There is always something different to do just around the bend for visitors to the Coastal Bend Region of Texas. From cultural opportunities in Corpus Christi to the beautiful beaches of Port Aransas to numerous natural attractions in Rockport-Fulton, there is an activity to suit nearly every interest, which is why the region continues to grow as a top tourist destination. “Each town in the Coastal Bend has its own ambiance,” says Sandy Jumper, Director of Tourism and Events at the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce. “We’re all so close together, you could do a couple of things in each town in a single day, and you’ll get a totally different feel in each one. You can go from the big city to total nature.” Water Wonders Visitors can even get a taste of nature in the city at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi. Attendance at the 43,000-square-foot facility has increased by nearly 30 percent over the past 15 years to more than 500,000 visitors annually. To accommodate the growing crowds, the aquarium recently began construction on a $50-million, four-story addition that will more than double the size of the facility. The new building, scheduled to open in spring 2017, will focus on marine life found in the Caribbean. “Right now, folks who come here take a journey through the Gulf of Mexico and get to see the different habitats and fish ecosystems found in the Gulf,” Texas State Aquarium CEO Tom Schmid says. “In the new building, they’ll be taking a similar journey through the Caribbean. Folks will start in an upland jungle, work their way through coastal habitats, explore underwater caverns and coral reefs in the Yucatan region of Mexico, and then eventually move out into the Caribbean sea, where we’ll have a half-million-gallon shark exhibition. It’s going to be an incredible experience.” Other popular attractions in Corpus Christi include the South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, with its 2,600-square-foot butterfly house and new 5,400-square-foot orchid greenhouse; the USS Lexington, a 910-foot-long World War II aircraft carrier that is now anchored in Corpus Christi Bay; and the Corpus Christi Hooks minor-league baseball team – the AA affiliate of the Houston Astros that plays in an intimate $25-million downtown ballpark. Nature Calls Of course, there is a reason this area is called the Coastal Bend. The coastline is an alluring aspect of the region, with a bountiful beach scene and numerous opportunities for fishing, boating, surfing and ecotourism. One of the most popular tourist draws is bird-watching. A wide variety of bird species either spend the winter in the Coastal Bend area or at least stop over on their migration routes. “Birding is very popular in our area,” says Ann Vaughan, President and CEO of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Bureau. “We have numerous vantage points where on any given day you can see more than 100 species of birds. We have a lot of preserved areas for natural wildlife viewing. The Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center has a boardwalk with a wonderful viewing location.” So many whooping cranes make the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge their winter home that Port Aransas holds an annual Whooping Crane Festival each February. Meanwhile, Rockport-Fulton celebrates the tiny hummingbird with an annual HummerBird Celebration in September. The community also recently started a program called Aransas Pathways, a series of venues designed to promote kayaking, hiking and biking as well as birding. “We’re really into nature tourism around here,” Jumper says. “Instead of building big skyscrapers, we’re more into developing our natural resources.” New and Upcoming Attractions Even though the Coastal Bend already has plenty of attractions, new ones are always being added. The Aransas Queen Casino set sail in March, offering cruises six days a week. The 155-foot -long floating casino has more than 200 slot machines, 12 table games that include blackjack, craps and roulette, a sports book and an all-you-can-eat buffet. The $40 million Schlitterbahn WaterPark and Resort is also scheduled to open this year on North Padre Island. The 500-acre entertainment complex will have a variety of water rides and slides, as well as on-site lodging. For tourists visiting the Coastal Bend, that means there is much to explore in the area and more on the way.