South Padre Island isn’t just a place to visit for Spring Break when you’re in college, it’s an incredible vacation destination for families all year long! We spent the New Years Weekend exploring the island, and now I’ve got 10 reasons why your next time at the beach should be South Padre Island!
1. It’s an island at the very bottom of Texas!
If you have never been to South Padre Island, you need to first know that it is an actual island! You’ll take a bridge across the Laguna Madre from Port Isabell, be sure and notice the beautiful Port Isabell Lighthouse before you cross the 2.37 mile long Queen Isabella Causeway, the only way on and off the island.
You’ll more than likely travel down I-69/Hwy 77 from Corpus Christi. Along Hwy 77 it’s mostly salt grass plains, and keep an eye out for some of the incredible birds of prey that live here, such as osprey and cara cara. This area is part of a huge international migration route for birds flying from Canada to Mexico! , You’ll pass through Harlingen and Brownsville and you turn off just before the Matamoros Border crossing into Mexico! A few things to see in Brownsville include the historic downtown, farmers market and the Gladys Porter Zoo! Click HERE to read more!
If you want to explore Mexico, I really recommend Burlingame Brownsville-Matamoros Mexico Tours, which will take you on a 5 hour guided bus tour of the city and plenty of time for shopping! You need a passport or birth certificate. Click HERE for more information.
Once on the island, the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s a very narrow island, and there is plenty to see and do both on the Beach and the Bay Side!
2. The Hotels are Amazing!
We made a very last minute decision to stay over New Year’s Eve, and there were only a few rooms available on the island. South Padre is a BIG destination for Winter Texans, and you’ll see plenty of Wisconsin and Minnesota license plates while you’re here! Make your winter reservations early!
We ended up at the Ramada Inn, which was very affordable, and offered a clean room, with no carpet which I love when traveling! The hotel sits one block off the beach, a short walk, and there is a park and playground NEXT DOOR which my son loved! The hotel outdoor pool was also heated, and we spent a chilly New Year’s Day playing in the pool! Click HERE to visit their website.
Resorts/Hotels I’d recommend:
Beach Resort at South Padre Island, an IHG hotel, has taken over the Schilitterbahn South Padre Island Resort, and is amazing!
The Pearl is another beach-side hotel. We love the Kids Camp and Friday Night Fireworks during the summer! Click HERE to visit their website.
Isla Grand Beach Resort is also on the beach. They have great pools, tennis and volleyball courts. Click HERE to see a video!
A lot of Winter Texans bring their RV’s down from all over the country to stay here! Isla Blanca has over 500 sites, and South Padre KOA offers RV sites, cabins and even tent camping. Click HERE to visit their website.
3. The town is small enough to explore by bike!
If you’re not traveling with small children, or have bike trailer/bike seats, I’d really suggest taking your bike! The island is small enough that you can ride around the majority of it! You can also rent bikes on the island.
4. Golf Carts are cuter here.
Like Port Aransas, golf carts are a BIG thing on SPI, and it’s small enough for them to be a perfect vehicle to run around the island! Wheels on Padre has the cutest little carts! They also rent bikes! Click HERE to visit their website.
5. Plenty of Great Restaurants right on the water
Pier 19 is our favorite fun place to eat, with a huge pier off the back! During our dinner we saw dolphins swimming around the pier! While everything is amazing, the whole Flounder served Cubano style was out favorite! A shout out on the Key Lime Pie, too, which generally isn’t my favorite pie but I still crave theirs! For a typical tourist restaurant, the service is amazing! Joe and Taylor are our favorites! Click HERE to visit their website.
My husband and I hung out one evening at Coconuts Bar and Grill and Louie’s Backyard, both on the Bay side of the island, while the kids played mini-golf one evening across the street at Gravity Park. Food and atmosphere were both fun, but it’s 21 and over after 9pm.
My BIGGEST reason for heading to SPI for New Year’s was to take the Polar Dip on New Year’s Day! The annual event is HUGE! We headed to Clayton’s Beach Bar and Grill, which is the self-proclaimed BIGGEST BEACH BAR ON THE TEXAS COAST. It’s also where you don’t want to be during Spring Break with your family, because this is ground zero for the Spring Break Party! But during the summer they have a great lunch out on the beach, and it’s very family friendly! By the way, it was COLD on New Year’s Day, and the wind was blowing like crazy, and when the crowd rushed into the cold Gulf water, we placed our big toe in and ran away! But next year…..
