Surprising South Padre Island: This Texas Destination Is The Perfect Paradise For Nature Lovers | Way of life
Texas has a tropical island. Surprising? Well, that was definitely for me.
South Padre Island is a 113-mile-long barrier island that hugs the Texas coast from Corpus Christi to Port Isabel. With 34 miles of wide, glorious pearly white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters, the scenic southernmost island of Texas borders the Gulf of Mexico to the east and Laguna Madre Bay to the west.
Considered one of the most beautiful barrier islands in the world, South Padre enjoys over 300 days of sunshine and offers a myriad of things to do for outdoor adventurers and nature lovers.
It’s no wonder so many Texans and American visitors from northern states flock to this fun and fascinating island during the winter months. After all, the average winter temperature is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. But it’s not just escaping the sleet and snow that draws travelers here, as South Padre Island is an ideal year-round destination for a weekend getaway or a longer getaway.
Head to the beaches and sand dunes
There is no doubt that one of the main draws of the island is its beautiful beaches located on both sides of South Padre. These stunning stretches of sand are perfect for relaxing, swimming, building sandcastles, taking long walks on the beach, or enjoying the many water and wind sports available to locals and visitors alike.
What makes its southernmost stretches of sand unique are the many grassy dunes that provide a picturesque backdrop to the beaches. But more important than their natural beauty is their role in protecting the Gulf coastline from waves, tides, currents and strong winds. Forming a natural dyke, these dunes prevent storm surges from flooding and destroying the island’s precious grasslands.
And this quiet, secluded and breathtaking strip of land at the far end of South Padre is one of the least visited places on the island. When we were here we only had a handful of people on the whole beach.
Explore the Bird and Nature Center
This impressive non-profit nature center is a great place to birdwatch, observe wildlife in their natural habitat, and experience close encounters with nature on the south coast of Texas. But be sure to bring your binoculars as there is plenty to see. And take advantage of the knowledgeable guided tours for a truly in-depth experience.
Located on 50 scenic acres on the shallow wetlands of Laguna Madre Bay, the center features an impressive 3,300-foot boardwalk surrounding dune meadows, salt marshes, and intertidal plains. The center’s primary mission is to educate the public about the birds of South Padre Island and surrounding areas with an emphasis on conservation and environmental awareness.
Even on a cool, windy morning, we were surprised at how many birds we could see – brown pelicans, egrets, gray and tricolor herons, curlews, warblers and my favourite, the fascinating roseate spoonbill. The center features five louvered windows and a five-story observation tower with sweeping views of the nature center grounds.
Visit the amazing Alligator Sanctuary
One of our funniest surprises was visiting the impressive alligator sanctuary at the nature center. These alligators, rescued from pools, ponds, piers and other sticky situations, are housed at the sanctuary because they cannot be returned to their natural habitat. Our docent expert explained that once they have been exposed to other food sources (intentionally or not), they will always come back to the source of that food.
We had the chance to hold and pet a baby alligator and learn about the habits of these fascinating reptiles. It was truly an amazing experience. And don’t forget to take home a tree decoration, an informative book or other souvenirs because the gift shop here is very nice.
Save the sea turtles
The stories of South Padre Island sea turtles are heartfelt.
Thanks to South Padre’s “Turtle Lady” and the efforts of her eco-friendly team, thousands of sick and injured sea turtles in the area have been rescued, rehabilitated, and released back into the wild since 1977.
It was the same year that the late Ila Fox Loestscher, a woman pilot from Iowa, started the non-profit foundation Sea Turtles, Inc. to help in the protection and recovery of Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, a threatened species.
These beautiful sea creatures injured from hook ingestion, entanglement, boat strikes, predator attacks or other medical conditions are brought here and treated by the veterinary team. If they can be rehabilitated, they are revived and released into Laguna Madre Bay.
If they cannot be freed, they are given their own individual water enclosures and given lots of loving care and their favorite foods.
Although I have visited other turtle rescue centers in the United States and Mexico, this was the first time I witnessed a survival story like that of Allison, who survived an attack by predator in 2005 with only one fin remaining. Because she could only swim in circles, a trainee designed a complete prosthesis that now allows her to swim normally. It’s a story that has been featured on National Geographic and several national TV shows.
The turtle experience here is a must-see for visitors to the island.
Outdoor activities in nature
For those who love the outdoors, South Padre Island offers so many fun things to do year-round.
Who doesn’t like to fly a kite? It brings out the child in all of us. But on South Padre Island, winter brings the annual KiteFest attracting some of the world’s best flyers and featuring riveting individual and group performances. The shows are spectacular and artistic as these kites dance to the music and spin like ballet dancers in the winds along the beach. You’ll hear oohs and aahs from the crowd along with the bemused lyrics of “How do they do that?” It is a rather special event.
Speaking of wind, adventure seekers throb here with the exhilaration of kitesurfing. This is an opportunity to see the magnificent region literally from a bird’s eye view.
To get up close to some beautiful marine mammals, guests can book a dolphin excursion and encounter bottlenose and spinner dolphins in the wild. And if you have more time, an eco-tour can be added to your dolphin experience.
But it does not stop there. The beauty of South Padre Island can also be discovered by kayak or canoe on the salt waters of Laguna Madre and in the open sea. Laguna Madre has protected shallow waters that are perfect for beginner paddlers and explorers seasoned.
As the sun was setting on our last night on South Padre Island, a large flock of birds, as if at the right time, flew over the pier at the wharf where we were dining. It reminded me of a favorite quote: “Never forget to stop to appreciate life’s unexpected and awe-inspiring moments.”
I smiled as South Padre Island was filled with such unexpected moments.