If you're looking for a warm and beautiful place to spend your holidays, South Padre Island could hit the spot. The town is on the southern part of Padre Island, which is the world's longest barrier island and the only tropical island in Texas. South Padre Island is home to around 5,000 people, but it welcomes one million people each year, eager to experience the island's natural beauty. Visitors can watch the sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico and see an equally spectacular sunset over Laguna Madre. The hours in between can be spent seeing the wildlife, enjoying watersports, or relaxing on the beach.
South Padre Island is famous for being a Spring Break location. It's most popular with students from Texan colleges and becomes a party town when these schools are on vacation in March. The city is an affordable Spring Break option that still has all the sun, sand, music, and people you could want. Big-name artists provide the tunes and the beautiful beaches make the perfect dance floor. As a bonus, the island has plenty of things to do if you need a break from partying.
South Padre Island is a fishing hotspot, with species you can't find anywhere else in the state. There are plenty of charter boats that can take you out into the gulf for tuna or mahi-mahi. You can also fish from the local piers or cast a line from the shore for snapper, snook, or tarpon. True enthusiasts might want to enter one of the many fishing tournaments held in August and September. Take your catch to one of the local restaurants that will cook it up for you to enjoy for dinner.
If you're looking for adventure, venture out into the waters around South Padre Island. Thrillseekers can try out kiteboarding or parasailing and you can hire a jet ski if you really feel the need for speed. Stand up paddleboarding and kayaking are options for people who want to move at a more leisurely pace and divers can explore some of the biggest shipwrecks in the United States. Surfers are also kept happy, with breaks like Second Lot and Dolphin Cove demonstrating why the island is known as the best surfing spot in Texas.
South Padre Island is home to five species of sea turtle, including the critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle. All five nest in the area and the National Park Service protects and monitors the creatures when they're on the island. If you visit during the summer you may get the chance to see hatchlings make their way to the sea. Injured sea turtles are also rehabilitated, and non-profit Sea Turtle, Inc. gives visitors the opportunity to learn more about the animals and see recovering patients and their prosthetic flippers throughout the year.
Sea turtles might be the most famous wild inhabitants of the island, but they're not the only wildlife to be found. Dolphins, whales, and occasionally manatees swim the surrounding waters of South Padre Island, and dolphin tours are a popular attraction. The island is an important habitat for more than 380 species of bird, with many stopping in during their migrations. Land mammals, such as coyotes, deer, and ground squirrels, can also be spotted amongst the dunes.
South Padre Island is just 40 miles from the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site in Boca Chica. The company plans to launch humans to the moon, Mars and beyond this little town in Texas. Tests have already begun and it's possible to view the site from the southern tip of the island. When the company starts shooting rockets into space, it could be the perfect viewing point.
With such amazing views, it's no wonder that South Padre Island has an innovative arts scene. Port Isabel and South Padre Island both have amazing galleries to explore, but the Sandcastle Trail is the real gem of the island. These 30 sand sculptures, created by professional sand artists can be found throughout the island. You can also stretch your creativity by having a sandcastle lesson on the beach with one of the island's professional sand sculptors.
As expected in a coastal town, South Padre Island has amazing seafood. Whether you're looking for fine dining as you admire a sunset or a casual meal featuring the day's catch, you can find it on the island. The town's proximity to Mexico means there's also authentic Mexican cuisine to enjoy, and the ceviche is particularly good. Don't worry if you find you're getting tired of crab's legs and shrimp, you can still find a good steak. It is Texas, after all.
The Laguna Madre Nature Trail is more a stroll than a hike, but it's still a great walk around the island. The 1.1-mile loop takes you out to the wetlands and is a great spot for seeing birds and gators. If you want something a bit more rigorous, try the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge spans both mainland and island, although the parts on the island can only be reached by 4WD. The best trails are on the mainland, just 20 miles from South Padre Island.
It would be a shame to visit a tropical island and not spend a day relaxing on the beach. Thankfully, South Padre Island has miles of fine, white sand waiting for you. Locals love Isla Blanca Park, found at the southernmost tip of the island. There's around a mile of sand and plenty of amenities including jetties, restaurants, and pavilions. You can also stop at one of the 20 or more beach access points and find the perfect spot for you.