South Padre Island, a sandy barrier island, is Texas' southernmost coastal community. Due to its unique geographic location, South Padre (SPI) has a more "tropical" feel than other Texas beaches. But, although the beach itself is a huge draw for SPI visitors, it is hardly the only thing to do on this barrier island that lies just north of the Texas/Mexico border.
You can get your thrills at Schlitterbahn and see sea turtles being released. SPI is a gathering place during Spring Break and during Pride weekend.
Surf Into Schlitterbahn
One of the top waterparks in the country, South Padre Island's Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark is located right on the beach and offers a wide variety of water slides, rides, pools and more. Schlitterbahn Beach also features a restaurant, sports bar and evening entertainment during the summer season. In the off-season, there is an indoor waterpark.
You can stay at the Schlitterbahn Beach Resort with ocean views and family-friendly suites which can sleep up to 6. The rooms are furnished with reclaimed wood furniture made exclusively for the resort.
Hit the Beach
South Padre Island is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state of Texas. Not only is SPI well known for its fine restaurants and clubs, but also for its natural beauty. With the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Lower Laguna Madre on the other, South Padre Island is surrounded by some of the clearest water on the Texas coast.
You can kick back on the beach or get active on the water. From windsurfing to kiteboarding, SPI offers a variety of water sports activities for both the thrill-seeker and those that simply want to relax and take in the beautiful waterfront scenery.
You can even go Flyboarding into the air propelled by a strong stream of water or go parasailing. There are equipment rentals and lessons for all sorts of water sports.
See Sand Castle Wizards
Each October, some of the world’s best sand sculptors head to South Padre Island for the annual Sand Castle Days, a weekend-long sand castle building extravaganza. What started as a tiny event two decades ago has since blossomed into one of the most prestigious sand art events in the United States.
There are contests for professionals and amateur events, too. But the most fun is looking at the completed projects which range from large castles to sculptures of well-known people.
Get a Bird's Eye View
South Padre Island is home to a variety of bird species—both permanent and seasonal. Fins 2 Feathers Cruises of South Padre Island offers a variety of private sunset, dolphin watch and bird watching cruises and activities.
They offer dolphin-friendly tours with only six people on board and a quiet engine. For birders, there is a 2.5-hour tour which transports you to the bird habitat quietly and guides you to where you'll see a variety of birds.
Take a Dive
Due to its southern location, South Padre Island offers much more consistent dive and snorkel conditions than other Texas coastal locales. American Diving offers a wide array of diving and snorkeling expeditions in the clear Gulf waters surrounding South Padre Island.
Watch the Baby Sea Turtles
Sea Turtle, Inc.'s facility on South Padre Island, is a care and rescue facility fo sick and injured sea turtles. Yearly, they rescue and rehabilitate over 100 sea turtles. They also watch 50 miles of beach from April to July and search for sea turtle for nests. They put the nests, and the clutches of eggs, in a special corral until the turtles hatch and are ready for release.
You never know quite when the turtles will hatch, but if you watch their Facebook page, you can go see the baby turtles as they are released. Public releases are held at dawn, between 6:30 to 7 a.m., at County Beach Access 3 (approximately ½ mile north of Sea Turtle, Inc).
Cruise with the Pirates
Black Dragon Cruises is fun for young and old as you board this modern-day replica of a 17th-century galleon. There are pirate legends about South Padre Island and, as the story goes, Jean Lafitte took hid in this area and dug a well in Laguna Vista. You can sail the same waters with Osprey Cruises aboard The Black Dragon pirate ship.
You'll be entertained by costumed actors with pirate stories, face painting, treasure hunts, water pistol battles, and sword fighting. There's even dolphin watching as you'll be sailing through their waters.
A highlight of the cruise is the firing of the 9-pound “Gollywobbler” cannon as you board.
At the South Padre Island Art Space, you can paint and take home small plates, learn to paint with acrylics and throw pottery. You can schedule a private painting class to celebrate a special occasion.
Art Space is also a working art studio, with a variety of local artists. You'll see some of their work consigned in the Art Space shop.
Splash with the LGBTQ Community
The LGBTQ community celebrates pride and unity with Splash, a weekend-long event complete with parties, stage shows, and formal events. It's Pride at the Beach, usually held in April.
Go for Spring Break
South Padre Island is the best-known Spring Break destination in Texas. So that may be a draw for you or a reason to go earlier or later. Spring Break is a busy time of the year. It's typically a little warmer than other Texas beaches during late February and March when most schools and colleges have their spring vacation. SPI boasts an impressive number of condos, hotels, clubs, and restaurants attractive to spring breakers. And, since the island sits a mere 20 miles north of the Mexican border, it offers visitors the opportunity for a "two-nation vacation."