As far south as you can drive in Texas is a tropical paradise known as South Padre Island. The island is well-known for its beautiful white sandy beaches, calm weather, and excellent clear Gulf water. South Padre weather varies but rarely gets below 62 degrees. With mild winters and year-round fun, you can visit any time of the year to see and do it all.
The beautiful clean beaches are what bring most visitors down south, but there’s much more to do in South Padre than getting a tan and playing in the Gulf — though that sounds nice. If you’re looking to enjoy seashell hunting, fishing, sunbathing, jet-skiing, or sipping a drink on the beach while watching the fam play in the water, consider a visit to Texas’s only tropical paradise and explore these incredible South Padre experiences.
Things To Do In South Padre Island
Explore over 30 miles of tropical paradise while in South Padre. From the island’s world-class water experiences to activities on the bay and taking peaceful strolls along the beach, you can be as active or inactive as you would like during your South Padre Island vacation.
1. Dolphin Watch Tour
One of the most fascinating things to do when visiting a beach is seeing dolphins in their environment. There are many tours on the island but my favorite is The Original Dolphin Watch tour company. Climb aboard the double-decker Double Sunshine to see the most-loved creature of the sea.
Editor’s Note: Love dolphins? Consider our roundup of where to see dolphins in the wild, from Hawaii to Mozambique.
2. Deep-Sea Fishing Like A Pro
For some awesome fishing and time in the sun, Breakaway Cruises is your go-to for deep-sea fishing. And, if not everyone in your group is into fishing, they offer snorkeling and sea tours as well. This company does it all.
3. Ride A Horse Along The Beach
Take in the ambiance of the beach on horseback. If you’ve ever wanted a chance to ride a horse through water, this is it. Island Adventure Park offers several time slots morning, noon, and night and some in between — now that’s an awesome way to view the scenery of the beach. Other activities at the park include a zipline course that you can zip along at your leisure and a petting barn with animals.
Pro Tip: Morning horseback rides are longer because the horses love cooler weather and their owners allow them to be taken out for lengthier rides.
4. Take A Sandcastle Lesson
Of course, you can build sandcastles along the beach. Many of us do that. But have you ever wanted to build one like you see in the movies or on ads? Well, now you can. At Sand Castle Lessons, an expert sandcastle builder will teach you and the family how to build a beautiful masterpiece out of the sand right on the beach. How cool is that! I had no idea there was such a thing! The only prerequisite is a smile and a positive attitude.
5. Birding, Nature, And Alligators Oh My!
At the South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary that’s what you can see. Besides observing birds by eye, you’ll be able to do some adventuring on The Boardwalk, and that includes meeting Big Padra — a 12-foot alligator who’s been a resident of the sanctuary for years.
Best Restaurants In South Padre Island
Eating around South Padre Island is just what you expect — fresh seafood and plenty of it. But, some of the best restaurants on the island don’t include seafood on their menus. That said, I always look for a restaurant that serves up a mean blackened salmon at least once while I’m in an area that’s known for great seafood.
6. The Painted Marlin Grille
Located just off Padre Boulevard is The Painted Marlin Grille — an open-air restaurant to add to your itinerary, if only for the breeze from the bay and sunset views. Colorful decor and live entertainment on the weekends make the atmosphere fun and inviting. The restaurant offers a large menu with signature plates like Red Snapper, Sushi-Grade Yellowfin Tuna, and of course, the Catch of the Day. For non-seafood eaters, you’ll find a large selection of burgers, sandwiches, and po’boys. Be sure to try the Grilled Chicken Wrap, featuring a chipotle guava sauce. Vegetarian and vegan options available.
7. Ceviche Ceviche
Visitors can’t stop raving about the mouth-watering ceviche. You can’t beat fresh ceviche that’s prepared right before your eyes. If you like ceviche, Ceviche Ceviche of South Padre Island is a must. Moderately priced and the best ceviche on the island.
