I actually grew in the Rio Grande Valley, born in Harlingen and lived there until I was 3. My Great Grandmother on my mom’s side lived in Brownsville and I visited her every Spring Break and my Grandma and Grandpa on my dad’s side lived in Alamo, a town just outside of McAllen, and I spent two weeks with them every summer. These were some of the fondest memories of my childhood. I hadn’t been to South Padre Island as an adult so when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped! I mean, who doesn’t want to be on the beach in October when the temps in Dallas start to drop?
It’s about 560 miles from Dallas to Padre so I chose to fly. I was able to find one-way tickets on Southwest for about $100 each way. Keep in mind, I went in October which is considered off season so flights are probably much higher in the spring and summer months. It was a super easy flight with a stop in Houston in each direction. All and all it was a 2.5 hour flight compared to an 8.5 hour drive. I was meeting some friends coming from Austin, and for them the drive was only about 5 hours. Much more doable. South Padre Island is about an hour drive from Valley International Airport.
The best part about getting onto the island is driving across the Queen Isabella Causeway aka the “Big Bridge” as I called it. Great for photos ops and social media posts (if you’re a passenger of course)! Once you get on to the island, there is no doubt you have arrived in a beach community. My first stop was to check in at the Visitor’s Center where massive sandcastles sit just out front of the building.
Next up was to go see our condo at Galleon Bay. This place was so much nicer than I was imagining! So cute and full of beach decor, it definitely got us ready to get the party started! A 2 bedroom/2 bathroom unit with a full kitchen complete with modern appliances, and a balcony overlooking the bay.
The first excursion on the agenda was the highly anticipated Dolphin Watch Cruise offered by Osprey Cruises. Departing from Pier 19 on the south end of the island, a double-decker boat awaits. After boarding, soft drinks and beer are available for purchase (Coors Light was only $3) as you set off into the bay, waiting for that first dolphin sighting. The captain alerts passengers as sightings occur and its very exciting when you spot a fin swimming by! They also bring up a net of sea life and I got to hold a starfish! The tour lasts 90 minutes and costs $18 for adults, $15 for children. Check out their website as they offer multiple excursions including deep sea fishing and dinner cruises.
I highly recommend this Dolphin Watch as it was my absolute favorite thing we did! And while you’re at Pier 19, you must get a Piña Colada! Made from scratch, with a rum floater, toasted coconut, and a honey drizzle, this was one of the best I’ve ever had! Make your way out to the pier for some fun pirate photo ops while you enjoy this heavenly drink.
One of the things I fell in love with about South Padre was how environmentally conscious the community is. Everyone that works and resides on the island places emphasis on the wildlife and nature that surrounds the miles of beaches. This was so transparent at Sea Turtle Inc., where sea turtles are rescued after animal attacks or other injuries and rehabilitated. The hope for all rescued animals is for them to one day be released back into their natural habitat, but this is not the case for all. Organizations like this are crucial for survival. Some of the turtles have viruses that require isolation and medication, whereas other need more physical treatment like Allison. She was rescued in 2005 after a predator attack where she lost 3 of her flippers and was given a mere 5% chance of living. She somehow overcame her injuries but is unable to return to the sea. After multiple attempts, a successful prosthesis was developed allowing her to dive and emerge for air while also straightening out her swimming patterns. Allison has appeared on the Today Show, in People Magazine, and several other publications as she is the world’s first sea turtle using a prosthetic. A new facility is currently being built and should open by the end of this year. Most that work at the center are volunteers who are passionate about the cause. Great news for sea turtles! It’s such an incredible experience to see these majestic animals up close and to hear their individual stories.
My final animal experience was the Birding and Nature Center which has the longest boardwalk on the island, over 3300 feet and 5 bird-blinds for observation. This is a popular destination for nature lovers and avid bird watchers as it is a migration hot spot. We saw flocks of over 300, as well as rare and local species. I was set up with a private guided tour in the morning, the best time to go for sightings. We saw Blue Heron’s that had migrated from North and Central America and many different species of Gulls. It was a nice, relaxing walk, perfect for all ages. Day passes are only $6 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens, $4 for children 4-12, and free for under 4. Visit their website for additional info and annual pricing.
All this animal watching sure can work up an appetite! With so many local restaurants, it was hard to choose where to go! One of my personal favorites was Cafe on the Beach at The Palms Resort. A quaint patio space overlooking the water, perfect for unwinding with fresh seafood and you guessed it…a Piña Colada! I couldn’t resist the Shrimp Cocktail and Coconut Shrimp! When you’re be the water, you eat the shrimp!
Read all about my evening at The Painted Marlin Grille here for more dining options!
After you’ve had a cocktail or several, walk down to the water or find a pier and catch the sunset. This was what I looked forward to every evening. We literally planned our day around it. Nothing beats watching the sun go down over the ocean.
I had an absolutely wonderful trip to South Padre Island. If you haven’t been or want to rediscover, I highly encourage you to do so. There’s nothing like the laid back vibe of Island life to reset your body and mind. Head to the official website and plan your visit here.
- Familiarize yourself with the tide times and research the multiple beach access points. Be smart about driving down the coastline. We saw several cars and even trucks having to be towed after bring stuck in the sand.
- Moonlight walks on the beach are wonderful but watch your toes! Crabs are everywhere!
- Don’t miss sunset! There are so many gorgeous views, we went to a new spot each evening.
- Eat before you go to Valley International Airport. It’s super small and there aren’t dining options.
- Allow plenty of time if flying out of Valley Intl. There was only one person checking ID’s and boarding passes and one person working the security line. Due to the proximity to Mexico, expect EVERYTHING to be thoroughly searched including your person. I got asked if I would be more comfortable being searched in private. Yes, it’s like that.
South Padre Island hosted my trip in exchange for this review. All opinions are mine.