the Selena Museum & Seawall Statue
You can’t go to Corpus without doing a proper Selena tour. A widely beloved figure in Corpus Christi, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was known as the “Queen of Tejano Music” before her untimely, tragic death at the age of 23. Pay your respects at the Seawall Statue and the Selena Museum, which, aside from being a (touching, personalized) tribute to the singer, is still a working music and production house that’s run by the Quintanilla family.
With its gleaming white sand, light blue waters, and lush green dunes, Mustang Island State Park is easily one of the most scenic sections of publicly owned land on the Gulf—and it’s just a 30-minute drive from Corpus Christi. This 18-mile barrier island offers great swimming, hiking, biking, picnicking, and camping (there are 48 water-and-electric sites and 50 drive-up primitive sites). Wildlife lovers should especially plan a trip here, as the area is home to migratory birds (more than 400 species have been identified here), grasshopper mice, pocket gophers, white-tailed deer, sea turtles, spotted ground squirrels, armadillos, jackrabbits, and an estimated 600 species of saltwater fish.
A true historical gem in downtown Corpus, the Old Bayview Cemetery is the oldest federal military cemetery in Texas. It was constructed by the U.S. Army during the encampment of General Zachary Taylor, before the start of the Mexican-American War in 1846. Wandering through the marble and granite tombstones and obelisks here is like taking a step back in time.
Though surfing may not be the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of Texas, the surfing in and around Corpus Christi—in the area known as the Coastal Bend—is the best in the state. Fittingly, the city is home to the Texas Surf Museum, a kitschy-cool attraction in the downtown Marina Arts District that explores Texas’ unique role in the history of surfing. Even visitors who don’t surf will delight in this museum, with its collection of vintage surfboards, historic photos, and cool memorabilia. The museum regularly hosts film screenings and yoga classes; check their Facebook page for updates.
Art lovers will have a field day at the Art Museum of South Texas, which features a vast collection of more than 1,500 sculptures and artworks from contemporary artists from Texas, the American Deep South, and Mexico. The building, too, is a marvel, as it was designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson and boasts a lovely seafront setting. This is one of the most exciting cultural attractions in the state. Pro-tip: On the first Friday of every month, admission is $1.
A fabulous destination for kids and adults of all ages, the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History showcases hundreds of years of South Texas’ natural history. Visitors can marvel at historic shipwrecks, learn about the many groups of people who have inhabited Corpus throughout the years, explore the rocks and minerals that make up the Texan landscape, and engage in interactive play at the H-E-B Science Center. Check the events page to schedule your visit around one of the museum’s many educational workshops, classes, and other programming.
Starting in early November, wildlife fans can catch a glimpse of the world’s only “natural” flock of (endangered) whooping cranes at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, who divide their time between here and Canada. In addition to the elusive cranes, the refuge provides wintering grounds for more than 300 other species of migratory birds, including Canadian geese, brown pelicans, and southern bald eagles. Over 30 species of fascinating mammals also call this place home; see if you can spot alligators, javelinas, and armadillos during your visit.