South Padre Island is a beautiful resort town off coastal South Texas. My parents actually spent a decade as Snowbirds making their way to South Padre to escape the winters from Canada. The town sits on a massive barrier island and is joined to the mainland by Queen Isabella Causeway.
With theme parks and watersports for adventure and amazing natural habitats including nesting grounds for sea turtles and plenty of wildlife, South Padre Island is the perfect balance between spending time in nature and having a fun beach holiday. There are so many South Padre Island attractions – both natural and manmade.
Top Things to do on South Padre Island
This guide will cover all the best things to do on South Padre Island. You’ll have plenty of itinerary inspiration, from exploring Laguna Madre to spending a day at Gravity Park.
1. Enjoy a Beach Day at Isla Blanca Beach
What would a beach holiday be without a beach day? Make sure to pencil in at least one day to enjoy a real beach day at Isla Blanca Beach. This is definitely one of the busiest spots and is a place you don’t want to miss when you are looking for things to do on South Padre Island. Here, you can stick to the classics like finding sea shells or sunbathing or, if you are looking for something more active, rent equipment from one of the many surf shops and go surfing or boogie boarding. If you are a real adrenaline junkie, you can even go parasailing or jet skiing.
You can book this parasailing excursion in advance. No experience is needed to take in the sweeping views of the island. You can also book a jet ski rental to explore Laguna Madre independently. Make sure to keep an eye out for dolphins.
Isla Blanca Beach is stunning, with vast white sands and plenty of room to accommodate all the visitors that it inevitably attracts. You are flanked by the marina and backed by a beautiful boardwalk with waterfront pavilions scattered along the way. The beach is just a short walk from the town center and all its amenities.
2. South Padre Island Dolphin Research & Sea Life Nature Center
Dolphins deserve to live a life free from captivity. And this is precisely the message that the Dolphin Research & Sea Life Nature Center pioneers. The center is just a short drive from South Padre Island – located in Port Isabel on the other side of the Queen Isabella Causeway.
The center runs daily ethical dolphin cruises, taking visitors out to spot wild bottlenose dolphins on a special dolphin tour. These dolphin tours are unlike your standard commercial tourist traps and carry just six or fewer tourists at a time. You’ll experience an ethical dolphin cruise; quiet, respectful, and knowledgeable about the marine animals it aims to spot.
Tours aren’t the only thing the Dolphin Research & Sea Life Nature Center does. The center also has a touch tank and marine exhibits to educate visitors on marine conservation. All the resident animals are rescues that are being rehabilitated or deemed unsuitable to be released back into the wild. You can learn more about ongoing coastal concerns and how you can do your bit to help out.
Book this 90 minute dolphin watch excursion for a cruise into the Gulf of Mexico to spot Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat. You’ll also see seabirds, The US Coast Guard Station, and the Space X location.
3. South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center
South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is another non-profit gem on South Padre Island. The center has over 3,300 feet of boardwalks that wind around the bay, an alligator sanctuary, an observation tower, five bird blinds, and a butterfly garden. You’ll spot birds, gators, butterflies, and more. And you can opt for a guided tour or explore alone – with no noise except from the animals around you.
South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is perfect if you want to spend half a day surrounded by nature. If you liked the sound of the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, it offers a similar experience, just longer and with more varied attractions along the way.
If you want to see Laguna Madre from the water, a good option is a jet ski rental. You can ride alone or with another person to see the coastline from a different point of view. You can check availability and prices here.
An important part of the center is the Butterfly Garden and it is a great place to spot butterflies in the wild. The park is small but full of pollinator-friendly plants – perfect for encouraging butterflies and other beautiful wildlife. The Monarch Butterfly was placed on the Endangered Species List and the center is working to restore Monarch Butterfly Habitat.
4. South Padre Island Adventure Park
South Padre Island Adventure Park is a dreamy attraction for a day of activities. The park sits on forty acres of land, including a vast, privately owned beach. You can pick whatever activity piques your interest, from horseback riding on the beach to ziplining around a zipline circuit. We recommend horseback riding, as if you get lucky, you might spot bottlenose dolphins or other marine life while cantering along the water’s edge.
