We planned to come to South Padre Island for 3 weeks and ended up coming back and staying for over 3 months! There are so many fun things to do in South Padre Island from amazing beaches and surfing, a fun nightlife, attractions for the whole family and an awesome vibe. When you come you won’t want to leave!
Below we share our list of the top things to do when you visit South Padre Island, Texas. Along with where to eat and where to stay!
Table of Contents
- Go Surfing!!
- Rent a Catamaran
- Sand Castle Building
- Paddle Boarding
- Sea Turtle Hospital
- Dolphin Watch
- Horse Back Riding
- South Padre Island Birding Center
- Laguna Madre Nature Trail
- Beach Park at Isla Blanca
- Port Isabel Lighthouse
- Jet Skiing
- Sea Turtle/Sand Castle Trail
- Beach Day
- Kite Surfing
- Farmers Market
- Bike Trail
- Fishing Charter
- Fireworks at Claytons
- Rent a Golf Cart
- Gravity Park
- Where To Eat
- Where To Stay:
South Padre Island is the perfect place to learn how to surf. The waves aren’t too crazy (most days) and there are awesome surf instructors on the island! Our kids took lessons from SPI Sessions and they can legit surf now.
The instructor were great with the kids and adults and teach you all the basics so you can get out on your own. If you are here for a week you can also rent boards to use throughout your stay.
I would recommend doing a private or semi-private (2-3 people in the group) for the first 2 lessons. After that you could opt for more group lessons since it becomes more about practicing and working on consistently getting up on the board.
With SPI Sessions they provided wetsuits (for all ages) and boards. They had a variety of boards from bigger boards – way easier to surf on – to smaller boards once they kids learned more what they were doing.
When you come to South Padre Island surfing is a must! Check out the SPI Sessions website for more info!
Also be sure to check out their site for their summer camps, science classes, skateboarding classes and more!
- Bring water for your kids – even though they are in the water they will get thirsty!
- If it is hot try to schedule in the morning or later in the day.
- Be prepared for your kids to love it and want to do it more than once!
- Bring a towel and rinse off at the showers by the beach when you are done.
Rent a Catamaran
5 families rented a catamaran with a captain for 2 hours and we went out in the Bay. It was so much fun! Since there is a captain you don’t have to worry about knowing how to work the boat and instead can bring your own drinks and food and just enjoy being on the water.
They have speakers on board and play music for you and even stopped (per our request) so the kids could get out and swim in the middle of the bay!
When we got back everyone said they couldn’t wait to do it again! They also have the option of doing a sunset cruise or on any cruise you can pay extra to have a bartender and/or food on the boat.
Check their site for prices. They are really reasonable.
You also load and unload at Longboards so plan to stay for dinner there when you get back!
- Weather can be crazy in SPI so if possible check the weather first and have a backup day if the weather starts to look bad.
- Bring your own cooler filled with drinks – so much cheaper and you can be sure to have what you want!
- Pack snacks too – there is a great place to lounge around and eat snacks while you are cruising on the bay.
Sand Castle Building
We did a sand castle building class with my Mom, sister and her kids, me and my kids and 2 of the kids friends. Andy the instructor taught us all how to build the base and then showed us all the awesome tools to use to create an unbelievable looking sand castle.
Seriously I never would have thought we could build something like this! The session lasted for 3 hours and by the end we had an beautiful sand castle – with an arch – that my Mom requested.
Granted the kids only lasted about 90 minutes and after that came and went with helping. But that was fine with us. They played around with the tools and built some of their own things. Ran and played in the ocean. And headed up to one of the beach hotel restaurants to grab some kiddie cocktails.
All in all it was a great time and since then my Mom and the kids have built their own sand castles out on the beach. When you leave the class you do get all of the hand tools and you can either buy a bucket from them or head to Sutherlands in Port Isabel to pick up some buckets and create your own creations!
Learn more on their site: Sand Castle Lessons.
- Bring a hat and a t-shirt – you are out in the sun for a long time doing this.
- Bring water and snacks with you.
- Assume your kids may want to go in the water so maybe have them wear their suits there.
- There is a beach restaurant right behind where he holds the session so bring money for that.
We also did a few Paddle Boarding sessions with SPI Sessions and they were amazing! Our kids went and did a 3+ mile paddle in the bay (starting at the KOA boat launch and going right for 3 miles along the coast) and they loved it.
Next up they crossed from the Isla Blanca Campground over to Boca Chica beach. That was a workout but quite an experience for them. They packed a lunch and head snacks over on Boca Chica beach before heading back.
Our 3rd trip included the kids and adults where we went out on the bay to do a sunset paddle. It was epic as we watched the sun melt into the ocean while out on our paddle boards.
It is so great that South Padre Island has the ocean – with crazy waves that are fun to play in. Plus the bay side where the water is calmer and you can do boating, paddleboarding and jetskiing.
