Located down in South Texas there is a little piece of beach paradise found on the Gulf of Mexico called South Padre Island. This barrier island is the longest barrier island in the world and the only tropical island in Texas. Once you cross over the Queen Isabela Causeway you’ll find some of the best Texas beaches and all kinds of outdoor activities. So keep reading discover the best family things to do in South Padre Island Texas.
Yes, this barrier island has a reputation for being a great place for spring break, and it kinda is… However before the crowds arrive or when spring break is over, this lovely beach town has so much more to offer than a cocktail in hand. The South Padre Island activities are endless!
We always enjoy our time on SPI so I put together this guide on family friendly activities in South Padre Island. From adventure, leisure, learning, sight seeing and so much more, there are so many family things to do in South Padre Island. This guide offers activities for every budget and adventure level. So get ready because we are going to discover the best things the island has to offer.
Where is South Padre Island
On a map South Padre Island is located near the southern most part of Texas and close to the border of Mexico.
And contrary to what you might think, the island does not connect with South Padre Island National Seashore. They are actually two separate destinations. So you’ll have to drive inland to get to either.
The closet airport, Brownsville SPI International Airport is about 30 minutes. This airport is serviced by American and United Airlines.
The next closet airport, Valley International Airport is 55 minutes away and served by Southwest, United, American, Frontier, Delta and Sun Country.
And if you plan to drive from another Texas location, these are the some driving distances:
- Corpus Christi – 181 miles
- San Antonio – 297 miles
- Austin – 340 miles
- Houston – 367 miles
- Dallas – 565 miles
- El Paso – 885 miles
Best Times to Visit South Padre Island
For less crowds, lower prices and cooler temperature the best time to visit South Padre Island is September to February. September and October in my opinion are the best months to visit because the weather is still warm with much fewer crowds.
Spring Break is a popular and very busy time of year for South Padre Island. It is a spring break destination, so if you are looking for a party, then this is the place.
The summer months are very hot and also crowded. However great for a water-centric/ summer vacation.
Accommodations on South Padre Island
There are large and small hotel options along with VRBO and Airbnb vacation rentals on South Padre Island. The island is narrow, so even if your accommodations are not beach facing, the water is not far away.
There are also 4 RV Parks on the island. We prefer to stay at Isla Blanca Park because it has direct beach access. However all 4 have pros and cons.
Family things to do in South Padre Island
There are many fun activities on South Padre Island. And with that being said, I arranged this list of family things to do on South Padres Island by price. From FREE activities to expensive ones, so its easy to find an activity in your budget and decide where you would like to spend your money.
1. Relax and enjoy a day at the beach
The best part about South Padre Island are the beautiful beaches! If you love the beach and live in Texas, then you have no excuse for not coming down, and for those who don’t live in Texas, now you know and can plan a road trip to visit.
The shoreline has miles and miles of beach, so its so easy to take a long stroll down the beach because it feels like it never ends. And the water, well its bluer than what I remembered from the 1st time we had visited. No, its not Mexico blue, but it is very nice and some days it appears much bluer than others. Oh, and one of the best parts is that the beaches here, they are dog friendly, so its the perfect place to bring your furry friend so they can enjoy the beach too.
If you’re not staying on the beach, then Isla Blanca Beach Park is the perfect place to enjoy the beach. There is a per vehicle entry fee, however that grants you access to the entire park. Isla Blanca Beach Park has plenty of beach parking, rental concessions for chairs and umbrellas and food vendors in season. There are also showers and shade pavilions and picnic area. You also have access to the jetty for recreational use.
2. Learn to Surf with Free Surfing Lessons
If you want to learn to surf, head over to Isla Blanca beach park on Sunday Mornings for FREE surf lessons offered by SurfVive. This is one of our favorite affordable family things to do in South Padre Island.
Meet them on the beach behind the DJ Lerma Pavilion (the one closer to the jetty) at Isla Blanca Park, and look for the flag and bright colored surf boards from 10am to noon. It’s a great activity for a family vacation because all ages are welcome to join! So pack your rash guard and get ready to ride the waves.
