Southern Texas, and the Rio Grande Valley in particular, is an incredibly popular winter destination for RVers whether they are snowbirds or just taking in the sun throughout the south during the winter.
Southern Texas’ seemingly unlimited sunshine, a warm welcoming attitude toward “Winter Texans,” and the plethora of areas seeping in natural beauty all contribute to the draw. For many RVers, the journey from the frigid north to the sunny south is a quick, blinders-on run for the Rio Grande Valley, but there are several destinations along the way that are also worthy of exploration, even of spending the season! Corpus Christi, just two hours north-northeast of the valley, is one of those areas.
Corpus Christi is located right on the Gulf of Mexico, and embraces a Salt Life atmosphere. Its proximity to the ocean is one of the attributes that we appreciate the most about this thriving city!
Padre Island National Seashore is a must see when visiting Corpus Christi, Texas. Padre Island is THE main draw of Corpus Christi for our family. At 70 miles long, Padre Island is the largest undeveloped barrier reef in the world.
Padre Island National Seashore encompasses the southernmost 60 miles of island, and is an incredible place to visit. With endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, visitors can enjoy walking along miles and miles of untouched beaches, learning to surf fish, soaking, swimming or sun tanning, and even bird watching.
The park rangers at the visitor’s center host free educational programs that include everything from introductions to island wildlife to bird tours to butterfly walks, and even deck talks where guests learn about the nature, history, and culture of the island.
Ghost crabbing on Padre Island is a memorably fun time for all ages. Also, if you are traveling with a family, be sure to check out their Junior Ranger program. The park has a great one, complete with badge, and the kids can also earn an exclusive patch for helping to clean up garbage on the beach.
Visitors can drive down the beach, but be sure to wear your seatbelt as Texas beaches are considered Texas highways and have the same laws. We were pulled over for letting the kids ride in the back of the truck. Oops! www.nps.gov/pais/index.htm
The USS Lexington is a must see. This 910-foot long World War II Essex-class carrier was stationed in the Pacific, and for 21 months took part in nearly every major operation in that theater. Nicknamed The Blue Ghost, the Japanese reported sinking her at least four times; each time she returned to avenge her attackers. Museum entrance fees include admission to the ship’s 3-D theater, virtual battle stations, and access to more than 100,000 square feet of displays encompassing 11 decks with five self-guided route tours. www.usslexington.com
The Texas State Aquarium is located near the USS Lexington and is a fun and engaging stop. This aquarium offers excellent touch pools, as well as large indoor tanks, live outdoor shows, and extensive educational exhibits. We loved the mix of both indoor as well as outdoor displays. The Texas State Aquarium is a member of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, so if you are an AZA member, you will get into the Texas State Aquarium for half off. www.texasstateaquarium.org
Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History — This stop is both fun and educational for all ages. Immerse yourself in local history when you visit this 40,000-square-foot museum. Featuring both science and history exhibits, this location is the best place to learn about what makes Corpus Christi unique. www.ccmuseum.com
South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center is a 182-acre campus that showcases both flora and fauna for its visitors. This location offers a 26,000-square-foot butterfly garden, a reptile exhibit, and numerous gardens. It is a great location to head to to take a leisurely stroll for the afternoon — or morning if you are visiting in the summer! www.stxbot.org/index.html
When we camp on Padre Island, our days are mainly spent surf fishing. It took us a few years to discover it — and build up the courage to ask someone to teach us how. But, now we look forward to our annual two-week surf fishing marathon! We might just get in two, two-week stints this winter. Surf fishing is a hoot. Before heading to the island, remember to pick up plenty of pink shrimp bites at HEB, a Texas grocery store. Surf fishing on Padre Island is a fabulous family activity.
Laguna Madre is the body of water trapped between Padre Island and the Texas coast, from Corpus Christi heading south. This lagoon is large and shallow, and its hypersaline waters are excellent for fishing from boats, including kayaks. Out on the tranquil waters, you may hook into speckled sea trout, flounder and red fish. Summer months can be buggy, so pack that bug spray.
Horseback riding on the beach, while not inexpensive, is certainly a memorable activity. No description needed, you will find Horses On The Beach located on your right just as you leave civilization, heading south on Padre Island.
