Head South to Saintly South Padre Island, Texas

While most people don’t think of Texas as a winter hot spot, it actually has some of the most beautiful beaches you could ever dream of.  Located on an ecodiverse stretch of island chock full of activities is Texan paradise, South Padre Island.

As someone who likes to think of herself as somewhat familiar with the Lone Star state, having been there a number of times (I have family who live there), my view of Texas expanded dramatically with a trip to South Padre. You think you know somewhere and then humbly realize there is so much more to a place, state or country than you thought you knew. 

General Stuff

South Padre Island was a beautiful, desolate place where native Karankawa Indians, migratory birds and sea turtles were the only residents. The Island was granted to Nicolás Ballí from King Carlos III of Spain in 1759 and later passed to Ballí’s grandson, Padre José Nicolás Ballí. Soon after, Padre José brought the first permanent settlers. 

When Padre Ballí owned the Island, it was known as the Isla de Santiago. Due to the Padre’s reputation as a kind man, the Island became known as La Isla Padre – Padre Island.

For the politically minded traveller for whom these things matter, South Padre went blue and voted for the Democrats, so relax your liberal mind and just go. 

The island, which is the world’s longest barrier island, is roughly 55 km long, sub-tropical and about 40 kms north of the Mexican border.  On one side is the Gulf of Mexico and on the other is the Laguna Madre Bay.  On one side are scenic and beaches of sugary sand (Gulf) and on the other side there are sections of landscape rich in biodiversity so completely different you would hardly believe it is the same place. (However, farther down are beaches as well).

There is an incredible vibe to South Padre Island. South Padre Islanders embrace their home’s  varied environmental landscape, defending it at all costs, respecting it, even going so far as to ban plastic bags because of their effects on the oceans. In fact, there is almost a west coast feel because of the reverence for nature, the environment and the respect for habitat and biodiversity that are such a huge part of the island’s identity. 

The Laguna Madre Bay has allowed for some astounding natural phenomena.  For starters, there is an estuary that has brought freshwater and with it, alligators.  They are restricted to one section of the island only because of the water. They don’t like salt water.

South Padre is a huge party place during Spring Break and there are concerts but the visitors all mingle well with the locals and those who are in between — the ones who move there for winter months… the winter Texans as they are called.

The summertime has regular fireworks display but really, South Padre is electrifying enough.

Sights to see

If you are bird watcher, then a visit to South Padre will be a religious experience.  At the South Padre Birding and Nature Center, there are thousands of winged creatures that make South Padre Island a stop on their journey north and south, (including those smart Canadian geese.)  There are daily walking tours of the Center guided by passionate birders who take you on the property where you will learn about all the various bird species.  In one week alone, there can be sightings of over 300 types of birds. Bird diversity almost doubles in the area as birds escaping freezing temperatures in the north flock south to mild climates.  They join the Island’s resident birds for the season.

If horticultural pursuits grab you, the richness of the greenery, of the plants of the area will interest you.    

There are sand dunes to explore — with great care.  There is quick sand on the island.  They are stunning if you have never seen them before but do so with care and ask locals about safety.

To get around, you can rent bikes and truly explore the island but there is a free shuttle that runs regularly (including one that goes to Port Isabel, across the causeway). 

Sea Turtle Inc

A must stop is Sea Turtle Inc.  It is a rescue centre dedicated to saving, rehabilitating and releasing sea turtles. Sea Turtle, Inc. was founded in 1977 by one woman and it grew from a rescue haven in her backyard to its current location.  The organization is about to open up a new multi-million-dollar facility. Its growth and impact on the community is inspirational. It is a magical place that must be seen.

It is a great place for kids (of all ages) to once again be reminded of the inter-relationships that exist between nature and us. Sea Turtle Inc. also educates on turtle conservation, which is a really interesting topic on its own.

Dolphin Watching

There are bottle-nose dolphins in the area and so take a dolphin watching tour to get you out on the water and to watch these beautiful creatures.

Water Sports

Snorkeling, parasailing, upright paddle boarding and boat cruises are available.  South Padre is a haven for kite surfers as the wind is perfect.  There is a surfer culture on part of the island.  They take their water sports very seriously. There is a diversity of people on the island that matches the biodiversity of the place. It is fantastic.

There is a diving spot that is actually an artificial  reef formed by the 2006 sinking of the Texas Clipper, a 473-foot ship.  

There are no privately owned beaches in Texas, so everyone is welcome to enjoy every inch of the entire coast line. There are over 25 beaches on the Gulf of Mexico side of the island alone. As you look around, you may see elaborate sand creations.  Sand castle building is a huge thing in South Padre and there are lessons available for the family. 

Horseback riding

Equestrian junkies will love the trails on the island and there is a sunset ride you can experience on the beach.  Kind of romantic and calming.  

Rain Rain Go Away

If you have the misfortune of being there during one of the very few rainy days, head over the causeway to Port Isabel.  It has fantastic shops and a few museums.   The businesses are artsy, local people very kind and full of useful history and information and you can buy everything from incredible fudge to jewelry.  Hit the Lighthouse museum for some history and if Mexico/South Texas history is of interest, the Port Isabel Historical Museum will be fascinating.


There are over 50 restaurants and nightclubs, live entertainment and activities to keep every person thrilled. 

As you might imagine, seafood is one of the best options thanks to its freshness. If you like ceviche, this is ceviche paradise.  The best place to get in on the Island without a doubt is Ceviche Ceviche.  I tried five different places as I love the stuff, and didn’t find any bad serving of it, but Ceviche Ceviche blew me away with the variety and freshness. It is a take-out kind of joint though so don’t expect to sit down here to have a high dining environment. Then again the best place to eat your mouthwatering, customized ceviche (you pick your ingredients from dozens of options) is outside on the beach anyway.

Laguna Bob’s restaurant also has a great ceviche, but it is more of the standard kind.  Still very good but it has a great environment and vibe.  There is live music, warm staff and is perfectly located right on the water, Laguna Madre Bay side.  There are a bunch of restaurants along there that looked great and lots of bars but having a younger travelling companion meant the nightlife experience was not had.  That is just an excuse to go back. And I will.   

One place that doesn’t mind a younger clientele is Padre Island Brewing Co. It has great burgers and really, really good beer. 

Blackbeard’s Restaurant is a South Padre stalwart and has a fried seafood platter that is a heart attack on a plate but worth every bite.  Think about sharing it.  The portions are enormous.


There are all kinds of hotels and a lot of the chains are there. There are budget motels, big chains and even bigger resorts. However, another option is renting accommodation.  Condos are everywhere on the island. 

If you are bringing the kids, then Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort is the place to stay.  Period. 

It has an incredible set up with an indoor and outdoor water park with slides, rides, lazy rivers, fast rivers, water coasters and has something to keep everyone in the family happy.  There is a great, heated pool (to 100 degrees Fahrenheit) with a swim-up bar.  It is a massive resort with restaurants and a fabulous-looking bar and you could easily spend your whole trip there but don’t do that. 

There is so much to see on this magnificent island. Carpe momentum on South Padre Island, Texas.