Travel throughout the Corpus Christi, Rio Grande, and South Padre Island regions of the Lone Star State.
As children, we all can remember the excitement surrounding the annual family vacation. As parents, we can now appreciate the efforts our parents made to ensure a fun time was had by all. Now, it's our turn to chart out a trip to suit the wants of our entire clan. Somewhere fun for the babies, kids and, of course, educational for the parents, where the weather is good and the people are friendly. The Lone Star State of Texas fits this bill!
It would take forever to tour Texas, the second largest state in America, sandwiched half way between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. As the tourist brochures say, 'Texas, It's Like A Whole Other Country', and it is – there are numerous destinations catering to a wide variety of interests. That's why we narrowed our search to the state's southeastern coast on the Gulf of Mexico.
In recent years, many families have been flocking to Corpus Christi and the "Coastal Bend," finding their way south to the Rio Grande Valley, then continuing south and crossing the causeway to the sun n' fun of South Padre Island.
There is so much to see and do in Corpus Christi, but a favorite sight is the USS Lexington (800/LADY-LEX, 361/888-4873), the most famous aircraft carrier in the history of naval aviation. You can explore the ship, and those with a strong stomach will enjoy the excitement of a jet fighter in action by trying the Lexington's Flight Simulator.
Other points of interest include the Texas State Aquarium (800/477-GULF), focusing on the plants and animals native to the Gulf of Mexico. The recently installed Swamp Tales exhibit focuses on the conservation success story of the American alligator and features Bo, a 10-foot gator. The Amazon section features an anaconda and other snakes, piranhas, frogs and more wildlife of the rainforest region, and nicely complements the popular Dolphin Bay and shark tank exhibits.
The Columbus Fleet – replicas of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria and the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History are also fun day outings. Another must-see spot is the International Kite Museum (512/883-7456) where you can learn about the history of kites beginning with the Chinese kites 2000 years ago.
There are lots of beaches in the area, but two great beaches for small children are located in the Corpus Christi Bay area, nestled behind barrier North Padre Island and Mustang Island. The waters are protected and calm at both McGee Beach, which is known for being seaweed-free, and Corpus Christi Beach, which has lifeguards in the summer months as well as picnic facilities.
For more information or to obtain a travel guide, contact Corpus Christi Tourism Information (800/776-BEACH).
The King Ranch
A visit to the Coastal Bend wouldn't be complete without a tour of King Ranch. This 150-year-old property is one of the largest working ranches in the world and is recognized as the birthplace of the American ranching industry. The entire family can learn the history of the ranch at The King Ranch Museum (361/592-8055) located in the quaint town of Kingsville, bordering the ranch.
Drive two hours south of Kingsville, and you'll arrive in the Rio Grande Valley, made famous in the classic John Wayne movie "The Alamo," filmed in Bracketville. You'll want to check out the city of Harlingen, known for its birding and nature trails. Other attractions include World War II's Iwo Jima Memorial, the Rio Grande Valley Museum (956/430-8500) and the Texas Air Museum (956/748-2112) in neighboring Rio Hondo.
Southern Base on South Padre Island
Heading south on Highway 77, just prior to arriving at the Mexican border town of Matamoros, you'll reach Brownsville. The city hosts an international airport, University of Texas campus, the historic Fort Brown, and the Gladys Porter Zoo (956/546-7187), which houses a children's petting zoo and a kids' camp.
If you want to swim, windsurf, sail, parasail, fish, or just relax, then South Padre Island (800/SO-PADRE) is for you. Take heed to avoid this very popular destination during the March-April Spring Break period. It is only a 30-minute drive from Brownsville, but you would swear you were on a tropical island. In fact, South Padre's semi-tropical climate (288 rain-free days per year!), broad sand beaches, gentle blue water, and sea breezes are so beautiful, that the island was chosen to host the Miss America Pageant three years in a row. Perhaps that's the spot the ladies in your family would choose for your next reunion.
On the neighboring North Padre Island, which boasts a long stretch of National Seashore, families enjoy staying at the waterfront Holiday Inn Sunspree (888/465-4329 or 361/949-8041) because spacious rooms have a refrigerator, microwave, coffeemaker and wireless Internet, just like home. All guests have use of a fitness room, children's playground and game room, and an outdoor pool with hot tub. Fishing charters, golf and horseback riding are all nearby.
For additional hotel ideas, see South Padre Island Hotels.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.