South Padre Island Activities For The Best Texas Family Vacation
12 Reasons You Should Visit South Padre Island In Texas
Who would want to miss an opportunity to visit the only tropical island in Texas? I would guess that not many people coming from outside of the state even know that such a place exists. Most visitors will likely hit the major attractions like Austin, San Antonio and the glitzy Dallas scene. However, those looking for a fantastic paradise island vacation without having to go halfway across the world should have South Padre Island on their radar. Here are our top reasons why you should consider visiting South Padre Island:
- Short drive from Austin, San Antonio, and Houston.
- Seems to be a lot less expensive than a vacation to Hawaii ( or flying across the world to Thailand)
- The water is warm and excellent for swimming in, unlike the Pacific Ocean (sorry California!)
- Contrary to popular believe, So. Padre Island is not just a spring break destination. It's really convenient for families.
- There is delicious food!
- So much beauty in the nature of So. Padre.
- Loads of fun activities, that are available for either a weekend getaway or a whole week vacation.
the most popular things to do in South Padre Island with kids
For families with children, there's a nice collection of outdoor activities to enjoy as well as other attractions that are available to choose from.
the best outdoor activities in South Padre Island
Here's our favorite top list of things to enjoy outdoors. You can do these fun activities with children or as a couple. We took our, then 6 month old, baby girl and had a blast. It was the first trip we made together as a family and everything worked out perfectly.
Our drive to South Padre was about 7 hours because we stopped to feed our baby and use the bathroom/get gas. The road trip was quite pleasant with a smooth drive and plenty of opportunities to make pit stops.
1. Hit The Beach
Well, it's kind of obvious that one would have to enjoy some time at the beach if they are visiting an island. Right?! When it comes to beaches, South Padre Island does not disappoint. The long stretch of beach along the Gulf Coast is absolutely gorgeous. There's plenty of room even during busy times. Since we visited during the Covid-19 Pandemic, it was nice to be able to enjoy some beach time without having to worry about keeping ourselves safely socially distanced.
We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn so the beach was easily accessible from our hotel. All we had to do is walk out and down the short boardwalk. It just doesn't get any better than that!
I had made sure to get us covered, I mean literally, covered from the sun. The beach tent I ordered ahead of time sure came in handy. We popped it open (so easy, too) and we were able to spend hours with our baby on the beach without worrying about getting burned.
The hotel had a DJ in the evening playing at there outdoor bar right by the beach so it was nice having some music in the background, but we also had our outdoor speakers to play our favorite songs during the day at the beach.
2. Spot Dolphins On A Relaxing Sightseeing Cruise
I have to say, this was a surprisingly fun and exciting activity. At first, I was not sure what to expect exactly. I thought that we might see a couple of dolphins, but we ended up seeing a WHOLE BUNCH! It wasn't long after we set sail that we came to "the spot" where the dolphins like to hang out. These dolphins are here in there natural habit so you don't have to worry about them being put here for people's entertainment.
[For a really romantic time, we recommend the sunset dolphin experience]
The dolphins showed off quite a bit! We were really thrilled to see so many coming up and hanging out so close to the boat. This is an activity that we are sure to do again the next time we are back in SPI!
In addition to spotting dolphins, we were shown and educated about some of the other sea animals in the laguna. The cruise went around the laguna so we were able to sightsee a bit, too!
3. Treat The Kids To Black Dragon Cruises
This pirate themed adventure cruise provides kids 2 and up with interactive fun and entertainment that the'll be telling their fiends about. The crew will captivate the kids with pirate stories, treasure hunts, face painting, and sward fighting to name just a few. You will even get to see dolphins on these cruises!
4. Check Out Awesome Sand Castles
At the South Padre Island Visitors Center, you'll be able to view the largest outdoor sandcastle in the US! This castle was originally built in 2013 and is the oldest permanent sandcastle, too!
You can learn to make your own amazing sandcastle. I mean a really good professional kind. Just book an experience below for lessons to learn how to do it.
5. Stroll Through The Laguna Madre Nature Trail
Start your walk at the convention center and let the boardwalk take you over the wetlands for a great tour of the magical nature in this area. You'll be treated to views of many different species of birds as well as some relaxing sounds of nature. The trail is one of the best things to do if you are on a budget as it is free to access and always open.
