South Padre Island
It’s not just for kids.
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1. Whether you are looking for a soothing wind chime or a flashy spinning wheel to go in the yard, B&S Kites carries it. The number of kites to choose from is daunting, so save yourself some time and ask for assistance. That way you won’t end up with a double rotating box when you really should only handle an Opie Octopus (you’ll save about $280, too).
2812 Padre Blvd., 956-761-1248
2. In its nearly twenty years, Isla has morphed from a tie-dye T-shirt shop to an ultrahip clothing store. Everything here oozes cool, from the JW Los Angeles embroidered shirts and pants (note the pedal pushers with “love” across the derriere) to the colored chain necklaces and Yochi Asian-inspired chandelier earrings. Guys, check out the English Laundry long-sleeved shirts. Oh, and don’t worry. Incense sticks are still available.
2805 Padre Blvd., 956-761-4090
3. The early bird catches the fish, or something like that. At Jim’s Pier, book a private charter and then direct your energy to landing a flounder or speckled trout. If you want to try your skills in the big agua (a.k.a. the Gulf of Mexico), go deep-sea trolling for kingfish or wahoo. Late sleepers can show up around noon to see what everyone else caught.
209 W. Whiting, 956-761-2865
4. Beautiful people dock and dine at Amberjack’s, but this bayside restaurant can also be reached via land. Inside, you’ll find colorful ceramic fish hanging from the ceiling, but the deck outside is really keen. Watch sailboats pass by while savoring a meal of delicious fried shrimp, grilled steak, or oysters on the half shell. (Wait until close to sunset, though. Otherwise you’ll bake.)
209 W. Amberjack, 956-761-6500
5. Grab a drink at Tequila Sunset, then hop on the Isla Tours boat next door for a dolphin-watching excursion. There’s nothing better than that breeze once you hit open water. There are four trips offered a day, but sunset is best (on Fridays you can watch fireworks too). The frolicking mammals congregate by the jetties, where folks try to get their attention by clapping.
200 W. Pike, 956-761-4752
6. Its thatched roof often gets Coconuts pegged as a tourist trap, but this club is where the locals go to party. When the band hits the stage, the area in front of the bar turns into a full-on dance floor. Go upstairs if you’re searching for a place a little quieter— emphasis on “a little.” The bar next door cranks up the music just as loud.
2301 Laguna Blvd., 956-761-4218
7. To walk into Barbara is to find seaside nirvana. No cheap towels or tacky T-shirts here. This outpost (the flagship store is in Matamoros, Mexico) carries everything from hand-painted candles, exquisite silver jewelry, and baby gifts to 100-percent-cotton Mexican dresses and hand-carved wooden photo frames. But it’s the impressive selection of tasteful swimsuits (think Gottex and Gideon Oberson) and elegant cover-ups that draws the international crowds.
2201 Padre Blvd., 956-761-9329
8. Boomerang Billy’s, right behind the Surf Motel, is one of a handful of beach bars right on the Gulf. Take in the sun, snack on a burger, and enjoy the scene; there’s usually a beach-volleyball game in progress. When you’re ready to hit the surf, just walk a few yards to the water. Or plant yourself under an umbrella for a nap (do rent it first, though).
2612 Gulf Blvd., 956-761-2420