This fall, Alice Kerley, well-known author of the travel blog Lone Star Looking Glass, paid her first visit to South Padre Island. From horseback rides to happy hours, Kerley’s trip to the Texas Coast was one for the books. Check out her experience below. >>
A blissful day spent on the sand with the sun shining and waves crashing in the distance, beckoning you to come take a dip, is usually what comes to mind when thoughts drift to a South Padre Island getaway. This coastal destination sits at the Southern tip of the Lone Star State and offers oodles of activities both on and off the beach for the thrill seeker, nature lover, and foodie in all of us.
SPI, as the locals like to call it, is home to 34 miles of soft, sandy beaches hugging the Gulf of Mexico on one side, while the calm waters of the Laguna Madre sit on the other. “Texas’ Best Beach” brims with so much more to do and see than your basic beach vacation, no matter the time of year.
With fall and winter temperatures falling in the mid-to-low 70s, on average, there really is no better time than the present to visit South Padre Island. You’ll find fall festivities like FAM Fest featuring film, art, music, and fun for visitors of all ages. Holiday Sandcastle Village kicks off at the end of November and welcomes the season with holiday-themed sandcastles and live music on the weekends. South Padre Island is a year-round vacation destination offering visitors a beautiful day on—and off—the beach!
South Padre’s culinary scene alone is worthy of a visit—and makes the grueling task of packing up after a day on the beach all the more enjoyable knowing what lies ahead. For a spot the locals love, try Longboard Bar & Grill, where the bayfront back porch plays host to nightly live music and colorful cocktails are served under twinkling string lights. A variety of tasty tacos are served at $11 for an order of four. The Baja–style mahi tacos are a favorite.
F&B—Food & Beverage—is a new hotspot along SPI’s main drag. This upscale eatery whips up seasonal dishes that have diners ooh-ing and aah-ing after every bite. The fresh seafood entrees featuring the Gulf’s offerings are always a great choice, while the house-made pasta stands out, too. A night out at F&B is the perfect excuse to don your best resort wear and paint the town.
Grab your morning coffee at Yummie’s Bistro. Order a latte and their barista will personalize it with a palm tree and special nod to your stay in SPI. You can’t go wrong with anything on the breakfast menu, but the Gulf Coast Grits may be the best take on shrimp and grits you’ll ever have.
The Painted Marlin is another bayfront eatery where you can spot seagulls soar and pelicans perched from your dining table. Happy hour includes drink specials at the Mako Bar and popular appetizers such as island ceviche and peel-and-eat shrimp. If you’re arriving by boat, visitors are encouraged to dock, dine, and stay awhile.
There’s no better way to burn off all of that extra seafood you’ve been eating than a round or two of water sports. Local outfitters across the island rent out colorful kayaks, stand up paddle boards, and surfing gear to all those willing. The calmer waters and many inlets of the Laguna Madre make for a leisurely afternoon spent paddling past million-dollar mansions, wildlife habitats, and more.
Thrill seekers can unleash their adventurous side with dozens of activities. Horseback riding on the beach is a Texas tradition and makes for a superb addition to any beach retreat. Island Adventure Park, on the north end of the island, is home to a stable of beautiful horses.
Opt for a black mare or a chestnut stallion and head out for an hour-and-a-half long ride over sand dunes and along the breaking Gulf Coast waves.
The South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center and the Sea Turtle, Inc. rehabilitation facility are interactive attractions that not only educate visitors, but leave them with awe-inspiring experiences, too. Both are open year-round and require a nominal entry fee. Nature lovers will get a thrill walking along the 3,300 feet of boardwalks spanning the bay behind the center. You may even spot an alligator or two! Fall is a great time to pay a visit as many birds stop here during their winter migration to South America. Head next door to Sea Turtle, Inc. where you can see rescued sea turtles swimming in sanctuary and learn about what you can do to protect those swimming wild and free with hands-on exhibits.
After a long and adventurous day, followed by a delicious dinner, of course, nothing’s sweeter than resting your head on a soft pillow with sounds of the waves crashing outside your window. South Padre Island boasts hundreds of properties for guests to call home. From high-rise condominiums that provide everything you’ll ever need, to beautiful, multi-level beach houses and chain hotels from which you can walk a block or two to the beach, there are retreats for every taste and budget.
The Pearl South Padre is right on the water and is one of the only resorts in town that offers ocean views from every room. The beautiful pool features waterfalls, a hot tub, and a swim-up bar underneath the swaying palm trees. Further north of town, you’ll find colorful-yet-peaceful resort communities offering luxurious beachfront vacation rentals. The Shores’ charming traditional seaside homes are rented out weekly and include private beach access.
South Padre Island experiences over 250 sunny days each year. If it should rain on your parade, turn the dreary weather into an opportunity to spend the day shopping. Dozens of one-of-a-kind shops decorate this town. DEBOS is the place to go for flowy dresses, embroidered denim, and colorful jewelry, all with a laid-back, Southwestern feel. A few steps away sits Islands Resort Clothing and Gifts. Pop in and you’ll find kitschy souvenirs with character—woven handbags, quirky Hawaiian–style shirts, flamingo lamps, antique jewelry, and local art to hang along your walls. Grab your next beach read at Paragraphs on Padre, an intimate bookshop featuring new releases, popular novels, and local favorites.