South Padre Island Adventure Park also has a petting barn. Families can introduce young children to animals in a safe, knowledgeable environment. The park is a brilliant day out for families and lone adults alike.
5. Take a Sand Castle lesson
One of the most unique things to do on South Padre Island is to take a sand castle lesson. Chances are, building sand castles was a skill you either taught yourself or your parents showed you with a bucket and spade. However, at South Padre Island, you can take your first official lesson, as professional sand sculptors run sand castle lessons along the beach. You won’t be flipping buckets upside down the whole time to make standard castles. You’ll be creating artwork.
The lessons run between one and three hours, and the result is guaranteed to be a masterpiece. You’ll build a stunning castle – often so big that you’ll have to stand on your tiptoes to finish the final roofing details. The details are impressive, with stairways that would impress Disney and realistic textures carved into the walls and roof. Depending on your requirements, you can book group, family, and private lessons.
This Sandcastling Experience will teach you to build a sandcastle like a pro. It includes all the tools to create beautiful sandcastles that can be used throughout your stay. Read more here.
6. See The Largest Outdoor Sandcastle in the US
You might make your own sandcastle or even take a sandcastle building lesson, but you also need to visit the Largest Outdoor Sandcastle in the US. The sandcastle took 150 tons of river sand to build and was constructed in 2013. Since then, it has attracted tourists in the millions, and it stands as a testament to South Padre Island’s sandcastle culture.
There are also many smaller pieces of sand art nearby, so allow at least an hour to look around. If you visit during a holiday, you can usually find some themed artwork, which is always good fun. Even better, to visit, you just pay a donation – keeping costs nice and low.
7. Laguna Madre Nature Trail
Laguna Madre Nature Trail is South Padre Island’s most scenic and diverse walk. The boardwalk is just 1,500 feet long and spans four acres of the Laguna Madre Wetlands. However, you’ll be surrounded by nature – from fiddlewood berries to pelicans and falcons. It is one of the top bird-watching sites on the island and is a perfect nature walk on a sunny day.
Laguna Madre Nature trail is open 24 hours a day and free to enter. The natural wildlife reserve is a peaceful addition to any South Padre Island itinerary. Allow around an hour to enjoy the trail to its fullest.
8. Sea Turtle Inc.
Who doesn’t love sea turtles? Sea Turtle Inc. is a haven for injured sea turtles and rehabilitates and releases rescued sea turtles 365 days a year. Visiting Sea Turtle Inc. is one of the most wholesome ways to spend a couple of hours – especially since the charity is entirely funded by visitors and donations.
You can take a self-guided tour around the different pools, stopping to look at each rescued sea turtle. If you haven’t seen a sea turtle before, this is a hugely memorable experience. It also helps you to comprehend the number of turtles in need, and you can view the different treatments and techniques used to heal the creatures – including metal braces and bandaging.
Make sure to stop by the gift shop after, as sales massively help the charity continue its fantastic work. You can also check the schedule to attend one of the hourly presentations or daily sea turtle feeding sessions. Read more: 10 Ways to Help Save the Oceans – World Oceans Day and Beyond
9. South Padre Sand Dunes
South Padre Sand Dunes are one of the best spots on the island. The dunes sit on the beachfront, located at the north end of Padre Boulevard. While the dunes are protected (meaning no driving or sand sports), you can walk through them. Just be mindful of disrupting the dunes as little as possible.
There is something special about being surrounded by sand dunes, and you should bring your camera to capture the moment. You’ll be surrounded by miles of sandy hills and ridges -a beautiful experience, to say the least.
10. Port Isabel Lighthouse
Port Isabel Lighthouse is a stunning landmark and state historic site. It is the only remaining lighthouse in Texas still open to the public, so it is considered a valuable part of the state’s coastal history. It is a fantastic attraction to visit for a bit of maritime history.
