Texas is big – really big. Bigger than many nations throughout the world. Yet, there’s more to the Lone Star State than Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin. With our Texas City Guides series, we’re going to explore some of the smaller and more far-flung parts of the state. We hope you come to appreciate the variety of local color you can find across Texas.
We continue our road trip across the Lone Star State with a stop at beautiful South Padre Island.
Technically a barrier island in the geological sense – with the Laguna Madre on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other – the original Padre Island was split in two with the creation of the Port Mansfield Channel.
Less than 2.5 square miles in total size, this little slice of paradise is the world’s longest barrier island, and it’s a key destination for thousands of college students as they descend upon the island in March for Spring Break. While we’ll leave that up to you as to whether you want to join them or avoid them, South Padre Island is a slice of coastal heaven, providing the perfect getaway for birdwatching, eating seafood, or plain kick-back-salt-life relaxation.
Pack your swimsuit, your binoculars, and your appetite for Gulf Coast seafood, and let’s head to South Padre Island!
South Padre Island and the Salt Life
Time to hit the beach and enjoy that beautiful coast line. Pull out the beach chair, lather up the sunblock, and take in the soothing sounds that only waves can provide.
Yet, if you want to step outside your normal beach relaxation methods, you should take a sandcastle lesson! As the “Sandcastle Capital of the World,” let Andy from Sandcastle Lessons give your family a private lesson on how to build the sandcastle of your dreams. He provides the tools and the sophisticated know-how to make something truly amazing happen!
But if you’re looking for something a little more heart pounding than shaping a unicorn from sand, then take in some kiteboarding or windsurfing. The island offers some of the most ideal conditions to learn how to kiteboard for beginners and experts alike. The Laguna Madre off the coast of South Padre offers a large expanse of waist-deep water, perfect for learning and perfecting your skills.
For those with children, check out the kite shops on the island. What better place is there to fly a kite than on the breezy coast?
See Food – Lots of Tasty Seafood
You’re on the coast, so it only makes sense to indulge in all that the ocean (and its fishermen) have to offer. The many creative seafood restaurants on the island will have you heading back to the mainland full, and satisfied.
The Sea Ranch Restaurant and Bar has been around for 30+ years, and with their rotating menu, this is a must-visit while on the island. Located on the water, the Sea Ranch offers wild-caught red snapper, flounder, shrimp and more, straight from the Gulf of Mexico. For those who don’t enjoy seafood, their menu also offers steaks, chicken, and plenty of pasta dishes, along with frog legs for an appetizer, if that strikes your fancy.
For something just as tasty but a little more low-key, head to Cap’n Roy’s, a seafood and Mexican restaurant serving shrimp and fish tacos, Fish Vera Cruzano (a southern Mexico specialty featuring fresh-caught red snapper, olives, capers, jalapenos, and Mexican oregano), and other delicious plates including oyster and combo seafood platters.
But since you can’t eat seafood for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, head over to the Grapevine Café for breakfast and take in one of their famous 14-inch supersized breakfast tacos. And be sure to enjoy some espresso before you head out to enjoy the day. They also offer a lunch menu that includes a range of fresh sandwiches along with juicy ½-pound Angus beef burgers.
Connect with Wildlife
South Padre Island is home to some of the best birdwatching (also known as “birding”) in the entire state of Texas. The South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is a non-profit organization that provides one-of-a-kind birding opportunities, along with tours and education.
The Center is located on 50 acres serving as an important first landfall for birds making the grueling cross-Gulf migration from Southern Mexico and northern Central America. Look for endangered species that include the Piping Plover, Peregrine Falcon, and Brown Pelican, along with butterflies, alligators, and other wildlife.
Another unique opportunity on the island is to go dolphin watching. Fins to Feathers offers an intimate tour for up to 6 people on the “Laguna Skimmer.” This boat has been operating since 1997, and with its quiet engine, its perfect for spotting these amazing creatures up close and personal.
Lastly, a variety of sea turtles make their home on the Padre Islands, and Sea Turtle Inc. rescues, rehabilitates, and releases injured sea turtles. Hurt via poor fishing practices, poaching, and other dangerous circumstances, Sea Turtle Inc. was founded in 1977 as a non-profit organization, and it maintains facility where up to 100 turtles are taken in for care before being re-released into the wilderness.
The organization also monitors over 50 miles of coastline, searching for turtle nests and relocating them to a safer, protected haven, where the turtles can safely hatch. Open to visitors year-round, their goal is to education the public about these amazing creatures.
At the end of the day, after birdwatching, a platter of delicious seafood, and some kiteboarding, the only thing left to do is kick your feet up and watch the sun go down. There’s nothing like the colors of the sunset on South Padre Island to bring your fabulous day at the beach to a close.
Up Next in our Texas City Guides series: San Angelo!