For those of you who have forgotten or never have been, Texas has a beach so beautiful that many families from Mexico vacation here instead of staying at one of their beautiful resorts. South Padre Island has everything you need in a beach – beautiful clear blue water, soft sand and sunshine.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s beach quality report data South Padre Island in Cameron County, Texas is on the list of the top 12 cleanest beaches in the United States! These beaches received NRDC’s five-star rating and violated health standards less than 5% of the time. Others on the list include:
- Newport Beach, California
- Gulf Shores, Alabama
- Ocean City, Maryland
- Dewey Beach, Delaware
- Park Point Franklin Park, Minnesota
- Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
(There’s also a report on the dirtiest. Luckily, none of the beaches in Texas made this list! These offenders were mostly in California, Illinois, and New York. If you are concerned about water quality you can always check this link – TexasBeachWatch.com.)
To get to South Padre, our family usually drives from Fort Worth. It’s 8 hours for us. You can easily fly non-stop to Brownsville on American or to Harlingen on Southwest and rent a car to get to the island. Any way you choose to go, I recommend not speeding in Los Fresnos or Port Isabel. Those small towns are notorious speed traps!
Formally the Radisson, Isla Grand is a beautiful beachfront resort that is very popular. Rad and General are the parrots in the lobby that will entertain your children as you check-in. I’m always curious what new words they have learned. “Hola” and “Hello” are all I can get out of them. Here is the link for more information
Another family friendly option is Schlitterbahn Beach Resort. They have great rates going on right now and are extremely family friendly. Your children will not forget staying here and will continue to ask when you can return. I guarantee it! It’s beachfront and connected to Schlitterbahn waterpark, which is celebrating 15 years on the island.
Things to Do
What started with just a Turtle Lady has become a large turtle rescue. Ila Fox Loetscher lived on South Padre, and it was her passion to save the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. People would visit her out of curiosity, and she would educate them on how they too could help these turtles. It became so popular that she created Sea Turtle Inc. She was featured on the Tonight Show with Gerry, a green sea turtle. Ila has passed away, but when you are in S. Padre you can still go visit Gerry. He is now 38 years old and loves it when you feed him romaine lettuce. Sea Turtle Inc. rescues sea turtles of all kinds, rehabilitates them, and tries to release them back into the ocean when they are ready. It is always fun to stop by and see the turtles. During the summer, if you happen to find a turtle laying her eggs, please contact Sea Turtle Inc., and they will make sure the babies are safe. Occasionally you can see them release hatched baby turtles into the ocean. They are so little and cute. Your kids will love it!
If you have children in tow, you do not want to miss the Black Dragon Cruise. It is a modern day replica of a 17th century galleon. The pirate crew will entertain you and train your children how to be pirates! It is a beautiful boat ride with a chance to see dolphins, and your children will have a blast! No doubt about it!
The Schlitterbahn on South Padre Island is fantastic! It was designed perfectly. My favorite feature is that you don’t have to get out of the water to stand in line and ride the rides. For most of the water coasters, you can simply float in your tube until it’s your turn. And it’s mostly shaded while you are waiting. There is a huge sand castle for the younger ones that is so fun to explore with slides and water everywhere. They even have an area for the youngest ones not even walking yet, and it’s shaded, too, with plenty of seating. It’s the perfect place for a tired momma and her busy little one. My boys love shooting the water cannons at the people floating below and the huge ball blast area. When we leave at the end of the day, we are not exhausted and sunburned like other waterparks I’ve visited in the past. It’s a really nice way to spend the day! No need to bring a camera as they have water photographers around the park to capture your families’ memories
After dinner one night, stop by Gravity Park. There you will find the best go-cart track I’ve ever seen. It’s 2 stories and has corkscrew ramps that are so fun to race through. There is a beautiful new mini golf course, bungee swings, and bungee chairs that are entertaining to watch even if you’re afraid of heights!
Where to Eat
Blackbeard’s is the best on the island and always has been.
Padre Island Brewing Company has excellent food, freshly brewed beer, and really cute T-shirts.
Daddy’s Seafood and Cajun Kitchen is so popular they are expanding again!
Yummies Bistro is the place to grab your coffee and the best breakfast. They serve breakfast and lunch all the time and are open till 2pm.
Schlitterbahn has 3 amazing options. Don’t tell anyone, but my favorite is the small beachfront bar and grill because there’s a pool. It’s called Seaside Grill, and your children can swim while they wait for their dinner. It’s usually not crowded, and the food and drinks will please everyone. It’s accessible by beach or through the resort so you don’t even need a ticket to enter and can walk home via beach afterward. The same is true for the Shrimphaus and Sea 4ever Grill. These easy options for families have excellent food and again couldn’t be more kid-friendly!
