Taking On Texas
CRUISING CORPUS CHRISTI TO BROWNSVILLE
Written by Ellen Honey
The gentle curve of the gulf coast between Corpus Christi and Brownsville is one of the longest stretches of Texas shoreline. Among the Texas coast’s least populated areas, it is lined with beaches and inhabited by rare species of wildlife not found anywhere else.
Corpus Christi’s history goes back to the 1500s, when Spanish explorers discovered the bay. Shipwrecks as well as Indian and pirate attacks prevented permanent settlement of the area up until 1839, when Colonel Henry L. Kinney established a trading post for nearby ranches and border towns. In the mid-1920s, the Army Corp of Engineers dug a new ship channel, giving the city the deepest port in Texas. The arrival of the railroad, military aviation, and the petroleum industry completed the city’s transformation from trade outpost to international port, today the fifth largest in the country.
This metropolitan area has managed to retain the flavor of a small town, partly due to the popular 2.5-mile seawall that surrounds downtown and has stairs that lead to the water, opening up the city to the bay and the municipal marina. Recent upgrades to the Corpus Christi Municipal Marina (361-826-3980, cctexas.com) include the addition of four state-of- the-art floating piers and more than 500 wet slips available for pleasure and commercial vessels. Amenities for boaters include a fuel dock, free pump-out station, air-conditioned shower facilities, dry storage, public boat ramps and a repair facility equipped with a 15-ton travel lift. The first Saturday of every month is Marina Market Day, when boaters can enjoy live music, food, and arts and crafts on the Lawrence Street T-head. In December, the marina hosts the Corpus Christi Harbor Lights Festival and Boat Parade to kick off the holiday season.
Corpus Christi is nicknamed the Sparkling City by the Sea, providing visitors with a variety of restaurants, attractions and nightlife. For fine dining, the Republic of Texas Bar & Grill (900 N. Shoreline Blvd., 361-887-1600), on the 20th floor of the Omni Hotel, offers spectacular views and an extensive wine list. Step into a space lined with dark wood walls and brass fixtures at Cassidy’s Irish Pub (601 N. Water St., 361-879-0534) to feel transported to the Temple Bar in Dublin; the favorite beverage to drink — and to discuss at length — is Guinness. For music lovers, Dr. Rockits Blues Bar (709 N. Chaparral St., 361-884-7634) is a downtown hot spot with live music every night.
The city has a variety of family-friendly attractions, including the Texas State Aquarium (361-881-1200), which just added a Stingray Lagoon where you can touch and feed those creatures. Stop at the Texas Surf Museum (361-888-7873) to check out surfing memorabilia that dates back to the early 1960s. The folks at Horses on the Beach (361-949-4944) will take you on guided horseback rides along the sandy beaches of Padre Island.
Corpus Christi Bay is one of the nation’s top sailing areas, with its deep-water access and reliable 15- to 20-mph southeast winds. Whether you are sailing for the day or cruising for the weekend, you don’t have to worry — reefs and other obstructions will not get in the way at Shamrock Cove, Mud Island, or any of the other nameless anchorages known to the locals. Sailors traveling south to Port Isabel head out to the gulf to catch the winds while power cruisers meander down the ICW inside the 120-mile stretch of Padre Island, the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world.
Fuel is available at Sea Ranch Marina (956-761- 7777, searanchmarina.net) on South Padre Island, which has easy access to Laguna Madre Bay and is just a five-minute ride to the gulf. Its sister yard, Sea Ranch II in Port Isabel, has fuel and wet slips accommodating vessel up to 70 feet, and is home to South Padre Boatyard (956-943-7928, southpadreboatyard.com).
For adventurous cruisers who head toward Mexican waters, the last stop in the U.S. is Brownsville, aptly described by its tagline: “On the border by the sea.” The semitropical climate is pleasant year round for boating, fishing, or bird watching. During spring and fall migrations, the area hosts more than 500 counted bird species, including wild parrots and brown pelicans.
Brownsville is economically and historically linked to Matamoros, the Mexican city across the Rio Grande. During the last week of February, Charro Days Fiesta (charrodaysfiesta.com) celebrates the shared cultures of Brownsville and Matamoros with parades, live music, food and entertainment.
The Foncerrada family of musicians owns Brownsville’s most unique eatery, El Hueso de Fraile (837 E. Elizabeth St., 956-280-5904). Combining the region’s love for music and food, El Hueso de Fraile offers an extensive menu of hot and iced coffees and organic, loose-leaf teas. Besides the regular items, they make special coffees like the Veracruz, which is coffee, pineapple juice, and coconut cream. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste the Chocoatepec, made with coffee, chocolate, and whipped cream. Incorporating delicious sandwiches and amazing music is a specialty of the Foncerrada family, and they create truly stand- out experiences for visitors.
The entire Texas coastline is rich with history, wildlife, and cultural influences. Easily accessible, deep, open water and abundant fishing — plus a wealth of quiet getaway sites — should make it an entry on every boater’s wish list. This may be one of the few places in Texas where cowboys and surfers live side by side near the sea.