Texas offers just about everything when it comes to terrain. Go west for sand dunes, flat plains and canyons; go east for lakes and piney woods; go south for picturesque hill country; and go way south for tropical beaches. And South Padre Island, off the southern tip of the state, is one beach all Texas families should visit.
WHEN TO GO
During the summer, South Padre is a popping island town. The weekends are especially lively with locals driving in from nearby Harlingen and Brownsville. Our favorite time to go is early June and early August when the crowds aren’t too big; the rest of the summer is much busier.
If you want to visit outside the summer months, the earlier part of May can be nice; early fall isn’t a bad choice either, particularly if you’re planning to fish. We don’t recommend going in the spring—college kids on spring break make the beach far less family-friendly.
WHERE TO STAY
South Padre has a ton of lodging options, but our favorite way to stay as a family is to rent one of the many condos that line the beach.
If a condo isn’t your style, there are also beach houses that sit just behind or next to the condo buildings and still have beach access. These houses are great if you’re traveling with a large group.
Finally, there are hotels. If an ocean view or beach access is high on your priority list, make sure to check where the hotel is located. South Padre may not be a large island, but many of the hotels line the main drag, which isn’t on the water. Some hotels we recommend include Pearl South Padre Resort, Isla Grand Beach Resort, Courtyard South Padre Island and the Holiday Inn Express.
WHAT TO DO
In our humble opinion, South Padre has one of the best beaches in Texas. The water is warm, and the sand is soft with very few rocks, making it ideal for families with young kids. But there’s more to do than just lounging beachside.
Visit Island Adventure Park for horseback riding along the beach (great for beginners and those who’ve ridden their fair share of horses). It’s such a blast to go out early in the morning, before it gets too hot, for a ride along the waterline.
See and learn about rescued sea turtles at Sea Turtle, Inc. At this habitat, you’ll learn about some of the full-time “residents” who can’t be released back into the wild (such as Gerry, who weighs over 200 pounds), as well as the organization’s “patients” who are currently in their “rehab journey.”
Learn how to make a proper sandcastle with sandcastle lessons. One company, conveniently titled Sand Castle Lessons, has options of two-hour lessons, three-hour lessons and all-day options. Tool kits are included.
Near the bay, try your hand at mini golf, go-karts, take a spin on a Ferris wheel and more at Gravity Park. This area is definitely a hot spot in the evenings, so expect it to be busy if you go at that time. The go-kart track is definitely a must-try; it’s a multi-level, wooden track that really gets the adrenaline going. If mini golf is more your speed, the course is great for all ages, and some of the greens are located just below the bungee swing. Gravity Park is located close by to some fun restaurants too, so you can walk right over after lunch or dinner.
WHERE TO EAT
For a small island, South Padre still has something for everyone’s taste buds. For breakfast, we highly recommend Yummies Bistro. While it doesn’t have any kind of view, the food and specialty coffee drinks make it worth visiting. There’s almost always a wait, so be prepared.
For lunch, check out Clayton’s Beach Bar & Grill or Parrot Eyes. Clayton’s boasts that it’s the biggest beach bar in Texas—and it might be right. The place is huge and looks right over the water; sand volleyball nets are out front. It’s a great place to eat lunch and get some beach time in.
Parrot Eyes, meanwhile, is located on the bay side of the island and is definitely a spot where you should grab some seafood. A few perks to this place: 1) You can rent a jet ski and book other fun water sports there, and 2) if you went on a fishing excursion, you can bring in your catch for them to filet and cook. (Try the blackened fish enchiladas.)
For dinner, you can’t miss Louie’s Backyard. With a huge patio overlooking the bay, options off the menu or a buffet, and fireworks on Thursday–Saturday nights in the summer, it’s a family favorite. If anyone in your family enjoys crab legs, this is a place to visit.
Another great spot with a view is Café on the Beach. This restaurant is a little hidden, situated at the end of The Palms Resort. Don’t let this spot’s small size fool you—the food is fantastic, and the view is gorgeous.
If you need a break from being outside or want something a little more palette-friendly for the kiddos, try Gabriella’s. This restaurant has the best pizza on the island and other solid Italian fare.