Take a gorgeous and fun drive from Flour Bluff, or Padre Island, north onto Mustang Island, and up to take the ferry to Port Aransas. There is only one main road up Mustang Island, so you can’t miss it. Watch for dolphins in the bay while you are riding the ferry. If you are like us, and want to turn around and ride it two more times just because you’ve never ridden a ferry before, go ahead! The guys didn’t seem to care as they parked us over and over on the deck.
While in Port Aransas, rent beach buggies. This has been one of our all-time favorite activities. The kids still talk about it. We rented two six-seater buggies from Bron’s Beach Carts, buckled in the kids, tossed the cooler on back of one of the carts, and hit the road for the beach. We rented each cart for four hours, and had a memorable time driving down the beach for miles. www.bronsbeachcarts.com
Visitor’s might also enjoy checking out the Hurricane Alley Waterpark, Funtrackers Amusement Park, or the free Texas Surf Museum
Malaquite Beach Campground is located in Padre Island National Seashore. Despite the lack of hookup amenities, it consistently ranks as the top local campground, and for good reason. Those of us that choose to rough it at the beach are not looking for 50-amp hookups, or fresh water (tho, granted, that would be marvelous). They are instead seeking out salt water, the sound of pounding surf that doesn’t have to compete with the hum of an air conditioner, and a sense of being immersed in nature that cannot be obtained in a manicured resort with garbage pickup.
While sites do not offer any hookups, they do have picnic tables. The campground has flush toilets, unheated showers, dumpsters, and on-site camp hosts. The beach is one dune away with easy access. A dump station with fresh water is located right outside the entrance to the campground. The cost is $8 per night, or $4 with a senior or Access pass, but there is a 14-day limit.
Pro tip — While the campground is seldom completely full, with the exception of holiday weekends, we choose to head down to Malaquite sometime between Monday through Wednesday so that we have a better chance of snagging a beach-side site.
You can also camp for free on the beach just south of the visitor’s center.
Mustang Island State Park is the place to be if you’d like to experience nature 24/7, but prefer the added benefit of electricity. This state park is within walking distance of the beach, yet offers 30- and 50-amp sites with water, but no sewer. There is a dump station at the entrance to the campground. The 300 primitive campsites are just $10 per night, while water and electric are $20.
The state park does charge a $5 per adult entrance fee, but you can waive that and earn a few half-price camping nights by purchasing a Texas State Parks Pass. For more information about the pass, visit tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mustang-island/fees-facilities/campsites
Laguna Shore Village RV Park is conveniently located near the USS Lexington and the aquarium. This campground is a very basic park, but has a two-person limit, so it’s not family friendly. Its location is definitely the biggest draw. All sites are full hookup. www.lagunashorevillage.com
Seafood — If you are looking for a casual, family friendly, and unique dining experience, Snoopy’s Pier delivers. Well, they don’t actually deliver, and you wouldn’t want them to because eating at Snoopy’s is half the enjoyment. This fun seafood eatery is located off the Intercoastal Waterway on Mustang Island. The food is fresh and excellent, while the atmosphere is laid back and cheery. Eat inside the nautical bedecked restaurant or out on the waterside deck, and finish up by walking the pier. www.snoopyspier.com/index.php
BBQ — Is it possible to visit Texas and not check out the local BBQ joints? Not for this tribe! Howard’s BBQ and Catering is located in downtown Corpus, and is the place to head for some of the best brisket and ribs around. Howard’s is another venue where you have the ability to dine either inside or outside. Perfecting BBQ in Corpus since 1949, Howard’s is the place to go for authentic Texas BBQ. www.howards-bbq.com
Whataburger — Yes, believe it or not, I AM recommending a visit to this popular Texas burger chain, and the reason is that Whataburger had its start in Corpus Christi. Because this is the birthplace of the iconic orange ‘W’ logo, a visit to the fast food restaurant is just part of the fun of your Corpus Christi experience. Be prepared for the staff to cheerfully (and loudly) greet you when you enter the restaurant. Then enjoy it again when the staff brings your condiment buffet to the table on a tray. Oh, and order gravy with your fries! www.whataburger.com
We love Corpus Christi! The city has so many unique and fun things to do, see, and eat here, and the weather is delightful. Make it a destination on your next jaunt through Texas.