Port Isabel Lighthouse has 75 stairs, which you can tackle to reach the top for glorious views. Walking up the spiral stairs is mildly vertigo-inducing but indeed an experience. Often, immersive history is easier to engage with, and the lighthouse offers a memorable history lesson.
You can purchase tickets from the Keeper’s Cottage Visitor Center. Reaching Port Isabel Lighthouse from South Padre Island is also extremely easy, as you just cross the Queen Isabella Highway.
11. Gravity Park
Ready for a day at an amusement park? Gravity Park is a fun evening out. The amusement park is packed with rides and activities, including go-karts, mini-golf, and a reverse bungee. Having opened in 1993, it has years of experience under its belt. It is a popular attraction amongst tourists and locals alike.
Entrance to Gravity Park is free, and tickets for rides are bought on a ride-by-ride basis. This is perfect for adults taking children into the park, as admission tickets can quickly add up to otherwise make an expensive day out. Adults will love the park, too, and the giant swing and reverse bungee are exciting challenges for testing your nerves.
12. Drive the Queen Isabella Causeway
This may sound a strange addition to your itinerary but driving the Queen Isabella Causeway is somewhat of a momentous thing to do on South Padre Island. It is one of the longest bridges in Texas and has beautiful water views. You can drive over the bridge yourself or even book a taxi to relax and take in the views.
Isabella Causeway was also sadly the site of tragedy in 2001 when an older version of the bridge collapsed. The newly constructed bridge doubles up as a memorial for the tragedy. It is a humbling drive to pay your respects.
As the causeway is the most popular way to reach South Padre Island, you’ll likely get the chance to cross. It cuts over Laguna Madre, joining Port Isabel with South Padre Island. It is also ideally combined with a visit to Port Isabel Lighthouse. If you need to rent a car for a day, compare prices for rentals at RentalCars.com
13. Fish on the Pirate’s Landing Fishing Pier
Sure, you can embark on a deep sea fishing excursion (more on that later), but why not try your hand at traditional fishing too? Head to South Padre’s old fishing pier for a relaxing afternoon. You can often catch tarpon, mangrove snapper, and sand trout, so sit tight and wait for that exciting first bite.
Pirate’s Landing is the longest pier in Texas and has everything you need – from a tackle and bait shop to a toilet block. The pier is located just across the causeway in Port Isabel. You’ll be casting off into Laguna Madre Bay with some of the best facilities just steps away.
14. Catch the fireworks
Fireworks are exciting; there’s no denying it. And it just so happens that South Padre has firework displays every week for most of the year. Firework displays quickly become one of the favorite South Padre Island attractions in summer. At around 9 pm most nights, you can head out to be entertained by loud noise and bright colors, all for the grand cost of zero dollars. It is easy to see why visiting a firework display has become one of the best things to do on South Padre Island.
Throughout summer, you can catch fireworks on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. On Tuesdays, the display is at Louie’s Backyard. While on Thursdays, the display is held at Isla Grand Beach Resort. Then, on Fridays and Saturdays, you can catch fireworks at The Pier behind the Courtyard by Marriott.
Of course, you can expect extra special fireworks if you visit South Padre Island on the 4th of July or Labor Day. These displays are let loose, especially over Laguna Madre Bay – a spectacle you definitely shouldn’t miss.
15. Visit the South Padre Island Farmer’s Market
Nothing quite says relaxation like a trip to a farmer’s market. South Padre Island Farmer’s Market runs every Sunday until mid-afternoon, selling local produce and handmade goods. A stroll through the stalls on a sunny Sunday midday is a heavenly thing to do on South Padre Island. It is also easily slotted into a busy itinerary, taking around 20 minutes to walk around.
You could pick up fresh veggies, sweet treats, or a handmade souvenir. You never quite know what you will find, which is all part of the fun.
16. Beach Park at Isla Blanca
A day at the waterpark is brilliant for any tourist. And what better way to beat the hot South Padre weather? You can cool down and get your adrenaline pumping all at the same time.
