Recently named by the Travel Channel as one of the
best beaches in the country, South Padre Island offers endless
expanses of beautiful sand, warm Gulf waters, bird watching,
and a wide variety of recreational activities. So whether you prefer
to jump in the water and bodysurf, lounge in a beach chair and watch
the surf, or stay in a luxury hotel and channel surf, South Padre
Island is your ideal destination!
While the island itself is a 34-mile-long barrier reef, only a
5-mile stretch is developed as the official "Town of South Padre
Island." The other 29 miles are unspoiled coastal wilderness, full
of windswept dunes, indigenous sea grasses, and native wildlife.
Only half a mile wide at its widest point, South Padre Island
offers visitors easy access to either the warm, wave-free waters of
the Laguna Madre Bay to the west or the ocean surf of the Gulf of
Mexico to the east. Accommodations are even categorized as bay side,
Gulf side, or inner island to help you find your perfect vacation
spot. Once you do, get ready to have some
begin with the most obvious attraction at South Padre Island-the
wide, clean, soft-sand beach. Unlike some other beaches in Texas,
South Padre does not allow vehicles on the beach. That's a plus not
only for aesthetics but for the environment and overall safety as
well. It also means, however, that you should be prepared to pack a
big beach bag!
If you're staying at a Gulf-side hotel,
condo, or resort, it's
just a short walk out to find your preferred spot of sand. There are
no private beach areas, so take your pick. To get there from
anywhere else, drive along Gulf Boulevard and look for the "Beach
Access" signs. There you'll find free public parking and convenient
wooden bridges leading you directly onto the beach.
The island has two public parks.
Isla Blanca Park, at the
southern end, offers RV camping sites, picnic areas, showers, rest
rooms, and a snack bar.
Andy Bowie Park, just four miles north of
the causeway, offers picnic pavilions and a children's playground.
Both parks charge a small day-use fee, but for some families the
conveniences that the parks offer will be well worth it.
and umbrellas are a good idea, especially if you plan to spend an
entire day in the sun. Both are available for rent from concessions
on the beach, several of which are run by the beachfront hotels.
Besides a chair and an umbrella, you'll want to bring towels,
sunscreen, hats, and some snacks and refreshments. Glass containers
are not allowed on the beach, and all trash must be taken with you
when you leave or deposited in the trash bins provided.
As the sand can get toasty during those long, sunny days, beach
shoes or sandals are a good idea as well-especially if you plan to
beachcombing! The tides at South Padre Island bring a fresh
batch of seashells up onto the sand each night, so every day can
bring new discoveries.
For those who prefer to make a beeline for the water, the Gulf of
Mexico is ready and waiting. With water temperatures that range
between 65 in the winter and 85 in the summer, South Padre offers a
refreshing dip anytime.
The waves along the beach are a big draw for surfers. Those using
a surfboard tend to prefer the waves at the north jetties, near
Blanca Park. Boogie boards are popular in the shallower waters close
to shore, and bodysurfers can find good wave action almost anywhere.
Another favorite on-the-beach
pastime is building sand castles.
You can create your own or take a
lesson from a member of the island's own team of professional sand
"Sons of the Beach Sand Castle Wizards." Team
founders Amazing' Walter & sandy feet have built sand sculptures all
over the world and have taught literally thousands of people how to
have more sand castling fun on the beach. To learn more about sand
castle-building lessons, visit
If you can't get enough of that salt-kissed wind in your hair,
you might want to try
horseback riding on the beach. An equestrian
center at the north end of town offers horses for beginners and
experienced riders alike. No trail rides or predetermined routes
here-just point your horse toward the beach and "giddyup."
On the Bay
Gulf waters are not the only venue for water sports enthusiasts
visiting South Padre Island. The Laguna Madre Bay, between the
island and the Texas mainland, offers a variety of ways for visitors
to enjoy the water without the big waves.
Perhaps two of the fastest-growing sports at South Padre Island
over the past several years are windsurfing and Kiteboarding, and
both owe their popularity to the windswept waters of the Laguna
Windsurfers head for South Padre to sail the bay because it
ranges in depth from three to five feet, and wind speeds average
about 18 miles per hour. Some of the more experienced windsurfers
also test their skills at other South Padre locations, including the
Jetties, Boca Chica, and the Ditch, site of some of the fastest
windsurfing speeds achieved in North America.