3. Buy local at the Sunday Morning Farmers Market
And After your Sunday morning surf lessons, you can head over the to the South Padre Island farmers market. It takes place every Sunday from 11AM to 1PM located at The Shores.
I love going to farmers markets in new towns because 1) it helps support the local economy 2) I usually finds unique items or foods to try 3) its a way to converse with locals and chat with them about the area you are visiting.
4. Visit the Kite Shop or Go Fly A Kite
There is no charge to fly to kite, but if you need to purchase one then head over to B & S Kites. No they don’t have a website, but they have a huge selection of kites and spinners and its fun just to walk around the store and look at all the stuff.
Did you know South Padre Island has a kite festival every year? The SPI Kite Festival takes place the first weekend of February. And it is the largest indoor kite festival in the USA.
5. Watch a SpaceX Rocket Launch
If you are visiting South Padre Island when a SpaceX rocket is scheduled to launch then you can see the launch from the island. You can actually see the launch pad in the distance past Boca Chica Bay if you look for it. And if you want to drive over and visit the SpaceX facility, it’s about 40 minutes away located in Brownsville.
For the best viewing of the rocket launch, Isla Blanca park has unobstructed views across the water to Boca Chica Bay. However, you can also see the rocket from a distance once it is in the air.
6. Enjoy Evening Fireworks Display at Claytons
Clayton’s claims they are the biggest beach bar in Texas, and well, if think its pretty accurate. Its a huge bar located on the beach with chairs and umbrellas to rent during the day and then at night they have live music and fireworks on the Friday and Saturday night. Fireworks can also be found on Tuesday at Louis’s Backyard and Thursday at Isla Grand Beach Resort. Be sure to check the schedule as they only operate seasonly.
Claytons is family friendly because it is both a bar and a restaurant. I haven’t eaten there so I can’t attest to the quality of the food, however it does have a fun beach vibe.
7. Visit the Wyland Whaling Wall
The Whaling Wall is one in 99 of the outdoor mural series painted by artist Robert Wyland. This mural is located at the South Padre Island convention center. And is titled “Orcas of the Gulf of Mexico”. The marine life -sized painting is intended to raise awareness about the global ocean. It is painted on three walls of the convention and is a unique thing to see.
8. Bird Viewing at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center
For one of the many low cost activities on the island, you can visit the South Padre Island Birding Center, located near the convention center. It’s considered the premier bird viewing location in the Rio Grande Valley located on South Padre Island.
It offers a variety of activities to enjoy including 3300 linear feet of boardwalk, bird blinds, viewing tower, alligator sanctuary and bird walk. You will learn about their mission to educate the public regarding SPI Birding and their natural environment on South Padre Island and Laguna Madre Bay. So for all the bird watchers out there, this is an activity you should consider doing.
9. Visit the resident turtles at Sea Turtle Inc.
One of our favorite low cost family things to do in South Padre Island is visit the sea turtles. You can learn all about the mission of Sea Turtle Inc, from rehabilitation, education and conservation efforts. As they rescue, rehab and release injured marine turtle species. You can visit the resident turtles who can not be released back in to the wild and see the ones who are at the hospital for rehab.
There are many tanks to see the turtles from large and small size turtles. And with the big tanks you can get up close and personal with the turtles. Beacuse sometimes they come right up to the glass.
From the educational aspect, you will learn all about these beautiful creatures. From common injuries and sickness along with all the resources availabe to help the turtles. If you see an injured, dead or cold stunned sea turtle on South Padre Island, you should call and let someone know.
Another great thing to look for during the summer months is hatchling releases, as some are open to the public. So check for dates to see if a release is taking place during your visit.
10. Enjoy the view from Port Isabel Lighthouse
To see the lighthouse you have to cross back over the Queen Isabella Causeway and head back over to Port Isabel. But its worth the short drive and then you can also visit the Port Isabel downtown area.
The best part about the visit id going up into the lighthouse, as its the only lighthouse in the area that is open to the public where you can climb up and see the panoramic views. Note that the last ticket is sold 30 minutes before closing. And be sure to watch the wind forecast because it can close occasionally due to high wind.
More family things to do in South Padre Island
11. Adventure awaits at Gravity Park
Gravity Park is an adventure and amusement park located on South Padre Island. In 1993 Gravity Park opened as a small park with a few employees and has grown into a local icon.
