South Padre Island is perhaps the best known Texas beach resort. South Padre’s primary claim to fame, of course, is Spring Break. And, plenty of people know about the bounty of summer activities on the Island. However, not everyone realizes South Padre is truly a beach destination for all seasons and all types of activities. In fact, SPI was recently named as one of the nation's Top 10 destinations for water sport activities by Good Morning America and it's Laguna Madre Nature Trail was named as one of the state's Top 10 nature trails by Texas Parks and Wildlife.
As mentioned above, the annual ode to partying known as Spring Break dominates the South Padre spring scene. This four-week party draws thousands of college students from across the nation - most of whom spend the better portion of a week on the Island. If you are planning a trip to South Padre during March, be warned, most of these visitors are not the modest type.
While spring break is definitely not a family activity, there are other parts of the spring season that can enjoyed by visitors of all ages. Semana Santa, the Mexican "Holy Week," leads up to Easter Sunday and sees visitors from both nations descend on the Island. Traditional activities such as Easter egg hunts seem surreal when performed under palm trees.
Spring is also the beginning of water sport season. Windsurfing dominates the spring water sports scene, with windsurfers coming from across the nation to enjoy South Padre unusually high winds.
What can't you do at the beach in the summer? South Padre Island is no different, with too many activities to list. However, high on most folks' lists are parasailing, jet skiing, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, fishing, sun tanning or spending the day at Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark.
If you are looking to learn a new skill while on vacation, why not take sand castle building lessons. Local sand sculpting legends "sandy feet" and Andy Hancock among others are always available to pass on the tricks of her trade.
Dolphin watches and amphibious cruises are always popular as well. And, if you are looking for something distinctly "South Padre," try a sunset cruise during the Friday night "Fireworks Over the Bay."
During the summer, many visitors also choose to turn their trip into a "Two Nation Vacation" by visiting the many restaurants, bars and shops of nearby Matamoros, Mexico.
Once the slowest time of year, the fall is now jam-packed with events. Fishing action during fall is world-class. Tarpon, snook, speckled trout, and redfish are just a few of the species anglers can expect to catch during their fall visit to South Padre.
Another major draw during the fall is the SPI Bike Fest. This annual Harley-Davidson rally finds motorcycle enthusiasts from across the nation cruising the Island, Port Isabel and into Matamoros, Mexico for four days of concerts and events.
Also in October, the popular Port Isabel Market Day is held across the bridge in Port Isabel on the grounds of the historic Point Isabel Lighthouse.
Believe it or not, the population of South Padre Island actually grows during the winter months. This is because many northern tourists choose to spend three to four months as "Winter Texans."p] One of the primary pursuits during the winter is birding. Bird watchers have long known South Padre is a prime winter birding destination. South Padre boasts a number of bird watching stations and knowledgeable local tour operators offer bird watch cruises.
The annual Longest Causeway Run is the most popular winter event. But, the Taste of the Tropics fundraiser and SPICE (South Padre Island Chili Expo) are not far behind.
Dining and Lodging
Regardless of what time you visit, you will need a place to stay and somewhere to eat. Luckily, South Padre offers plenty of top-notch hotels and restaurants.
Practically every major chain hotel is represented on the Island. The Isla Grande Beach Resort and Sheraton hotels are among the most popular places to stay on the south end of the Island, while the La Quinta offers visitors affordable rooms and a gorgeous view on the north end. There are also dozens of condos scattered across the Island.
Dining options are seemingly limitless on South Padre Island. Of course, seafood is the top draw and the Sea Ranch, Scampi's, and Amberjack’s are among the best in the business. Due to South Padre's close proximity to Mexico, Tex-Mex cuisine is also in high demand. When it comes to Mexican food, Jesse's Cantina never disappoints.
Driving to South Padre is simple, but long. Simply put, from any major city in Texas, you must connect with US 77 South. Follow 77 South to the SPI/Highway 100 exit. Take Highway 100 east until it literally runs out some 24 miles later on SPI.
A quicker option is flying. Visitors have the option of flying into Valley International Airport in Harlingen or Brownsville/SPI International Airport in Brownsville.