Gabriella’s Italian Grill & Pizzeria is a must for pizza. They don’t deliver, but it’s worth it. Just give them a call, and they will have your order ready to carry out. All the food is great, but the pizza is the best on the island.
I used to love Scampi’s. It was THE place to eat and enjoy the beautiful sunset over the bay. Unfortunately, it’s now closed and for sale. Anyone who is interested in the restaurant business should look into this site! The competition on the bay is very small. Your choices are Louie’s Backyard, Palm Street Pier Bar and Grill, and Laguna BOB.
There are some really cute shops you don’t want to miss. I have two in particular that are my favorites. Calypso and Shipshape both have beautiful high quality clothing, jewelry, flip-flops, and knickknacks. It’s fun to explore and find nice items to remember our vacation by. There are more stops to recommend; however, with little ones, I usually can sneak away for just a bit. Sisters, Rica, Annabelle’s, and On the Beach are other fun stops if you have the time!
With all the stress of the world, it’s important to get away. Relax and enjoy your family. Life is short. Don’t take it for granted. Schlitterbahn South Padre Island would like to help you with this. They are giving away a vacation package for one of our lucky Tanglewood Moms readers. Leave a comment below, telling us your favorite beach activity (sand castle building, boogie boarding, shell hunting, sunbathing, etc.) for a chance to win tickets for 4 at Schlitterbahn, plus a nights stay at the resort and a $25 gift card for use at their restaurant ShrimpHaus or Seaside Grill (these must be used by October 1 of this year). Comments will be open until noon on Sunday, July 31, and the winner will be announced at 8 pm that evening. Good luck!
Tricia Schniederjan is a Fort Worth girl born and raised, Tricia is a runner, scuba diver, snow and water skier, hiker, and kayaker. Her love of exploring has taken her on many adventures with her 5 children which has led to her becoming an expert at traveling with children. She is a UT Austin graduate, an optimist, a peace keeper, and an enjoyer of life.
I love to walk on the beach at sunset. I grew up in the Valley and spent many fun days on SPI. I’d love to take my son there to experience it!
Favorite thing at the beach is definitely beach combing, looking for shells and other fun sea creatures!
I love going to the beach but haven’t had the chance the last couple of years. We would love to take our 5 year old for a weekend away when school starts. We love hunting for seashells!
We just had our first family beach vacation and loved it! My favorite thing to do is bring my camer and take pictures of the kids enjoying the sand and waves. 🙂
We love all things beach! Boogie boarding, surfing and soaking up he sun are our most favorite ways to spend the day!
Thanks so much for this great article! We would love to spend some time in beautiful South Padre!
I love watching my kids play in the sand & walking along the beach ?
I love relaxing in the sun with a cocktail by the beach!
Our families favorite beach activity is collecting sea shells and digging for sand crabs! My kids will spend all day doing this! We love the beach!
I love love love the Texas beaches (of course that’s the only beaches I’ve been to lately)! Watching my kids run in and out of the surf, shaking sand from every nook and crannie, but the best beach activity is watching my little sun kissed babies passed out at the end of the day! Thanks for including so many wonderful activities. This is my favorite blog of the summer!
My favorite beach activity is sipping margaritas in the sun. 🙂
By day our family favorite beach activities are wave riding and sand castling, for me…sun bathing!!! By night, we LOVE to head to the beach with buckets, shovels and flashlights for a wild game of night crabbing with the winner (the one with the biggest catch) getting to choose the family dessert for the night…
I love this article! What a great review of South Padre! We were looking into planning a trip here and I think I could plan the whole thing from this one great article! Thanks for all the great information! I would love to win this package! Our favorite beach activity is building Sand Castles! My 2 year old son absolutely could dig in the sand for hours!
My 3-year-old keeps asking to go to the beach! We love building in the sand, searching for sea turtles and crabs, and dodging jellyfish :). Thanks for the article.
Love the beach! Love walking and looking for shells while holding hands w my hubby! <3
My daughter and I love looking for sea creatures!
My favorite thing is walk in the beach, pick up shells with the kids, building a sand castle, and sun bathing.
I would love win this package. We don’t know this beach, and we would love win for know about this paradise place.
Our baby has never been to the beach and we’ve been wanting to take her so badly. Our older son loves the beach, looking for sea creatures, jumping in the waves, building sand castles. We’ve always wanted to go to South Padre!
My family used to vacation here every year growing up but I sadly haven’t been there in 10 years and would love to take my family! My favorite beach activity would be listening to live music and watching the sunset on the bay
Boogie boarding!!! My siblings and I would have mega contests in the surf.
Yummies was always a must on our family trips to SPI as a kid. Another must that has carried on with my own kids is digging a swimming pool out on the beach.
I grew up gong to SPI and have so many fun memories! My favorite thing to do at the beach was having a twilight crab hunt.
