South Padre Island Travel Guide

USA  #1 in Best Beaches in Texas
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Why Go To South Padre Island

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 mixture of funky hotels and bars that emphasize character.

But there’s more to SPI than beach revelry. Kiteboarding is a favorite pastime and several sports outfitters offer deep-sea fishing trips and dolphin-watching excursions. The consistently warm weather also seduces northern Texans seeking refuge from the cold. And it's understandable: Just a day's drive from major Texas cities like Houston and Dallas, this seaside paradise is right in the state's own backyard.

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Best of South Padre Island

South Padre Island Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

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.

What You Need to Know

  • Spring break is still big For six weeks out of the year, South Padre overflows with rowdy 20-somethings, which can ruin your family-friendly getaway.
  • Safety first If you're in town for spring break, remember that the bright sunshine can maximize the effects of alcohol. Don't forget to eat regularly, drink plenty of water and keep your friends close by.
  • Know which way the storm is headed If you're visiting between June and November, make sure to pay close attention to the weather. South Padre is sometimes prone to hurricanes.

How to Save Money in South Padre Island

  • Reserve in advance Although it's not hard to find a decent room, consider booking at least a few weeks in advance, especially during the winter when SPI welcomes an influx of snowbirds.
  • Leave the car behind Don't waste money on a rental car. South Padre is small enough to explore on foot and the free Wave shuttle offers regular transportation around town and across Laguna Madre to Port Isabel.
  • Avoid spring break rates As March approaches, hotel rates are known to triple. If you want to go in the spring, aim for late April or May.

Culture & Customs

The majority of the people you'll meet on South Padre Island will be tourists. Most of the people who work on the island commute from Port Isabel, across the Laguna Madre, and if you're looking to escape the hordes of sun-seekers, hop on a ferry and explore this vibrant little town.

However, there are two prominent cultural aspects about South Padre Island: 1) its notoriety as a Spring Break getaway and 2) its proximity to Mexico. You'll also most likely hear Spanish being spoken.

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What to Eat

SPI isn't necessarily home to the greatest dining venues, but one of the perks of vacationing at a beach destination is the fresh seafood. Enjoy a plate of fresh oysters while watching the dolphins play in the Gulf, or you can sample one of the many types of fish that can be found in Laguna Madre, including marlin, red snapper, kingfish and flounder. Cafe on the Beach at the Palms resort and Beachside Bar & Grill at the Pearl South Padre Island Resort are beloved spots offering ocean views, outdoor seating and a wide array of excellent seafood dishes. 

What's more, because of the large influx of tourism, the South Padre restaurant scene has diversified and you can now find establishments serving everything from Polynesian to Italian fare. The Garden Grille & Bar has everything from Tex-Mex to Italian to seafood dishes. But, if international flavors are not what your palate craves, you'll find the island is home to numerous burger joints — BurgerFi is a particularly popular joint. Padre Island Brewing Company is another popular restaurant where typical American fare is served and the brews are abundant. Oh, and guests rave about the happy hour specials. 

Many recent travelers and experts agree that a trip to SPI isn't complete without dining at Yummies Bistro where the food is yes, yummy. Patrons laud the tasty breakfast dishes — fluffy pancakes and buttermilk waffles anyone?  

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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.

Getting Around South Padre Island

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 Harlingen — 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. 

Learn about Neighborhoods in South Padre Island

Photos

South Padre Island
South Padre Island
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Alligators are occassionally spotted on the island, so be extra cautious because you don't want to end up as lunch. 

Cletus Lee/Flickr

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