Ask your average international tourist about the American coastline and the majority are going to mention California and Florida. However, if you question the well-travelled Americanophile, you are likely to hear mentions of Corpus Christi and Port Aransas on the Texas coastline. The breezy excitement of the former is the perfect foil for the laid-back island lifestyle of the latter.
A Texan city where you can enjoy the best of both worlds: a diverse city life and idyllic beaches that transport you to another world such as Padre Island National Seashore nearby which includes 70 miles of untouched beaches and wildlife habitat.
Experiencing the Texan coastal life
The city has played host to the Windsurfing World Championships due to the windy nature of the locality. This is ideal during the warmer months when you can enjoy a cooling breeze on a sunset cruise with the likes of Texas Tease. You can enjoy a leisurely cruise around Corpus Christi Bay on a 74-foot sightseeing boat. They can serve up high-quality dinner fare with local shrimp and oyster Rockefeller.
If you want to pilot your vessel innovatively, then you should consider Glow Row. It is a night-time kayaking experience guided by glowing lights which surround your transparent kayak. Their North Padre Island - Sunset Island route is ideal for beginners as the waters are very shallow there and it is relatively easy to spot some marine life.
There are a multitude of varied offerings in Corpus Christi. If you didn't spot any aquatic creatures during your kayaking, you will at The Texas State Aquarium, the largest of its kind in Texas. They have an interactive stingray lagoon. You can spot reef sharks in their eye-catching curved aquarium with a 68-foot-long acrylic window, which is the longest in North America. You can enjoy an acrobatic show at Dolphin Bay. And the most fulfilling part is learning about their conservation work at their newly opened wildlife rescue center.
Nearby is the USS Lexington, which is a former WWII aircraft carrier and currently a naval museum. The most popular part is the flight deck with 20 historic aircraft on-board with the centrepiece being Maverick's F-14 Tomcat jet from the original Top Gun film. There is plenty to experience below deck too from a flight operations tour to a fascinating late-night paranormal investigation.
You can savour the cowboy lifestyle by going on a visit to King Ranch. It is the largest ranch in the United States, bigger than the country of Luxembourg. You can go on a ranch tour where they explain the modern-day workings of their business. You can visit King Ranch Museum to appreciate the history of the brand and purchase the finest leather goods and outdoor gear at their saddle shop.
Where to eat
A visit to the institution that is Water Street Oyster Bar is a must. They've been serving Corpus Christi since 1983. They've recently expanded to oyster farming in Copano Bay nearby. Their menu is a seafood lover's paradise with everything from wood-grilled oysters to shrimp picayune. Their sister restaurant, Elizabeth's at the iconic Art Museum of South Texas is equally worth a visit. Their Mediterranean-inspired menu includes shakshuka and Italian torte for brunch. Whilst the museum houses fascinating temporary exhibitions such as the blockbuster, Collidoscope: De La Torre Brothers retro-perspective.
Affectionately known as Port A by the locals. It is all about island life in this part of Texas, especially as the town has a population of less than 3,500.
Cruising to carting
You can also enjoy a cruising experience at Port A, but their offering is more geared towards the family with Red Dragon Pirate Cruise. There are interactive games on board but it is more about dolphin watching and admiring the scenic coastline. Another mode of transport that is popular with locals and tourist alike are the golf carts that are ubiquitous all over town. Visit at the right time of the year and you might spot their iconic Christmas golf cart parade, their Mardi Gras parade, their pirate parade or even their graduation parade. It is a great way to see the town highlights including Horace Caldwell Pier, its jetties and Roberts Point Park.
Embracing the wildlife
For bird-watchers, a visit to Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center is sheer heaven. You can observe hundreds of local and migratory birds in this wetland area. There are sheltered observation towers along with a 700-foot boardwalk. You can observe waterfowl, grebes, shorebirds and flaming pink Roseate Spoonbills, which is the Port A city bird. If you are lucky, you might even spot their resident alligator "Boots". If you visit on certain days, they have free guided tours with binoculars provided for loan.
You get a feel of the passion locals have for their marine ecosystem by visiting the newly renovated Patton Education Center and Wetlands. There are interactive displays that help you understand the local marine life. Along with the Amos Rehabilitation Keep, which is all part of the campus of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, you feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude that there might be hope for our seas. Rescued sea turtles are a major part of their project as the Gulf of Mexico is home to 5 of the 7 sea turtle species. You might spot the likes of Kemp's ridley sea turtles or loggerhead sea turtles.
Dining the island life way
Fresh-from-the-sea ingredients in a laid-back environment are what you can expect at Port A. Fin’s Grill and Icehouse, which is a sister restaurant to the cruise company serves up classics from the region like a crispy shrimp PoBoy to unique creations like crab-stuffed gulf fish. They can all be washed down with a wide selection of margaritas. They have an elevated version that uses Dobel tequila and Gran Gala.
If you walked into Trout Street Bar & Grill, you might think fishing is a religion on the island. The menu offers everything from snapper to redfish to steelhead trout, all can be cooked in a variety of ways. There are historic photos of blue and white marlin being caught in the state and they offer you catch 'em we cook 'em service, which is also available at Fin's Grill.
Finally, what better way to end your Texas coastal experience, than savouring a beachside shrimp boil around a bonfire, which can all be arranged with minimal fuss by the likes of Rollin’ Tide. Enjoying an authentic low country shrimp boil whilst admiring the sunset over Mustang Island with your feet in the sand is one of those little joys of life that will linger long in the memory.