Postcard from Corpus Christi

Inside the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Inside the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, Texas. | Dennis Lennox

The Texas coastal city of Corpus Christi probably isn’t the first place you think of when planning a trip.

While plenty of people do find themselves here, most seem to drive through the sprawling city on their way to Mustang and Padre Islands — two barrier islands separating mainland Texas from the Gulf of Mexico.

I was one of them. I had booked Cinnamon Shore, a Mustang Island development of vacation homes and condos inspired by the classic architecture of Key West and the Bahamas.

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Located about 20 minutes from downtown, the area in and around Port Aransas is devoid of the development that plagues coastal communities up and down the Gulf. Instead of endless condo towers and mediocre chain hotels, you see a steady stream of motorhomes and cars driving on the pristine beach.

Many of these visitors probably never leave the islands. Yet, those who do venture back into the city will be surprised by just how much Corpus Christi has to offer.

For starters, there is the waterfront.

From the marina in front of One Shoreline Plaza, a futuristic-style skyscraper reminiscent of architect John Portman’s famous work, sidewalks and paths run along the eponymous bay — discovered by Spanish explorers in 1519 on Corpus Christi Day, a predominately Roman Catholic feast suppressed by many Protestants at the time of the Reformation — in either direction for what seems like miles.

I walked the esplanade north toward the Art Museum of South Texas, which sits next to what looked like a newish convention center.

The esplanade along Corpus Christi Bay in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The esplanade along Corpus Christi Bay in Corpus Christi, Texas. | Dennis Lennox

Within the museum’s 1970s-looking postmodern building is a modest collection of mostly abstract art that also includes a gallery of Spanish colonial art. Among the objects on exhibit are works of religious art, which is expected given the importance of Christianity as expressed through Roman Catholicism during Spain’s colonialization of the Americas.

Separated from the museum by a small park with some outdoor sculptures and a nonfunctioning water feature that looks like an amphitheater is the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History.

The family-friendly museum has everything anyone ever wanted to know about the region’s surprisingly rich history. This includes the Karankawa Indians, Spanish shipwrecks and an attempted French settlement of Texas at the end of the 17th century — a chapter of history largely forgotten. Then there’s the brand-new exhibit featuring a mockup of main street in an Old West town complete with period interpreters.

Other big draws include the Texas State Aquarium, World War II-era USS Lexington aircraft carrier, South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center and Heritage Park, which has preserved some of the oldest homes in Corpus Christi.

If you go

Getting here by car takes slightly more than six hours from Dallas and less than four hours from Houston. Meanwhile, the local airport is served by American, Southwest and United.

For those skipping the beach, stay in downtown Corpus Christi at the Omni Hotel. Otherwise, book a vacation rental on Mustang Island at Cinnamon Shore.

Notable churches include the brick gothicky First Presbyterian Church (Evangelical Presbyterian), Spanish colonial revival-style Church of the Good Shepherd (Episcopal) and First United Methodist Church with its landmark statue of Christ facing Corpus Christi Bay.

Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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