Just a heads-up for dog owners. We were traveling with our pup, and kinda bummed that most of the restaurants on the island do not allow dogs on their patios, per the city. We had to actually eat in shifts a few times. It was worth it to see her playing in the surf! Dogs are welcome on the beach, but must be on a leash and please pick up after your dog!
6. Much of the access to South Padre Island Beach is FREE!
From anywhere on the island you have access to the beach. The beach on SPI is protected by dunes, so you’ll have to cross over on boardwalks to reach the beach. We were able to walk from our hotel onto the beach, and walked all the way down to Isla Blanca Park, about 3 miles, or 5 bags of shells!
Isla Blanca Park is a HUGE county-owned park, with beach access with pavilions, restrooms, a fishing jetty, tent and RV camping. You can often see dolphins and sea turtles here, too! The fee is $10/car, and during the summer it’s a favorite among families! Click HERE for more information.
Beach Access 1 – 4 allow only foot traffic, and you can walk to from your hotel or park in a parking lot. This area does get a little crowded.
Beach Access 5 – 6 has access to drive on the beach. There is a $10 fee to drive/park on the beach, and a $2 refundable fee for a trash bag if you return it with trash in it. After about a mile, only 4-wheel drive vehicles are recommended.
7. Huge Sand Dunes!
If you travel north on Padre Blvd, it turns into State Park Rd 100. The only main road on the island, it becomes more narrow as the huge sand dunes close in on the road. Here on this narrow part of the island you can explore the huge dunes with the bay on one side and the beach on the other! It’s also a great place to look for seashells after high tide!
One of the BEST ways to explore is on horseback! South Padre Island Adventure Park offer horseback riding on the BEACH! They also have zip lines and a petting zoo. Click HERE to visit their website
8. The Laguna Madre Bay
As beautiful as the beach is, the bay side offers it’s own unique beauty! The Laguna Madre, Spanish for Mother Lagoon, is a huge nursery to the Gulf of Mexico. A hyper-saline lagoon, one of only a handful in the world, it is saltier than the Gulf. We met Eddie at Parrot Eyes Water Sports from our waitress Taylor at Pier 19. Parrot Eyes take you out on guided jet ski tours into the bay, where dolphin, stingrays and skates get close enough to touch! They also have parasailing, dolphin tours, paddleboarding and more! Click HERE to visit their website.
The Flats – Bay Side
Just past the Convention Center there is an entrance that will take you to an area known as the Flats. This land is leased by the SPI Windsurfing Organization, and you can watch windsurfers and kite surfers out on the water. While it’s open to the public, you are required to join ($30/year, or $20/month) to surf here. We just wanted to watch, and were pretty well behaved, so we were allowed to just hang out but be aware that they could ask you to leave. For more information, click HERE.
Want to learn to Windsurf? Check out SPI Windsurf by clicking HERE.
9. More Fun Things to do on South Padre Island!
Beach Park at Isla Blanca offers a great waterpark!
Gravity Park was a fun place to take the kids for mini-golf and go-carts. The 3 story go-cart track was a favorite for my husband! Since it was slow, they allowed our dog, but not sure if that would happen on a busy summer weekend. Click HERE for more information.
Learn to build a sandcastle! Sandy Feet Sandcastle teaches you the best way to build the house of your dreams, made of sand! Really, these lessons are incredible! Click HERE for more information!
Sea Turtle Inc. offers tours of their rescued sea turtles for a donation. We loved see the beautiful turtles, including Allison, the first turtle in the world to use a prosthesis! During the late May and early Summer, they do turtle hatchling releases, which are FREE to the public to come watch! Click HERE for more information.
Island Cinema SPI because sometimes it rains and there is nothing to do! We went to see Jumanji, and it’s a small theater, but we had fun! CASH ONLY!
On my bucket list is a Deep Sea Charter, but since I haven’t done it yet, I don’t have any recommendations, but I hear it’s amazing in SPI!
10. Since you have to pass through Port Isabell anyway, check out….
Black Dragon Pirate Cruise takes you on a fun and funny trip into the bay as you play games, swab the deck and live like a pirate! It’s a fun time for the entire family! Click HERE to read more!
South Padre Island Dolphin Research and Sea Life Nature Center offers tours in the Bay to see dolphins. They also have a really cool nature center where you can feed a sea turtle! $3/person just to visit the nature center, and thankfully, they are pup friendly! Click HERE for more information.
Port Isabell Lighthouse is open to the public! Click HERE for more information.
South Padre Island
Click HERE to visit their website.
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