Located in the South Texas Gulf Coast, the city of Corpus Christi is perhaps best known for its proximity to the beach, but it’s more than just a coastal destination. The “Sparkling City by the Sea'' was transformed into an international port when the Army Corps of Engineers dug a new ship channel in the 1920s, triggering rapid industrial growth in the area. Now the sixth-biggest port in the U.S., the 6 million annual visitors that spend time in Corpus Christi will discover, the city has its fair share of cultural attractions and museums that are well worth checking out. From a (reportedly haunted) 900-foot-long former military aircraft carrier to a museum that celebrates Texan surfing traditions, here are the can’t-miss museums of Corpus Christi.
Texas Surf Museum
The Texan shores along the Gulf of Mexico are replete with surfers (believe it or not), so it’s only fitting that the Texas Surf Museum exists. Located in the downtown Marina Arts District, this colorful, unique museum delves into the history and culture of surfing and Texas’ place in that history, along with educating the public in proper conservation practices to protect and preserve the Gulf Coast. Even visitors who don’t surf will enjoy exploring this museum, with its collection of vintage surfboards, historic photos, and cool memorabilia. Be sure to catch a surf film screening the projection theater. Check the museum’s Facebook page for updates on events and screening times.
Tejano Civil Rights Museum
The Tejano Civil Rights Museum is a fairly recent addition to the Corpus Christi museum scene. It opened in 2015, as a joint venture between Texas A&M University-Kingsville and the LULAC Foundation, as an extension of the Ben Bailey Art Gallery of TAMUK. Dedicated to the Hispanic civil rights movement, the museum’s mission is to preserve the rich, vibrant history of the Tejano and Mexican-American cultures rooted in South Texas through art exhibitions, displays with historical artifacts, and photographs.
Dubbed the “Queen of Tejano Music,” Selena Quintanilla is one of the most celebrated Mexican-American recording artists and entertainers in history. You simply can’t go to Corpus Christi, Quintanilla’s hometown, without paying a visit to the Selena Museum. The museum was established in 1998, in response to (many) fans’ requests. Easily one of the top attractions in South Texas, the Selena Museum is a touching tribute to the singer, featuring her awards, gold records, iconic stage outfits, personal photos, prized possessions, and more. The museum is also still a working music and production house run by the Quintanilla family—it’s housed in the main building of their company, Q Productions. Selena Quintanilla’s life was tragically cut short when she was shot and killed at only 23 years old, but her legacy lives on through the museum.
Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures & Education Center
Elegant and impressively well-curated, the Texas State Museum of Asian Cultures pays homage to art from across all of Asia with an emphasis on Japan. The collection includes over 500 Hakata dolls, battlefield blades, a 5-foot bronze Amida Buddha, Japanese kimonos and porcelains, and more—all in all, there are over 8,000 objects and documents. The museum is only one of five of its kind in the country. There’s also a tranquil bamboo garden if you need a moment of peace.
USS Lexington Museum on the Bay
A World War II-era aircraft carrier, the (jaw-droppingly massive) USS Lexington was converted into a naval aviation museum and educational facility in 1992. Today, it’s a National Historic Landmark. Visitors can step aboard and spend a day learning about naval history, either via a guided or self-guided tour. Make your way from the landing strip, which showcases 20 vintage aircraft, through the upper, lower, and gallery decks, where you can experience life as a crew member living on board during the war. On the hangar deck, you can even pretend to be an F-18 fighter pilot in the 15-seat Flight Simulator. Fans of the supernatural will be delighted to learn that the USS Lexington is nicknamed the “Blue Ghost”—both for its blue camouflage color and for claims that it sank no less than four times, only to mysteriously return to the seas again.
Art Museum of South Texas
Boasting a breathtaking oceanfront setting, the Art Museum of South Texas features a vast collection of more than 1,500 sculptures and artworks from contemporary local artists (from Texas, the American Deep South, and Mexico). The building itself is an architectural marvel—it was designed by Philip Johnson in 1972 and internationally renowned architect Ricardo Legorreta oversaw the building’s expansion in 2006. The stark white walls, sharp angles, and expansive windows give way to lovely views of the bay. It’s easily one of the best cultural attractions in the state. Families with kids will love exploring the Artcade Interactive Space, which offers a wide range of youth-oriented arts activities like building block stations, painting and animation, and a touch table collage activity.
Art Center of Corpus Christi
The Art Center of Corpus Christi is a nonprofit arts organization whose mission is to promote and nurture local artists in the Coastal Bend region of Texas. Visitors can peruse seven galleries that showcase rotating exhibits, as well as artists’ studios. All of the art on display is for sale here. The center has also emerged as an exciting community hub in Corpus, offering fun monthly events and classes like Intro to Wheel Throwing, Intro to Clay, and Using Color in Landscape Painting.
Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History
An enriching destination for kids of all ages (and just as fun for adults), the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History showcases hundreds of years of South Texas's natural history. Interesting artifacts abound. Visitors can discover the many cultures of the people who have inhabited Corpus, marvel at historic shipwreck replicas, check out the rocks and minerals that make up the Texan landscape, and engage in interactive play at the H-E-B Science Center. Check the museum's events page to see when the museum’s educational workshops and classes take place every week.
Britton-Evans Centennial House
Built in 1849 by Rebecca and Forbes Britton, the Britton-Evans Centennial House is the oldest building in Corpus Christi. Forbes Britton was a partner in the shipping firm of Britton, Mann, and Yates, which operated a freight line between Corpus and Galveston. The home was used as a Civil War hospital for several years after Britton sold it in 1861. Today, the Texas Greek Revival-style Centennial House is furnished to the brim with period antiques and artifacts and is maintained by the Corpus Christi Area Heritage Society.