Growing up, we spent most spring breaks on the Texas coast. Countless childhood memories consist of splashing in chilly waves, collecting colorful shells to decoupage our sand castles and devouring fried seafood platters with an appetite that only comes from spending an entire day on the beach. With our oldest now in kindergarten, we took advantage of our first spring break in years to recreate these fun-filled memories with our own children. Nearby, family-friendly and lined with more than 100 miles of beaches, Corpus Christi wraps endless shores, nature, history and culture into one convenient package for Central Texans wanting to escape for a few days. While a portion of our trip lacked the sunshine this beach town is famous for, it didn’t stop our children from swimming and splashing in the ocean for hours at a time. And as the eighth-largest city in Texas, Corpus Christi is well equipped to compensate for the clouds thanks to top-notch museums and attractions that provide its 8 million annual visitors with plenty of options beyond the sand and sea.
Distance from Austin: Traveling along I-35 and I-37, Corpus Christi is just over 200 miles and three hours from Austin.
Don’t miss: After a three-hour car ride, we stretched our legs and minds wandering through the Texas State Aquarium’s (texasstateaquarium.org) educational exhibits showcasing more than 330 species of exotic fish, mammals and birds. After marveling at giant fish, playful North American river otters, an array of electrifying jellies and graceful sea turtles, our boys participated in hands-on experiences that yielded interesting discoveries like that the skin of a stingray feels like a squishy gummy bear while a bamboo shark is as rough as sandpaper.
Also in North Beach just a minute away, explore 100,000 square feet and 11 decks of history aboard the USS Lexington (www.usslexington.com), a World War II vintage aircraft-carrier-turned-museum. Highlights found on the historic carrier include a 3D MEGA Theater built in the original forward aircraft elevator space, a thrilling flight simulator and interactive virtual battle stations. But for our little boys, nothing beat climbing up a narrow ladder leading to the flight deck to check out 20 authentic fighter aircraft on display.
While in the area, make a visit to a few of the 13 venues tucked into Corpus Christi’s urban SEA District (seadistrictcc.com), the 300-acre sports, entertainment and arts district that spans several city blocks and contains landmark attractions such as the Art Museum of South Texas (artmuseumofsouthtexas.org), where we watched ships sail by while viewing more than 1,500 works contained in the museum’s permanent collection and checked out its current exhibit, “Bayou City Chic: Progressive Streams of Modern Art in Houston.”
The Museum of Science and History (ccmuseum.com) is geared to all ages and interests with 40,000 square feet of exhibit space spanning subjects from South Texas history and paleontology to earth science and a special Children’s Wharf brimming with hands-on displays and interactive features.
Make a trip out to Padre Island National Seashore, the world’s longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island, for beach-combing, windsurfing, birding and witnessing the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchling releases during the nesting season from April to mid-July (nps.gov/pais/learn/nature/releases.htm).
There’s no better place to take in a stunning coastal sunset than from the back of a horse, so head just south of Bob Hall Pier and Padre Balli Park to saddle up (horsesonthebeachcorpus.com). Or roll your way through downtown sights by booking a Segway city tour (segcity.com/corpus). Baseball fans visiting between April and August can watch the Corpus Christi Hooks bat against rival teams at Whataburger Field and then cool off after the game — it’s the only AA stadium attached to a waterpark.
Eat here: No trip to the Texas Coast is complete without treating yourself to a fried seafood platter, and Corpus Christi has more than a few menus to satisfy crustacean cravings. Try Brewster Street Icehouse (brewsterstreet.net), a Texas-themed live music venue, restaurant and bar nestled in the SEA District. Our kids worked up an appetite on the outdoor playscape while we enjoyed a draft beer before devouring ocean fried platters piled high with jumbo shrimp and fresh oysters — Texas Throwdown Thursday features live Texas country music every Thursday night.
Located on the landmark Bob Hall Pier, Mikel May’s Beachside Bar & Grill (mikelmays.com) satisfies with seafood, burgers and cold drinks in a casual setting with the best ocean views in the city. For island-inspired fine dining, head to Black Sheep Bistro (blacksheepbistro.net), which features unique entrees like the seafood angel hair pasta tossed with fresh spinach, grape tomatoes, Texas pecan basil pesto, sautéed shrimp and fresh fish. We discovered the best lunch of our trip at Hester’s Cafe, the cafe, bakery and coffee house with three Corpus Christi locations including the one we ate at in the art museum while watching the ships roll in. Try the sea grass salad tossed with sautéed shiitake mushrooms, red onions and baked goat cheese atop fresh spinach for a light lunch; the Cubano panini brimming with seasoned pulled pork, gouda, lettuce and pickled squash if you’re a bit hungrier; and for brunch indulge in the Duke Ellington, a savory-sweet plate of eggs, griddle toast, fresh fruit and apple smoked bacon.
Stay here: As a family with young kids, Port Royal (port-royal.com) proved to be the perfect place to stay thanks to its beachfront location, spacious condos equipped with full kitchens, washers and dryers, on-site dining options and impressive strand of lagoon-style pools complete with a heated lap pool, splash pad, hot tubs, waterslides and a swim-up bar. But for those looking to stay closer to the city, book a stay at the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel (omnihotels.com/hotels/corpus-christi) located in the downtown Marina District which features recently renovated rooms and bay views; the downtown waterfront Emerald Beach Hotel (hotelemeraldbeach.com); or the Radisson Hotel on North Beach (radisson.com/corpus-christi-hotel-tx-78402/txcorpus).
Always free: The best things in Corpus Christi are completely free. Strolling the seawall; sunbathing, splashing, shelling and sandcastle building on the beaches; watching the sun rise and set on the shore; and exploring SEA District sights like Heritage Park won’t dent your travel budget.
Kids will love: Children can find fresh water fun at Hurricane Alley Waterpark (hurricanealleycc.com), Corpus Christi’s award-winning, locally owned and operated family water park located in the SEA District next to Whataburger Field. For dry fun, let them take a spin on go-karts and bumper boats or have a swing at mini golf and the batting cages at Funtrackers Family Fun Center (funtrackers.com).
Famous festival: This month don’t miss Corpus Christi’s Buc Days April 23-26 (bucdays.com), a tradition since 1938 that now includes a Pro PRCA Rodeo, carnival, night parade and live music.
Not to miss nearby: Fish and crab in Rockport (30 miles away), kayak the Lighthouse Lakes Paddling Trail in Aransas Pass (28 miles away) or visit the Texas Coast’s oldest and most significant marine research facility, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas (40 miles away).
For more information: visitcorpuschristitx.org