South Padre Island may be unofficially known as the Spring Break Capital of Texas, but this picturesque beach destination is so much more than a teenage hangout. Stretching across the southern five miles of South Padre Island, the resort town of South Padre Island boasts a postcard-perfect setting, clear tropical waters, pristine beaches and plenty of cultural attractions to keep tourists occupied for days on end. In addition to its legendary nightlife, Padre Island is also a magnet for birdwatchers and nature lovers, and the kiddos will love splashing around at Schlitterbahn or the South Padre Island Adventure Park. When the sun sets, dance the night away at one of the many beach nightclubs in the area, or for a more low-key experience, catch an outdoor movie screening at the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse.
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Best things to do on south padre island
What is it? A 1.1-mile loop trail that stretches from the South Padre Island Convention Center to the Laguna Madre wetlands.
Why go? The Laguna Madre Nature trail offers a scenic slice of local wilderness, and it’s a great place to see some of the diverse local flora and fauna in South Padre. The trail, a 1,500-foot boardwalk, is also a fantastic spot for bird-watching: Throughout the year, over 300 species of birds come through the area. Even if you’re not into birds, the nearby South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is worth checking out.
What is it? Offering horseback rides, a super-fun zipline and ATV tours, South Padre Island Adventure Park is a family-friendly, 40-acre park on the beach that’s popular with locals and tourists alike.
Why go? If riding a horse on the beach at sunset or ziplining near the ocean sound like fun activities to you, you’ll undoubtedly love South Padre Island Adventure Park. Horseback rides are best enjoyed in the morning, when the beach is tranquil and empty, though there are also sunset and even moonlight riding tours available. The park also has rockin’ luaus and bonfires at night.
What is it? A lovely, 70-mile stretch of scenic coastline, dunes and grasslands that separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre.
Why go? The longest undeveloped barrier island in the world, Padre Island National Seashore is a historic and very naturally beautiful seashore, with tons of outdoor activities including horseback riding, boating, camping and hiking. In addition, this is one of the best local places for water sports, like kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving and windsurfing. Padre Island National Seashore is also known for its untouched, pristine wildlife: There’s an abundance of migratory birds here, and the area provides a safe nesting ground for rare sea turtles.
What is it? Located along the peaceful Laguna Madre Nature Trail, between the Laguna Madre and the Gulf, the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is a world-class birding destination with a unique location.
Why go? This is the perfect place to observe coastal and migratory birds and other natural wildlife. In addition to a bird-watching boardwalk and a five-story viewing tower, there’s even an auditorium showing short documentary films. Serious birders should be on the lookout for endangered species like the Brown Pelican and the Peregrine Falcon.
What is it? A local hospital for sick and injured sea turtles that rescues and rehabilitates over 100 turtles per year, with the goal of releasing them into the wild.
Why go? Founded in 1977, Sea Turtle, Inc. is a wonderfully-run facility focused on both conservation and rehabilitation, in addition to educating the public. Plan your visit around nesting season (during the summer months), and you can attend one of their scheduled releases: There’s nothing like watching baby sea turtles making their way into the ocean for the very first time.
What is it? Situated on the southernmost tip of South Padre Island, Isla Blanca Park features about a mile of white beach, fishing jetties, cafes, restaurants, two big beachfront pavilions, a full-service marina and even a waterpark.
Why go? Regardless of whether you want to fish, ride a jet ski, swim, rent a boat or parasail, there are dozens of activities to enjoy here. This is a popular local spot for good reason – there’s a little something for every type of beachbound traveler at Isla Blanca Park.
What is it? Equal parts waterpark, beach resort hotel and aquatic adventure land, Schlitterbahn in South Padre is every child’s (and maybe every adult’s) dream come true.
Why go? Schlitterbahn is a 25-acre beachside park with dozens of awesome attractions including thrill-inducing slides, uphill water coasters, a seaside pool, a Pirate’s Cove area for the kids and a swim-up cocktail bar for the grown-ups. There are enough activities to keep the whole family busy for days on end, so if you want to maximize your time here, stay at the Schlitterbahn resort hotel on the beach and wake up inside the park.
What is it? A BYOB beach that hosts huge parties and local events, including the Beach Bash Music Fest, a two-day music festival.
Why go? For those in the mood to party, this stretch of sand always promises a good time. This is the Padre Island of spring break fame – if you’re into that sort of thing, be sure to purchase the “PadreManiac Club Card”, which guarantees entry to all Rockstar Beach parties as well as the Beach Bash.
What is it? This educational nonprofit is dedicated to teaching the public about dolphins and other marine life, through interactive exhibits, touch tanks with rescued animals and wildlife tours.
Why go? To get an up-close-and-personal look at dolphins in the wild, and to learn more about these majestic creatures, add the Dolphin Research & Sealife Nature Center to your South Padre bucket list. There are plenty of fun, interesting exhibits at the center itself, but don’t miss the eco-friendly tour, where you’ll get to see a family of wild dolphins that live in the area.
What is it? Of the 16 lighthouses strung along the Texas coastline, the Port Isabel Lighthouse is the only one open and available to the public.
Why go? Come here to check out the prettiest view in the area. Thanks to the lighthouse’s perch 50 feet above the ground, you can see the entirety of South Padre Island from the top. The grassy knoll where Port Isabel sits also makes for a great picnic spot, and there are plenty of scenic lookout points around. Best of all, throughout the summer, the lighthouse screens classic movies and recent blockbuster hits on the side of the building – what could be better than watching a movie on the side of a lighthouse while ocean waves gently lap against the shore? (See here for movie titles and showtimes.)