This wisp of a barrier island hugging Texas’s southernmost Gulf Coast is a perfect nature lover’s getaway.
Jennifer Chappell Smith
1 of 6Photo: Justin Carrasquillo/Gallery Stock
It begins with powder-soft beaches—the most beautiful in the state—that offer a warm and serene escape in the winter. Visitors share South Padre with more than 300 species of wildlife that call the island’s dunes, marshes, and shorelines home. When you’re done communing with nature, there’s a fun-loving, Tex-Mex-meets-beach-town culture.
The slender, Caribbean-style cottages in The Shores community come with white-railed porches and Bahama shutters, and are available for weeklong rentals. For resort pleasures, Pearl South Padre’s oceanfront rooms have big views, and pristine all-white linens that shine against the tile floors. The palm-bordered pool (pictured left) makes for a must-do end-of-day plunge.
3 of 6Photo: Courtesy of Salazar Family Partnership
Where to Eat
Palm Street Pier Bar & Grill combines seafood dive charm with culinary upgrades like a dreamy homemade tartar sauce and spicy shrimp sautéed in rum. For Tex-Mex, La Hacienda’s boat dock is the place to be for tacos that overflow with shrimp, scallops, or snapper, all topped with cabbage, avocado, and cilantro cream sauce. Get your Gulf Coast oyster fix at Liam’s Steakhouse & Oyster Bar, where classics get an up-to-date spin, like a richly delicious red snapper Rockefeller that highlights the local catch.
Left: Oysters at Liam's Steakhouse & Oyster Bar
4 of 6Photo: Courtesy of South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center
Where to See Wildlife
South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center’s half-mile, wood-slatted boardwalk loops across mudflats and bay waters for easy strolling past ibis, egrets, and herons wading in the shallows. Climb the center’s five-story observation tower for a bird(er)’s-eye view of the bay and the Gulf.
Left: South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center
5 of 6Photo: Courtesy of Sea Turtle Inc.
Where to See Wildlife
Next door, the Sea Turtle, Inc. center lets you peer into pools at the serene creatures, while Original Dolphin Watch’s eco-tour cruise puts you close to local dolphins at play in Laguna Madre Bay’s glasslike water.
6 of 6Photo: Courtesy of South Padre Island Adventure
Where to Explore
Saddle up for a sunset horseback tour with South Padre Island Adventure Park—let your mount splash in the Gulf waters, and then cross the two-mile-wide island to the bay at twilight. For solitude, head north on Padre Boulevard for undeveloped shores. All beaches are public, so park on the shoulder and traverse the dunes to your own personal paradise.
Left:Seeing the island on horseback with South Padre Island Adventure Park