Travel Guide to South Padre Island and Its 12 Best Attractions

Hopper's travel guide to South Padre Island in Texas features its top 17 attractions, beaches, resorts and restaurants, and has travel tips from bloggers.

Hopper Editors - Oct. 26, 2017

Set between the Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, South Padre Island is a popular beach resort on the southeastern tip of Texas. Those desirous of peace and quiet may wish to avoid Spring Break, but the rest of the year it’s a very family friendly destination. The main attraction is of course the beach, replete with opportunities for surfing, kiteboarding, diving and boating. But a perhaps less expected highlight, considering the level of development, is the island’s wildlife, which is abundant in the water, on the land and in the air.

South Padre is served by three airports: Valley International Airport (1 hour away by car or airport shuttle), Brownsville/South Padre Island Airport (35 minutes away) and the McAllen Miller International Airport (90 minutes away). Once in the region you can take the Rio Transit bus from downtown Brownsville to its last stop in Port Isabel, and then take a free Wave (South Padre Island's free public bus line) from there.

Watch the Gulf of Mexico blaze beneath the sinking sun at Isla Blanca Park

Isla Blanca is appropriately named, a mile-long stretch of white sand on the southernmost tip of South Padre Island. It’s a perfect destination for RVers, with over 600 parking spaces offering beautiful sunset views over the Gulf of Mexico. The park is great for fishing, surfing and walking, or just to sit back on the sand and look out for boats, dolphins and pelicans.

Swim, slide, eat and drink at Schlitterbahn Beach Resort and Waterpark

If you’re accompanied by kids who are bored by all the lounging around on the beach, the Schlitterbahn Waterpark has all the excitement they could need. They can splash around the pool, race down the various water slides and drift along in the Lazy River. For adults there’s even a swim-up bar, while everyone can refuel at the water park’s Shrimp Haus Restaurant.

Encounter the Gulf of Mexico’s wildlife at the South Padre Island Dolphin Research and Sea Life Nature Center

Photo by South Padre Island/Flickr

Find out about the wildlife that surrounds South Padre Island at the Sea Life Center. There are touch tanks allowing for tactile encounters with octopi, starfish and crabs, and plenty of passionate staff to answer any questions. And once you’ve learnt about the creatures, you can head out to try and see the most intelligent of them all in their natural habitat, on a Wild Dolphin Tour.

Inventive Italian dishes with a focus on seafood at Gabriella’s Italian Grill & Pizza

Gabriella’s is an immensely popular restaurant in the center of town, and understandably so. The owners are genuinely passionate about the food they serve – pizza, pasta, seafood, and great desserts – and are forever introducing new creations. Pizza for pudding, anyone – topped with peanut butter, nutella and jelly?

Luxurious beachfront accommodation at the Isla Grand Beach Resort

This undoubtedly grand hotel sprawls over the beachfront, its swimming pools, tennis courts and immaculate lawns running down onto the sand. But it avoids being too overwhelming and is actually a very welcoming place to stay. And pretty gorgeous, too – take your pick between condos, beach view rooms and beachside cabanas.

See South Padre Island on the map:

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