The Sparkling City by the Sea
(Click on image to see larger picture.)
If you have the chance to fly over the southern gulf coast, you'll probably notice the bright, shimmering waters of Corpus Christi Bay and the Gulf of Mexico serving as a backdrop for one of the prettiest cities in Texas - Corpus Christi. The city's nickname, Sparkling City by the Sea, is very apropos since Corpus sets like a shining jewel along the lower Gulf coast of Texas. The name, Corpus Chritsi means Body of Christ in Latin and was given to the settlement by Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Pineda. The city has a very close proximity to both North Padre Island and Mustang Island. These areas are designated state parks and retain the beauty of their undisturbed natural ecology. While February doesn't seem like a good month to go to the beach, Texas does offer some pretty warm days at that time so LaVerne and I took advantage of a brief break in the cold and rainy weather to head down the coast for an early spring break vacation.
The drive from Houston to Corpus is around 4 hours. We took Hwy 59 as far as Victoria and then turned toward the coast going through Rockport and Fulton. That area was devastated during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and evidence of the destruction is still visible. Our plan called for our first day's sight-seeing adventure to be the Texas State Aquarium. We arrived there a little after lunch and after battling through road construction in the area, we were able to find a parking place on the front row which gave us a short walk to the ticket booth. I had not been to the aquarium in about 20 years and was happy to see that it has been well-maintained and offers many interesting and informative exhibitions. We looked around the displays at the entrance and then made our way to the Hawn Wild Flight Theater to see a demonstration of hawks, owls, falcons, parrots, and others as well as a porcupine and green winged Macaw. Many of the birds had been injured in the wild but were rehabilitated through the Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Program offered by the aquarium. Seeing these marvelous birds going through their performance was testimony to the importance of conserving our wildlife.
After the show, we followed the signs to Dolphin Bay to wait for the next show. Walking from one area to another provided a lot of stops for photo ops.
The aquarium is located right next to the water and has a wonderful viewing area for the USS Lexington anchored nearby. We made it to Dolphin Bay and watched them swimming in their tank getting ready for their performance.
They seemed to know when it was almost time for the show and they started swimming back and forth, chasing each other in anticipation of their time to shine. I love to watch dolphins go through their routine. They are so graceful and leap high out of the water almost effortlessly. I was able to get some good photos of them hanging in the air, or walking on their tails. I just wonder if they really are as happy as they look while they are demonstrating their unique water abilities to the humans who sat watching them in total awe and appreciation.
Leaving the aquarium, we headed out to North Padre Island and dinner. A friend had
recommended a couple of good restaurants in Corpus so we decided to try one of them before checking in to our hotel. The place we chose was Snoopy's Pier. It is located just across the Intracoastal Canal bridge and right beside the water. That location did cause some concern when my son stalked me on the Find Friends app and my GPS location placed me right in the middle of the Intracoastal Canal. Fortunately, the GPS was a little off and we were comfortably seated and dry in the restaurant enjoying a platter of the freshest and best tasting fried oysters that I have had in years. Snoopy's has a good atmosphere, good food, and is a great place to watch the sun set over the water.
The next morning we got up and had our breakfast at the hotel. We stayed in the Best Western on Padre Island and were very happy with our room and the breakfast. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to take away our second day of sunshine and replace it with cooler temperatures, clouds, and fog. Being used to Texas' strange weather, the change didn't deter us from our schedule and we headed out to Padre Island National Seashore. North Padre Island does not have the developed beaches and vacationing college students that South Padre has. Most of the area is primitive and a lot of the beach is only accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles. It is the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world but does offer camping. We only drove on the beach for a short way since my car is two-wheel drive and the thought of getting stuck in the sand on a deserted beach really didn't appeal to me.
