South Padre, this name is known well beyond the borders of Texas for being a place that stands for sun-drenched vacation trips, best climate conditions and for a certain party atmosphere. But those who see the island in the Gulf of Mexico merely as a raunchy Spring Break location, will find they are wrong. South Padre Island, which is almost entirely comprised by the city with the same name and its population of 2400, is a classic vacation island with long, sandy beaches and a multitude of offerings for activities on and at the water. Correspondingly, the island has a tourist-oriented infrastructure with many hotels, campgrounds, bars, restaurants and the inevitable souvenir shops - and also some attractions worth visiting.
South Padre Island can not be reached by car on a direct route from the north island, the only access is via a road leading through Port Isabel on the mainland. State Park Road 100, also called Padre Boulevard here, traverses the entire island almost all the way up to its northernmost tip. On average, South Padre Island has more than 250 days with sunshine per year and enjoys a subtropical climate in more general terms. Maybe that is one of the reasons why, according to a city ordinance, it is prohibited to wear a tie in the city - but breaking that peculiar rule is not known to cause any severe punishments.
Before students enter the island each spring for a few days of excessive partying, the streets are dominated by slowly moving cars with Minnesota, Nebraska or Ohio plates. Those predominantly older tourists from the colder regions of the USA are called “Winter Texans” down here. It is not unusual for them to spend several months on the island, forming their own communities. The months of summer and fall are when the island becomes a family vacation destination.
Once visitors have had enough of the beach, they will find a number of additional attractions. The northern part of the island, outside the city area, is a remarkable area worth seeing. Up here, the road will end at one point and beyond that, travelers find themselves in the middle of a lunar scenery made of white sand dunes, as far as the eye can see. At the same time, the island is so narrow in this area that it is possible to see both the waters of the Gulf on one side and the waters of the laguna between the island and the mainland on the other side at the same time. Up here, completely undisturbed walks through nature are possible.
The body of water between the island’s landmass and the Texan mainland’s coast is called Laguna Madre. The laguna, only a little deeper than one meter at its deepest point, carries water with a much higer degree of salinity than the ocean and is considered to be one of the most important, species-rich and best-protected habitats of the.
There are several opportunities on South Padre Island to discover the natural diversity of this region. The Birding and Nature Center should be mentioned as one of them. The center has constructed a network of wooden boardwalks from where many of the bird species living near the laguna can be spotted as well as the occasional dolphin or alligator. There is also a butterfly garden here. The center is located at 6801 Padre Boulevard, the boardwalks are accessible daily from sunrise to sunset. Next door, there is the home of a volunteer project founded in 1977 by Ila Fox Loetscher, who was known to locals as “Turtle Lady of the Island”. The institution Sea Turtle Inc. is actively rescuing and nursing injured sea turtles and prepares the animals on its premises for their subsequent release into freedom. Visitors can see several of the impressive sea creatures and the volunteers are happy to share a lot of interesting information about the animals and the institution’s work. While there is no formal entrance fee to visit, Sea Turtle Inc. welcomes a small donation left by visitors.
In addition, there are numerous tour operators, both on the island itself and in the city of Port Isabel on the mainland, offering boat tours with various themes. Next to dinner cruises and fishing trips, there are a number of different dolphin sight tours being advertised, of which the ones offered by “Dolphinwhisper” are the most recommendable.