They offer adult and children activities including: go-carts, mini golf, ferris wheel, trampoline, arcade and climbing wall. So it’s a great spot for the whole family. Open daily from 6pm to 1030pm. It’s free to enter, although you pay a la carte for the rides.
12. Look for dolphins on a Dolphin Cruise or kayak
South Padre Island is home to the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and can be seen year round swimming around the island. I think the best spot to see them from shore is at Isla Blanca Park. You can also launch your kayak in the bay and enjoy some dolphin tours watching on your own. Just be sure to watch the tides as the current can make it difficult to paddle back and also you have to share the waterways with big tankers. So I would only recommend this activity to experienced kayakers.
So for a more leisurely experience, you can also take a dolphin watching tour in Laguna Madre Bay. This activity is a great way to get on the water and see marine life.
13. Horseback Riding on the beach
With miles and mile of shoreline to explore, there is no better place to experience this activity. South Padre Island Adventure Park offers morning, sunset and moonlight horseback rides.
14. Learn to Build a Sandcastle
Sandcastles are a thing on South Padre Island. Did you know that South Padre Island is the Sandcastle Capital of the World? And is also home to the largest outdoor sandcastle in the United States. So, if you are interested in sand castles you’ve come to the right island, from festivals, sand castle building lessons and the sandcastle trail.
Every year the first weekend of October is Sandcastle Days. Where 12 Master Sandcastle builders come to share their talent with the community. The festival has competitions, live music, kids activities, free sand castle lessons and so much more.
Sand castle lessons are also available year round with local artists. They offer one on one, small group and large group instructions. So there are a variety of ways to learn.
Or if you prefer to just admire and not build them, the Sandcastle Trail is a fun way to see the castle sculptures located through out the island.
15. Hire a charter to go fishing for the day
Fishing charters are very popular here, after all we are on an island. First decide if you want to go deep sea fishing trip or stay in the calm waters in the bay. Then decide if you want to spend a few hours or the whole day at sea. And then after you bring back lots of fish, you can take it to one of the restaurants that cook your catch – more on that later.
16. Rent a Sling Shot or Golf Cart
To get around, renting a golf cart or a sling shot is a very popular activity on South Padre Island. They can be rented all over the island. And are very popular on the weekends and holidays as the roads are filled with them. Lots of golf carts are decorated with lights and people are just having a great time driving them around. It’s a fun way to explore the island and you can rent them by the day or the hour.
17. Sail the Laguna Madre on a Sunset Cruise
One of our favorite and relaxing activities was to go on a sunset sail. After a day of adventure it was great to spend an evening on the water. We enjoyed a tour of the island and a beautiful sunset.
With SPI Adventures you can experience a private cruise (from 2 to 6 people) on their comfortable pontoon style boats made for relaxing. This was something we really enjoyed and was one of our favorite South Padre Island activities.
18. Dine at many great South Padre Island restaurants
If you enjoy great food, one of the best places to eat is F & B. They serve creative dishes and use to serve brunch, so I hope that comes back one day. However, if you are not a breakfast person, don’t worry they have a fabulous dinner service too. It’s one of the best restaurants on the island.
For other great places to eat on the island: Best Places To Eat In South Padre Island Texas
A unique thing offered on South Padre Island is the option to have a restaurant cook your catch. So, if you caught your dinner, just bring in your fresh catch ready to cook and they will prepare it the way you like; fried, grilled, blackened, etc.
There are a handful of restaurants that offer this service but all do it a little differently. Some of the restaurants that cook your catch include: Sea Ranch, Blackbeards, Painted Marlin Grill, Padre Island Brewing Co. and Cap’n Roy’s. We had ours cooked at Sea Ranch and it was delicious.
I think you will be very pleased with the variety of South Padre Island activities for some great family fun. As we discovered there are all kinds of things to do from FREE activities up to expensive ones.
So regardless of your travel budget, you can have an amazing time as a solo traveler, a couple or traveling with friends or family and young kids. And if all you want to do is sit back and relax, hang out on the beach and drink margaritas, well you too have come to the right place. In South Padre Island there is an activity for everyone!
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