What a fantastic article! I’ve always wanted to go to South Padre and now I know where to go and what to do! My favorite thing to do at the beach is to jump the waves with my kids!
A great article. I love sunsets on the beach. Then lighting a campfire, listening to the waves and roasting Marshmellows! Always the best end to an action packed day
I love just relaxing by the water and enjoying the sounds of the waves.
Love to hear the waves crash my stress away.
My family loves picnics at the beach! Also We never forget our camera to capture all the fun. We have not had a chance to make it to Schlitterbahn SP yet, but my family and my two year old would love this!
We LOVE S Padre Island! Our favorite thing to do on the beach is bury each other and draw designs in the sand around us! Schlitterbahn is the best!
There is nothing better than relaxing on the waves for our family. We call it ‘wave-laxing’. This always includes many laughs and precious smiles as the wave decides which of us to take to the shore in a state of pure tranquility.
Loved going to SPI as a kid. Great article. Seems like it’s changed a lot since I was there ? Would love to take our kiddos. So many great things to do at the beach! We love listening to and diving the waves.
Sand castles and people watching!
My little guy is almost 2 and has not been to the beach yet but I grew up going to Padre and always loved hunting crabs, but was always to afraid to touch them. 😉
I have lived in TX for 22 years now and only recently became acquainted with Port A and N Padre– they are peaceful and laid back– but I have been wishing for clearer waters and family fun. I totally think that a visit to SPI is in our future. Thank you for all of the wonderful suggestions!!!!!
Before having kids, it was reading a book! Now it just love watching them play and build. And wave jumping with them is the best
I like to snorkel and fish.
I love reading a book on the beach!
For me watching the kids play in the waves and for the kids playing in the waves.
My husband grew up in the Valley and we would love to get down there this summer! Have yet to try Schlitterbahn yet though. We love to build sand castles, obsessive shell hunting and most definitely boogie board it up. Wouldn’t be the same without watching the sun set!
Our favorite thing to do at the beach is wake up very early and have our coffee when all is quiet with our toes in the water. It’s heaven.
My favorite is to sunbathe!! ?
We love just walking on the beach, watching th water and enjoying the breeze!
Watching my kids play in the sand and walks along the shore with my husband!
With my littles in tow, relaxing in the sun with a Mai tai! When it’s just me and the hubs, snorkeling!
Building sand castles and drawing in the sand! My most favorite though, is just sitting or walking on the beach and taking it all in- the smell, the sounds. Truly my favorite place on earth!
I haven’t been to Padre since I was a child –reading about your trip has inspired me to went to go back and take my son. We love the beach and mostly enjoy building sand castles and waterways and searching for treasures on the beach and of course getting out in the water in some way. Thanks for all of the great info!
Hunting for seashells.
We love love the beach!!! We pop up a tent and just enjoy the whole day!!! The kids love to walk the beach for shells, boogie board, and make sand castles. They’re absolute favorite thing though is to be buried in the sand to look like mermaids!
My favorite beach activity is sitting in a chair by the water reading a book and watching the kids play in the water and sand!
Nothing beats sunbathing and catching a quick nap as the sound of the waves soothes you to sleep.
My favorite beach activity is making poop castles! I know you are thinking what in the world!!!! Make sure you sit somewhat close to the water…. What you do is grab wet, (but not soaking wet), make a fist, and let it drip out of your fist closest to your pinky. It will then make drops of sand looking somewhat like poop haha! I learned this years and years ago at my senior cheer champ.
I love this article! We love to walk on the beach while looking for pretty rocks (we have a bunch) also we try to beat the waves by drawing on the sand.
Feet in the sand, sun on our skin, and endless splashing fun for our kiddos…Yes! The beach!
My favorite things to do are to relax and walk along the beach! Thanks for sharing about your favorite things!
Building sandcastles w my toddler! He loves playing in water!
I love to Stand Up Paddle Board on the beach! Such a fun workout and a great way to enjoy nature.
My son is a little fish! Would love to see him having a blast somewhere so fun!
I’m a bad Texan because I have never been to SPI! I do like to take walks on the beach and finding seashells!
Nice run on the beach, building sand castles and hunting sea shells.
We love to gather seashells, although my 2 year old just throws them back in the water!
I have always wanted to go see the turtles hatch. Love sea shell hunting early as the sun comes up with my kids
Just sitting in the sand with a drink in my hand!
Our favorite thing to do at the beach is dig our toes into the sand, right on the edge of the water where the waves come in! We would love a chance to go experience that again!
We love playing boccee ball on the beach!
My son loves to catch little ghost crabs and make them castles to live in!
Love sunbathing with a drink in my hand while the kids play in the sand!
It’s all about digging in the sand for buried treasure, which is especially exciting when there is a rainbow!