Most people associate South Padre Island with spring break, but it is still a great beach destination the other 51 weeks of the year. Thanks to South Padre’s mild weather, calm seas, and an average of 300 days of sunshine, you can do just about anything you want, all year long, like kiteboarding, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, jet skiing and deep sea fishing. If your idea of fun is a little less adventurous, there are calmer activities you can enjoy, such as visiting the islands, nature centers, wildlife refuges, or walking on one of the many boardwalks.
Other favorite activities include horseback riding, camping on the beach, and ecological tours of Padre Island National Seashore. South Padre Island is a barrier island and is accessible from the Queen Isabella Causeway and the town is located at the southern end of the island. The island is named after José Nicolás Ballí, a Catholic priest and settler. One of the landmarks on the island is the larger than life Cristo de los Pescadores, or Christ of the Fishermen, a memorial to fishermen who never returned.
If you want to camp under the stars and wake up to the sound of waves, take a surfing lesson, do water sports, enjoy the night with live music, good food and drinks, San Padre Island offers you the chance to do any or all of these activities, in one memorable visit.
1. Port Isabel Lighthouse
Port Isabel Lighthouse is one of the 16 lighthouses originally constructed along the Texas coast and the only one open to the public. It is a popular site for photographers and visitors. If you climb the 75 winding stairs and three short ladders, you will have great views of South Padre Island and the beaches. The lighthouse has long been a prominent landmark on the southern tip of the Texas Gulf Coast. Its heavy brick walls have enabled it to withstand the elements for more than a century. The lighthouse was abandoned permanently when shipping traffic declined in 1907. The lighthouse and surrounding buildings became a historic site in 1950 when it was donated to the state. The lighthouse sits on a grassy knoll and is an ideal setting for relaxing. The grassy knoll where the lighthouse stands is ideal for strolling and relaxing. If you want to enjoy a picnic lunch, picnic tables are available.
Hours of Operation: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily (weather permitting). Summer hours are extended to 8 p.m. Tickets may be purchased in the Lighthouse, the Keepers Cottage (Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center), the Treasures of the Gulf Museum and the Port Isabel Historical Museum.
Port Isabel Lighthouse
Address: 421 E. Queen Isabel Blvd. in Lighthouse Square, Port Isabel, South Padre Island, TX 78418
Website: Port Isabel Lighthouse
2. Sea Turtle, Inc
Don’t miss the chance to visit the renowned Sea Turtle, Inc. The facility itself serves as a hospital for sick and injured sea turtles. Each year, they rescue and rehabilitate over 100 sea turtles with the goal of returning them to the wild. Sea Turtle, Inc. was founded in 1977, by Ila Fox Loetscher, better known as the “Turtle Lady of South Padre Island.” In 1999, Sea Turtle, Inc. moved from Ila’s backyard into its current location at 6617 Padre Blvd. Today, their mission is centered on rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing injured sea turtles, educating the public, and assisting with conservation efforts for all marine turtle species.
April through November is nesting season on South Padre Island and Sea Turtle, Inc. also monitors about 50 miles (80.5 km) of beach, searching for nests. The nests are then relocated and protected in a special corral until the baby turtles hatch and are ready for release. If you visit during nesting season, you can attend one of the scheduled releases, during the summer months and watch as the tiny sea turtles make their way into the ocean for the first time.
Hours: Open from 10 am - 4 pm, Tuesdays through Sundays (Closed Mondays). From Memorial Day to mid-August, hours are extended from 10 am - 5 pm.
Admission: They ask for a donation of 4 USD for adults, 3 USD for seniors and 2 USD for children over the age of 4.
Sea Turtle, Inc.
Address:6617 Padre Blvd. South Padre Island, TX 78597
Website: Sea Turtle, Inc.
3. Laguna Madre Island Trail
The Laguna Madre or Mother Lagoon Nature Trail is 1.1 mile (1.8 km) loop trail on a 1,500 foot (457.2 meter) boardwalk that crosses 4 acres (1.6 hectares) of marshland. It offers scenic views of the lagoon and is used for nature walks and birding. Bird watchers can view many coastal and migratory birds, as well as many others that are attracted to the berries on the fiddlewood bushes, along the trail. Throughout the year, more than 300 species of birds come through the South Padre Island area.
The trail begins at the South Padre Island Convention Center and extends out to the Laguna Madre wetlands. A walk on the Laguna Madre Natural Trail is one of the best ways to experience the pristine, natural wetlands of South Padre Island. The trail is open 24 hours a day and access is free.