8. Seaside Grill
Looking for something a bit more casual? No need to change for dinner — come as you are, but you might want to slip on a coverup. Seaside Grill is located steps away from the beach, so you’ll have a great view, and there’s nothing quite like listening to the waves crashing while enjoying dinner. Definitely a different experience from the bayside of the island. Popular items on the menu include Fish Ceviche, Mexican Shrimp Cocktail, and Baja Fish Tacos.
Pro Tip: There is a small shower area for cleaning off sandy feet.
9. Gabriella’s Italian Grill And Pizzeria
Gabriella’s Italian Grill and Pizzeria is a chef-owned restaurant and is the place to go when you’ve had enough seafood (though you will find a few from-the-sea options here, too). Take-out is available, and don’t forget to try the Chocolate Souffle!
10. The Meatball Cafe
Another Italian and pizza place located on the boulevard that I want to include here because a friend of mine and her family ate there three times when they visited South Padre Island. They said The Meatball Cafe was so good that they wanted to experience it over and over again. The dish that the family ordered every time was the Italian Nachos appetizer and a dessert that was like donut holes drizzled with chocolate syrup and garnished with powdered sugar and whipped cream.
Pro Tip: When road tripping, it’s a popular thing to pack your own food, especially with large groups, and that’s fine, but when in South Padre Island, sampling the fish, if only once, is a must.
South Padre Island Beaches
Think of South Padre as one huge beach chopped up into sections because of the many beach accesses along the island. All beach accesses are open to the public. Of all the access points, I enthusiastically recommend the following experience…
11. Play All Day At Isla Blanca Park
This is a beachfront park like no other. Along the beach of the Gulf of Mexico is Isla Blanca Park — a park the likes of which you’ll never see anywhere else in Texas. Once inside the park, you’ll enjoy copious water recreation, beachfront pavilions, food concessions and restaurants, beach rentals, a walking trail, surf fishing, and much more. If you’re up to it, you can bring your own tent for camping at their many campsites. Restrooms and showers throughout the park and shaded picnic areas are available. You could spend your whole vacation in this park and never leave.
12. Beyond The Beach
South Padre offers plenty of activities to do that do not involve water, like shopping!
Different styles for different folks! From farmers markets to mom-and-pop shops to an inside mall to walk through to get out of the heat, where you’ll find beach essentials and beachwear. Be sure to pick up some local souvenirs to remind you of the fun you had on the island.
Best Hotels In South Padre Island
Depending on your preference and the size of your group, there are plenty of places to stay on South Padre Island that includes beach houses, condo rentals, hotel chains, vacation homes — you name it; it’s on the island.
13. Beach Houses On
If you’re going to the beach perhaps for the first time, you might want to spring for the all-out experience by renting a beach house right on the water. Vrbo has over a thousand beach house rentals with most being beachfront. And, from what I’ve noticed, they’re affordable!
14. Seabreeze Beach Resort
For a small, laid-back, low-key beachfront condo rental, Seabreeze Beach Resort is the place. The resort can accommodate almost any size group, and the minimum age to rent is 25 years old. Some condos are pet-friendly.
15. Courtyard By Marriott South Padre Island
If you’re looking for a hotel chain with excellent reviews, the Courtyard by Marriott South Padre Island is one to consider. With the beach in front and a beautiful swimming pool in the back, plus a restaurant, fitness center, free Wi-Fi, and a bar, you’ll no doubt please everyone in your party. I do like getting hotel points when I go on vacation. Courtyards have never disappointed us.
16. Adult-Only Hotel
Upper Deck Hotel and Bar is an affordable adult-only hotel located walking distance from the beach. No one under 18 is allowed on property.
17. All-Inclusive Options
Wanting to enjoy it all? An all-inclusive vacation might be the way to go, especially if you want to know exactly how much you’ll be spending on accommodations and food. Through EnjoySPI, you can find places that include it all for one price.
Several locals told me that the beaches of South Padre Island never get old. The beaches are always clean, and if nothing else, they say to grab a lounge chair so you can sit and watch the sea roll in as the sun goes down. That’s what makes their whole day. For more Texas beach inspiration, consider