6. Spend Time Together At Isla Blanca Park
You'll find the famous El Cristo de los Pescadores (Christ of the Fishermen) statue at the southernmost tip of the island in Isla Blanca Park. The statue is a replica of the Christ The Redeemer statue located in Brazil and is a must see!
If you're looking for a budget friendly activity to enjoy with the family, this park is always open and admission is free! There are playgrounds for the kids, fishing and boating facilities as well as great beaches!
7. Rent A Paddle Board
If you have young kids, you may need to take turns renting a paddle board while your partner stays with your child. This is a fun activity if you get a chance to try it out. It is not too difficult and you can paddle on your knees if you want a bit of an easier time. Nevertheless, South Padre Island is a great place to paddle board even if you have never done it before.
8. Go Horseback Riding
Riding experience is not needed to partake in this fun, family activity. you'll be paired with a horse that will take you along the beach for a tour by the water and on the dunes.
What are the top attractions to visit in South Padre Island?
This tropical island offers some fun things to see and do if you're up for some exploring. There's really something for everyone in the family. With museums, a cool lighthouse, and a couple of parks that will keep you active, there's no dull moment in South Padre Island.
9. Say Hi To The Sea Turtles In Rehab At Sea Turtle Inc.
10. Schlitterbahn Waterpark
keep the kids entertained and enjoy some fun in hot weather.
The kids are sure to have a great time at this waterpark and they won't have to worry about getting salty water in their eyes! This park provides life vest so no need to bring any. You can bring a cooler of your kids' favorite snacks and drinks!
11. Port Isabel Lighthouse
The Post Isabel Lighthouse is a perfect attraction for the family and is sure to be a hit with the kids. This lighthouse is the only one that is open to the public and was originally built to guide ships coming in through the Brazos Santiago Pass.
Going up the lighthouse is a bit dizzying, but once you are up at the top, it will all be worth it! There are some spectacular 360 degree views from up there. Make sure to have your camera ready to snap some great photos of the bridge and the island as well as Port Isabel itself!
Be sure to check it out!
Pro-traveler Tip: You will Find Joe's Oyster Bar nearby and if you love oysters and other seafood, this place is where you need to go for a delicious meal!
Other museums in Port Isabel are the perfect places to go in bad weather (also if you just really love museums!)
Here are a couple of our favorites:
Must Eat in SPI
There are some delicious catches straight from the gulf that you'll just HAVE to taste! Yum Yum!!
These are the restaurants we tried during our time (we got all take-out because of Covid-19 restrictions, and having a baby with us):
- Ceviche Ceviche
- Sea Ranch
For the best dessert go to KIC's Ice cream! SOOOOOO GOOD!
How to get around
Where to Stay
What really made our visit to South Padre Island great was choosing a hotel with a great location. The Hilton Garden Inn provided us with the most convenient spot to enjoy our time. The hotel is located on the Gulf side of the island and has a boardwalk leading you directly from the lobby to the beach. For us, it just doesn't get any better!
There was a food truck on their property by the beach as well as a DJ in the evenings. We loved everything about it!
Here are some other great places to stay in South Padre Island:
South Padre Island Weather and Best Time to Visit
The weather in South Padre Island during our visit was pretty hot and humid. We went in June and it was still not that hot. The next time we visit, we will most likely go either in spring or fall (Playa Del Carmen, Mexico is a short flight away if you need a tropical place to visit in between, during the winter months). I would say that spring provides the optimal temperature for having an enjoyable time on the island. I would definitely not go there during the peak summer months of July and August!
Our second visit to South Padre Island was in the month of October. We found the weather quite warm and the water temperature was very comfortable to swim in as well. It was a much quieter time to visit and at times it felt like we were the only people on the beach!
Now You Know What to do in South Padre Island
With so many things to do there is pretty much a guarantee that anyone visiting will have a fantastic time. Our family vacation dow to South Padre Island, celebrating Rob's birthday as well as his first Father's Day, went absolutely swimmingly! (pun intended)
We enjoyed the activities as a family and would go back again considering it is such a close (not as close of a getaway as the Omni Barton Creek) drive from Austin.
If you are planning a visit, do let us know if you have any questions on what to do there.
About the Author
Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!