If you’re staying downtown and need a quick beach fix, go to Corpus Christi Beach (just north of the USS Lexington  361/880-3480). It’s not quite picturesque, and the shoreline sand is pretty coarse, but it’s great for a leisurely stroll or swim with a pleasant view of Corpus Christi Bay. You’ll see lots of local families playing in the sand or flying kites, and there are several spots offering rinse-off showers, restrooms, and small cabana huts with picnic tables.
Much smaller in size yet within walking distance of downtown hotels is Magee Beach (Shoreline Blvd., at Park St., 361/880-3461). This 250-yard stretch of sand on the bay isn’t designed for shell collecting, but it’s a good place to get your feet wet without worrying about being pulled away by the undertow you’ll encounter on the larger ocean beaches. Showers and restrooms are located on the north end of the beach.
Serious beachcombers and bodysurfers skip the bayside beaches and head straight to the long stretches of sand on the barrier islands 10 miles east of town on the Gulf of Mexico. Don’t miss the beautiful shoreline along Mustang Island State Park (17047 State Hwy. 361, 361/749-5246, www.tpwd.state.tx.us , $4 daily 13 and older). Named for the wild horses that escaped from Spanish explorers and roamed free across this 18-mile-long island, Mustang Island park comprises five miles of the pristine outstretched beach, perfect for swimming, fishing, sunbathing, hiking, biking, and even low-intensity surfing.
Birding is another popular activity along this 4,000-acre island, notable for its distinctive ecosystem based on 20-foot-high sand dunes that protect the bay and mainland and can reduce powerful hurricane-driven waves. To get there from Corpus, take South Padre Island Drive (Hwy. 358) to Padre Island, then head north on Highway 361 for five miles to the park headquarters.