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From Corpus Christi’s 120 miles of beaches to historic Kingsville and the vast King Ranch that attracts tourists like cattle to salt blocks, it’s sightseeing—and dining—heaven along this central Gulf Coast route. Travelers are faced with a most delicious problem: What to see and where to eat? You can’t digest everything all at once in the Coastal Bend—for example, following the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail is a trip in and of itself—but rest assured that even with minimal sightseeing, your appetite for beauty and adventure will be sated. Our trip starts in Corpus Christi, the Nueces County seat, and follows Interstate 37 and U.S. 77 about 50 miles southwest to Kingsville, the Kleberg County seat.
All right, y’all, we might as well start big—and it doesn’t get much bigger than the Texas State Aquarium, where thousands of creatures representing more than 280 species live.
For a face-to-face view of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins Shadow, Kai and DJ, peer through a 70-foot acrylic window in an underwater viewing room. You can also get up close to sharks, green moray eels and sea turtles.
Next, hit the Water Street Oyster Bar, where scrumptious seafood and sushi will leave you stuffed to the gills. Prime catches include the Water Street roll—shrimp with a roasted poblano cream sauce and jalapeño ponzu sauce—shrimp enchiladas and Texas pecan-crusted oysters with a homemade creole tartar sauce. Sigh. Just divine. Behind the eatery, surf’s up at the Texas Surf Museum, which claims to be the only one of its kind in the state. Kick back on a surfboard bench and take in an exhibit called “Texas Women. Texas Waves,” scheduled to start in early June.
After a day by the bay, relax with dinner and a movie at the Indie Theater. Enjoy a four-course meal in an intimate setting where white tablecloths and candles set the mood and a film accompanies your meal. Finally, if it’s swank lodging that you want, try the V Boutique Hotel, which is housed in an 81-year-old building. The building is perhaps most famous for the defunct Dragon Grill, an upscale and illegal gambling establishment that operated there in the 1940s.
Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, (361) 881-1800, www.corpuschristichamber.org
Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-678-6232, www.corpuschristicvb.com
Texas State Aquarium, (361) 881-1200 or 1-800- 477-GULF (4853), www.texasstateaquarium.org
It ought to be illegal to drive from Corpus Christi to Kingsville without stopping at Joe Cotten’s Barbecue in Robstown. The restaurant right off U.S. 77 serves up brisket so tender you won’t need a knife. The all-male waitstaff sports short red jackets and black bow ties and keeps the iced tea mugs filled to the brim.
Now, stuffed once again, head on to Kingsville, named for King Ranch founder Richard King. A great first stop is the King Ranch Saddle Shop, where visitors can watch saddles being made or repaired. Then there’s the shopping: The inventory features clothing, furniture, jewelry and pottery plus more. There’s even an old-fashioned, coin-operated horse for the kids. The next logical stop is the King Ranch Museum, where Toni Frissell’s award-winning photographic essay of the King Ranch (1939 to 1944) fills the walls.
Kingsville Chamber of Commerce, (361) 592-6438, www.kingsville.org
Kingsville Convention and Visitors Bureau, (361) 592-8516 or 1-800-333-5032, www.kingsvilletexas.com
King Ranch Museum, (361) 592-0408
Recognized as the birthplace of the American ranching industry, the 155-year-old King Ranch encompasses 825,000 acres—a swath bigger than the state of Rhode Island. But somehow, a 11/2-hour guided tour covers plenty of ground. To take a daily historical and agricultural tour, check in at the King Ranch Visitor Center about 2 miles west of downtown Kingsville on State Highway 141. From there, you’ll tour a portion of the ranch that sports the essentials: cowboys and herds of quarter horses and the ranch’s Santa Gertrudis, Santa Cruz and longhorn cattle. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and newly born foals and calves. The tour bus rolls past the ranch’s famous Main House and a horse memorial area that includes a monument for Assault, a King Ranch thoroughbred who won the 1946 Triple Crown.
King Ranch Visitor Center, (361) 592-8055, www.king-ranch.com
Camille Wheeler is the staff writer for Texas Co-op Power.