Texas residents and visitors alike usually know about the desolate stretches of beach along the Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi. And thousands visit the resort shores of South Padre Island each year. However, few people know about Boca Chica Beach, a stretch of sand at the southernmost point of Texas that combines the best qualities of those more famous Gulf of Mexico shorelines.
Boca Chica Beach just to the east of Brownsville sits on a sandy peninsula separated from Mexico by the Rio Grande River and detached from South Padre Island by the Brazos Santiago Pass. Aside from a few homes on stilts near the pass, which you can see from South Padre Island, and a jetty protruding into the Gulf of Mexico, you won't find any development at Boca Chica Beach. And since it is the southernmost beach in Texas, you will usually find clean, clear green water lapping against the sand.
Technically part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the 8-mile beach at Boca Chica fronts tidal salt flats, mangrove marshes, and clay dunes called lomas. The Kemp's ridley sea turtle, the most critically endangered sea turtle in the world, comes ashore to nest in spring and summer. Aplomado and peregrine falcons migrate through the area, and hawks, osprey, and other birds of prey frequent the shoreline.
Water and Land Recreation
What Boca Chica lacks in modern amenities, it makes up for with a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities, including surf fishing, swimming, surfing, snorkeling, kiteboarding, and birdwatching. The lack of facilities means you must bring all of your own gear for whichever activity you want to pursue, in addition to plenty of drinking water, food, sunscreen, insect repellent, a first-aid kit, and any other essentials for your own safety and comfort.
Beware of the Portuguese man o' war, a floating jellyfish-like creature that inflicts a painful sting and becomes particularly plentiful following storms.
Local residents do know about this spot, so it can get more crowded than you might expect, particularly on weekends. Bring a sack to carry out your own garbage and any you find left behind by less conscientious visitors. Refuge rules prohibit alcoholic beverages and unleashed pets; in addition, visitors should refrain from feeding wildlife and collecting or otherwise disturbing plants and wildlife.
From Brownsville, take Highway 4 east for about 23 miles until it dead-ends in the sand. Once you hit the beach, you can either go right to the mouth of the Rio Grande or hang a left and cruise to the north end directly across from South Padre Island. Street-licensed vehicles can travel on the sand, but the refuge rules strictly forbid off-roading otherwise. The beach is open to from official sunrise to official sunset and entrance is free; you cannot camp or otherwise stay overnight in the refuge.