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Located just two miles off the southern tip of Texas, South Padre Island is a true tropical paradise with white-sand beaches and warm waters. It’s well known as a lively spring break destination, but when the college students head home, this sunny barrier island becomes a favorite with families and beachgoers of all ages. Thrill-seekers can snorkel, surf, and jet-ski, or take kiteboarding and wind-surfing lessons. You can go deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and ask a local seafood restaurant to prepare your catch. And when you want some solitude, head to the 30 miles of undeveloped shoreline north of town to find your own private stretch of beach.
South Padre Island is a day’s drive from many major cities in Texas — Houston and Austin are six hours away, and Dallas is eight. Most visitors fly into Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport (BRO), 30 miles away, or Valley International Airport (HRL), 43 miles away. Both are easily accessed by taxi or rideshare. Another option, McAllen International Airport (MFE), is about 80 miles away.
The town itself is just two square miles and easy to navigate on foot or by bike, so unless you plan on venturing further afield, you won’t need to rent a car. A free local shuttle also runs the length of town and across the lagoon to Port Isabel and its striking lighthouse.
For most of the year, the weather along the Texas Gulf Coast is hot and humid. On South Padre Island, the summertime highs of around 90 degrees Fahrenheit are tempered by breezes that come from both sides of the island. Late summer brings rain and a chance of hurricanes in September and October, and during the short, mild winters, when the average temperature is around 65 degrees, sun-seeking visitors come to escape colder temperatures. And because South Padre Island enjoys 300 days of sunshine each year, you’ll want to pack a sun hat and plenty of sunscreen no matter when you visit.
There are around 30 professionally made sandcastle sculptures scattered across the island, and their designs range from grand sand mansions to locally themed artworks. Grab a map at the visitors’ bureau and tour the installations yourself, or book a sandcastle lesson with a local sand artist.
Endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles nest on the beaches of South Padre Island, and the hatchling release is always a highlight of summer. But you can visit turtles year-round at Sea Turtle Inc., a rehabilitation and education center that offers self-guided tours and daily volunteer presentations on local conservation. Be sure to say hi to Allison, an Atlantic green turtle with a prosthetic fin.
Get to know the island’s flora and fauna from this 1,500-foot boardwalk. Birders come for the waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds that pass through the marshland around the nature trail, but this is also just a lovely spot for an evening stroll.
A local favorite, Isla Blanca boasts prime dolphin watching, great fishing spots, boating facilities, and a beachfront amusement park. You’ll also find El Cristo de los Pescadores (Christ of the Fishermen) statue, a memorial to fishermen lost at sea.