I actually prefer the beach when it is cloudy and a little cool. With my fair skin and freckles, the summer sun isn't a friend. The last time we visited Padre it was also during the winter and I had six of my seven grandchildren with me. I remember the beach had an abundance of sand dollars and shells that had washed up during the previous high tide. The kids and I had a great time searching the sand and gathering up each treasure to put in our buckets, much like an Easter egg hunt. The only drawback to my fun was having my oldest grandson, Ryan, who was around 10 at the time, hunt sand dollars with me. Every time we both saw one, he broke into a run and claimed all the sand dollars as his find. I can be grandmotherly but not when he was messin' with my sand dollars. The last one we spotted together, I just yelled through clinched teeth "Don't. Touch. That. Sand. Dollar!" There must have been something in my voice because he stopped mid-stride and started mumbling something about how I should take a chill pill. With that memory fresh in my mind, LaVerne and I expectantly walked along the clean, sandy beach looking for all the treasures we knew must be there but luck was not to be on our side. The water was a little rough with waves breaking close to the beach and I only found pieces of sand dollars and no shells at all. Regardless of the weather, North Padre Island is always beautiful and an especially relaxing place to just sit, listen to the waves, and contemplate our wonderful world.
It was soon time to leave Padre Island. We drove back across the bridge and headed to the USS Lexington Museum but we had one important stop to make along the way. Corpus Christi is home to theWhataburger hamburger restaurants and the original location has maintained a replica of the very first store that started the whole business. It was hard to believe that the small wooden building on display had grown to be the successful and popular hamburger chain of today. It reminded me of some of the hamburger "shacks" in Houston during my childhood. They didn't look like much from the outside but the hamburgers were delicious! After paying homage to the original Whataburger, we continued on to the Lexington. Walking to the street entrance of the museum, I noticed the addition of a train that takes visitors from the bridge up to the ticket office on the ship. It used to be a very long, uphill walk so having the ability to sit back and ride was greatly appreciated.
The Lexington was commissioned in 1943 and was the oldest working aircraft carrier in the Navy when decommissioned in 1991. The ship was originally named the USS Cabot but during final construction, the original carrier named USS Lexington was sunk and the new carrier's name was changed to Lexington. The Japanese reported sinking the Lexington four times yet each time she returned to fight again and was given the name "The Blue Ghost" by propagandist Tokyo Rose. The Lexington served as a training carrier during the 1960s and upon final decommissioning, she was sent to Corpus Christi for her permanent home.
LaVerne and I toured the main deck and watched a very interesting 3D movie - Aircraft Carrier: Guardian of the Seas. We then made our way up to the flight deck to view a static display of aircraft.It is unbelievable to imagine how airplanes are able to take off in such a short distance. I know catapults give them enough speed to gain the necessary lift but it is still amazing. It is also amazing to think that in July of 1912, the first plane was launched from a Navy catapult system. The attempt wasn't totally successful since the plane was in a nose up position when it caught a crosswind pushing it into the water. The pilot escaped and later made history with the first successful catapult launch from a coal barge.
We enjoyed walking the deck and viewing the aircraft. We had the opportunity to talk with other visitors and found that the ship has great programs for school children. There was a group of fifth graders visiting from Dallas who were sleeping in crew's quarters on the ship at night and taking part in numerous adventures during the day that involved hands on activity stations to learn dynamics of flight, ship building, and communication with sound-powered telephones. One of the chaperones told us that the kids were totally enjoying their trip and said it was the best trip ever!
Our day was almost over but we still had one more restaurant to try. We went to the U & I Restaurant in Corpus Christi. The food there was outstanding and the service was exceptional. Our server, Irina, made sure that we were well taken care of. Our meal came with a salad, soup, and the entree. The salad was fresh and crisp, the bean soup was so delicious that I was contemplating taking a gallon or two home with me. I had a Chicken Fried Steak and LaVerne had Liver and Onions. We had to sit there longer than we planned just to keep eating. We were very glad that those two restaurants had been recommended as both were places that I would definitely go to again.
The trip to Corpus was just what was needed to break the long, dreary, winter days. Corpus is such a pretty city and has so much to offer visitors. It definitely is worth the drive from other cities in Texas. If you go, check the city website for more information on all the activities that are offered. Along with the Texas State Aquarium and the USS Lexington, there are boat tours around the harbor, the Selena museum, a lot of beaches, Texas Coastal Birding Trail, and the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. It is a fun and educational place to visit with a lot of great restaurants. Corpus truly lives up to her nickname - Sparkling City by the Sea.
Let us know what your favorite things to do or places to go were when you were younger. Go to the CONTACT US page and email the information or any comment you have about the trips that have been featured. We always want to hear from our friends and neighbors!