While the beach, bars, glorious weather, and fishing are major South Padre draws, this article provides a look at many cool, happy, and fun things to do in South Padre Island, the only tropical island in Texas. Choose from watching amazing sunsets over Laguna Madre Bay, learning about native SPI animals and plants, climbing a lighthouse, and much more.
Thank you to City of South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau for hosting us.
10 Fun Things to Do in South Padre Island on a Tropical Texas Getaway
1. See Turtles at Sea Turtle, Inc.
Children from ages 1 to 101 will enjoy seeing and learning about rescued and rehabilitated turtles at Sea Turtle, Inc. The property has two main areas: rehab/hospital/clinic and residents/museum/gift shop. The hospital area is scheduled to be redesigned and rebuilt in the last half of 2019.
Make sure to be at Sea Turtle, Inc. for one (or both) of the daily feedings. Resident turtles are fed at 10:30 am and the hospital feeding is at 4 pm. An insider tip I learned from a marketing representative is to attend the talks and shows for an optimal experience. Watching live operations through the clinic window is fascinating. During my visit, I watched doctors working on a turtle with cracked shell (probably from a propellor accident).
McCool Travel tip: check out the free Beach Toy Rental program from Sea Turtle, Inc. For a $5 deposit, they provide a bag with 10 abandoned toys, collected from the beach. Your kids use the toys for the week and then you return it and receive your $5 back. Collect an extra toy (or more) from the beach and receive a special prize!
For another superb turtle experience, see our article about The Turtle Hospital.
2. South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center, & Alligator Sanctuary
Formerly called SPI Birding and Nature Center, South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center, & Alligator Sanctuary now has an alligator sanctuary operated in cooperation with Gator Country from Beaumont. Running the alligator portion are a husband and wife team (he is the son of the Gator Country owner) and they operate daily shows. Visitors can hold snakes and wade with small gators.
Do not miss the long boardwalk with five separate blinds, designed to view birds in their natural element.
McCool Travel tip: The Laguna Madre Nature Trail next to the South Padre Convention Centre borders the boardwalk and provides a different perspective.
3. Native Plant Center
Completing the SPI Nature Triangle—along with Sea Turtle, Inc. and the Birding Center—the Native Plant Center features a nursery and education center about tropical plants native and unique to South Padre Island.
McCool Travel tip: Take time to reflect and walk the cool garden stone labyrinth.
4. Fun Sunsets on Osprey Cruises
Drive past the KOA campground for parking area for Osprey Cruises. They offer several sailings every day (11, 2, 4:30, 7:30 in the summer), all 90 minutes long and some include a sea life experience. The 7:30 pm sailing is a sunset cruise and the captain lines up the setting sun with the bridge for some potentially spectacular Instagram sunset photo ops (hope you have a better camera than mine).
McCool Travel tip: Look for $3 discount coupon for Osprey Cruises in the local paper guide magazine and brochures.
See also our favorite US Gulf Coast Sunset Spots
5. Fun and Food on Ka Motion Sunset Cruise
Another recommended South Padre sunset over the Laguna Grande Bay is sailing with Ka Motion Sailing Adventure. Ka Motion operates a fun catamaran that is great for groups, families, couples, or solo sunset lovers; my sailing had all of the above (including a bachelorette party and a 92-year-old birthday celebration).
I mentioned in my South Padre restaurants article that Ka Motion served amazing ceviche, made with fresh mahi, mangoes, and tomatoes. That was followed by a dinner of steak and chicken tacos (with pretty good spicy salsa) and dessert of cheesecake bites (chocolate, strawberry, and plain) and Lindt chocolates. Although the food was good, witnessing another sunset over the water is definitely the star of the show.
McCool Travel tip: Ka Motion is a bring-your-own adult beverage experience so allow enough time to pick up a chilled bottle of bubbly, brews, or wine.
6. Eh Brah SUP
You have been on the beach, swam in the Gulf, and ridden on boats (for fishing or one of the above sunset cruises), now see the Laguna Madre Bay in an intimate way. Mike from Eh Brah SUP will give you a SUP lesson while discussing the eco-system and history of South Padre—you will be immersed in a memorable educational and active experience. True to the biz name, Mike lived and worked in Maui for a long time (and Canada) and has interesting stories!
McCool Travel tip: Mike and Eh Brah SUP will soon provide super plus-sized boards to allow everyone the chance to have fun on the water.
See also our favorite Texas Gulf Coast Paddling Trails
7. Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail
The South Padre Island Loop of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail includes the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, SPI Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sancutary, Isla Blanca County Park, along the SPI Gateway (a walkway near the Queen Isabella Causeway), and Valley Land Fund Migratory Bird Sanctuary (six wooded lots at Sheepshead and Laguna). Avid birders will want to reserve a room at Casa Mariposa, the patio of which borders the above sanctuary.
8. Climb Port Isabel Lighthouse
Of the 16 lighthouses originally constructed along the Texas coast, Port Isabel is the only one open to the public. The Port Isabel Lighthouse is a quick 5-minute drive across the Queen Isabella Causeway and located in the Port Isabel Historic Square. The lighthouse was built in 1952, the same year it became the smallest state park in Texas. In the adjacent Port Isabel Historic Square—former site of Fort Polk—visit Pirate’s Landing Center (learn about the Legend of Pirate Jean Lafitte), SPI Sealife Nature Center (sea life touch tanks and glimpses into the bottlenose dolphin’s natural habitat), longest fishing pier in Texas, or ride a pirate ship.
9. Savor South Padre Sandcastle Sculptures
South Padre Island is also known as the Sandcastle Capital of the World. On the Sandcastle Trail, find USA’s largest sandcastle and more than 25 sand sculptures in front of various businesses. The first week of October is Sandcastle Days on South Padre Island but all year round you can take sandcastle building lessons from a professional sandcastle sculptor.
10. See Murals in South Padre Island Texas
Visit the colorful murals at the Convention Centre (7355 Padre Blvd.) and Community Center (4501 Padre Blvd.). Add those selfies to your favorite South Padre Instagrammable spots.
South Padre Island Activity Wish List
Talking to locals, driving past, and just seeing ads or map listings, the following places are on my radar for future South Padre trips:
- Isla Blanca County Park with Cristo de las Pescadores (Christ of the Fisherman) and Jetty Fishing Pier
- Schlitterbahn Waterpark
- Three Flags Over Padre
- Andy Bowie County Park
- Driving along the beach (in county parks only)
- South Padre Island’s Farmers Market
- South Padre Island Equestrian Stables
- Edwin King Atwood Park (drive on the beach)
- South Padre Island Kite Boarding Ranch
- South Padre Island Adventure Park
- Laguna Acosta Wildlife Refuge
- South Padre Sand Dunes
- South Padre Island Golf Club in Laguna Vista (northwest of Port Isabel)—off the island
- Watch a SpaceX launch from Boca Chica Beach
- South Padre Spring Break
See also these articles about South Padre:
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