Laguna Madre Island Trail
Address: 7355 Padre Boulevard South Padre Island, TX 78597
Website: Laguna Madre Island Trail
4. Isla Blanca Park
Isla Blanca Park is located on the southernmost tip of South Padre Island and is the crown jewel of the parks system. Within the park, there is over a mile of pristine beach along the Gulf of Mexico. Also within the park are many recreation amenities available for a wide range of outdoor activities. There are two large beachfront pavilions, a walking trail, fishing jetties and surf fishing, cabana rentals, a boat ramp, water park, restrooms/shower facilities, and shaded picnic areas. And you don’t have to bring your own food as there are onsite concessions and restaurants.
If you want to stay overnight, there are tent sites and over 600 full hook-up RV sites. The park also has equipment rental for an array of activities (e.g. snorkeling, diving, jet skis, parasailing, etc.). There is also a full-service marina, here.
Open 6:30 am - 11 pm
Isla Blanca Park
Address: 33174 State Park Rd 100, South Padre Island, TX 78597
Website: Isla Blanca Park
5. Dolphin Research and Sea Life Research Center
The Dolphin Research and Sea Life Research Center is located next to the Port Isabel Lighthouse. Their mission is to educate the public regarding the wild bottlenose dolphins, native to Laguna Madre Bay and South Padre Island, in addition to promoting public support for the wildlife of the area. They offer three types of activities: Dolphin Tours, Sea Life Center and Field Trips. The Dolphin Tours accommodate six people or less, the cost is 25 USD per person and lasts about an hour and a half. Private and family tours can also be arranged. The tour starts with a visit to the Seal Life Center and then on to board the boat to see the local tribe of near shore dolphins.
The Sea Life Center offers visitors a unique encounter with many of the fascinating marine animals native to the area. Numerous aquariums showcase live fish, starfish, crabs, octopi, snails, along with a whole host of other exciting creatures. Touch tanks allow visitors to get a hands-on experience with sea life.
The Center’s educational field trips give teachers and students up close exposure with the touch tanks to hold a live starfish and other sea life such as octopi, seahorses, live shells, or local fish. They also offer nature walks. Fees for students and parents is 2 USD and there is no charge for teachers.
Hours: Daily 10 am to 4 pm
Dolphin Research and Sea Life Research Center
Address:110 N Garcia St, Port Isabel, TX 78578
6. Sandy Feet sandcastle lessons
Next time you go to the beach, impress beach goers with your amazing sand sculpting. On South Padre Island, you can get professional private or group instruction from Sandy Feet Sand Castle Services. They work with all ages and skill levels and all tools are provided, with some you can take home. The classes range from a 45-minute crash course in sand sculpting to a basic and extended basic course, where you learn packing and stacking techniques. Specialty lessons, such as castles and cocktails, adult billboard party, kiddy birthday party, and “build me something”, are also available. They also offer customized “beach billboards” for special occasions, like marriage proposals, birthdays, or anniversaries.
Sandy Feet Sandcastle Lessons
Address: 117 E Saturn Ln, South Padre Island, TX 78597
Website: Sandy Feet Sandcastle Lessons
7. Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark
The Schlitterbahn Water Park is a 25 acre (10.1 hectare) park, with two dozen world-class attractions, such as 13 indoor and outdoor water slides, river systems where you can float along, a surfing ride, body slide, tidal wave river, uphill water coaster, Lily Pad wading pool and Pirates Cove for children, swim-up cocktail area, a seaside pool, and of course, beaches. Thrill levels range from low speed to aggressive. There are indoor and outdoor parks. Cabanas and palapas are available for shade. If you’re more into non-water activities, there are also carnival rides, such as the Twister and a carousel.
Admission price covers the use of all water attractions, free parking, free inner tubes, and you can bring your own picnic and coolers into the park (no glass or alcohol allowed). Another dining option is the Shrimp Haus, a casual dining restaurant on the beach, with a deck overlooking the Gulf. The Schlitterbahn Water Park has been rated a number one kid-friendly attraction, but there are lots of attractions for adults, as well.
Schlitterbahn Beach Water Park
Address: 33261 State Park Rd 100, South Padre Island, TX 78597
Website: Schitterbahn Beach Water Park
Fun in the sun on South Padre Island, Texas
North, west, east or south, there is something for everyone on South Padre Island. On the north end is Padre Island National Seashore where Big and Little Shell Beaches are located (yes, there are lots of shells). To the west of South Padre Island, you will find business and residential areas, along the bay. The east is the ocean playground, on the Gulf of Mexico, with a mix of beach hotels, vacation rentals, shops, and restaurants that line the longest, undeveloped barrier reef on the continent. And to the South is the pristine Isla Blanca Beach, with over one mile (1.6 km) of beach, on the Gulf of Mexico. This barrier reef island, with its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, is a nature and beach paradise, with something for everyone.
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