Best Things To Do in South Padre Island
If you're not interested in getting wet, don't go to South Padre. The main reasons for visiting this tiny island town (besides the lively spring break parties) include boating, fishing, diving, surfing, kiteboarding and simply lounging on the beach. Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark is a great way to enjoy the warm weather and keep the kids entertained. You also shouldn't miss your chance to hop on one of the many dolphin cruises or get up close and personal with the turtles at Sea Turtle, Inc.
Updated February 21, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in South Padre IslandHiking, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
According to many, the best way to experience South Padre's wild side is to take a stroll along the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, a boardwalk that runs from the South Padre Island Convention Centre out to the Laguna Madre wetlands. This is also a major spot for bird-watching: Throughout the year, more than 300 species of birds pass through the South Padre Island area and the Laguna Madre Nature Trail is a great place for you to see them in their natural habitat. The Laguna Madre Nature Trail is open 24 hours a day and access is free.
Right next to the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, you'll find the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center, which offers more bird-watching, a five-story viewing tower and an auditorium showing short documentary movies. You'll be able to see different bird and butterfly species as well as other wildlife. Admission to the center costs $6 for adults, $5 for students and $3 for children. Visit nature center's website for more information.
- #2View all Photos#2 in South Padre IslandZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Founded in 1977, Sea Turtle, Inc. was established to help protect all species of marine turtles. If you're looking to see these fascinating creatures up close, this is the place to go. Volunteers offer presentations about turtle conservation, a regular hit among guests, and kid-friendly activities teach your little ones how to identify different types of sea turtles. Your kids will also love the scavenger hunt available at the center. And don't miss your chance to see the littlest residents: visitors are invited to look on as baby sea turtles are released back into the wild. Plan to check the website in advance to see if you can partake in one of these activites, as hatchling releases are not a regular event. You also have the opportunity to "adopt" individual sea turtles and nests, the proceeds of which go to helping the center's conservation programs.
By the time they leave, guests adore the turtles at the center and appreciate the group’s mission to save them. Located on the northern end of Padre Boulevard just south of the South Padre Island Convention Center, Sea Turtle, Inc. is open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; it stays open until 5 p.m. from June to mid-August. There is a minimal donation fee. For more information, visit Sea Turtle, Inc.'s website.
- #3View all PhotosfreeIsla Blanca Park#3 in South Padre IslandBeaches, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Sitting on the southern edge of South Padre Island, Isla Blanca Park is home to some of the area's best beaches, not to mention fishing spots, playgrounds and boating facilities. Plus, it's the site of one of the most highly visited South Padre attractions: a huge statue of El Cristo de los Pescadores (Christ of the Fishermen). This is also a great spot to leave land behind and explore the sea on a kiteboard or a snorkeling excursion. Isla Blanca Park also features several lodging and dining options.
Many recent visitors said the park's renovation construction has made it more difficult to enjoy the facilities. Most are optimistic that when the construction is complete the park will be just as beautiful as ever.
- #4View all Photos#4 in South Padre IslandMuseumsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
If you need a break from the beach or are interested in learning more about the area, consider planning visits to the Museums of Port Isabel. Take your pick between three popular historic sites: the Port Isabel Lighthouse, the Port Isabel Historical Museum and the Treasures of the Gulf Museum. You can visit each individually or for a discounted entry fee, can gain access to all three.
The lighthouse was constructed in 1852 to help guide ships through Brazos Santiago Pass. Now it's the only one in the area that's open to the public – visitors are also invited to explore the ground's keeper's cottage. Located just south of the lighthouse and housed in an old dry goods store, the Port Isabel Historical Museum houses one of the largest collections of artifacts from the Mexican-American War, not to mention a theater and gift shop. Right next door is the Treasures of the Gulf Museum, a must-see if you're traveling with kids. Here they can learn all about what life was like aboard a 16th-century ship and get a good look at some of the treasure found beneath the waters of the Gulf.
- #5View all Photos#5 in South Padre IslandTours, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDTours, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
After learning about turtles at Sea Turtle, Inc., take the kids to the Dolphin Research & Sealife Nature Center to come face to face with some of South Padre's other marine animals. With kid-friendly touch tanks featuring native species like starfish and hermit crabs, plus daily nature presentations on dolphins and other marine life, this nonprofit attraction aims to educate visitors about wildlife protection along the Gulf Coast. For an extra fee (about $25 per person) you can hop on a boat for a 90-minute Dolphin Tour and observe the animals living in the Laguna Madre Bay. Many recent visitors said this was their favorite experience in South Padre Island.
Flanking the edge of Port Isabel's Lighthouse Square (across Laguna Madre from South Padre Island and easily accessible from the Queen Isabella Causeway), the Dolphin Research & Sealife Nature Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $3 per person, which is used to help feed and care for the animals. For more information, check out the center's website.
- #6View all Photos#6 in South Padre IslandAmusement ParksTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDAmusement ParksTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Keeping your kids entertained at the beach can be difficult. So when the weather starts to swelter and the little ones are bored of the shore, head to Beach Park at Isla Blanca. Here you'll find water rides, a surfing machine, a hot tub bar and a giant sandcastle play area that are sure to amuse. When it comes to keeping everyone's tummy from rumbling, the park is home to a variety of concession stands as well as the Shrimp Haus Restaurant. You're also welcome to bring your own picnic.
Past travelers said the park is great way to spend the day, especially if you have kids who are tired of the beach. Although, some warn that prices are high and the food is less than mediocre.
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