For a great holiday gift, what about an escape from cold weather? South Padre Island fills the bill. Daytime temperatures average 70˚. The water’s a bit cool for swimming but there are other ways to enjoy it – paddleboarding, kayaking, windsurfing, cruising and fishing. Thrill-seekers can parasail or even parachute onto the beach. For me, nothing beats getting up early and savoring sunrise on the beach, padding along the wet sand, letting the waves tickle my feet.
If all you’re looking for is a beach book and a tall drink, you can certainly find it. But there are treats you shouldn’t miss on South Padre.
Sea Turtle Inc. is a research, rescue and rehab facility with a big dose of education thrown in. You’ll be able to get up close (but not too personal) with these wonderful reptiles and you’ll marvel at Allison, an Atlantic green sea turtle, who lost three flippers but is able to swim with the help of the first successful turtle prosthesis.
Speaking of flippers – you’ll see lots of Flippers on one of Breakaway Cruises’ dolphin cruises. And they have a specimen tank onboard where they’ll show you examples of other Laguna Madre residents.
Birding is big business in South Texas with locations of World Birding Center facilities strung throughout the Rio Grande Valley. The South Padre site features a visitors’ center with a film and displays and two-thirds of a mile of boardwalks.
For sheer relaxation, take a Southern Wave sunset/dinner cruise. Admire the beautiful homes along the Laguna Madre, listen to music, enjoy jumbo grilled shrimp and fajitas and watch the sunset – the perfect way to unwind.
Castles in the Sand
There are other attractions to this turf. Sand Castle Dave, with SandCastleLessons.com, was my instructor on a bit of beach behind Boomerang Billy’s Beach Bar. Since I wanted to take photos, I let him do most of the work.
In a short time, he’d completed an impressive two-towered creation with a door that went all the way through. The instructors are generous with their time and the hour lessons can stretch to an hour and a half and longer. And after the lesson, you can stay and play in the sand. Next time I go to Padre, I’m chucking my camera and getting into it with both hands!
Shop, Sup and Sleep
If you forgot your beach book, head for Paragraphs, a great independent bookstore. Boutiques abound – a favorite, Isla, features unique clothing with lots of linen and flax and funky shoes. Across the bridge in Port Isabel, stop in Art*Sea Gallery for clever gifts and beach-themed items.
Sea Ranch is a sentimental dining favorite featuring local wild-caught seafood. Pier 19 goes heavy on the touristy décor with fun photo ops and life-sized pirate figures but the food’s an attraction, too. Their breakfast rolls are big enough to serve several people.
I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn – right on the beach and featuring a lovely large pool. You have lots of options on SPI but The Palms, retro and cool, is a hidden treasure with a great little restaurant – the Café on the Beach. Don’t be fooled by the casual appearance, these folks are serious about good, healthy food.
South Padre is one big grab-bag of great choices. Pick yourself a present.
Don’t-Miss Holiday Events
Saturday, December 1 Christmas Lighted Boat Parade
Friday, December 14 SPI Holiday Parade
Tuesday, January 1 Polar Bear Dip