- Watch the weather. Our paddle boarding experiences were always better when the water in the Bay was super calm.
- Be aware of the currents. A strong current could it make it a much harder trip!
Sea Turtle Hospital
The Sea Turtle hospital is doing a lot of great things in South Padre Island! You can go to the hospital to check out the sea turtles they are currently rehabilitating or see their in house residence who were injured and can never go back out in the wild.
Definitely a must for anyone that loves turtles!
- You could include this with multiple other things like the Birding Center.
If you are looking to get out on the water again the Dolphin Watch is a great way to do that. The tickets are really reasonable and you get to go out on a boat. Plus they pull in a catch from their net where they show you all sorts of sea creatures that they pulled up from the sand under the boat.
It adds an educational element as well and teaches the kids about sea life in the area!
Learn more at their site: The Original Dolphin Watch.
- You are on a boat for a couple hours – kids can get restless.
- We always brought suckers and snacks with when our kids were little to help them sit still for a stretch.
Horse Back Riding
If horse back riding on the beach is on your bucket list you won’t want to miss this! They also offer sunset horseback riding.
Kids as young as 5 were able to go out on their own horse too – always check with them to confirm this before you go.
Learn more here: South Padre Island Adventures
South Padre Island Birding Center
Birding is a thing in South Padre since so many migrating birds stop in South Padre for a break before moving on!
It was really crazy the random birds we would see for a day or 2 and then they were gone.
The Birding center has a nice educational area, along with talks and a chance to hold an alligator or a snake!
Once done there you can walk the boardwalk trails through the birding area and try to spot as many birds as you can. Since these are wild birds it can be hit or miss on how many birds you see. If you are looking for a particular time I would research and see when they are migrating through the area.
- The walk on the trail is all outside in the sun. Bring a hat and water.
Laguna Madre Nature Trail
This is a short free trail that you can do from the convention center. It is a similar trail that you walk on at the birding center just shorten and you don’t have to pay for it.
It is also a great spot to look for birds.
- I would combine this with the Turtle Hospital and the Birding Center.
Beach Park at Isla Blanca
Beach Park is an outdoor water park. At the time we were there it was not open so I did not get a chance to check it out. Our friends did and they said it was small but fun.
They also said the Lazy River is the best one they have been in!
The waterpark is only open Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Port Isabel Lighthouse
This is a historic lighthouse. It was also closed when we were there. I am hoping when we go back we can explore the lighthouse!
If you have a need for speed you can look to rent jet skis and head out on the bay! We saw people doing it on the ocean side . . . but I wouldn’t recommend it. There are a lot of kite surfers and surfers out there and it isn’t a good combination . . .
Sea Turtle/Sand Castle Trail
Looking to spend the day exploring the island? Make sure to stop in the visitors center to grab a map of the sea turtle and sand castle trail! There are a ton of sea turtles to check out. Each one is named with a barcode you can scan to learn more about them. There are a also a ton of sand castles. Just be prepared that some do get ruined by people or the weather. But keep looking you will find some good ones!
- Rent a golf cart and drive around the island finding all of the sea turtles and sand castles! It makes for a fun day out.
If you can time your visit when there is a launch do it! Unfortunately this is easier said then done since launches get canceled or moved all the time. But if possible you want to see one!
You are literally just 5 miles from the launch pad and can see it take off and land. You can feel the vibrations and hear them shortly after. I am telling you it is an experience!
Also if you want to take the 60 minute drive you can get about 100 yards from the rocket. Be sure to check launch dates and road closures – since there are times you can’t get over there. How cool is that?!
- If you REALLY want to see a launch make sure you have the ability to stay for 1-2 months. The launches are so unpredictable.
- Also know it will take over your day. They will say they are launching at 8am but at 7:30 will push it back by an hour and keep doing that all day long. And may not even launch.
- Also note the park gets crazy busy! This is not a day to leave to go grocery shopping or to do laundry since you may not get back into the park in time!
- We also noticed on days when the launch had a high chance of happening there were a ton of people at the park. This was always an indicator to us that it really might happen that day!
Make sure to set aside multiple beach days in South Padre to each these Texas beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. The surf is fun for the kids to play in (keep an eye on the flags and rip currents). Plus the beach area is large so plenty of room for football games and sand castle building.
We prefer the Isla Blanca County Park beach. You do have to pay for entry but the beach is nice and there is a pavilion with shade and bathrooms. It is also pet friendly if you want to bring your dog with.
- We noticed that the north pavilion beach area at Isla blanca beach was normally less busy compared to the south pavilion (one closes to Boca Chica and the Jetty).
We took the first lesson with Kite Surfing with SPI Sessions – which meant we didn’t even get in the water. But the kids loved it!! If you are going to be in SPI for a week and want to learn to Kite Surf this is the place to do it.
We had heard that the Bay is the best place in the country to learn Kite Surfing!
You can contact SPI Sessions to find out about their kite surfing lessons.