The beach park has an inland surf machine, a river system, and four different rollercoasters. There are even swim-up bars for the adults to indulge at. You can be zipping along water rides and grabbing poolside refreshments.
One thing to remember is that the Beach Park at Isla Blanca closes during the off-season. This is a definite summer or springtime attraction – ideal for those hot days when you can’t face any real sightseeing.
17. Take a dinner cruise
Boat tours are always a good idea, especially since South Padre Island waters are so tranquil and beautiful. However, splashing out on a dinner cruise is a great way to make a standard boat tour even better. Many companies offer dinner cruises around South Padre, but we’d recommend Southern Wave Sailing Charters.
Southern Wave Sailing Charters have luxury catamarans that embark at sunset to whisk tourists out for a dinner cruise they’ll remember. You can enjoy good food, drink, music, and company as you sail. Perhaps you’ll even spot bottlenose dolphins if you are lucky.
This highly rated private sunset cruise takes you out on a catamaran to enjoy beautiful views of the Texas Gulf Coast. It’s a private yacht charter for up to six passengers that can be customized to your preferences.
18. South Padre Island National Seashore
South Padre Island National Seashore is located north of South Padre Island’s town center. You’ll need to access it by looping back across the mainland. The park protects 66 miles of stunning coastline and houses an estimated 380 bird species. The National Seashore also houses some human history, with Spanish shipwrecks from 1554.
Apart from the odd shipwreck and park sign, you can enjoy miles of undeveloped beaches and hikes. National Seashore is a remote paradise in Texas and the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world.
While it might require a little extra effort to get there, it is easily one of the best day trips on South Padre Island. The drive takes around three hours one way, and you’ll need to rent a car to visit. If you are traveling as a group and can rotate drivers, this journey will be a breeze. You drive up to Corpus Christi and then over the John F. Kennedy Memorial Causeway to reach the National Seashore.
19. Port Isabel Historical Museum
Port Isabel Historical Museum is one of South Padre Island’s most educational attractions. The museum whisks visitors back to the Mexican-American War with fascinating exhibits and artifacts. Port Isabel Historical Museum also delves into the local area’s history, covering Laguna Madre’s experience of the war and its early maritime beginnings. Laguna Madre’s history has been effectively condensed onto a giant timeline – so you can literally walk through the ages.
Whether you are a history enthusiast or just want to learn more about a lesser-taught piece of history, visiting this museum is a great idea. It is also one of the best indoor activities in the area, so keep it in mind on a rainy day.
20. Get on the Water
If you are an avid fisherman, the allure of deep sea fishing is enormous. It is a bucket list-worthy experience. Even those who know nothing about fishing will have seen pictures of people posing with giant fish they’ve caught at sea. To get yourself off the piers and beaches and out into the ocean, look at one of South Padre’s deep sea fishing trips.
Osprey Cruises are a popular option and operate all-year-round tours. This flexibility is fantastic for those visiting out-of-season, and you’ll depart at 7:30 am for a full eight hours on the water. Osprey Cruises also provides all bait and tackle, keeping your day bag nice and light.
You can book a small half day fishing trip in advance with Viator to fish for trout, sheepshead, and more. A valid Texas Saltwater Fishing License is required for this excursion.
Even if you decide that deep sea fishing isn’t for you, be that due to limited time or budget, there are plenty of other fishing trips. Crystal Flats Guide Service offers excellent bay fishing. Crystal Flats Guide Service doesn’t take you right out to sea. And instead, you’ll fish in particular inshore areas preferred by locals. It is a much smoother, shorter experience, so consider it as an alternative if you are relatively new to fishing. Plus many people fish right off the beach.
21. Where to Eat on South Padre Island
Dine at Blackbeard’s
You can’t visit the seaside without trying seafood, and Blackbeard’s is the best spot on South Padre Island. The casual eatery might look unassuming but don’t be fooled; it has been serving delicious seafood since 1978 and has quite the cult following.
