There are few places in Texas where you can wake up to the smell of salt on the wind, and walk down a sand-dusted sidewalk, straight onto the beach to greet the ocean. South Padre is one of those places. These 34 miles of barrier island along the gulf, named one of the cleanest beaches in Texas, are a beautiful surprise for any Texan whose only beach experience is Galveston.
South Padre Island draws guests with the promise of calm waters and beachside condos. While visiting, they find natural beauty, and a thriving sandcastle-based art scene as well. Art is key to life at South Padre and one of the most unique exhibits is their famous Sandcastle Trail. Along the island, professional sand artists have created around 30 sand sculptures. They are scattered along the island at major landmarks. For example, check South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, where you’ll also find a five-story watchtower where migrating birds soar by.
Most people stop by Yummie’s Bistro, which they recognize by its bright yellow and blue sign. There, people prepare for windy days with lemon poppyseed pancakes, oven-fresh cinnamon rolls, or the Sundays-only barbacoa plate. Or, Padre Island Brewing Company, for pizza and handcrafted beer, which never tastes better than it does on a beach.
Access points all over the island can make every day on the water feel like a new experience. The waves are gentle enough for endless swimming and snorkeling, and more adventurous tourists embark on kiteboarding over blue surf; between the wild gulf waves and the gentle bayside water, kiteboarders of all skill levels are covered.
But the jewel of South Padre Island is Sea Turtle Inc. Founded in 1977 by Ila Loetscher, better known as The Turtle Lady, this nonprofit rescues and rehabilitates thousands of endangered sea turtles. April through November, it’s sea turtle nesting season on South Padre Island. As turtles hatch, Sea Turtle Inc. supervises dozens of scheduled releases during the summer months. Guests can watch the miracle of baby sea turtles breaking free from their eggs, and struggling across the sand, only to fly through the water.
Originally published as part of the May/June 2021 Weekend Getaways Issue. To all those who crave starlight, beaches, and summer breezes: Texas highways are calling you. From rugged stone canyons to the kind comfort of hill country, Texas destinations are ready to welcome weary travelers. If you’re feeling cooped up this year, it’s time to run free.