South Padre has a really nice farmers market. It isn’t huge but it is definitely worth a stop for some yummy kettle corn and the family cilantro sauce! Plus there are multiple other unique shops and multiple fruit and veggie stands.
Go on a twisty, turny bike trail! For some reason up the island they made this wacky bike trail that could have gone in a straight line but it doesn’t. Instead it is all curvy!
If you are looking to get out and go fishing there are plenty of options on the island. You can do deep sea fishing or stay closer in the bay.
If you don’t want to go out on a boat you can just fish from the Jetty at Isla Blanca County Park. Just be sure to have your Texas fishing license.
Fireworks at Claytons
Claytons does free fireworks on Friday and Saturday night! It can be windy in South Padre so just keep checking their Facebook page. But if they can they will light them off! They are super close and you can watch right from the beach. It was quite the show!
Rent a Golf Cart
It is a thing on South Padre Island to rent a golf cart and take it around the island. We did it one day and it was fun! Be aware you are also on the road with cars that are going 35-40 miles per hour . . .
If you want to rent a golf cart be sure to talk to the rental place to see if you can get a deal. There are so many rental places on the island!
Gravity park has a variety of things to do!
Head over to Gravity Park to go go carting! It is a multi level wooden track. Kids can drive their own if they are the right height. Or else they can go with an adult in the double cars. It can get busy so get here right when they open!
Take a ride on the ferris wheel! I never went up but my kids did and they loved it. You have to buy tickets at the ticket booth and head over to get in line to get on the ferris wheel. It can also get busy – especially on the weekends.
If you enjoy mini golf check out the course. It isn’t anything special but it was fun. You also have to buy tickets for this at the same ticket booth as the go carts and ferris wheel.
Tip for Gravity Park:
- Plan ahead what you want to do so when you get there you can buy all your tickets at the booth.
- There can be a long line so we recommend getting here about 15 minutes before they open.
Check out their site for more info: Gravity Park.
Where To Eat
There are a ton of options of places to eat on the Island. We always opted for places that had a nice view and were outside on the water. Below we list our favorites.
This was one of our favorite restaurants to eat at. They had these huge burgers called the Big Chief that are kids loved – they are huge but our 13 year old could eat the whole thing.
They also had really good fish tacos. Plus they make their fries from potatoes everyday so they are huge and fresh.
We also really liked the owners – they were always so welcoming!
The food here was OK but the setting and the ambiance was great! You are right on the bay and the sunsets were amazing. Plus they had live music like every night. It was always one of our favorite places to go out for the night.
Similar to Tequila Sunset where you can sit on the Bay and have a gorgeous view of the sunset. They also have a big dance floor and have live music everyday as well.
A huge restaurant area with a dance club upstairs. They also had buffet specials and a regular menu. Also along the bay with awesome views and an amazing sunset.
This one is on the ocean side. They have a nice indoor seated restaurant with a unique menu or an outdoor bar seating area with live music and a smaller menu. There is also a volleyball court on the beach.
What we called the Spring Break restaurant! Also right on the beach. A fun scene plus they do fireworks – nightly in the summer (assuming it isn’t too windy).
Pier 19 is known for its Breakfast! Unfortunately we didn’t get there early enough for breakfast – we are late risers! But we heard from others that did and they said it was great!
Where To Stay:
RV – Isla Blanca County Park
We stayed at the Isla Blanca County RV Park and we loved it! The campground is a little bit run down and a little bit odd how they have the sites setup. BUT you are right on the beach. And Isla Blanca park is a great place to hang out!
The monthly cost to stay is so reasonable and we loved that we could walk to the beach everyday plus see the SpaceX rocket launches!
This has become one of our favorite campgrounds.
There is also a KOA up the road – but we would always recommend the county park!
Be aware that checkin takes forever. And their systems are pretty old school. But once you have a site and you are in it is great!
One night we rented a room at the Isla Grand Beach Resort hotel spent a day at the pool. It was a fun getaway and we really liked the location!
They have multiple restaurants and snack bars. The kids loved getting a kiddie cocktail and sipping it pool side.
We also heard the Hilton Garden Inn is nice – but we have not been.
Check out these gorgeous and big vacation rentals that are coming from Zula Beach! The locations are great plus the houses are gorgeous and check out the pool and hot tub in Zula Siesta!
There is a grocery store on the island. It is well stocked but can be expensive. Across the bridge there is a Walmart and a larger grocery store.
- There are gas stations on the island.
- There are also fast food restaurants on the island.
- They have a TON of souvenir shops if you are looking to pick up a t-shirt.
- The bridge can get really backed up on weekends with cars coming and going so plan accordingly!
We loved the vibe of South Padre Island and how relaxed it was – it isn’t always easy to find a vibe like this in the United States. Be aware the weather can be really windy and stormy. But that is usually followed with beautiful weather. Be sure to catch multiple sunsets over the bay and set yourself up for a nice and relaxing trip to the island!
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