The ginger teriyaki tuna steak is a popular choice on the menu. You can tuck in knowing that your food is fresh and locally caught. Blackbeard’s also has a great burger menu if you change your mind about seafood, including a select few vegetarian options. Casual, friendly, and full of tasty food, dining at Blackbeard’s is one of the most fun things to do on South Padre Island.
Sea Ranch is another recommendation for our foodies. Dining at the restaurant is one of the best things to do on South Padre Island if you have a passion for seafood and high-quality cuisine. You could be tucking into king crab legs or enjoying succulent Gulf Coast shrimp. The selection of seafood is varied and as fresh as possible.
Sea Ranch is located right on the harbor and edge of Laguna Madre Bay. It has never been so easy to visualize your food’s ocean-to-plate journey.
South Padre Island FAQs
Now that we’ve covered all the best things to do on South Padre Island, let’s look at some common frequently asked questions.
How to get to South Padre Island
The easiest way to get to South Padre Island is to fly into Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport or Valley International Airport. Both airports are around 40 miles from South Padre Island, and you can book a shuttle, rent a car, or book a taxi to travel from the airport to your accommodation.
Of course, if road trips are more your style, you can always drive to South Padre Island. The Texas Gulf Coast is a scenic route to follow, or you could detour through Austin. You could even drive the entire east coast if you wished, crossing over onto South Padre Island when you reach the bridge at Corpus Christi.
Getting around South Padre Island
Getting around South Padre Island is very straightforward. The town center is small and quickly walked on foot, so you won’t need to worry about public transport if you stay around the center.
If you want to venture further up the island, South Padre Island has an excellent public transport system. The Island Metro is a free shuttle that transports you around the whole island, stopping at major hotels, attractions, and beaches.
You can also book this 8-hour golf cart rental for an easy, no-hassle way to get around the 5-mile (8km) long island. You can also choose from multiple pick-up times.
Of course, you might also wish to rent a car to get around South Padre Island. This is an excellent idea if you want to travel further afield, taking day trips to places like Padre Island National Seashore. You can only reach this region by driving back onto the mainland, so it is well worth having a car if you plan a visit. Check out RentalCars.com to compare prices.
Best time to visit South Padre Island
The best time to visit South Padre Island is in November. November is when you’ll find the fewest crowds – escaping the summer holidays and rowdy spring break period. November also has some of the lowest rainfall yet still experiences average temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a win, win month to visit.
If summer holidays sound more appealing to you, temperatures do reach up to 94 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll have low rainfall and soaring temperatures; it is just up to you to decide whether that is worth the extra crowds.
Where to stay on South Padre Island
So, where should you stay on South Padre Island? These are our top suggestions for each budget level.
Budget: Ramada by Wyndham & Suites South Padre Island
Ramada by Wyndham & Suites South Padre Island is a fantastic budget-friendly option for accommodation on South Padre Island. The facilities are just as impressive as the price, with an outdoor heated pool, fitness center, and private beach access to enjoy.
Guests will find a microwave and fridge in every room – perfect for storing supermarket snacks. There’s also a daily continental breakfast to tuck into. See rates on Booking.com and compare on TripAdvisor
Mid-range: Isla Grand Beach Resort
Isla Grand Beach Resort is a great mid-range accommodation option. It has all the resort amenities you could wish for. From a fitness center to tennis courts and an enormous outdoor pool, you’ll be well entertained. There’s even a complimentary coffee waiting for you each morning at the on-site cafe. See rates on Booking.com and compare on TripAdvisor
Luxury: Hilton Garden Inn South Padre Island Beachfront
Hilton Garden Inn is South Padre Island’s most luxurious, highest-rated accommodation choice. The hotel has everything, from an outdoor pool overlooking the ocean to a fully equipped fitness center. Guests can choose from various room options, including suites with balconies overlooking the sea. See rates on Booking.com and compare on TripAdvisor
Visiting South Padre Island is a fantastic way to enjoy coastal Texas. The town is full of activities, reserves, and attractions; it is clear that there are plenty of things to do on South Padre Island. South Padre Island is one of the best places to visit in the US – make sure you enjoy it.