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South Padre Island Travel Guide

South Padre Island
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Every March, like clockwork, students would cram into cars and head to South Padre Island for spring break fun in the sun and 24-hour beach bashes. Times have changed, and while some of today's college kids still plan beach trips to South Padre, the area has seen a rebirth of sorts as a popular family vacation destination. That's because South Padre, or SPI, delivers with wide sandy beaches, sparkling blue water and a ... continue» Read More

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When to Visit South Padre Island

The best time to visit South Padre Island is from September to February. Unless you are planning to join in on the spring break fun — rowdy partying at all hours of the day — you'll find this tiny town rather unbearable in March. However, during the other 11 months out of the year, SPI exudes a relaxed aura perfect for sun-seekers and families. Plus hotel rates are reasonably low compared to other beach destinations. Just be advised that if you're planning a summer trip, there's a slight chance you'll encounter some unfriendly hurricane weather.

Read More Best Times to Visit South Padre Island»

Getting Around South Padre Island

South Padre Island Neighborhoods

Because of its small size, South Padre Island is often grouped with other towns along the Gulf Coast of Texas, such as Port Isabel and Brownsville, both of which make great day trips.

South Padre Island

The town of South Padre Island is about 2 square miles and can easily be explored on foot in a day. The town's three main north-south boulevards — Laguna, Gulf and Padre — and the short cross-streets are littered with shops, restaurants, bars and hotels. Vacation rentals and beach homes are speckled north and south of town.

Isla Blanca Park

South of town on the tip of South Padre Island is Isla Blanca Park, a popular stop among outdoorsy travelers with numerous open campsites, an RV park, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, stunning white-sand beaches and a paved bike trail. The park's southern end is a favorite place for dolphin-watching. Isla Blanca is also decorated with monuments, including El Cristo de los Pescadores, a large statue of Christ.

Port Isabel

If you're looking for a change of pace, Port Isabel — a small town perched opposite South Padre Island on Laguna Madre — is home to several small museums, shops and seafood restaurants. Port Isabel is a great alternative for a rainy day as well; it is easily accessible by car — via the Queen Isabella Causeway — or by South Padre's public shuttle bus, the Wave. For $2 to $9, travelers can access the Port Isabel Museums, which include the Port Isabel Historical Museum, the Port Isabel Lighthouse and the Treasures of the Gulf Museum (this museum showcases the riches found in three nearby Spanish shipwrecks). Kids will enjoy the Black Dragon Pirate Cruises where they can head to the high seas and learn what life was like as a pirate. Like South Padre, Port Isabel is small and can easily be explored on foot.

Brownsville

Approximately 30 miles southwest of South Padre Island, Brownsville is known as one of the most historic cities in Texas. Once the site of several battles during the Mexican-American and the American Civil wars, Brownsville — located on the border between Texas and Mexico — is currently home to several small museums, numerous chain restaurants, several parks and the Gladys Porter Zoo. Unlike Port Isabel, Brownsville is not linked to South Padre Island by public transportation and because it's a larger city, having a car will come in handy. If you're traveling as a family, Brownsville is a great destination for a day trip as many of its attractions, including the Gladys Porter Zoo and the Children's Museum of Brownsville, cater to kids. However, travelers should know that Brownsville's proximity to the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas means the area does experience some crime and drug cartel violence.

Safety

South Padre Island is a popular spring break destination; unless you're looking to join the party, avoid this area in March. Other times of the year, however, South Padre is generally a safe and quiet vacation destination.

If you do decide to visit in March, Safe Spring Break has a few tips. For example, pace yourself when drinking and beware of the local liquor laws. It's also a good idea to stick with your group, especially if you're drinking. Keep in mind that the sun can maximize the effects of alcohol, so make sure to consume plenty of water and eat regularly. And as much fun as it may seem, Safe Spring Break says that drinking while in a hot tub can dramatically lower blood pressure and the liquor will take effect much more quickly.

Additionally, the sea breeze can make it difficult to tell when you're burning, so make sure you apply sunscreen regularly. When it comes to swimming, always swim with a lifeguard present. You should also wait at least half an hour after eating before heading back into the water.

The best way to get around South Padre Island is on foot, especially since the area clocks in at a measly 2 square miles in size (much of which is shoreline). There is also a free public shuttle, the Wave, which runs the length of the town and across Laguna Madre to Port Isabel. However, if you're interested in visiting some of the other outlying communities, you may want to rent a car. Getting into town from the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport (BRO) — located about 25 miles southwest — can seem daunting, but you can make the trip without having to worry about overspending. Island Airport Shuttles pick up at the BRO airport and can take you as far as Port Isabel where you can catch the Wave. Visitors can also fly into Valley International Airport (VIA) in Harlington — about 40 miles west of South Padre — and catch the South Padre Shuttle to the island (one-way fares cost $25 per passenger; round-trip is $40). Car rentals are also available. 

Getting Around South Padre Island»

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