Located just miles away from Mexico, South Padre Island is the most southern tip of Texas, and serves as a barrier island for the mainland. Accessible by the Queen Isabella causeway, the island has had a long history of dealing with hurricanes and flooding, but has recently reinvented itself as a major tourist destination, being considered by some to be a top Spring Break city. With perfect winds for sailing and kiteboarding, and a constantly warm climate, it isn’t hard to see why people are clamoring to visit. There are many things to do in South Padre Island, but here are ten that really stand out.
10. Sea Turtle, Inc.
Beginning in a local resident’s backyard in the 1960’s, Sea Turtle Inc. is today a non-profit organization that is a hub for sea turtle rehabilitation and research. The facilities take in injured or sick sea turtles and nurture them back to health – sometimes even fixing them with prosthetics – before releasing them back into the ocean. Staff gives presentations throughout the day and is more than willing to educate the average visitor about the plight of the sea turtle, even allowing them to meet some of their best ‘patients.’ There is a suggested donation of $4 a person.
9. Sea Life Nature Center
Another Eco-tourism non-profit in South Padre Island, the Dolphin Research and Sea Life Nature Center promotes the protection of all local marine life, and educates the public on the importance of maintaining a healthy ecosystem. The center offers dolphin tours that head out into the bay where visitors will have the chance to encounter the local dolphin pod and their friends that inhabit the area. The trips last roughly 90 minutes and begin with a trip through the nature center and aquarium, complete with hands-on exhibits. The cost is $25 per person.
8. SPI Kiteboarding
Kiteboarding has a long history of patents and attempts at making a successful model, but it really wasn’t until the mid 1990s that any combination of surfing and flying kites was widespread. Since that time however, the popularity has blossomed – kiteboarding was nearly accepted as an Olympic sport for the 2016 Olympic games. SPI Kiteboarding has lessons for three different levels of difficulty, with one-on-one lessons costing $150 per hour. If you already know how to kiteboard, you can have a board and kite all to yourself for $150 a day.
7. Laguna Madre Nature Trail
This trail is a boardwalk that zigzags through to the Laguna Madre wetlands. A wonderful opportunity to witness wildlife in their natural habitats, it is connected to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, which features large bird blinds and a tower that visitors can gain excellent views from atop of. Furthermore, the center also houses a theatre that shows short documentaries about the local wildlife. The Laguna Madre Nature Trail is free, but admission to the Nature Center is $6 per adult and $3 per child.
6. Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark
For a great way to stay cool while entertaining the kids a visit to Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark will always do the trick. The waterpark itself is enormous, spanning over 25 acres and boasting 13 waterslides, several rivers for tubing, and plenty of dining locations. It also doubles as a resort, offering wonderful beachfront, queen sized bed double rooms so you can get to the waterpark first thing in the morning and experience one of the largest tourist attractions in South Padre Island. Admission is $49.99 for adults and $39.99 for kids, but entering after 3PM will save you about $10 per person. This park tends to be open only on the weekend during the winter.
5. Largest Outdoor Sandcastle
Utilizing an estimated 60 tons of sand and a cumulative working time of over one month, you can find this impressive sand castle right outside of the South Padre Island Visitors Center. Built by Andy Hancock over in 2013, the huge castle utilizes the higher density and clay content of nearby river sand instead of beach sand in order to support its own weight. Lucky visitors might catch the artist doing minor repairs to the masterpiece and will likely enjoy chatting with him about his craft. The sandcastle is free to witness.
4. Queen Isabella State Fishing Pier
In the 1970’s when a new causeway was built to connect South Padre Island to the mainland, a large portion of the original causeway was converted to a fishing pier. Now a very popular fishing spot, the pier has rentals available for all fishing gear you might need as well as bait. Fishing licenses for Texas can be purchased online. Also available nearby are bathrooms and a handful of decent restaurants serving fresh fish. If fishing doesn’t appeal to you, a stroll along the pier at sunset is romantic enough to serve as its own attraction.
3. Gravity Adventure Park
Gravity Adventure Park touts itself as an ‘aerial park,’ and it isn’t difficult to see why. The main attraction is a two-story high contraption seemingly built mostly from wood and ropes, the idea being that visitors will try to overcome over 70 different obstacles as they try to make their way to the very top. If you’re afraid of heights, this attraction probably isn’t for you, but if you are looking for a challenging, fun adventure, this park certainly affords a unique opportunity. Tickets are $49 for adults and $39 for kids.
2. Southern Wave Sailing Charters
The Southern Wave is a large, nearly 50-foot catamaran that is available for a wide range of activities. Some of the options available are snorkeling trips (including a lunch), dolphin watching trips, and Sunset Dinner Tours, which serve grilled seafood and fajitas, and include live entertainment. Unlike many other charters, the Southern Wave is BYOB. Additionally, the facilities have rentals for waverunners, kayaks, paddleboards, and paddleboats. Be sure to book your reservations well in advance.
1. Black Dragon Cruise
This cruise is aboard a replica of a 17th century pirate ship (with modernized mechanics). With a crew that is committed to their outfits and characters as much as their ship, this cruise will take you around the high seas with plenty of activities on board including sword fighting, fire breathing, music and more. There is alcohol available for purchase on board, but this cruise is meant for all members of the family to partake in. There might be a lot of action on board, but don’t forget to keep your eyes peel for dolphin sightings as well! Tickets start at $36 for adults and $25 for children.
As far as a beach town goes, South Padre Island has it all: great fishing, long stretches of sand, top class resorts, and plenty of activities. With the warm and clear Gulf of Mexico waters lapping at the shores, the island is also home to an abundance of wildlife that are easily observable. Whether you are observing Texas’ summer fireworks from a sunset catamaran in the bay, or helping conserve the future of sea turtles for future generations, there will always be more places to visit in South Padre Island.