Kiteboarding is a relatively new water sport in the States, and
the Laguna Madre Bay at South Padre Island is widely recognized as
one of the best spots in the country to learn and hone your skills.
Imagine standing on a surfboard and being dragged across the water
by a big parachute, and you've got the general idea.
More-experienced boarders perform jumps, flips, and aerial tricks,
making Kiteboarding as much fun for the observer as for the
Those who want their entertainment to be somewhat less athletic
need only check out the many boat charters available on the bay
side. Guided boat tours leave the bay several times a day for
dolphin watches, sunset cruises, glass-bottom-boat and marine
ecology tours, and deep-sea fishing trips.
And Speaking of Fishing . . .
South Padre Island was recently named a Top 20 fishing
destination by Field and Stream magazine! Whether you prefer to
cast your line from a boat, a pier, or standing out in the surf,
you'll see why the island is a favorite with Texas fishing
In Laguna Madre Bay, speckled trout, redfish, and flounder are
daily catches. A deep-sea charter trip takes you out into the Gulf,
where expert guides can help you tackle an 800-pound marlin or a
record-setting Wahoo. For more information on fishing in and around
South Padre Island, go to
the sun and the surf get to be a little too intense, South Padre
Island offers an escape into the quiet sand dunes, marshes, and
wetlands of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
A federal reserve for birds and other area wildlife, the refuge
encompasses 45,000 acres that are a one-of-a-kind blend of
temperate, subtropical, coastal, and desert habitats. It's a unique
combination that attracts a unique array of wildlife and makes the
Laguna Atascosa famous around the world for its bird watching
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the best viewing
times are early mornings and late afternoons or cool, overcast days.
The observant visitor can expect to see quite a show. Ocelots, Texas
tortoises, green jays, and javelinas prefer the dense, thorny brush
land areas of the refuge, while alligators and black-bellied
whistling ducks choose the ponds and Resaca's. Desert dwellers like
roadrunners and cactus wrens inhabit the scrub areas, while species
like roseate spoonbills, egrets, and herons join black-necked
stilts, American avocets, and piping plovers at the shore of Laguna
Another opportunity to walk among the wildlife can be found at
the Laguna Madre Nature Trail. This 1,500-foot boardwalk overlooks
four acres of natural wetlands. Although these lands look much
different today than they did when Spanish explorer Alonzo Alvarez
de Piņeda arrived in 1519, visitors can study the dune systems and
wildlife habitats and imagine the abundant wildlife that inhabited
the area back then.
If you'd like to help preserve one of the area's currently
endangered species, visit Sea Turtle, Inc. Once the lifework of Ila
Loetscher, better known on the island as the "Turtle Lady," Sea
Turtle, Inc., continues Ila's work, devoting its resources to aid in
the protection of the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle and other marine
turtle species. Kids will enjoy the daily "Meet the Turtles"
program, when a volunteer tells visitors about different species of
sea turtles and introduces two or three of the facility's residents
for an up-close-and-personal look at this fascinating animal.
When the Sun Goes Down
entertainment options abound on the island. Many
restaurants feature outdoor seating and live music, and some go so
far as to offer volleyball courts, swimming pools, and bungee
The large number of hotels and resorts on South Padre means that
there's always a wide choice of activities, events, shows, and
celebrations planned specifically for family entertainment. Check in
with the concierge at your hotel or look through one of the island's
daily or weekly publications for current listings.
There are two movie theaters on the island, both featuring
first-run films, and many of the shopping centers are open after
dark for those late-night souvenir hunts.
Other Area Highlights
If the sunburns get a little too bright, or you're just looking
for an afternoon excursion, pack the kids into the Suburban for a
short drive to some of South Padre Island's neighboring attractions.
The fishing town of Port Isabel is just across the Queen Isabella
Causeway and features shopping, dining, and local crafts stores. To
get a good overview of the coastal area, visit the recently
renovated Port Isabel Lighthouse. Built in 1853, the lighthouse
guided many a fishing boat back to port. Now it affords visitors
panoramic views of the coastline, the island, and the Gulf of
camera is part of the
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