South Padre Island, home to Texas’ top-rated beach, boasts an ideal climate year-round. It's little wonder that it attracts Winter Texans - a moniker known to Canadians as snowbirds - from all over the northern reaches of the North American continent. It’s a subtropical paradise that offers visitors abundant wildlife, nature tourism, beach activities and a variety of family attractions.
We love South Padre Island for its ease; it's one of those perfect places that doesn’t require much planning simply because the Island offers an endless amount of things to do, see and experience. Soak up the laid-back vibes, but don't mistake island for 'difficult to reach'; it's accessible by air and the South Padre Island is connected to the Texan mainland via a 3-km causeway.
With ample opportunities to experience Island in a uniquely personal way, here are ten ways the active traveler can consider enjoying time on the warm, sandy beaches of South Padre Island.
Hit the Beach
Most visitors barely pause to unpack before grabbing a beach towel and heading to the shore. Sun seekers have an astonishing 54 kilometres (34 miles) of soft, white sand beach to lounge upon. A variety of seaside dining options and patio seating line the strip, so committed beach bums can take in the vistas from dawn 'til dusk without venturing more than a few feet from the waterline.
Get Active – Fish, Snorkel and Surf
Deep sea fishing is a siren's call for anglers and South Padre Island allows enthusiasts to indulge. Alternatively, the calmer waters of the Laguna Madre invite smaller watercrafts such as kayaks, and even jet skis, to explore the Gulf's shallower waters. Those who are keen to grab a mask and peer below the waterline will be pleased to hear the island is home to some excellent scuba diving and snorkeling sites. Want to hang ten? Add a little wind and the water becomes a novice surfer’s dream with enough waves to learn the sport on your first trip.
Sail the Skies
Fancy a bird's eye view? The more adventurous can take a parasailing trip and soar 200 meters over the South Texas waves. Prefer to glide off towering heights? Paraglide in tandem with an instructor over the Island’s sandy shores for an added thrill. The truly brave even have the option of skydiving a 60 second free fall while safely strapped tandem to an instructor who will guide you safely back to Earth.
Go Dolphin Watching
While charter boats can’t guarantee dolphins will always make an appearance, they can guarantee a fantastic trip on the water. Rest assured, however, these Island waters are home to plenty of aquatic dwellers. If you’re looking to experience nature in a unique setting, consider a dinner cruise that sails through areas dolphins frequent, or simply take a boat around the Island and enjoy aquatic dwellers in their natural habitats.
Be One with Nature
Nature tourism on the Island is exceptional year-round. The Laguna Madre Nature Trail runs from the Convention Center to the Laguna Madre wetlands, and is a fun and easy boardwalk stroll that offers glimpses of wetland wildlife. Moreover, this boardwalk runs adjacent to the boardwalks at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, a premier location for birders and those looking to learn more about local birds, flora, fauna and the natural environment. Lastly, don’t forget to stop in at Sea Turtle, Inc. for up-close viewing experience of all sorts of marine turtle species. Visitors will also love watching dolphins play and splash around at the Dolphin Research and Sea Life Nature Center.
Catch a Wave. Ride a Slide.
Schlitterbahn Waterpark is a fun way for adults to forget to act their age for an afternoon. Catch a wave, indoors. Ride the slides. And, when the waterslides and artificial surf spots lose their novelty, the hot tub bar is child-free and nobody cares how you look in your swim gear after a Mai Tai. The park has plenty of food offerings, but you can also pack a picnic for a fun afternoon meal.
Not everyone likes to shop while on vacation, but a tour through town offers local offerings and a retreat from the sun. Personally, we can't resist finding a few local specialty items to take home with us. Take an urban hike through the shopping areas on the main strip to search for unique treasures hidden among the dozens of beachwear vendors that line the streets.
Catch Your Dinner
Charter a boat, drop a line off a dock, or cast into the surf to snag the big one and feed your family a fresh feast to remember. Several local restaurants will prepare a customer’s catch upon request, and the Queen Isabella State Fishing Pier has BBQ pits that use briquettes if you prefer to cook your own catch. Cold beverages can be purchased throughout town to round out your special Island meal.
Get Your Feet - or Tires - Sandy
Trust your feet to take you along miles of beaches covered in delicate seashells, or take a guided tour from a ranger to learn a bit about local wildlife, coastal ecosystems and nature tourism highlights. To explore off the beaten path, rent a bicycle to see the beaches farther from the main strip and experience the serenity of the northern part of the shore.
Tour the Local Art Scene
Wyland’s Whaling Wall #53 is an incredible mural that covers three walls of the South Padre Island Convention Center. The mural is part of Robert Wyland’s quest to bring art to the country and features orcas that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. Also, make sure to experience Isla Blanca Park, as it’s not only a gorgeous beach, but also home to the giant statue of El Cristo de los Pescadores, a memorial to fishermen that never returned from sea.
Related content on Canadian Traveller